Tips & Inspiration

the 4 components of really good writing

The Four Components of Really Good Writing

This is a guest post by Jennifer Courtney.

the 4 components of really good writing

Is our entire civilization in danger because of our impoverished language? Is text speak a sign that we are losing the ability to construct and communicate complex ideas through written language? In a philosophy class, I led a group of high school students to come up with a thorough definition of man (as in mankind). After thinking, discussing, reading, wrestling with ideas, and refining, we came up with something like this: “Man is a rational being made up of mind, body, and soul which uses language to communicate.” Communicating our ideas through written and spoken language is one of the important differences between man and the animals. (For fun sometime, ask a committed Darwinist about the evolution of language.)

If language is a distinctive characteristic of humans, then should we not be concerned about preserving it? My teenage son often mocks me because I continue to use complete sentences, full spelling, and accurate punctuation in my overly long text messages. I continue to claim that effective communication is a hallmark of civilization and that the reduction to three-letter mystical abbreviations is a sign of its demise.

Add to these changes the fact that social media has sharply reduced the length of our communications, which makes it impossible to communicate complex ideas through these media. I constantly have to revise my Facebook statuses because I have used too many characters. This summer, my colleagues and I were joking about our attempt to Tweet quotes from David Hicks (author of Norms & Nobility) and Tracy Lee Simmons (author of Climbing Parnassus). Like Saint Paul, it takes both of these authors an entire page to communicate a single complex thought. There is just no way to break it up into a sound-byte for Twitter.

I recently read that students have been using PowerPoint presentations to deliver book reports. The principal was impressed with the graphic presentations designed by these eighth-grade students until a school media specialist pointed out that the “book reports” contained an average of seventy-seven words. It is difficult to conceive how the students could have thought much about the characters in the novels or the lessons that the characters learned, much less about how to apply those lessons to their own lives.

My own education was influenced by what we would now consider to be a primitive technology. During my junior and senior years in high school, my school (the largest public high school in my state) installed a state-of-the-art writing lab. At least once a week, English students paraded into the lab. We typed our papers into the computers and received back printouts on tractor-feed paper. The printouts gave us four different critiques to use in writing our final essays. Looking back, I am amused that we did not simply save the money, stay in the classroom, and exchange papers with one another for feedback.

So, how can we reclaim the dying art of good writing? I believe there area few simple skills that we can recover from previous generations to train our children to communicate complex ideas well to those around them. First, our students need to read voraciously. Reading quality literature builds vocabulary,trains the brain to recognize, and later to write, complex sentences, and provides a storehouse of experiences and ideas about which to write. Second, our students must learn grammar. It is difficult for them to write a complex sentence if they do not know what a complex sentence is. Third, we must train them to think carefully about issues and ideas. Finally, they can wrestle these ideas onto paper often.

This summer, I joined a group of my colleagues at Leigh Bortins’ home for a writing week. Prior to the meeting, we each selected a topic and did a bit of research. We then spent the week together divided into quiet times of reading, reflecting, and writing, interspersed with discussion and editing. Across the course of the week, we all remembered a lot about the craft of writing. One of the most important things we recalled was that there are four relatively distinct stages that must be completed by writers of all ages.

The first is that there must be an input of knowledge. Because we planned the week about six months in advance, each of us had read several books about our topic before we convened. Each participant had taken careful notes on the topics so that we had compiled a large file of ideas before coming together. For any writer, this is an important step.

Our students input ideas by reading and by memorizing. They need a ready storehouse of quality information. According to Greek mythology, writers, poets, and musicians were inspired by the muses. Interestingly, the mother of the muses was memory.

Our children need a rich storehouse of facts, poems, and stories to draw upon when they write. I was delighted the other day when one of my students compared Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar to the movie Valkyrie in which German officers attempted to assassinate Hitler. His understanding of both has been enriched, and he can communicate the complex comparison of these two historical events to others in his next essay.

After gaining ideas, it is important to refine them through group discussion. Each morning during our writer’s retreat, we gathered to discuss our topics. We added the knowledge from our research to the new ideas from our discussions and began to truly understand the ideas about which we were writing. I have taught a Shakespeare course for three years, and every time I teach the course I learn something new about his plays because I have the chance to discuss them with a new group of students. Have your children read great literature and discuss it around the dinner table with the whole family. Form a book club and have them discuss great books together with friends. Teens particularly enjoy the time with good food, good friends, and good conversation.

After students have had a chance to read great books and refine their ideas through discussion, it is time to communicate their ideas through writing, a process that requires some struggle and a lot of discipline. I have had a lot of time to think about study skills lately as I have been taking Henle Latin Second Year alongside some very bright high school students. The primary lesson for me has been that thinking clearly and expressing oneself well require hard work. This is just as true in Algebra as it is in Chemistry or Latin or writing.

During our writing retreat this summer, the research and discussion steps were easy and pleasurable. The hard work began as we each sat down to write. After we spent two days working almost all day on our drafts, we exchanged them with one another. Then, we incorporated one another’s suggestions into our final drafts. Students should practice the art of composing a good sentence, then crafting a quality paragraph, and finally of designing a full-blown essay or research paper.

It is hard work to effectively communicate complex ideas to a reader, but it is a most important discipline if we seek to turn others toward wisdom and toward an appreciation of what is true and good and beautiful. We must know the Truth,learn to articulate Truth well, and present it in a way that is irresistibly compelling to others.

Jennifer Courtney and her husband have been homeschooling classically since 2003. She currently serves as the Director of Training and Development for Classical Conversations. She is the co-author of the Classical Acts and Facts History Cards series and of the book Classical, Christian Education Made Approachable. Jennifer writes for the Classical Conversations Writer’s Circle as well as a variety of homeschool and other education websites and magazines. She and her husband Tim live in Oklahoma, where they home educate their four children.


  1. This research was cited in Trelease, Jim. TheRead-Aloud Handbook, sixth edition, New York:Penguin Books, 2006, p. 154.

Copyright 2013, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the February 2013 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine. Read the magazine free at or read it on the go and download the free apps at to read the magazine on your mobile devices.

get scholarship ivy league schools

How to Get Scholarships to Ivy League Schools

This is a guest post by Elizabeth Hartley.

get scholarship ivy league schools

College tuition has increased almost 500% over the last twenty years, causing many families to conclude that a college degree is out of reach. While the sticker shock can be intimidating at first, there are many ways to approach the process strategically and intentionally so that the student ends up with options that are optimal and affordable. The first step in knowing how to tackle college funding is to understand the various “buckets” of money available to students: the Need Bucket and Merit Bucket. Colleges usually have funds available in each of these categories and can pull from one or both when putting together a student’s aid package. Knowing which colleges offer the most generous aid and which bucket they favor is critical when choosing the colleges to pursue for admission.

Prevailing thought among most families is that state schools will be more affordable than private schools because the state schools claim lower tuition than private schools, which may have a sticker price that is twice as high. However, in many instances families will find that their out-of-pocket costs are far less at the private schools, once all merit and need-based aid is factored in. When consulting with a student and his/her parents, I advise that the student start by applying to one or two state schools, just to cover the bases in case no merit or need-based funds are offered. After that, I encourage them to apply to private schools for which they may be eligible for merit scholarships or generous need-based funds. Ultimately, most students end up applying to five to ten schools.

TheMerit Bucket represents funds that come out of the university’s own pockets (endowment) and that are used to recruit students of great academic merit, as determined by exceptional SAT or ACT scores, high class rank or GPA, or exceptional community service or talents in music or the arts. Merit funds are truly based on the student’s merits, not typically factoring in financial need. These scholarships are used as incentives to recruit top students to enroll.

Students can position themselves for these merit scholarships by building a resume throughout high school that shows their passion and commitment to their chosen subjects and interests, community service projects, clubs, arts, etc. Colleges especially favor students who have also demonstrated leadership in their chosen areas of interest. Athletic scholarships are also a form of merit scholarships, but since the process of securing an athletic scholarship is an entirely different process than all other merit scholarships, they are not included as part of this discussion.

Overall, academic merit scholarships are typically offered to students who exceed the average freshman profile with respect to SAT/ACT scores and grade point averages for a given school. Private colleges and universities typically have more generous programs for allocating academic merit scholarships than state schools do. Unlike most state schools, private schools often conduct formal scholarship competitions on campus for students to vie for scholarships, ranging from small merit awards up to full rides that cover tuition, room and board, books, fees, study abroad, and even a laptop. While state colleges and universities certainly have some merit scholarship funds available to offer, those funds are doled out at the discretion of the admissions staff or administration, without an on-campus competition and interviews. Due to the overwhelming number of applicants, a comprehensive merit scholarship competition on campus would be impractical and a logistical nightmare for a large state school.

Even though the methods by which the merit awards are given out can differ between the state schools and private schools, their motives remain the same: to bring in outstanding students. By recruiting above average students, colleges will see increases in their typical freshman profile.

The Need Bucket represents a collection of funds available to students based on the family income and assets. Need-based aid includes federal grants of free money, student loans from federal or private sources, on-campus employment, and even grant money provided out of the school’s own private endowment. Need-based aid is less under the control of the student and has more to do with the family’s income and tax information. Families can maximize how much money they get from this bucket by filing FAFSA promptly each year (as soon after January 1 as possible) at and by candidly sharing any extra financial concerns with the financial aid office of their college. Often, when colleges know more about extenuating family circumstances, they will do more to help.

Very competitive schools such as Harvard, Princeton, Yale, etc. do not typically offer merit scholarships because they believe all of their students are so exceptional that all students would deserve merit scholarships. Those Ivy League schools do not need to use scholarship money to recruit the best and brightest students since they already get those applicants. Instead, the top-ranked schools favor giving exceptionally generous financial aid based solely on financial need. Families who do not qualify for federal grants based on need may still find themselves recipients of generous need-based aid from the selective private schools. For example, a family with an annual income of $60,000 per year may find that they do not qualify for any need-based grants from the government or state school. However, if that same student were admitted to Princeton, he/she would immediately qualify for a Princeton grant that covers full tuition and room and board. Even families with incomes of $120,000 automatically receive school grants to full tuition and 18% of room and board.

It is not just the Ivies that offer such generous need-based aid.Williams, Amherst, Vassar, Columbia, Vanderbilt, Duke and Davidson are just a few schools that also generously cover a family’s need. For example, Davidson College, just outside Charlotte, North Carolina, is a top-ranked school that has committed to making attendance affordable to all students. Once a student is admitted, the family files the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The government uses that application to generate a Student Aid Report (SAR). That report shows a figure called the family’s Expected Family Contribution (EFC), a dollar amount that the government says the family could afford to spend to educate that student. While Davidson’s total cost of attendance (tuition, room, board, etc.) is about $50,000 per year, Davidson charges a family only the amount of their EFC and covers all remaining funds through a grant from the Davidson Trust. No loans are ever included in a student’s aid package. As a result, a student who may go into heavy debt to pay $20,000 to attend a state school could find himself paying little to nothing to graduate debt-free from a selective private school that has a much higher sticker price.

Many of my former clients, who would have gone into substantial debt to attend a local state school, are attending schools such as Yale, Harvard, Stanford, Georgetown, Columbia, Duke, and Davidson for free or for very little cost. The trick to this strategy is simply positioning to be a good candidate for admission. Once admitted, the funding process is typically straightforward. To position for admissions, students must seek out ways to set themselves apart academically and in other areas such as leadership, the arts, community service, and pursuit of their passions. Many of these schools offer admission to less than 10% of their applicants each year, so it is wise for Ivy-hopefuls to cast their net wide by applying to many schools, remembering to have a safety school or two in the mix.

Since my own daughter was a senior this past school year, I am often questioned regarding how her college process went.I welcome the question, because her case exemplifies the points detailed in this article. Even though she was not the valedictorian or a gifted athlete, she excelled in her passion of writing, became editor of the newspaper and literary magazine, earned numerous national writing awards, and learned to master the SAT early on. As a result, she ended up with four full-ride offers to nationally ranked private universities, totaling over $700,000. Of all of her options, we would have ended up paying far more to send her to Clemson University (her state school option), even with about $10,000/year scholarship funds, than we would have spent to send her to her other top choices. Once again, the $50,000/year private schools ended up being far more affordable than the state school, costing half as much.

So, the final message is that families must understand that financial aid can be based on financial need, academic merit,or exceptional talent in the arts or athletics. Families need to bear in mind that they may qualify for need-based aid from the most expensive private schools even though they do not qualify for need-based aid by government standards. Once the financial aid office makes an offer to the family, which includes all need-based and merit-based offers, a family can respond to the financial aid office with additional information that may be factored in to lessen their out-of-pocket expenses. Since there are so many factors at play with respect to the final amount a family will pay for college, it is wise to strategically pursue a variety of options, including state and private institutions, and to make a commitment only after all of the offers are on the table. With hard work and well-informed strategies, students can still get an outstanding education at an affordable price.

Elizabeth Hartley, owner of Scholarship Gold Consulting, funded her entire undergraduate and graduate school education through full merit scholarships and now judges for many privately awarded scholarships in the Southeast.She works with private clients, homeschool associations, foundations, and numerous schools to help students maximize their options for college admissions and funding. To receive her free monthly E-Newsletter or to request that she teach a workshop series in your area, visit

Copyright 2012, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the December 2012 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine. Read the magazine free at or read it on the go and download the free apps at to read the magazine on your mobile devices.

The Real World of College - Canva

The “Real World of College”

A guest post by Dr. Brian D. Ray, Ph.D.

The Real World of College - Canva

Okay, it appears that the homeschooled students score well above average on achievement tests in elementary school and high school. And I am willing to concede my experience and research I have read suggest they seem to know how to get along with others— that is, they are not aggressive social isolates wearing camouflage pajamas in the grocery store. But what about the ‘real world’!? Will Suzy even want to vote? Will Tyrone ever succeed once he gets into college?” These are now common statements and concerns from Mr. and Mrs. John Public.

Homeschool graduates hear these things. Novice and veteran homeschool parents have to deal with them. Grandparents of homeschoolers still wonder. And negative critics of homeschooling may never give up. But what does research say about the long-term outcomes of homeschooling?

Dr. Michael Cogan, Director of the Office of Institutional Research and Analysis at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, compared home-educated students to those from conventional school (i.e., non-homeschooling) backgrounds at one Midwest university.1 The researcher reported that the “. . . institution participating in the study is a medium-sized private university with a Carnegie Classification of doctoral. The institution is located in a metropolitan area in the upper Midwest. The overall student population is nearly 11,000 with approximately 57 percent classified as undergraduates” (p. 21). Seventy-six students who were home educated were compared to the others.

Cogan focused on four academic outcome measures (or dependent variables): the students’ first-year GPA, fourth-year GPA, fall-to-fall retention, and four year graduation. Independent or control variables included socioeconomic status, racial/ethnic minority status, gender, and whether the student had been homeschooled.


The researcher used bivariate and multivariate analyses to consider the data. What did Dr. Cogan find? First, he reported their GPAs (grade point averages): “Homeschooled students (3.37) earned a significantly higher fall semester GPA when compared to the overall cohort (3.08). . . . Homeschooled students (3.41) earned a higher first-year GPA when compared to the overall group (3.12). Additionally, homeschooled students (3.46) earned a significantly higher fourth-year GPA when compared to the freshman cohort (3.16)” (p. 24).

Next, the scholar then went to greater lengths to statistically control for certain variables: “As stated earlier, an additional approach to understanding academic outcomes of homeschooled students is to conduct multivariate analysis in order to control for additional factors. More specifically, students were identified based on their enrollment in a homeschool. . . . When considering GPAs, the homeschool variable had a positive impact on first year GPA when considering all of the factors. This positive impact continued to the fourth year. . .” (p. 24).

Finally, a last detailed look revealed something more. The homeschool variable did not significantly contribute to the fall-to-fall retention or four-year graduation models . . . . In other words, the homeschool variable had neithera positive nor a negative impact on these academic outcomes. However, homeschool students did achieve a higher retention rate (88.6 percent) compared to the overall population (87.6 percent). Further, homeschool students achieved a higher graduation rate (66.7 percent) when compared to the overall population (57.5 percent)” (p. 24).


Dr. Brian Ray wrote the following in 2004 in The Journal of College Admissions:

“Experience and anecdotes have led many people to believe that homeschool parents were either move-to-the-country anarchist goat-herders or right-wing Bible-thumpers, and their children were either mathematically-limited, due to Mama’s fear of math, or child prodigies in rocket-science who were unthinkably socially hindered. Although one can find statistical deviants in every group, homeschooling research tells a different story from the experience-based stereotypes and biases concerning those involved in home education”. (p. 5)

Five years later, in the same journal, Dr. Cogan published research that helps flesh out a fuller picture regarding the homeschooling community. His research findings were similar to those of others who have studied homeschool graduates in that he found positive things associated with homeschooling.2 He concluded and wrote the following:

Nonetheless, this study shows that this group of students outperforms their traditionally-educated peers when considering the GPA measures. Perhaps more importantly, this group of students performed at the same level as their peers when considering fall-to-fall retention and four-year graduation rates. As this group continues to grow, it is imperative that institutional researchers lead the way in developing a strong understanding of academic outcomes of homeschool students” (p. 24).

Research3 once again has shown thatthose who have been hypothesizing illeffects from modern-day, parent-led,home-based education are rather off the mark. The home educated might be wearing camouflage pajamas in the dorm room, but research says they are doing quite well academically.

Author’s Note: Please feel free to sendyour questions about research related tohome-based education and raising

Brian D. Ray, Ph.D., is president of the National Home Education Research Institute, a nonprofit research and education organization. Dr. Ray often serves as an expert witness in courts, testifies to legislatures, and is interviewed by the media. Brian is married to Betsy and they have eight children and four grandchildren.


  1. Cogan, Michael F. (2010, Summer). Exploringacademic outcomes of homeschooled students.Journal of College Admission, Summer2010, 18–25. Also retrieved 12/20/10
  2. Bolle-Brummond, Mary Beth, & Wessel, RogerD. (2012). Homeschooled students in college:Background influences, college integration, andenvironmental pull factors. Journal of Researchin Education, 22(1), Spring, 2012, 223–249. RetrievedFebruary 29, 2012 from
  3. For much more research on homeschooling,

Copyright 2013, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the February 2013 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine. Read the magazine free at or read it on the go and download the free apps at to read the magazine on your mobile devices.

Homeschool Tool Box

Your Homeschool Toolbox

Homeschool Tool Box

A Toolbox of Strategies to Balance Home Life, Home School, and Home Business

Time is our most priceless resource. It’s the one thing we can’t get any more of. No one will ever have more than twenty-four hours in a day . . . but some people use their time much more efficiently and effectively than others. Learning how to protect and prioritize your time will help you be a good steward, which will equip you to accomplish your most important goals.

In twenty-six years as an entrepreneur and fifteen as a homeschooling mom (the last eleven as a single mom), I’ve identified seven strategies for making the most of our time so that we can live balanced, peaceful lives.

FREEDOM is an acronym for these tools: Focus, Reflect, Educate, Eliminate, Dream, Organize, and Multitask.time management


Figure out what only you can do, and then prioritize those things. Mom, only you can nurse your baby, but someone else can change his diapers. Only you can write your book (unless you hire a ghostwriter), but someone else can process and ship orders.

Focus requires self-discipline, which can be a challenge for entrepreneurs. Without the built-in accountability of reporting to an employer, we have to avoid the temptation to abuse our freedom. Plan your priorities, and then implement them. Meet challenges with action, not avoidance.


Zig Ziglar says there are “two sure ways to fail: think and never do, or do and never think.” Reflection forces you to be honest with yourself, so it helps you identify what you should do and evaluate how well you’re accomplishing your goals. Schedule time at the end of each week, month, and year to look back and plan ahead.

Don’t be afraid to ask yourself tough questions. If this is hard for you, you may need a coach or accountability partner to help you. It’s easy to be blind to things in our own lives that someone else could readily identify. When coaching clients one on one, I sometimes realize I need to remind myself of the very advice I’m giving to them!


Nineteenth-century British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli said, “The most successful people in life are generally those who have the best information.” Keep up with developments in your industry. Encounter new ideas and try new strategies. No matter what business you’re in, you need to study marketing. You can learn through reading books, blogs, and online articles; taking home study courses; working with a coach or mentor; and attending teleseminars, webinars, and conferences.

Educating yourself is part of operating your business. Don’t feel that you’re not working when you’re learning new things. Just don’t let education become an excuse for avoiding action. Implement what you learn.


Make time for what you need to focus on by eliminating activities that don’t support your goals and priorities. Evaluate your business activities and quit (or outsource) the least profitable ones. Edit your belongings as well as your activities.

If something can’t be eliminated, often someone else can do it instead of you. Delegate household tasks to children, and look for ways to involve them in your business. Participation in a homeschool co-op allows you to delegate part of your children’s education to others while you retain primary responsibility.

Delegate interruptions to the answering machine and voice mail. Many household and business tasks can be outsourced to independent contractors, including lawn care, housecleaning, piano lessons, order fulfillment for your home business, accounting, website design, and much more.

Other people will respect your time only as much as you do. Learn to say “no” to good things in order to say “yes” to the best. Remember that opportunity does not equal obligation.


Several years ago, a dear friend encouraged our mastermind team to answer three important questions. I include this “Big Dream” exercise in my time management course and assign it to my coaching clients: (1) What would I be doing if nothing stood in my way? (2) What stands in my way? (3) What do I need to do to achieve my goals? Pondering these questions opens our minds to possibilities we might not otherwise consider because the first question makes us ignore limitations, and the other questions help us figure out how to overcome them.

Setting big goals spurs us to accomplish more instead of slogging along through a boring smallness. Get out of your comfort zone. If your goals don’t scare you a bit, you’re probably not dreaming big enough. Of course, if you have a new baby or a serious illness in the family, that’s not the time for stretching yourself any further. But normally, you need to stretch and grow. Don’t wait for “some day” to do what matters most. As Teddy Roosevelt said, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”


When your physical possessions are not organized, they cause frustration and steal your time. My main rule: A place for everything, and everything in its place.

In order to organize your time wisely, you have to know where it’s currently being invested. Just as you track expenses to plan a financial budget, track your activities to plan a time budget. Write down what you do every half-hour, and then evaluate your time log after a week or a month. See if you’re spending too much time on some things, neglecting important things, doing things you could eliminate, or overlooking opportunities to get things done.

Once you know how you’re using your time, you can plan how to use it better. I use seven planning tools: Big Dream, Yearly Goals, Monthly Priorities, Weekly Plans, Daily Tasks, Running To-Do List, and Stop-Doing List. When we build our lives around short-term tasks, we focus on the urgent to the neglect of the important. Start with a Big Dream for your life and build your yearly goals around that. Then you can plan each month, week, and day in alignment with that long-term vision.


Multitasking has gotten a bad rap lately. Some say that if you can multitask while you are doing something, it’s not worth your time; in business, this might indicate tasks you can outsource. Others claim that multitasking undermines focus and is inefficient; in some circumstances, that can be true.

Used judiciously, however, multitasking can buy you time to focus on your priorities. It helps you do more with your twenty-four hours and trains you to use small blocks of time efficiently. Introducing new math concepts requires focus, but you can quiz your child on spelling or multiplication facts while preparing dinner. Fold a load of laundry or empty the dishwasher while talking on the phone. Listen to educational CDs in the car or while going for a walk.

Use Your Tools Wisely

These tools are not listed sequentially, but they all work together. Dreaming helps you identify your focus, and eliminating helps you maintain it. Organizing helps you eliminate, and multitasking frees up time to reflect, educate, and dream.

When you use these tools wisely, you won’t be paralyzed by what you can’t do. You’ll begin to find peace in the space between the ideal and reality, and you’ll enjoy a more productive and balanced life.

Mary Jo Tate has been educating her four sons at home since 1997. A book coach and international editor, she helps entrepreneurs and speakers author books . . . whether or not they can write ( ). She is the author of How Do You Do It All? Balancing Family Life and Home Business in the Real World ( ), Get Started as a Freelance Editor ( ), and Critical Companion to F. Scott Fitzgerald. She blogs about books at .

Copyright 2013, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the Annual Print 2013 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine. Read the magazine free at or read it on the go and download the free apps at to read the magazine on your mobile devices.

I'm a Homeschool Graduate Now What

I’m a Homeschool Graduate… Now What?!?

I'm a Homeschool Graduate Now What


At times, it seemed like it would never end. Week after week, month after month, grade after grade—surely my home education would last forever, I thought. As a child, I wanted to finish my schoolwork as quickly as possible so that I could play. As a teen in homeschool high school, I had writing and filmmaking projects for which I needed to make time. I dreamed of the freedom I’d have one day.

Suddenly, it stopped. There was no more required schooling. I had finished. Graduated. Arrived. Or had I?

Now I can see that those seemingly endless years of homeschooling were just the beginning. Those years prepared me to enter into adulthood. They gave me a great start to my future. That’s a really good thing, because turning 18 and being faced with decision after decision that would affect the rest of my life was scary. It still is. Sometimes I feel as though I’m drowning under a sea of options. I wonder if you feel that way too.

The first thing to do is to seek God’s will through prayer. Talking with your parents is essential as well. Then, what often helps me is to make lists. Making lists of the pros and cons related to different choices can bring clarity to a foggy situation. There may be three good choices, one not-so-good choice, and one excellent choice for your particular circumstances.

I’ll be listing five options that a homeschool graduate may pursue; many of them can be combined. It’s up to you to identify the pros and cons.

  1. College. This is probably the first one that comes to mind for most families. Should you encourage your children to attend a university? There’s no one-size-fits-all answer. If your child’s goal in life is to become a neonatal nurse, college is the obvious choice. If, on the other hand, your child wants to become a writer, college is not necessary but could still be beneficial.

Whether or not to go to college was a decision I really struggled with. Initially, I decided against it due to the time and money that must be invested. However, college opens a lot of doors that I can’t open for myself. For example, most internships are available only to college students. Attending college can give me an opportunity to familiarize myself with expensive equipment that I couldn’t afford to buy, and colleges also happen to hand out that piece of paper that lots of jobs require. While I personally don’t think such emphasis should be placed on having a degree, it’s the reality we live in. In the end, I have chosen to pursue a degree in media production (starting Fall 2013).

Because I desire a very hands-on approach to higher education, online college programs are not a good fit for me. However, if it works for you, online degrees enable you to study from home, save money, and work at your own pace. Make sure you are earning a degree from an accredited college.

  1. Employment. This option means that you decide to enter the work force right away. Of course, this can be combined with college. As you all know, trying to get a job in the U.S. right now is not easy. If you don’t have much experience, a specialized skill set, or a degree, job opportunities are even more limited. I suggest calling local businesses, food places, and retail stores to ask if they are currently hiring. Then, begin filling out those applications! It’s easy to become discouraged by multiple rejections. Keep trying. I need to remind myself of this. It’s going to take perseverance to find a full-time job.
  1. Self-Employment. This option has become increasingly popular as a result of the lack of “regular” jobs. Having flexible hours, doing something you enjoy, and not living with the fear of being laid off are benefits accompanying this choice. Yet, to run your own business, you must be self-motivated, work even when it’s tedious and not enjoyable, and be responsible for keeping the business afloat. Moreover, the work often never ends, and trying to keep your personal life and work life separate can be a struggle.

I’ve done part-time freelance writing for more than two years now. During that time, my work has been published in a variety of online and print publications. It has been rewarding to use my writing skills in this way, but a regular part-time, minimum-wage job would have earned me a lot more money. Recently, I began working as a technical writer for a local mechanical engineering firm on a when-needed basis. I am paid to provide a service; I am not, for the time being, an employee of the firm.

  1. The Military. There are many benefits to joining the military—guaranteed employment is a big one. In return for your service to your country, the government will also help you pay for college. Graduating without college debt is rare these days. Still, I don’t believe people should serve in the military solely for employment and education. You need to be physically, emotionally, and mentally strong, and you should be genuinely patriotic. Enlistment in the military requires a huge commitment, and whether or not to join is a decision that should not be taken lightly.
  1. Missionary Service. This is the one option that has nothing to do with making money. In fact, you have to raise money from supporters to be able to cover the costs. That’s why, generally, only those who have a burning passion to personally go and reach the unreached with the Gospel of Jesus Christ serve on the mission field. In addition to a desire to pray and to give, some individuals experience a restless longing from God that says go. You know who you are.

We also need senders. We need people who are making a steady income to provide funds to support missionaries and to feed the hungry.

For those who think missionary service is an easy way out (You mean I don’t have to go to college or get a job at McDonald’s?), true missionary service is anything but easy. It’s tough not knowing if your supporters will keep their financial commitments or not. It’s tough being away from your family and friends for months and years at a time. It’s tough facing culture shock and spiritual warfare.

Even the application process to serve with a missions organization can be time-consuming and involve many steps. While it is hard, don’t let that stop you from following God’s will for your life. It is absolutely worth it. I served with Operation Mobilization (OM) on board the Logos Hope for 7½ weeks. I had never worked so hard physically or been so exhausted in my life! It was a very stretching and wonderful experience.

There they are: five options. Each choice represents multiple variables. What kind of job? What branch of the military? What country? Enjoy the journey of discovering what you desire to pursue.

I’m thankful to live in a country where I am given the chance to choose what I want to do with my life. What will you choose?

I'm a Homeschool Graduate, Now What

Alyssa Liljequist is a 19-year-old homeschool graduate of 2011. She is a freelance writer whose work has been published by various online and print publications. Alyssa is passionate about missions. Her other interests include videomaking and working with kids. Her short story E-Book, Deadly Delirium, can be purchased here or on She blogs at

Copyright 2012, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the December 2012 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine. Read the magazine free at or read it on the go and download the free apps at to read the magazine on your mobile devices.

cursive writing

The Pros & Cons of Cursive Handwriting

Do your kids know how to write cursive? Do you think it’s important for kids to learn cursive?

Pros and cons of cursive - Educents Blog

The Argument to Teach Cursive

Some parents and educators want cursive handwriting to be included in students’ lessons. Here’s what they said about that:

  • How will they ever be able to read historical documents such as the constitution, etc if they don’t learn to read and write in cursive? -Sara J.
  • I don’t think it has been taught in our school for at least the last 10 to 15 years. Cursive writing will become a lost art in America. I think it should still be taught. -Claudia A.
  • Yes! It’s part of my children’s 2nd grade homeschool curriculum. They just started doing it, and they are so excited about it. 🙂 -Angela M.

Cursive - Educents Blog

Download FREE cursive handwriting worksheets on Educents!

The Argument Not to Teach Cursive

Some say cursive is no longer an essential lesson to teach kids, here’s their reasonings for that:

  • No, it’s not relevant anymore. Learn typing instead. -Robert C.
  • Honestly, it’s no longer important. Teach them to sign their name; then teach them to convey their thoughts, and be persuasive, via oral and written communications. Why would we want to spend valuable school time, beyond a day or two, teaching someone to sign their name in cursive? Why don’t we spend time teaching calculations via abacus or slide rules? -Gary F.
  • I can read Shakespeare, Mark Twain and the Bible among other things all without ever needing cursive. Just don’t get the hype. -Mike E.

Handwriting Resources for Kids

Are you an educator or parent who wants to spend time teaching your kids how to write in cursive? If so, these resources from Educents will make it a lot more easy and FUN to learn cursive. Super Cursive Freebie - Educents Blog

Web Learning Resources for Kids

Online learning is becoming even more important for the next generations. Educents also has affordable resources that helps children develop their typing and coding skills.
Writing Programs - Educents Blog

  • Learn to Mod with Minecraft – Did you know kids can learn how to code by modifying (or “modding”) Minecraft®? Kids learn how to code in Java® and apply it to Minecraft® themed problems!
  • The WriteWell App – A simple and intuitive web-based tool that makes writing fun and effective. With its unique visual and tactile interface and library of interactive essay templates, WriteWell is a convenient tool for teachers and students at home or in the classroom.
  • Handwriting Worksheet Wizard – StartWrite helps teachers, homeschoolers, and parents create handwriting lessons quickly and easily. This program saves hours in lesson preparation time, yet allows you to easily create fun, meaningful worksheet to teach handwriting.

What do you think?

Do you think it’s important for kids to learn cursive? Feel free to share in the comments below!

Space Saving Homeschool Organization - Featured

How to Set up a Homeschool With Very Little Space


Space Saving Homeschool Organization - Featured

You don’t need a whole lot of space to homeschool. One of the beauties of homeschooling is that you can make it work for your unique situation. You don’t need huge desks or bulky bookcases. Instead, the main things you need are creativity and a willingness to adapt. Here are some tips for setting up a homeschool when space is at a premium:

  • Teach Wherever You Are: You don’t need a dedicated schoolroom to homeschool. If you’re dealing with limited space, you can break out the books, the laptop, the worktexts or whatever you intend to use in the kitchen, dining room, living room, or wherever you and your child feel comfortable enough for learning to take place. Switch rooms as you see fit for a change of scenery. In nice weather, head out to the porch or the park. It’s your homeschool, so you don’t have to live up to anyone else’s standards.
  • Think About Storage: When you don’t have a lot of space to work with, creative, efficient storage is key. The more books and other school aids you have lying around, the more cramped your space will seem. Use your closet space. If your closets are large enough, you can place bookcases in them or even install closet organizers to store books, workbooks, pens, pencils, papers and other school supplies. If you don’t have much closet space, use stackable plastic bins to store the items you need. You can stack such bins in a corner of a room to keep them out of the way. Install shelving units if necessary to have more space for storage.
  • Use Technology: Using a computer and printer can open up a world of educational resources, and as a bonus, you don’t have to find new places to store all of them. Just log onto the Internet to find everything from lessons and reading materials to videos and interactive activities for your child. Print worksheets as you need them and store completed work in folders or files you stash in a drawer or closet. Laptops don’t take up a lot of space, but if you need to use a desktop computer, a corner desk can keep it out of the way. Don’t forget that televisions, DVD players, MP3 players and eReaders can be used as educational tools as well.
  • Provide Work Space: No matter where you choose to teach, make sure there’s a decent space for your child to work when needed. He can listen to a history lesson on the couch, but when the time comes to practice his letters or write an essay, he will need a clean, flat surface with adequate lighting and a chair that supports his back and adjusts, if necessary, to allow his feet to rest flat on the floor.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you need a dedicated schoolroom or have to keep up with what the homeschooler down the street is doing. Instead, embrace your space and find creative ways to make it work for you.

Have tips for homeschooling in a small space? Share your homeschool ideas in the comments!

Space Saving Homeschool Organization - PF

How to Go From ABC's to Learning to Read - Featured

How to Go from the ABCs to Learning to Read


How to Go From ABC's to Learning to Read - Featured

Learning to read isn’t something that happens overnight for most kids. In fact, it takes hard work and dedication to go from learning the ABCs to learning to read. If your child is in the stage of learning their alphabet and they are eager to learn how to read, then these tips are for you.

Start by learning the alphabet

One of the best ways to go from the ABCs to learning to read is to really get to know the alphabet. Teach your child the alphabet song, the sounds of the alphabet, and the sounds of vowels. Singalongs and ABC videos are a great way to teach your child the ABCs if they are struggling to learn.

Practice putting sounds together

In order to get your child to actually read, they’ll need to learn how to put sounds from the alphabet together. Make up random words with letters and vowels and have them practice. This will help encourage sound fluency. You can also search for these types of sheets online using a search engine.

Sight words can help a child learn to read

If you are stuck on the next step of helping your child learn how to read, focus on sight words. If your child has mastered sounds and connecting sounds together, then sight words will be your next step. Again, a quick search online will reveal pages of sight words for your child to use.

Start reading simple sentences

After your child has mastered the art of learning sight words, allow them to start reading simple sentences. There are very basic books out there that can help your child develop their reading. Start with the simple books and allow your child to master those books. Your child can just keep moving up and up on the reading ladder.

Read books together

Once your child has mastered reading, have them read books to you. Of course you can keep reading books to your child as well. Reading books together helps to develop deeper reading skills and it also helps to develop your child’s imagination even more.

Learning to read isn’t a one size fits all approach. One of the main ingredients for learning to read is to know the alphabet inside and out. Start teaching alphabet concepts to your children early, so they don’t struggle so much with it when it’s time to learn how to read.

How to Go From ABCs to Learning to Read - PF

Getting Ready to Homeschool - Featured

Getting Ready for Homeschooling


Getting Ready to Homeschool - Featured

Now that the decision is all set up and you and your kids are preparing for this new chapter in your lives, the next thing to think about is how or where to get ideas and resources to help your kids’ studies.

Here are some tips to know where and how to get those resources to keep your homeschool going:

Get in touch with the state homeschooling organization.

These organizations, also called homeschooling organizations, are there to help those who are new to homeschooling. They should be able to connect you with other coops and groups in the area who may have other resources.

Make use of the internet.

You can use the keywords “homeschooling resources” to generate results which can be very helpful to you. But make sure that you only access the internet whenever the kids are not around or are already sleeping so that you can focus on doing your research.

Ask the city librarian.

Befriend the city librarian. Leverage the librarian’s expertise and let him or her recommend and show you good books to read.

Check out Yahoo, Google and even Facebook groups.

Social media can be a very great tool when it comes to finding great resources. Many make use of the technology for them to be known and also to help others. All you have to do is patiently look for the proper groups that will give you what you need. Joining those groups are free so you do not have to worry.


Five Reasons Kids Who Were Adopted May Benefit from Homeschooling

Five Reasons Kids Who Were Adopted May Benefit from Homeschooling

Five Reasons Kids Who Were Adopted May Benefit from Homeschooling

I used to be one of the moms who claimed I would never homeschool. I only knew a few homeschooled kids growing up and they were socially awkward, never fitting in with the rest of us. I didn’t want my children to feel excluded, nor did I wish for them to be labeled or stereotyped because of being homeschooled.

However, two years ago, as my daughter was in her second year of private preschool, I became increasingly concerned with the lack of Black history being taught. Once she entered half-day kindergarten at a public school, I figured that there would be more of an emphasis on Black history. There was, but it was relegated to February (Black History Month) and Dr. King’s birthday. What about the rest of the year?

As a mom-by-adoption to three Black children, I wanted my kids to be racially confident and competent. I wanted them to know more about their history beyond Dr. King, Rosa Parks, and slavery. This is how I “fell” into homeschooling.   For year, my oldest attended part-time kindergarten and my middle daughter attended preschool six hours a week. Every afternoon, we would sit in our designated homeschooling room, while their baby brother napped, and we would read, do workbooks, listen to music, play educational games, and do art projects. On the days I was too tired or too busy, my kids would beg me to sit with them and “do homeschooling.”


Children who join their families by adoption can benefit from homeschooling in many ways, and here are five of them:

1: Children can learn more about their racial culture and history beyond what most public and private schools choose to offer. Instead of a “bare bones” understanding, my oldest two children already know more about Black history than my college students did! (I taught college writing courses for eight years at a local university.) This empowers and educates children, helping them become confident in who they are and being proud of where they came from.

2: Children aren’t forced or pushed to get through material they truly do not yet understand. Many kids who were adopted have gaps in their learning due to where they lived before they were placed in the adoptive home. There can also be language barriers, cognitive delays, and learning disabilities. Instead of throwing a child who is struggling into a “herd” which is prodded along as a group, the child can receive individual attention, only moving forward when the material is truly understood.

3: Children are encouraged to express their emotions and be heard. Kids-by-adoption have sometimes come from a traumatic past due to abuse or neglect. Their feelings, in the past, may not have mattered or been listened to, accepted, or responded to. Therefore, the kids have been conditioned to be quiet (struggling in silence) or to behave erratically in order to try to be heard. Homeschooling can be a time of teaching the child how to appropriately express emotions and ask for help, as well as help parents really tune in to their children’s needs.

4: Children are able to bond with their siblings and homeschooling parent. Some children who were adopted may have a hard time bonding and attaching due to a traumatic past. Attachment to primary caregivers may impact the child’s future relationships; therefore, it is critical that children who struggle with attachment get the help that they need. Cooperative activities with siblings, sitting on a parent’s lap for a story, making eye contact with siblings and parents, etc. can help with the bonding process.

5: Children learn to be themselves. When a child who is adopted first comes into a family, often times there is a honeymoon period in which the child is on “good behavior” and the parents believe that everything will be just fine. However, once this period ends, a child’s “true colors” begin to show, leaving some parents frustrated and overwhelmed. Homeschooling gives parents and kids the time and safe place to work through these difficult times, hopefully until the child feels comfortable to be themselves and have his or her personality, talents, and quirks celebrated and encouraged.


072 copyRachel Garlinghouse is the author of four books including the newly released Homeschooling Your Young Black Child: A Getting-Started Guide and Workbook. Her adoption education and experiences have been featured on NPR, MSNBC, Huffington Post,, Yahoo, Huffington Post Live, Scary Mommy, Babble, and many other places. Rachel and her family live in St. Louis. Learn more about adoption, homeschooling, and her family’s adventures at White Sugar, Brown Sugar.







black homeschooling

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