The First Pages

My sisters and I are our mother’s life’s work – this is a thought that hit me with some impact when I first articulated it. She is a fiercely capable, opinionated and intelligent woman – who grew up in the height of the women’s liberation movement of the 60s and 70s — but she made the decision to quit her job, be a stay at home mom, and homeschool three kids for 20 years… When she decided to journey into homeschooling in the 1980s, it was anything but mainstream. It was map-less.

The catalyst of this project was a journal of notes my mom kept over the “school year” between the fall of 1987 through spring of 1988. I was three years old, and my older sister was five. My mother was babysitting and homeschooling the daughter of a close friend who worked as a librarian part time. The journal was originally a way for my mom to keep track of our projects and activities to relay to the other homeschooling mom. Much of the journal is pages of handwritten bulleted lists of things we did.  My mom marked “child initiated” activities with a star next to the description — nearly everything described is marked with a star!

Throughout the journal, my mother writes with a sense of real interest in the unfolding process of our learning. She often notes the exchanges between us kids as we navigate play, or work together on projects. My mother writes, at times, like a scientist observing the fascinating behavior of her test subjects. And at times like a tired mom.

I am nearly the age my mother was when I was born. And I have been looking back at her choices, her experience as a parent. I have been looking at myself and my sisters. Who we are, now, as shaped by the unconventional approach to our education.

I am writing this blog to ask the question: what is the difference between the first generation of homeschooling parents to bring the idea into the mainstream, and the first generation of homeschooled and unschooled adults to reach parenting age? In that space and time between generations, what have we learned? How have we changed? What would I do differently from my mom?

I am writing this blog to ask my own big-picture questions, starting with the story of my own family. Starting with what I know.

Friday, Sept 4, 1987 - the first page of the journal of notes my mother kept during our first "school year"

Friday, Sept 4, 1987 – the first page of the journal of notes my mother kept during our first “school year”

The cast of characters in the journal includes me, Lindsey, my older sister Mindy, and our dear friend Camille, born just a day after my sister. Our mothers became close friends in Mommy-And-Me class.

Play dough dinosaurs

Play dough dinosaurs

Excerpts from the first page of the journal:

  *  initiated by children

1) Calendar

2) “playing school” lesson on letter D

→ guessing what a drawing is on the chalkboard – all objects start with D…

→ * copying words off board




→ * drawing

Camille drew only on chalkboard – a very original dinosaur coming out of an egg, a turtle and a lake (from a suggestion from Mindy)…

Mindy wanted to draw on paper so she could keep her drawing… She drew a dinosaur & egg & then asked how to spell egg.

→ * Lindsey is putting magnetic letter on the board while the big kids finish their activity. Mindy suddenly joins her. Discussion includes –

“you put letters here, & I’ll put numbers here…”

“I need a D for my name…”

Right away in the journal, we begin by “playing school.”  I was three years old at this time, but the two older girls would have been starting Kindergarten that fall. September of 1987 was the moment that we were actually beginning another path.

From talking with my mom and older sister, I now know there was a sense of thrill for the two five year olds about being school-aged. Lunch boxes were purchased in celebration. Playing school was an early fascination, maybe this even surprised my mom.

At the top of the first page, as I mentioned, my mom wrote that an asterisk will symbolize child-initiated activities.  Throughout the year in the journal, there is little recorded without an asterisk. It seems to me that, despite her intentions to explore child-led learning, this little denotation choice was a hangover from her schooling years (both as a student and a teacher)…


Excerpt from second page:

* → Reading Candyland Legend

Afterwards, Camille asks eagerly “Is it noon?”

I say “No, it’s still early – but it’s RECESS!” (It’s 9:00 am)


Excerpt from third page:

* → Free Play: Tiger attack & Indians

→ Books:  Digging Up Dinosaurs by Aliki
Dinosaurs – A Pop-up Book by Dot & Sy Barlowe

→ Nature walk:  at the end of the walk, Lindsey wanted to climb up to the Secret Passage. She was nervous to do it by herself, but she did it. She seemed competent and proud. Then she led the two big girls… picking tomatoes from garden

→ Lunch. The girls are going to starve. They each ate a little bit of healthy food. (Camille ate 2-3 spoonfuls of yogurt, half a plum, some juice, ½ a small tomato)

* → Assorted play… Placemat mazes
Camille quickly put together number rod puzzle. Then Mindy.
Lindsey did ABCs halfway through.

Balancing & tricks in the living room.

→ SWIMMING with Delia, Kiki, Eric.
There has been a lot of regression for Camille & Mindy.
(Not so much for Lindsey.) But they both put their faces in, occasionally venture into deep water, Mindy & Lindsey still go down the slide, they still go on their back some, & they still swim under water (especially Mindy). They had a GOOD TIME!

* → Lots of snacking – Camille ate 2 yogurts! Mindy & Lindsey & Camille all had yogurt and sandwiches!

* → Lots of activities – computer, top, pretend play, etc.

These three pages — unremarkable as they may be, represent a recording of our day. Activities like practicing words that start with the letter “D” are recorded alongside “Balancing & tricks in the living room.”

My mom records the odd moment at the end of our “nature walk” where I overcome my fears of climbing somewhere on my own, and then lead the older girls as well.

All of these things are noted with equal weight: academics, play, small moments of personal triumph. Looking back, even having lived it first hand, I am floored by the amount of trust my mother had in the holistic and child-led learning approach we took.