Oak Meadow High School Newsletter, Winter 2019

Creating a homeschooling portfolio: tools for documenting work
All learning counts, and you can document that!
Discussion as an assessment tool
A clean and tidy study space = a happy, productive you
You’ve got this! (inspirational flyer)

Creating a homeschooling portfolio: tools for documenting work

Oak Meadow homeschooling plannersA homeschooling portfolio is a record of your student’s learning. The content of the portfolio depends on the purpose and who it is for.  Possible audiences are: you (for your own teaching purposes); a supervising teacher your student is working with; your school district or state; a college or transfer school admission team. What does the portfolio contain?

  1. Record of student work (quantity and scope): What was covered in a particular time period?
  2. Documentation of progress (quality): How are the student’s skills developing?
  3. Evidence of mastery (proof): Which skills and knowledge are consistently demonstrated?

Click here to download Tools for Documenting Work, a guide to help you create an effective homeschooling portfolio.

Oak Meadow citizen scientist students
Oak Meadow students collecting samples in the field.

All learning counts, and you can document that!

One beauty of homeschooling is the freedom to explore all sorts of learning experiences, and student interests and passions should be documented along with academic achievements in your homeschooling portfolio. Oak Meadow’s accredited distance school awards credit to enrolled students for many types of academic and life experiences. Here are examples to get you thinking as you and your student map out a high school academic plan.

  • At Oak Meadow we encourage students to participate in a wide variety of extracurricular activities for credit through our Life Experience Elective Credit program. Read about our LEEC program (under “Signature Programs”) and check out the application form to see how we evaluate a student’s experience.
  • Oak Meadow High School Science Teacher Julia West routinely encourages her students to get involved in citizen science activities. For ideas, read her article.
  • Oak Meadow has a long referred students to Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Talented Youth online program (CTYOnline). Take a look at the rigorous Advanced Placement, computer science, and technology courses they offer for gifted and talented high school students.
  • Many enrolled Oak Meadow students have had fantastic travel experiences and earned Oak Meadow credit through study-away travel programs. One of our favorite partners is Gogi Abroad.
  • Dual enrollment is a great way for high school students to try college-level study or to dive into a specialized topic that may not be available through homeschool curriculum providers. We recently discovered Cornell University’s online course, Ornithology: Comprehensive Bird Biology for budding ornithologists. Explore offerings at your local community college or others that offer online courses.
Parent and teen having a discussion
Photo by Mael Balland on Unsplash

Discussion as an assessment tool

If your student is getting overwhelmed or just fed up with lots of writing assignments, consider choosing occasional assignments for discussion instead of writing. This discussion can be a debate (if there are two sides to it), an oral report, a teach-the-parent tutorial, or just a conversation. It can be recorded (audio or video) and reviewed together, or the parent can write a short summary and evaluation of the project for the student’s portfolio. Using discussion as an assessment tool brings learning achievements to life.

A clean and tidy study space = a happy, productive you

photo of a clean study spaceA messy study space does not inspire organization or workflow, so keeping the desk area clean and tidy is important. Here are some ways to spiff up before you get down to work.

A vinegar mix to shine your computer screen
Computer screens, especially with the touch-screen technology we have today, get fingerprints, food splatters, and dust that we don’t notice until the light hits it just right. Most computer screens can be cleaned with simple water. If that doesn’t do the trick, add some vinegar to the mixture.

¼ cup white vinegar
¼ cup distilled or boiled and thoroughly cooled water

Clean routine: It’s important to start with a computer screen that is cool, so power off and unplug your computer or laptop before cleaning. Mix the white vinegar and water together in a small bowl and, using a lightly textured cloth, clean the screen in a left-to-right, top-to-bottom motion, being sure to get the edges well. Let the screen dry completely before plugging in or turning on the computer.

A scrub to make your keyboard shine
The computer itself, including the keyboard and mouse, is likely just as dirty, if not dirtier, than your screen was, so why not clean both while you’re at it? Don’t spend money on compressed air, which also contains toxic chemicals. We’ll add a little alcohol to this mixture to really get some of the keyboard and mouse germs gone, and if there’s a texture to your computer facing, it will get into those crevices nicely, too. If you’ve already made the computer screen cleaning mixture, simply add the 2 tablespoons of rubbing alcohol and proceed to clean the rest of the computer.

¼ cup vinegar
¼ cup distilled or boiled and cooled water
2 tablespoons rubbing alcohol

Clean routine: Mix well in a small bowl. Again, only clean your computer or laptop when it is cool and unplugged.

  • Exterior of computer: Dip the edge of a clean rag in the mixture and clean well. If your computer surface has a grain to it, wipe with the grain.
  • Keyboard: Unplug or turn off your keyboard if necessary. Let it cool completely before proceeding. A straightened-out paper clip can be inserted around the base of each letter to get any lint buildup free. Then use a cotton swab dipped in cleaning solution to get around, between, and behind each key. Clean the rest of the keyboard with a rag dipped in cleaning solution. Let dry thoroughly before using.
  • Mouse: This mixture works for touchpads built into laptops and external handheld mouses. Be sure to unplug or turn off any external mouses and let them cool before cleaning. Use the paper clip and cotton swab dipped in the solution method to clean your mouse. Let dry thoroughly before using.

Control cord clutter
Cords are a breeding ground for messes, crumbs, and dirt, as well as a tripping hazard. While you’re tackling the tangle of cords, consider getting a smart power strip that doesn’t send any power to machines that are turned off. It’s a simple way to save money and energy. Untangle and UNPLUG all cords before cleaning them.

  1. Vacuum the area where the cords are, as they always seem to have dust bunnies, tissues, torn paper bits and dried plant leaves among them.
  2. Mix up a small dish of warm water with a drop of castile soap. Use a rag dipped lightly into the mixture to slide along cords. Be sure to get into the middle groove of cords. Do not clean the metal prongs with ANY water at all; only wipe with a dry cloth.
  3. Use recycled plastic bread ties (the flat kind that slip on) to label cords. Write in permanent marker on each tab, or use different colored ones, to know which cord at the power strip belongs to which machine on the desk.

Excerpted from: The Modern Organic Home: 100+ DIY Cleaning Products, Organization Tips, and Household Hacks

You’ve got this!

You’re more than halfway through the year! Print this flyer to hang in your study space when you need reminders to get you through your homeschooling days.

printable homeschool inspiration
Click on image to download.



Oak Meadow 5-8 Newsletter, Fall 2018

10 ways to foster independence and autonomy in learning
Time management tips for students (PDF)
An awesome reading list for 7th and 8th graders
Easy crock-pot applesauce recipe
Why, oh why, did I decide to homeschool?

10 ways to foster independence and autonomy in learning

Homeschooler working on their Homeschooling workHomeschooling parents often ask how they can help their children learn to work independently. Independence is a skill that grows slowly and needs to be nurtured over time. Students need opportunities to repeatedly practice and gain confidence in their capabilities. They also need to know they can trust that an adult will be ready and available for support when they need it. Here are 12 ways parents and teachers can foster independence in children.

  1. Have your children help plan how to set up their homeschool space. “How would you like to organize your space? You know yourself well; what would work best for you?”
    Let them pick out their own supplies. “What do you need? What do you like?”
  2. Give them control over what they will learn. “What would you like to study? What are you interested in learning more about?” Help them understand educational requirements and encourage them to come up with ways to meet them.
  3. Help them develop the range of possible options. Listen when they have suggestions. “What other possibilities could we consider? Can you think of anything else?”
  4. Support different ways of demonstrating knowledge. Brainstorm possibilities with the student, let them choose, and then hold them accountable for their choices. “How would you like to share what you’ve learned?”
  5. Encourage them to use a planner or calendar. Provide one (here’s Oak Meadow’s Student Planner) and show them how to use it. “You’re very capable. Let me show you how you can remind yourself what needs to be done.”
  6. Keep the schedule flexible. Let them tell you what they would like to do when. “What do you need to accomplish today? How will you make sure those things get done before tomorrow?”
  7. Encourage them to play outdoors. Playing on their own can help foster a sense of independence in children. “Go play outside! I know you can keep yourself occupied. It’s fun to be independent. If you need my support, you can ask.”
  8. Let the student define their own goals. Don’t demand perfection. Ask questions like, “What standards do you have for yourself?” “How accurate do you think this needs to be?” and “Are you satisfied with your progress?”
  9. Guide them; don’t direct them. Don’t tell them how to do things. “I trust you to figure that out on your own. Let me know if you need help.” Ask open-ended questions. Listen attentively to the answers they offer. “What do you make of this? What are your thoughts?”
  10. Let them learn from their attempts. Don’t correct them right away. Ask them, “How did things go? Could you make it better somehow? What do you think?”

An awesome reading list for 7th and 8th graders

brown girl dreaming, Jacqeline WoodsonOak Meadow teachers recently revised the required grade 7 and 8 English reading lists for students who enroll in our distance learning school. A year of thoughtful research and discussion went into their final choices, and we’d like share the results with all middle schoolers.

Grade 7

A Single ShardA broken piece of pottery sets events in motion as an orphan struggles to pay off his debt to a master potter. This finely crafted novel brings 12th-century Korea and these indelible characters to life. —School Library Journal

Aleutian Sparrow: This YA novel re-creates Cook’s momentous voyage through the eyes of this remarkable boy, creating a fictional journal filled with fierce hurricanes, warring natives, and disease, as Nick discovers new lands, incredible creatures, and lifelong friends. —Amazon

Brown Girl Dreaming: The author cherishes her memories and shares them with a graceful lyricism; her lovingly wrought vignettes of country and city streets will linger long after the page is turned. For every dreaming girl (and boy) with a pencil in hand (or keyboard) and a story to share. — Kirkus Reviews

Catherine, Called Birdy: This unusual book provides an insider’s look at the life of Birdy, 14, the daughter of a minor English nobleman. The year is 1290 and the vehicle for storytelling is the girl’s witty, irreverent diary. —School Library Journal

Code Talker: A Novel About the Navajo Marines of World War Two: Readers who choose the book for the attraction of Navajo code talking and the heat of battle will come away with more than they ever expected to find. —Booklist

Counting on Grace: Vividly portrays mill life and four characters who resist its deadening effects. . . . Solid research and lively writing. —Kirkus Reviews

Esperanza Rising: The author’s style is engaging, her characters appealing, and her story is one that–though a deep-rooted part of the history of California, the Depression, and thus the nation–is little heard in children’s fiction. —Kirkus Reviews

Out of the Dust: This intimate novel, written in stanza form, poetically conveys the heat, dust and wind of Oklahoma. With each meticulously arranged entry the author paints a vivid picture of her heroine’s emotions. —Publishers Weekly

Poetry Speaks Who I Am: This volume of verse is aimed at teenagers and is, not surprisingly, full of strong emotion… It’s a standout collection, packaged with a CD of the poems read aloud, many by the poets themselves. —The New York Times

Shelf Life: Stories by the BookIn this collection assembled to benefit literacy, Gary Paulsen brings together 10 stories by fine writers for young people, with books playing a central role in some stories, and a tangential role in others. —Booklist

leave this song behind, teen poetry at its bestGrade 8

A Wrinkle in Time: A coming of age fantasy story that sympathizes with typical teen girl awkwardness and insecurity, highlighting courage, resourcefulness and the importance of famiyl ties as key to overcoming them. ―The New York Post

Baseball in April: A fine collection of stories that offers a different cultural perspective about feelings common to all teenagers. The author writes well and with tremendous insight into the process of growing up. —The Boston Globe

Criss Cross: Part love story, part coming-of-age tale, this book artfully expresses universal emotions of adolescence. —Publishers Weekly

Echo: A grand narrative that examines the power of music to inspire beauty in a world overrun with fear and intolerance, it’s worth every moment of readers’ time. —Kirkus Reviews

The Giver: Wrought with admirable skill–the emptiness and menace underlying this Utopia emerge step by inexorable step: a richly provocative novel. —Kirkus Reviews

Leave This Song Behind: Teen Poetry at Its Best: This collection features the best poetry submitted by those writers to Teen Ink over the last five years.The pieces in this book were chosen because they were so powerful that they stood out from the rest. —Amazon

Moon Over Manifest: Alternately set between World War I and The Great Depression, the story is sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, and sometimes poignantly sad, but page after page, it is hard to put down. —Children’s Literature

Hey kids! Use your math, kitchen, and culinary skills to make this easy crock-pot applesauce recipe

Heimage of apple on twigre in Vermont the perfect fall family trip to the orchard usually results in an overflowing bag of fresh apples. It’s also a perfect time to practice knife skills and creativity in the kitchen with this sweet and spicy crock-pot applesauce. We like to use a mix of tart and sweet apples for a great flavor balance, then add your choice of spices to make it your own creation.
Get your recipe HERE (PDF).

Why, oh why, did I decide to homeschool?

Not every day is a smooth day. Here’s a little printable to hang in a handy place when you need a reminder of what it’s all for. Click on image to download.

WhyWeHomeschool flyer

Oak Meadow K-4 Newsletter, Fall 2018

Outdoor activity for autumn
Circle Time: Starting your homeschooling day with purpose
Curriculum activity: Gnome math
OM educational counselor tip: Aligning expectations with reality

Outdoor activity for autumn: Make a walnut boat

Walnut BoatAt Oak Meadow, we’re in favor of any activity that gets us outside to explore and enjoy nature. While there is no end to the amazing crafts you and your child can make from natural materials, there is a particular sort of delight that comes from making your own toys. Here we share a sweet, simple handmade toy that uses easy-to-find materials, most of which you can collect on a nature walk. Afterward, find a spot by a stream or puddle to sail your Walnut Boat. Or make a whole fleet and have sailboat races. To paraphrase the Water Rat from Kenneth’s Grahame’s classic story, The Wind in the Willows, there is nothing quite so much fun as messing about with boats. Bon voyage!


Walnuts halves
Beeswax or some old crayons
Glass jar
Sticks, broken or cut into 4-inch lengths (these will be the masts)
Large leaf, one for each sail
Hole puncher
Optional: small candle (such as a birthday candle)


  1. Put crayons into the glass jar, and melt in the microwave or in boiling water until the wax is liquid. Carefully fill the empty walnut shells with melted wax. Let it cool slightly (until it is the consistency of peanut butter).
  2. Insert a stick into the semi-hard wax. Once the wax cools completely, the mast will hold snugly.
  3. To make the sails, punch two holes through a leaf and thread your sail through the mast.
  4. Now your boat is ready to sail! Place the boat into a puddle, stream, or tub of water and gently blow on the sail.
  5. Also try this! Substitute the wooden mast and sail for a small candle (such as a birthday candle). Affix the candle into the center of the walnut shell as you would the mast, light it, and push it off into the water at dusk! Beautiful!

Circle Time: Starting your homeschooling day with purpose

Starting the day with circle time helps focus everyone’s energy after the busy morning routine and brings you and your child together, as a team, ready for the day’s work. Even if the circle consists of just you and your child, it can become an important part of the day. Try these tips for circle time success.

Engage the senses: Use a small bell, table chime, or musical instrument to signal the start of circle time with a sound. Singing gets everyone breathing deeply (great for waking up the brain!) and fingerplays or movement activities engage the senses of touch, sight, and sound. The rhythmic actions of singing, movement, verses, and laughter get the group energy moving in harmony.

Repeat verses, songs, and fingerplays throughout the month: Repetition gives you the chance to play! Instead of constantly learning new words and songs, repeating favorites lets you and your child play with the tempo, add movement, and get goofy. Sing “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” fast, then slow; loud, then soft; in a mouse voice and in an elephant voice; in a whisper, then a shout. Act it out (don’t forget the banjo playing!) and see how many ways you can fiddle with it. Try a different way each day.

Keep the format simple and predictable: To keep your circle time special, choose a structure and stick with it so you and your child know what to expect. You might open circle with a bell sound, sing a song, do a movement game or fingerplay, talk about the plan for the day, and then end with a verse. Keep circle time short so that everyone looks forward to the next day’s circle time, when the fun will continue.

Here are some circle time resources you might like:  Oak Meadow Circle Time Songs CD and A Child’s Seasonal Treasury

circle time cd coverA childs seasonal treasury cover

Curriculum activity: Gnome math

Oak Meadow math uses stories to introduce math concepts such as the four processes, and little gnomes take on the personality of each process. Plus likes to stuff his pockets full of jewels while Minus gives away jewels to help others. Times collects two times, five times, ten times as much as all the others, and Divide shares everything equally. The math gnome stories (found in our Grade 1 Resource Book) are meant as a jumping off point for you and your child to create stories of your own.

In “The Elf King Asks for Help,” the Gnome King receives a letter from the King of the Elves:

Dear Gnome King,

I am writing to ask for your help. Every year my elves have to keep count of the nuts that fall so we can divide them equally among all the little animals. But this year so many nuts are falling that my elves are having trouble counting them all. Soon the nuts will spoil and the animals will not have food to eat for the winter. Do you have any gnomes who know how to count? Please send them to help us!

Your Friend,
Elf King


Of course, the four gnomes were very happy to help the elves. Minus helped the elves find the lost nuts. (8 minus 5 is 3 nuts.)

math gnomes addition


Times found 3 times as many lost nuts. (3 times 3 is 9 nuts.)

math gnomes times

Divide gave 3 squirrels 6 nuts. Each squirrel had 2 nuts. (6 divided by 3 is 2 nuts.)

math gnomes divide

You can make your own math gnomes or purchase the Oak Meadow gnomes, who have been busy throughout the year (as you can see in their videos on our YouTube channel!).

Aligning expectations with reality

Homeschooling is a process of constant revisiting and adjustment. Don’t be afraid to do some trial-and-error to find what works best for you and your child. If you try a particular approach and it feels overwhelming, adjust your expectations and try again. Ask other parents what works for them. Ask your children for their input. You may be surprised at their thoughtful responses!

Phone counseling through our Homeschool Support program is available for those who would like experienced guided help creating a homeschooling rhythm too: Keep your expectations realistic and trust that you can do this!


Here’s a little printable poster to hang in your homeschool space for when you need an extra dose of inspiration.