Zen and the Art of Homeschooling from an Improv Perspective

Your suggestion is “write me a blog entry.” Go!

It’s 9:30 a.m. on a homeschool day, and I’m feeling pretty pleased with myself. The kids are still asleep, which means I have time to finish this article. And by “finish” I mean “actually write.” But the hard work is done; I have a title.

Laugh if you will, and I will say the title is the most important part of the article: it gives the writer appropriate context, so that as she is filling up the Word Processor, she will not spill out so many random thoughts. More importantly, it narrows the available options on what to write from infinity to a much more manageable set.

This is one of many little hacks that I have learned from practicing, performing, and teaching improv. People who take improv classes are often surprised to find that improv is so much more than getting up and being funny. It changes you. The skills and techniques that improv is based around are incredibly valuable in business, life, and —yes — homeschooling.

Much has already been written about the value of improv for business leaders and school-age kids. Even the single improv lesson on learning to fail can have a significant positive impact on kids.

And this post isn’t about helping the kids to grow, Mom and/or Dad. It’s about you.

And how you can benefit from taking improv classes (even if you never, ever intend to perform), or at least read and practice the techniques (sometimes called “rules of improv”). Improv is great for parents in the same way ballet helps football players: it strengthens the auxiliary and complementary muscles that help with balance and strength.

Let’s go through those techniques and see how they apply to being a homeschooler:

“Yes, and”
Of all the improv “rules” this is easily the most recognizable, thanks in large part to Tina Fey. The premise is simple: when you use the word “but” it stalls the dialog. In improv, it means the scene is usually over. In life — and I have found especially with teens — it means the conversation is over (and not generally on good terms).

This simple change is so powerful, it has its own book and is a centerpiece of today’s communication coaching for business leaders. It does not mean you must accept what the other person suggests. It is simply a way to affirm what the other person is saying, in order to bring the conversation together. Consider:

Kid: I just want to play Minecraft!
Parent: Yes, but you still have school work to do.

Although perhaps not intended, this response from the parent carries the weight of an either/or proposition. Using the word “but” tends to polarize our thinking: in this case, the kid is likely to now think of the situation as one where he can play Minecraft or do schoolwork, but not both.

Kid: I just want to play Minecraft!
Parent: Yes, and you may when your schoolwork is done.

It is a small change, and it will yield surprisingly positive results both in you and your kids!

Let it go
Don’t let the Disney association fool you: “Let it go” is more than an auditory virus that you can’t seem to shake. Zen masters and improvisers know the value in not being attached to particular outcomes. In improv — unlike scripted sketches or plays — we never know where a scene will go. All we can do is be present, listen to our scene partner, and make good choices for the now, trusting that whatever comes will be worthwhile.

Yeah, it does sound a lot like life. Especially homeschooling, where many of us begin the process before we fully understand it.

There are far too many outside pressures pushing you to have very specific, measurable outcomes. Don’t let that keep you from following your good instincts and moving forward. And the best way to “let it go” is to embrace your inevitable failures.

There are no mistakes, only opportunities
One of my kids is, and has always been, a bit anxious. A few years ago, at Christmas, the whole extended family was sitting around the table playing cards. When it came E’s turn to play, he froze. “I don’t know which one is the best to play.” Several adults offered up suggestions, without much success. I turned to E and said, “Remember our motto.”

Almost immediately, E smiled and played a card, no longer concerned about the best possible play. My brother asked, “OK, I have to ask. What is your motto?”

E beamed and said, “We suck, and we love to fail!”

This is always the hardest technique for adults to really buy into, probably because we weren’t taught how to fail as kids. Although recognizing failure as something to be embraced has been gaining traction recently, there’s still a great deal of stigma associated with it. The problem with shying away from the failures isn’t that you’ll make fewer of them, it’s that you won’t see the opportunities that are available from them.

In an improvised scene, if everyone has dialog that is appropriate and normal, the scene will probably be fairly dull. When someone makes a mistake — by saying a phrase the wrong way, or using the wrong word when they meant something else — we all move toward the mistake. Because that’s where something interesting happened. And more importantly, because we all support each other on stage, we know that we can make that mistake something amazing!

You probably already encourage your kids to explore, to take risks, and to revel in and learn from the mistakes they make. How about giving yourself the same grace? After all, how better to demonstrate that failure is not permanent nor shameful than letting them see it in their parents?

Stop bridging
This technique is for those of you who are considering homeschooling, and haven’t yet decided to do it — perhaps because you’re worried about your qualifications, or your patience, or whatever. Stop bridging.

The term “bridging” is when you know you need to get to the other side of the river, but instead of just crossing it, you spend time building a bridge. In a scene, often when we all know (including the audience) that a particular character has to die, or that two characters are going to rob a bark, or whatever. Bridging is when we stall or otherwise over-plan without actually getting there. People do that a lot in life, too.

Building the bridge helps us to feel like we are getting something done, without actually having to cross the river. Because getting to the other side is often a little scary, and — perhaps more significantly — we’re worried that we might fail once we actually get there.

Now that you accept failure as a necessary AND AWESOME part of life, there’s no need to keep bridging. Jump in, swim across, and be done with it. You’ll figure out what you need to figure out once you’re there!

…and that’s scene!
I badgered my wife to take improv classes. It’s true. I’m not proud of it, but I am glad I did it. I had been doing improv for a while, and finally convinced her that the skills would be useful in her writing (she’s a writer, so it was a brilliant argument on my part). When she finally gave in, she made sure I understood that she had “absolutely no interest in performing.”

She’s a full cast member now and performs most weekends. And she’s hilarious.

See, you don’t have to be a “comedian” or the person always making jokes to be great at improv. You just have to learn how to give and receive support, to trust in yourself and your scene partners, to give up on knowing how things will go, and to embrace mistakes. If you can do that, you’ll make some great improv comedy.

Funny thing is, it’ll also help you make some great homeschooling.

Carey Head is a writer, improviser, entrepreneur, minor league humorist, homeschooler, and generally opinionated scuttlebug. He lives in Belmont, NC with his wife, three boys, dog, cat, cockatiel, and assorted insecurities. He loves long lists and the Oxford comma.

You can find outdated information on him at http://careyhead.me

Happy April Fools’ Day! Get out there and laugh!


Honoring Women in History the Homeschool Way

March is designated as Women’s History Month and today, March 8th, is International Women’s Day. A day to celebrate “the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future.”

When I talk with people interested in homeschooling, one of the questions they often ask is, “How can I possibly teach my children things I don’t know myself?” This is a great question, because none of us can possibly know everything. We can’t be experts on every field of science, all of mathematics, the entirety of world history, or the vastness of literature. The answer I usually give to this question has many parts, but one of the most important in my own life, is the idea that as a homeschooling parent, I am my children’s partner in learning. I don’t need to be an expert who can answer every question; I just need to be interested in exploring the answers with them. 

Every day, I come across things I don’t know. Today, Women’s History Month is making me aware of the gaps in my own understanding. I love the idea of Women’s History Month, because I want my kids to know about the important contributions of women to our society. And yet, when I look at the way women are portrayed in history, it so often seems to be as an adjunct to men. How Sacajawea helped an essentially male project conceived by President Jefferson and led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. How Sibyl Ludington aided in Paul Revere’s efforts to notify the patriots. How American women facilitated the male-led war effort in the 1940’s by building airplanes and acting as nurses.

I have this nagging suspicion that there’s something wrong with a view of history in which nearly everything important was done by men. Where the main narrative is a kind of framework of names and dates, of conquest and treaties and political developments accomplished by men. Where those few women we learn about are outliers who overcame their nature as keepers of the hearth to act on a broader, male stage. I don’t really know what to do about that, and yet, having identified it as a problem, I have time to work on it.

I am my children’s teacher today, and I’ll also be their teacher for years to come. If I realize two years from now that I should have explained something differently this week, I will still be able to do that. If we visit Seneca Falls three years from now, I’ll be able to help my children make connections between the historical site of the first women’s rights convention in 1848, and things we’ve learned together this year. I have time to find books and articles that will help me see this issue of women’s history more clearly. In the meantime, I can do my best with what I know today. I can choose books to read with my children as thoughtfully as I can, and have discussions at the dinner table based on what we all understand now.

This week, my daughter is loving a book she picked up at the library, Girls Who Rocked the World by Michelle Roehm McCann and Amelie Welden. I’m reading aloud a chapter about women in early America from Howard Zinn’s A Young People’s History of the United States to both of my kids. For myself, I’m reading the inspiring stories of this year’s National Women’s History Month honorees at the National Women’s History Project website.

That’s good enough for right now. The future will take care of itself as we learn together as a family.

— Sonja

Sonja Kueppers is a homeschooling parent of two children, aged 10 and 8, who have never been to school. She is an enthusiastic lifelong learner with an eclectic academic background. In addition to homeschooling her children, she works part-time in the IT field and enjoys playing board games. She has been married for over 20 years to her college sweetheart, a dedicated co-parent who also finds time to bake all of the family’s birthday cakes.

Savvy Homeschool Moms Podcast

Our very own Mari Beth Buckroth was recently a guest on the SavvyHomeschoolMoms podcast!


Listen to her episode here


Why “Neutral” Science Isn’t Neutral

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

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

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

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

How can you as a nonscientist figure out what to use? There are some key things to look for in a middle school or high school level science course that is truly neutral:

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

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

Here’s the problem with a chemistry or physics textbook that omits key parts:

  • Chemistry is the science that definitively proves that evolution occurs.
  • Physics is the science that gives the clearest evidence that the Big Bang is how the universe came into existence.
  • Physical chemistry is the area of science used to study and explain climate change.

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

Blair Lee, M.S.

Author REAL Science Odyssey Biology 2 and Chemistry 1 published by Pandia Press

Visit my Blog


I will be speaking about science and creating a Handcrafted Education at the CHN Conference, Torrance, CA, June 19-21 and the HSC Conference, Santa Clara, CA, July 31 – August 3


Have a voice. Help Build the Vision. Be Represented. Represent.
Attend the 2014 Inaugural National Alliance of Secular Homeschoolers Conference September 4-7th in Atlanta, Ga.

NASH will be a registered non-profit with By-Laws and an elected Board of Directors who will appoint an Advisory Board. We have reached the stage in our development where we have what is currently necessary in order to host the 1st Inaugural Conference and thereby finish building the foundation of NASH. Our current agenda contains items that are actively being addressed while still being open and flexible to incorporate the input from those at the planning sessions and first Board meeting.

We are moving forward with our expectation that NASH will officially launch between October 1, 2014, by opening member registration, and as a registered non-profit at the first of the new year. The necessary discussions and subsequent decisions will be made with the input of all those secular homeschoolers who give their input, offer to volunteer, or otherwise lend their voice as well as those who support secular homeschooling and secular homeschoolers. The conference is being held to conduct the 1st Executive Planning Sessions and Board Meeting of NASH.

The NASH staff experience includes those who work or have worked in the areas of: finance, legal, administration, community outreach, media, public relations, political affairs, and marketing. We also have individuals, who work in their own community homeschool groups, dedicated to Program development and Membership Services. Our intention has always been to create an alliance organization with the input of those with whom NASH will serve.

It started with a general idea and was fueled by a passion and it’s grown to where it is at this time. The further growth and evolution of NASH is not only going to come from the efforts of those who are currently working for NASH but from ALL who will come and give their input and time at the planning sessions.

Thank you.

Moving Secular Homeschooling Forward

The National Alliance of Secular Homeschoolers

is honored to announce
the support of

Secular Homeschool.com


We are proud to reveal the new N.A.S.H. website:


N.A.S.H. wishes to thank its Volunteer Staff for their hard work and dedication!

Coming Soon!

More exciting announcements from N.A.S.H. and Secular Homeschool.com.

As the secular homeschooling movement moves forward in the 21st century, be a part of the journey!



A Small Beginning for a Big Idea

The homeschooling community continues to grow at a steady rate in the United States. The latest figures (www.nheir.org) show there are about 2.2 million home-educated students in the United States. There were an estimated 1.73 to 2.35 million children, grades K to 12, homeschooled during the spring of 2010. Research suggests that homeschooling grows at a rate of 2 to 8% per year. The National Center for Education Statistics reports, parents gave a number of different reasons for homeschooling their children. In the 2011–12 school year, 91% of homeschooled students had parents who said that a concern about the environment of other schools was an important reason for homeschooling their child, which was a higher percentage than other reasons listed. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the share of parents who cited “religious or moral instruction” as their primary motivation for home-schooling has dropped from 36 percent in 2007 to just 21 percent during the 2011-12 school year.

For a growing number of families religion has nothing to do with their choice to homeschool. The number of families who homeschool for reasons including religious/moral instruction has not declined, but the number of families who are homeschooling for reasons other than religious is on the rise. As homeschooling becomes more ‘mainstream’ and the number of homeschoolers who are choosing to educate their children for non-religious reasons increases the need for secular resources, curriculum, and support grows. Secular homeschoolers are still a minority within the homeschooling community, but their numbers are growing and their voice is starting to be heard. Secular homeschoolers seeking community and support often face a struggle that religious homeschoolers do not. Support groups, homeschool co-ops, curriculum choices, and national representation are not as abundant for secular homeschoolers as they are for religious homeschoolers. Local secular groups exist here and there, some states having large secular/inclusive groups, but there, as yet, does not exist a ‘national presence’ for secular homeschoolers to which they can feel a part. There is no one organization that unifies secular homeschoolers and represents their needs and conerns.

Many secular homeschoolers turn to the world wide web to find like-minded homeschoolers and secular support. Facebook has over 40 groups that are dedicated to non-religious homeschooling. These groups range from ‘atheist’ to ‘inclusive’ and represent a myriad of needs/resources, including those dedicated to secular resources and curriculum, support groups for specific secular curriculum such as Waldorf and Oak Meadow, homeschooling with media sources (i.e. Netflix, Youtube, Khan Academy), free educational/homeschooling resources, special needs homeschooling, and location specific support groups. There is also a growing number of specific groups that offer its members a truly secular environment, free of religion, such as: Military Secular Homeschoolers, Pagan Homeschooling, Homeschooling Freethinkers, Homeschooling an Only, and one for those that specifically teach evolution – a ‘hallmark’ of secular homeschooling.

Homeschooling parents, generally, share common traits that include diligence, excellent research skills, and the ability to ‘think outside the box’. Bringing those people together in one group creates an ideal environment for a new creation, an evolution of secular homeschoolers. That is where the origin of N.A.S.H. began. Homeschooling continues to reflect and represent the same demographics found in society. The landscape of homeschooling continues to expand and the mindset of society, and education, continues to be exposed to and influenced by that landscape. That expansion and influence will only continue to progress as society heads into the 21st century. N.A.S.H. will work to ensure that secular homeschoolers have an equal voice and influence for homeschooling as well as working to provide support, services, and resources for secular homeschoolers.

The Inaugural Conference for N.A.S.H., being held in Atlanta, GA September 4-7th, is a small, yet important, beginning for secular homeschoolers. The conference workshops will be conducted by secular homeschoolers for secular homeschoolers. The children/teen activities will be conducted in a secular environment. The vendors present will be providing secular resources and curriculum, only. More importantly, those who want to attend the 1st Executive sessions of N.A.S.H. are invited to do so. Over the course of three days there will be two open N.A.S.H. sessions where secular homeschoolers and secular curriculum providers, are free to share their thoughts, concerns, frustrations, and needs as secular homeschoolers. The final session will consist of the Executive Board members and all N.A.S.H. volunteers creating the By-Laws and structural foundation for N.A.S.H, which will include obtaining a non-profit status. The work accomplished in September will be the spring board for secular homeschoolers to take their place, nationally, in the homeschooling community as a unified body of home educators.

It is a small start of a big idea that will net huge benefits for secular homeschoolers.