Exposing Our Children to the 2016 Presidential Election

I’m not happy about the number of inappropriate election scandals this year. Elections are a great time for educational experience. Instead, this year the presidential candidates are dead set on insulting each other.

I think a 10-year-old with autism said it best, “ALL politicians lie!”

I think the election is an important issue and I’ve gathered some opinions about how other homeschoolers are approaching the election.

The best way to make the 2016 election a learning experience

I have a older teen, so we’re not hiding the coverage from him. We are talking about realities of life in this time, when everything is potentially recorded, how we expect him to interact with women and fact checking ads.

We have a 10-year-old also. We are grateful he’s not really interested in the news yet. But in 2020, he’ll get the same. We will probably start with the congressional election 2 years earlier.

I love this idea! Put the kids in charge of fact checking! This is a great way for them to learn and hopefully uncover the right information. However, they might begin to learn that even the fact check websites are sometimes biased.

Use Game of Thrones

This is one way to encourage political education!

First, we watched Game of Thrones and discussed political intrigue. Then, I set him loose on internet news sites and let him make his own decision about a presidential pick. Maybe not conventional, but he now has a better grasp of politics than most adults and he has become very interested in politics all the way down to our recent school board elections. (I know, why would a homeschool kid care about the school board, but he did.) I don’t censor what he watches, but I am available for questions and to discuss how what he watches compares to reality and our family morality. This was not my original plan on how to teach politics. He had me at my wits’ end and his is what happened.

Be completely open about it

This is another solution, simply be 100% transparent.

I am completely open about it with my 12 year old daughter. We talk about rape culture, dismissing women, how women are sexualized in advertising and the media. We even read some of the tweet storm of women discussing what happened to them. We then discussed how to handle it when someone tries something like that with her. Don’t be uncomfortable, don’t shrink yourself and smile, loudly say what needs to be said, “get off me! Don’t touch me!” And strike out where you can hurt them. We discuss how no one has the right to touch her…ever.

Starting early on is never a bad idea. My best friend started talking to her boys about the proper way to respect women at an early age.

I discuss it with my 12 yr old granddaughter. I have to be careful, because her parents are on the other political spectrum from me 🙂 I hear their “talking points” when she makes a statement. So, I tell her MY position, explain why I believe what I believe, show her how to research and make informed decisions. And, I try not to throw up at some of her “canned” comments she heard from her parents LOL But, I tell her, it’s MY opinion, and others disagree. I tell her she needs to study, watch, listen, learn for herself. Anything I say, she needs to verify it for herself. I explain about moral values vs religious values – that a religion may have unique values that should be allowed to be practiced personally, but have no place in our laws. That we don’t want to live in a Theocracy and why. We ralk about women’s issues, about why we need to stay true to ourselves, how our culture still demeans women, and that we CAN make a difference if we continue to speak out against misogyny. Anyway, we have good discussions, and hopefully, she will make up her own mind based on truth, not media talking points, or just because someone shouts it louder. She’s smart, inquisitive, and wants to learn and understand. It’s scary thinking that she may decide differently! But, I don’t want a robot, I want her to grow up into a thinking, informed woman. Since I am her teacher, but her parents are her PARENTS, I walk a fine line when I teach her about our government, political process, and political climate!

Nasty ads are hidden everywhere

My youngest is 5 and can read extremely well. So she has picked up a few things here and there. Ads on her favorite YouTube channels can be the worst. At this age, I want to keep her as sheltered as possible. When she does ask questions, I’ll answer them and look up the answers.

I wanted to add.. it’s been a good conversation starter with my teen about certain issues.

What happens when you don’t have cable?

We don’t have cable but the kids hear a little here or there. Thanks to my MIL, my 10 and 13 year olds got an earful about Trump v Clinton. Good opportunity talk. It goes something like this:

People have different opinions on different things. People will try to make it seem like their guy/gal is a savior, and the other guy is a devil. In reality they all have shortcomings. Why? (they answer with jokes and reasonable answers.) The candidates are humans, and we know the only perfect person was Jesus, and he was smart enough to not want to get into politics! (That’s our point of view.)

Some people think X or Y about Z. You can see why they think that, because blah, blah, blah. But on the other hand, blah, blah, blah. People’s experiences and who they listen to influence what the believe. People don’t even agree on what the government should be in charge of. (We sidetrack for a minute here on the Constitution.)

Then they ask what I believe on a couple of things, I tell them in basic terms and then tell them why. We should always know WHY we believe something so that we can better state why our opinion is valid. Sometimes talking to people who you disagree with will teach you something you didn’t know. (Rare with adults but possible!) Sometimes we need to learn more about a topic to have a better opinion.

I always make sure to say that not everyone agrees, but that’s OK as long as we can be kind to one another. God loves everyone so we should too. (Derailment of conversation when 10 year old parrots some of Nana’s lovely opinions.) I then ban them from stating political opinions, but encourage them to either ask questions of why to people they think this or that (for the sake of not actually banning political conversations, which I wish I could do a little.)


Contingency: Pros & Cons of Homeschooling and the Parent’s Philosophy

Amidst the never-ending questions and debates about the pros and cons of homeschooling, I find some solace in my seemingly independent belief that we greatly blow this out of proportion. This is no rocket science. The quality of a child’s homeschool experience is directly related to the parents’ philosophy.

Whoever told you homeschooling was homogeneous? I would like to believe that in time we will continue to break the molds that form our common stereotypes. Alas, my knowledge of history begs to differ.

As humans, we find great utility in compartmentalizing. In fact, philosophically we cannot function any other way. There are thousands of beliefs that we must accept without proof. We must take for granted some things, leaning upon the work and evolution of generations past. This is a characteristic that Alexis de Tocqueville overemphasizes in his book about American democracy, Democracy in America (1835).

We love generalized ideas because they save us time. They are pragmatic. As pragmatic Americans, we are in a rush, always. And while we cannot live without such ideas, we over-indulge.

Again I will repeat, whoever told you homeschooling was homogeneous?

I’ve heard a saying several times. They say that no two homeschools are alike, just as no two fingerprints are the same. How silly.

How silly that this resonates so strongly with us. We have described the essence of life itself and folded its corners around our cause.

On the one hand, please do not interpret me as one who holds disdain for your unique snowflake syndrome, for I am promoting it. On the other, as we stroke our egos I should cry out once more, “homogenous!”

The gravity of our choice to press our thumbs into our children’s foreheads should be almost crippling. Can our courage withstand long enough to survey the alternative? Look! Their necks in clamps, jerked to the moan of the machine, assembly lines stamp a barcode to their skulls.

Have you watched this machine with me? Like me, have you quietly traced the ridges of a barcode that would not scan while he cries into your bosom?

We know the barcodes do not always scan. We know how perilous it is to be clasp around the neck. When the floor drops out from beneath our feet, can we really complain that we dangle by our chins? Days ago it was more pragmatic to accept this fate.

But turn for a minute. Look, there, towards the corner. Backs turned, they face the corner where flames are dancing.  They fan the flames, one day hoping to be taken up in the flames.The flames leap higher.


Not so quickly. See, even closer to the wall others are pointing at the shadows. Another group builds their own conveyor belt. Have they not realized there is no such thing as safe floors? With your eyes open, do you see the people running? Do you see the technical minds developing videos of those same shadows?

Our traits are magnified. As we take control, the beauty of our swirls and patterns is amplified. And the crevices in between fissure deeply.

If he could, I believe he would beg, “press gently.”
Have you recognized your thumbprint?

You reached out to me asking for the pros and cons. I hope you now realize you must learn your own patterns. Learn your own crevices. Now, you tell me the pros and cons of homeschooling.

Free Speed Reading “Course” And Resources

In this post I’m going to tell you everything I’ve learned about speed reading, how I implement a free speed reading ‘course’ for my children and list as many awesome resources as I can.

My honors thesis: an introduction to speed reading

In my last year of college, I wrote a senior’s honors thesis. It was the longest thing I had ever written. It took forever but I finally handed it in for review, all 60 or so pages of it. There were three professors on my board. Two of them I knew pretty well and one of the professors I was only acquainted with. I met with each professor to get ‘feedback’ about my thesis. You had to revise it based on professor feedback before the final presentation. When I went into the office of the last professor he told me that he hadn’t read my paper. He asks for the copy that I brought with me. At this point (almost instantly) I’m not too amused. I assumed I would need to leave and come back. But Dr. Fisher motions for me to sit down and picks up my thesis. He starts flipping through it. A few minutes later he sets it down, turns to me, and starts asking me questions.

That was the first time I became aware of speed reading. Truly aware. It is one of those things that gets brought up every now and then. I always thought to myself, that would be cool to know how to do. I didn’t realize just how beneficial speed reading was until that final office visit of my college career. I asked Dr. Fisher how he learned to read that quickly. He told me he took a speed reading course when he turned 20. He said that is about as late as you can wait and still hope to learn how to speed read effectively. That was a bummer, but I haven’t stopped trying to learn. And, most importantly, as a homeschooler I’m able to implement this into my children’s learning.

Imagine being able to get through a book 2-5 times faster and still enjoy it and retain the information. What I’m imagining right now is that I could spend that saved time reading more books! I desperately wish someone would have introduced me to speed reading at a younger age, but it’s not too late to get your kids involved.

What is speed reading?

In case you still don’t know what I’m talking about, speed reading is a collection of techniques that are used to increase the rate at which an individual is able to read. So, you read faster. Having the ability to read extremely quickly is a valuable skill. As a result, many classes, books, courses, and videos have been released that ‘teach’ you how to speed read most effectively.

Speed reading methods


There are a number of common methods and techniques for speed reading. The first big hindrance to our reading speed is the fact that we usually say words aloud in our head. We have an internal monolog that acts like a governor on our brain’s engine. This method is called minimizing subvocalization.

Another speed reading method is chunking. It is a psychology term that refers to the process of understanding the whole through a connection of many pieces. Basically, that means that when you read a paragraph you can comprehend the meaning by grouping words together.

Some other speed reading techniques

There are other common techniques for increasing reading speed. Many people find it beneficial to trace each line with a pen. Keeping a pen or highlighter or ruler moving at a steady rate across the page prevents us from pausing. We usually have internal monologs that are ongoing, and forcing ourselves to move at a quicker rate and not pause over certain words is a great easy way to practice reading.

Many people use their index finger to steadily trace each line. My youngest likes to use a bookmark turned horizontally.

I’ll get to the free speed reading tools that I actually use in a little bit. First I want to finish with the basics about speed reading.

The average reading speed

Most people read at an average speed of around 200 words per minute (WPM). The elite 1% of readers are around or above 1,000 WPM with high comprehension levels.

Reading comprehension

The average comprehension rate of the average 200 WPM reader is around 60%. Those crazy fast readers at 1,000% are actually able to hit close to 85% comprehension.

It is very important to maintain your reading comprehension when you practice reading faster. Here is an in-depth research PDF (from Carnegie Mellon) that describes how increases in speed can challenge comprehension. The Study of the Eye Fixations and Comprehension of Speed Readers shows that the more complex the content, the more difficult it is to comprehend. [additional source]

Forbes says that if you can read at least 600 WPM you are getting ‘left behind.’


Reading speeds at developmental levels

Staples conducted this study where they recorded the average reading speeds for different populations. These populations were in a wide spectrum of ages so that each stage of educational development was included. The following numbers are all averages.

  • Your average 3rd grader will read at 150 WPM.
  • 8th-grade students read at 250 WPM
  • The average adult reads at 300 WPM
  • The college student reads at 450 WPM
  • A “high-level executive” can hit 575 WPM
  • An average college professor (not mine) reads at 675 WPM
  • A true speed reader can hit 1,500 WPM – that’s nuts and about the rate at which my professor read

The huge allure once you understand the human reading potential is the amount of time you could save by reading faster. The speed reader (not the world champ) reads five times faster than the average adult. Start doing the math. If you read 10 posts by homeschool bloggers each day, that are each around 500 words it will take you 16+ minutes (not including navigation) to finish reading. If you are at the level of a college student, you will need 11+ minutes. But if you are a speed reader, you’ll be able to finish these in 3+ minutes.

Getting your kids excited about speed reading

This is not hard at all to do. In the next section, there are a few tools linked for testing your reading speed. My kids loved seeing how many WPM they could read. It is easy to make this into a fun ‘competition,’ but be careful that you make sure they are not sacrificing comprehension. It is very easy to start blowing through documents just to say you finished the quickest.

Free tools for checking reading speed

Before you try to increase your reading speed or your kids, you should probably figure out how quickly you read. There are quite a few free resources online. Staples.com and ReadingSoft.com both have free reading speed checkers. I’ve tried them both. You just click a button to start and click a button when you finish and it spits out how many WPM.

You don’t need to buy a ‘speed reading course’ in order to help your kids learn to read faster. There is one tool in particular that I use.

How to increase reading speed?

I’m going to list the best free speed reading tools I’ve used. Everything in this section is free.


Spreeder has a free app for learning to speed read. There is also a paid version, but you can get the same benefit from the free web-based version. What does Spreeder do? You can copy and paste any document into their free app, set the speed (WPM) at which you want to read, and then Spreeder will display the words one at a time. Give it a try.

Because each word is displayed on by one, your eyes don’t need to scan across the page.

This type of app requires that the text is digitalized so that it can be uploaded or pasted into the app. Some people will say that this isn’t ‘real’ speed reading. But, it cuts my reading time in half and is an absolutely amazing tool for boosting my kids reading. Nowadays just about everything is digital. Articles, books, etc.

From the Amazon reviews of the upgraded version, I read that Chinese texts do not work in the app. I haven’t had any experience with weird characters because all I’ve used is English text. Amazon has a paid Spreeder version and a Spreeder pro version.


This is an even more advanced technology. You can read their own research here. Basically, Spritz combines rapid words with advanced placement. The also highlight a vowel that helps your eye detect the word. ‘Getting’ Spritz is a little bit more complicated. Applications use Spritz technology, so you can’t just ‘get’ Spritz.

Spritz is such novel technology that it was incorporated into the movie, Lucy. I never watched it, but she was some type of super human?

If you want to speed read the internet

There is a free app called Spritzlet that installs onto your web browser. This tool is AWESOME. You can highlight parts of pages or speed read the entire page. I use it all the time. You will have to register, but its 100% free.


Readsy.co is the ultimate free tool for reading PDFs. You can upload PDFs, .txt files, or enter a URL. It still uses Spritz technology.

Free speed reading apps for iOS and Android

Spritz technology has been integrated into two free iPhone and Android apps. Here is the free android app and here is the iOS speed reading app.

These apps are useful for speed reading eBooks!

Free Windows phone speed reading software

Yet another amazing implementation for Spritz is the Tucan reader. Tucan Reader works for reading e-books on Windows Phone 8/10 devices. I cannot say that I have ever used this app – I don’t have a Windows phone. The underlying technology is, of course, the same.

Another free web app for speed reading

ReadSpeeder.com is another similar app. It’s free, but you are required to register an account in order to sign up. If you’re really trying to test out everything then you might want to give it a shot.

Another implementation of Spritz technology is Boba. Boba is a Safari extension for speed reading any web content.

Can these digital tools be applied offline?

The short answer is “yes.” One of the biggest benefits to practicing using these speed reading tools is that we begin to stop using that internal monolog. We get used to processing words at a very fast rate and no longer read auditorily in our heads. We process the information and move on. You probably won’t be able to instantly transfer this skill. But my kids have noticed a difference offline, and extreme benefits online.

Offline speed reading courses

If you want to do things the ‘old fashioned’ way, the Evelyn Wood speed reading courses are a classic. This is the method that my college professor used. The book is generally extremely cheap, you can view it here on Amazon.com, The Evelyn Wood Seven-Day Speed Reading and Learning Program. This program has been around since 1959. I would suggest buying an affordable copy of this to accompany the other free resources.

If you have a bit more money and want to get the full Evelyn Wood course, it is also available on Amazon.

How to teach speed reading?

The title of this article implies that I’ve given you a free course. Well, I sort of already have. Now you just need to piece it together. I start off by teaching the benefits of speed reading. Then I explain how important comprehension is. Then, for fun, we measure the speed at which we are already reading. No matter what that speed is, it’s okay. We all read at different rates. Then I start integrating the free tools. We use so many digital resources that can be used in those free speed reading tools. Not to mention, anything we read online can be converted.

Just keep practicing with these speed reading tools. The goal is to break down that internal monolog and the slow habits we have. When you are consistently practicing with these tools, you’ll be saving time and working toward this goal. When it’s time to pick up a real book, definitely encourage the techniques at the very top of the article. Then, some of you will want to also integrate a few books on speed reading, etc.

Speed Reading Trainer is free on the Google Play store (it does have in-app purchases) and offers some amazing feedback for practicing. It has a nice diagnostic tool included for figuring out your progress.

More resources for teaching your homeschooler how to speed read

I’ve listed a lot of links and resources, but there are still a few other links I think you might find helpful.

The Wikipedia page on Speed Reading. Look at the footnotes if you want more scholarly articles.

Extensive reading: Speed and comprehension. An informative PDF.

You can get a free trial of Legentas.com’s speed reading course. I have never used it and I am in no way affiliated with it.


How Secular Homeschoolers Should Teach Religion

Before I’m judged for using “teach religion” in the title I want to make something very clear. I’m a secular homeschooler. But that does not mean I am not open-minded. I am an inclusive homeschooler. What I mean is that I am willing to consider any type of resource, curriculum, advice, co-ops, and so on if I believe it might be the best available. I’m also unwilling to teach a narrow worldview or shield my children from religion — just as some religious homeschoolers attempt to shield their children from the secular world.

Religion heavily influences society

There is no getting around it, religion permeates our society. This is an election year, so we really get the full dose. We may have a separation of church and state, but that doesn’t mean that religion isn’t fully involved.

Although ‘statistically’ the number may be dwindling, most people in the United States hold a religious belief. Even if some of these polling sites are biased, the number is large.

I’m sure some secular homeschoolers believe that ‘religious education’ is completely unnecessary as an aspect of their homeschool. Maybe it can just be handled under the ‘parenting’ category.  I disagree. I think that is a little unrealistic considering the weight and influence that religion had on the past. History will always be infused with religion. And, from a literal and somewhat philosophical standpoint, everything that we learn is history. Everything we know is from the past. Religion influenced science, literature, politics, and wars. It was the leading proponent of education.

Most secular families that I know have religious family members. I exalt respect as one of the highest virtues. Personally, I would never, ever want to shame a member of my family.

Religion is all around us

Religion is on our money. Religion is in the Pledge of Allegiance. People exclaim “bless you,” after a sneeze. You can find it on mottos, in schools, pop songs, bumper stickers, and so on. “God” is literally part of our cultural language.

I think we should be reserved in our approach to addressing such issues. Personally, I would never want to raise angry children that push back on all things religion. But that is a risk I see when we want to quickly explain or dismiss such matters.

Most readers probably agree with me at this point. I don’t think I’ve said anything too terribly controversial. Nevertheless, I don’t think that many of the secular homeschoolers I have met devoted enough curriculum ‘time’ to religion. Of course, we do not want curriculum that is filled with Bible verses. We don’t want information distorted to favor one religious worldview. And, worst of all, the possibility for complete misinformation. But I think we should be spending plenty of time making sure that our children truly understand religion. There is a reason that religion and culture is a very common ‘introductory’ class that many colleges suggest for freshmen students.

You have a very rare opportunity


I won’t discuss my reasons for homeschooling in depth. But, one reason that I homeschool is the humanist aspect. (So much value is lost in public schools. So many opportunities, wasted. The structure and method are so confining and do so little justice to our rich history.) And your ‘rare’ opportunity is the ability to teach religion without religious interference.

Maybe I should have started this post with the question, “what is religious education?” I believe that if someone is religiously educated they received ‘training’ or ‘introduction’ to all religions. People in the United States so quickly assume that ‘religious education’ means Christian textbooks. It could not be farther from the truth.

Religion (generally) gets in the way of religious education

You have the rare opportunity to really teach religion. When a religious person teaches religion, they teach religion from their angle. Religion starts with their religion and moves forward. In religious education, children are always either taught one belief system, or they aren’t really learning anything. Beneficial, rich, and wholesome religious education includes many religious, cultural, and historical perspectives.

You have the unique opportunity to teach these things without the emotional ties. You can celebrate all the religious holidays. They can all be learning experiences. There is so much to learn from religion.

Think of all the field trips

Think of all the wonderful field trip opportunities you have! Every major religion near you will likely be open to giving you a tour. When you teach religion to your children you will be able to identify some people (in public) as being religiously affiliated based on their clothes and symbols. You’ll be able to appreciate religious landmarks. The list goes on and on.

Respect their fun learning experience

Events with religious ties can be fun! Bible stories can be fun! Some of the most beautiful artwork is religious. There is no need to be a ‘downer’ when your child has the opportunity to enjoy a religiously themed event, or to appreciate a masterpiece, or to listen to a new tale.

Do the subjects their rightful justice


You might have been raised in a secular house. Or, you might have a religious background. If you are not educated in a spectrum of religions it would be a shame if your ‘lack of experience’ was a buzzkill. When you get the opportunity to tell/teach your children the story of Siddhartha, don’t half-ass it because you don’t believe it, or don’t understand it. When your child encounters the creation tale or another biblical story, greet it with enthusiasm. Some atheists claim that religion is no different than Santa Claus.

Some atheists claim that religion is no different than Santa Claus. For a multitude of reasons, I would disagree. Nevertheless, would you kill a child’s joy of believing in Santa or the Tooth Fairy just because you didn’t have faith in it?

Faith is never the problem

Something to keep in mind — faith itself is never the problem. Faith is an outward or inward projection of a belief. We all have beliefs and we all have faith. If we may dive much deeper into the philosophical trenches for a moment, we cannot function without faith. We cannot prove in the strong sense of the word. We lack control over most aspects of our lives. Don’t let your seemingly autonomous life convince you otherwise. On faith and layers of empirical experience you expect that when you go to sleep tonight that the sun will greet you in the morning. You embrace each day with faith that your partner will stay faithful to you. You place a great deal of faith into our currency. If someone questions you, you understand that our little slips of paper aren’t actually ‘backed’ by anything. And, even if they were, we still use that paper symbol in faith that it will continue to hold its value.

Faith is never the issue.

Your children will eventually have friends that are religious. Those religious friends can do amazing things for this world — for your life and your child’s life. Just because they have faith in a higher power does not undermine their positive actions in this world.

Religion is as unique as our DNA

jesusI do not, for a moment, believe that religion is categorized into groups or denominations. No two people interpret literature the same way. No two people interpret the Bible the same way. No two people have identical emotional reactions to the latest blockbuster. And no two people have the same emotional pulls from a religious service. No two people can imagine the same crucifixion of Christ just like no two people can wrap their consciousness around nirvana.

Just because we know The Name Of their religion does not mean we know their beliefs

As secular educators, we have a choice. We can dismiss religion into its categories and denominations. Or we can treat religion for what it is. We cannot see the heart until we know someone.

If you are an atheist, you will explain your beliefs to your children. You will explain to them why you oppose the belief in God. It is completely within your power to convey this in specific or general terms. I would offer a plea — be as specific as you can about what it is that you oppose. And for the sake of your child’s education, be as neutral about other issues as you can.

The vast majority of atheists oppose the actions that are the result of blind faith. Most do not oppose the existence of faith itself. In the formative years of your child’s development, these are fine lines.

Teach ‘local,’ American religion well (the first time)

I believe one of the biggest mistakes a secular homeschooler can make is flippantly dismissing religion. Especially the ‘local’ religion. Ultimately, children will have questions. If you want your children to ask you these questions, I think that it is important to have first built a foundation of trust.

I think that a solid understanding of religion can also help our children relate to their peers and colleagues. It is difficult to understand human actions and reasonings if we can’t put ourselves in their shoes. I know so many conservative evangelicals. Luckily, I understand them. I know their “why” and I’m not surprised by their actions.

In conclusion

In conclusion, I want to reiterate that I am not trying to tell you how to raise your child. There is undoubtedly a large dose of implicit parenting and judgment that accompanies this post about teaching religion in secular homeschools. I want to drop one of my favorite lectures here, Let’s teach religion — all religion — in schools – by Dan Dennett. This post wasn’t directly influenced by his talk, but as I read over the final paragraphs I believe it is more than fitting.

In the next few weeks, I am going to start a series on teaching American Christianity to your kids. This is not the rich and full religious education that I have been advocating in this post. What I will be writing about in the next days and weeks is for high school students, potentially middle school. I’ll reference books, but not textbooks or curriculums. This isn’t  a ‘brand’ or anything of that sort. This is my ‘hand-made’ curriculum / lesson plans for teaching the big picture of American Christianity.