In a homeschooling environment, learning happens with an ebb and flow.

Four young children looking at an ocean view
Four young children looking at an ocean view
Photo by Melissa Wiley, 2007

There are going to be a lot of new homeschooling families this fall. Not just suddenly-schooling-at-home, distance-learning families, but brand-new officially-doing-this-homeschool-thing families. Thousands of people making the same decision my husband and I made way back when our firstborn was a baby.

It’s easier now. The support networks are robust and well-established. The internet has exploded with resources. There are blogs and podcasts and books to guide the way.

It’s also—right now, this year—harder, in some ways. The pandemic has really put the home in homeschool. My kids’ beloved co-op classes are all online this fall. No group park days…

Photo by Melissa Wiley, summer 2016

I just wrote an epic Twitter thread with advice for parents who have suddenly found themselves thrust into homeschooling situations due to COVID-19. I promised to compile it here for easy reference, so here it is!

Dear Suddenly & Temporarily Homeschooling Parents:

I’m a work-at-home mom of six who has been homeschooling for over 20 years and I’m here to help if you have questions! I call my family’s learning style “Tidal Homeschooling” in recognition of natural ebbs and flows in life and learning.

One of my kids is high risk for respiratory issues, so our family began social distancing about a week before it…

How Tolkien’s personal letters have influenced my writing practice

Photo by Shan Li Fang on Unsplash

I’m an ink-and-paper addict, and I thought I was already documenting every possible piece of my life in my various notebooks and planners. I keep a detailed daily task list; I write morning pages and poetry; I keep a Lynda Barry-inspired notebook for sketches, quotes, and “Ten Things I Saw Today” lists. I’ve been blogging about my family’s reading life for nearly fifteen years. I chronicle everything! Or so I thought, until I read an excerpt from The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien.

Have brought Frodo nearly to the gates of Mordor

In a letter to his son Christopher in April, 1944, Tolkien wrote a chatty account of his day…

It took morning pages and poetry prompts to unstick me from a seriously stuck place

Photo by Rishi Deep on Unsplash

Two years ago, I was in trouble. I had breast cancer. I had a book due. I had to move my family from San Diego to Portland.

Writing it like that, it sounds pretty dramatic. It felt dramatic at the time! The cancer was an early catch, so (long story short) we rushed our move so I could do all my treatment in Portland, ASAP, before the tumor got any bigger. The early diagnosis and rapid timetable meant I was spared chemo. …

A poem for creatives

Photo by amirali mirhashemian on Unsplash

Always leave thread in the needle and the sentence half-written.

The plunge into chill water is the hardest part, so leave the burner on, the hot tap running.

Don’t let ink sit in the pen for too long — it clogs the nib. You’ll lose time momentum interest scraping a drypoint across your skin until the clot dissolves.

Always leave the iron on. You may return to find useful scorch marks, or with luck, ashes you can read like tea leaves.

Fail to secure the lids of your garbage bins. While cleaning up the raccoon rummagings, you may happen upon…

Photo by Melissa Wiley

Something there is that does love a wall,
that sends the gangly boy-limbs clambering up

and bids the mother not to fuss or call
out words of caution, not to spoil the bliss

of racing, arms outspread, along the bricks,
along the road that crests the world, the whole

huge world six cinder blocks and seven leagues
below. The boy is king, is wind, and she

must hush: just study shrubs in neighbors’ yards,
imagine herself a Seventies mom, unfazed

by threats to skull, spine, ulna, femur.
He shouts, he leaps; the earth (a mother too)

shivers, lets loose the…

This simple, visual three-column system helped me keep track of all the edits I needed to make, big and small.

A few days ago, I turned in the revision of my latest middle-grade novel. My awesome editor at Knopf had given me notes on a few things she wanted me to focus on in this pass—fleshing out a couple of characters or relationships; deepening a primary theme; adding more setting description in certain passages. And here and there I needed to address smaller issues: an out-of-character moment here; a clarification there.

With prior novels, I’ve worked from paper notes—a printout of the editorial letter and marked-up manuscript—checking notes off as I address each one.

Let’s face it, you’re never going to melt down all those broken crayons to reuse in Pinterest projects.


This is going to be terrible, so start with something easy. Let’s say: board games. Collect all the boxes from the playroom shelf and put them in the middle of the floor. Go through each box. Have an old Tupperware container handy; you’ll need something to hold the stray buttons and loose change you’re going to find rattling around each box. (Don’t worry that the Tupperware is missing its lid. You’ll get to Tupperware lids in Step 13, That Box of Miscellany in the Garage.)

Collectively, your board game boxes will contain seventeen dice, forty Pictionary drawings, six Mousetrap pieces…

It took me a year of baby steps, but my phone works for me now.

What I look at in the mornings now instead of my screen

Something unprecedented happened to me yesterday.

I didn’t even think about opening Facebook until 12:35pm. Or Twitter.

Like so many others, I read Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism recently and it has dramatically changed the way I use the internet. But my shift toward a more intentional use of my phone began a couple of months ago, before I read the book. I’d grown frustrated with myself—the way I’d let a lifelong habit of reading in bed slip away, replaced with social media scrolling and a somewhat obsessive need to maintain my NYT crossword puzzle streak.

Come to think of it…

Melissa Wiley

Author of The Nerviest Girl in the World & other books for kids. Insatiable reader, tidal homeschooler, obsessed stitcher.

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