Marina Koestler Ruben

Blog Posts: October 2011

Online Educational Resources

For the past several months, I've been posting links to education resources on my Facebook and Twitter pages.  I'm categorizing all the links here, for easy access.  I hope you find these useful.  I'll plan to update and organize this list as I accumulate links.  (Last updated 12/1/11)



Leafsnap, an electronic field guide (free)

My First Classical Music App ($4.99)



Chalkboard contact paper

Felt rolls and flannel boards

"Five Favorite Museums to Visit with Kids"



Light panels

List of "Top 25 Picture Books"

List of "Top 25 Teacher Mom Blogs"

"Pumpkins and Place Value"

Sensory boards

Window writing



"Q&As from Parents at St. Patrick's in DC"


Caldecott Medal Winner, 1938 - Present

Newbery Medal Winners, 1922 - Present

Other book and media awards

About Encyclopedia Brown

About Guerrilla Learning

Material World: A Global Family Portrait

Math for Grownups, by Laura Laing



College application tips


"DC parents choosing to home-school their children" (includes names of support organizations)

Don't write lesson objectives on the board.

Franz Liszt as first rock star

"A home-schooler goes to college"

NYT: Waldorf education in California: "A Silicon Valley School That Doesn't Compute"



"Video game playing tied to creativity"



How to "Prepare for the Science Fair"

"To Remember Better, Build a Mansion in Your Mind"

YouTube's educational videos



Calendar of writing prompts

"Crafting a Thesis Statement"

Jokes from McSweeney's to use as lead-ins to grammar/punctuation review

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Essential Book for All Parents

It's rare for me to wholeheartedly endorse a book as being important enough that every parent should read it, but I've just finished one that's as close to that designation as I'm ever going to find.  It's Guerrilla Learning: How to Give Your Kids a Real Education With Or Without Schoolby Grace Llewellyn and Amy Silver.

I don't even know where to start.  I think I highlighted most of the book.  I just tried to go back through my Kindle to figure out what parts of the book I should write about, and it seems I marked 265 passages, some of which are multiple pages long.

Basically, Llewellyn and Silver make the point that, even if your children are enrolled in school, you can go a long way toward improving their educational experience with  your own positive influence and support.  (Yes, I partly like their book because it reminds me so much of my own.)  After laying out their thoughts on what doesn't work about the traditional school system and why you should stop stressing about "high-stakes" testing and other fabricated perils of mainstream "education," they go through each school subject area (science, math, history...) and provide suggestions for how to naturally and dynamically engage your child in that subject.  Their resource lists provide an incredible collection of books that you might want to read next.

This book is applicable for anyone with children, no matter what types of school they do or don't attend.

Llewellyn is renowned for her pioneering work in the homeschooling and unschooling worlds.  She's the mastermind behind the Not Back to School Camp, for unschooled teenagers, and the author of The Teenage Liberation Handbook: How to Quit School and Get a Real Life and Education and Real Lives: Eleven Teenagers Who Don't Go to School Tell Their Own StoriesRead Full Post.

Radical Unschooling

After investigating the difference between homeschooling and unschooling, I was curious about the definition of radical unschooling.  To get one educator's take, I read Radical Unschooling: A Revolution Has Begun, by Dayna Martin.  Here's Martin's definition:

Radical unschooling, which expands unschooling philosophy to parenting, means you extend that same trust to other areas of your child's life, like foods, media, television, video games--allowing them to eat, play, or watch whatever they want when they want.

This method requires the parent to trust that a child who is allowed to pursue his or her own passions (and, in many cases, his or her own schedule) will naturally focus on activities that have educational value.  The educational value of an activity may not be immediately obvious, but the idea is that children innately know what they need, so bouts of television viewing or video game playing that might trouble a non-unschooler are instead looked on as beneficial and natural.

There were some parts of Martin's book that made me hesitate--she's a proponent of the Law of Attraction--but others appealed to me.  Namely, Martin's description of a good unschooler was remarkably similar to my vision of a good parent-tutor:

My job is to expose them to as much of the world as possible from as many resources as possible, so they can realize and pursue their interests.

Martin then provides a list of resources, all of which would also be used by a creative parent-tutor: "internet, television, books, video games, day trips, vacations, community resources, and apprenticeships."

Does tutoring differ from unschooling?  I suppose it does in that a parent-tutor may be providing support for a school subject that a child does not particularly want to study.  But both the parent-tutor and unschooling parent are striving to help their children learn how to learn.  More than that, they're helping their children how to LOVE learning how to learn. Read Full Post.

Featured in the Chicago Tribune!

Thanks to Cheryl Stritzel McCarthy for interviewing me!  Her article just ran in the Chicago Tribune.  Take a look at "Parents as tutors: Author offers instruction." Read Full Post.

The Difference Between Homeschooling and Unschooling

Until recently, I only had a hazy understanding of the difference between homeschooling and unschooling.  For clarification, I read Unschooling 101: Top 10 Questions About Learning Without School, by Sara McGrath.

Here's my current understanding:

When we talk about homeschoolers, we're talking about the broad category of students who learn outside of the full-time American school system.  

Unschoolers are a particular type of homeschoolers.  Similar to other homeschoolers, they may choose to follow an official curriculum, participate in group or individual lessons, and enjoy a personalized education.

What defines unschoolers as a separate group is that its students are never required to pursue topics or activities that do not interest them.  A homeschooling family might tell its children that they must study multiplication because the parents feel it's important; an unschooling family would not force an area of study on a resistant student.  Unschoolers learn voluntarily, as their passions direct.

(Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong, homeschoolers and unschoolers, or to add any distinctions that I may have overlooked.)

Next I'll be reading Radical Unschooling: A Revolution Has Begun, by Dayna Martin. Read Full Post.

Crafting a Thesis Statement

Most traditional essays include a thesis statement, which is where a writer states the paper's central point.  Though there are exceptions, basic thesis statements are generally one sentence long and located at the beginning or end of the paper's introductory paragraph.

A strong thesis statement...

Once you've written a thesis statement, you want to make sure that your topic sentences support it.  I recommend writing your thesis statement and topic sentences before you tackle the rest of your paper.  You might need to sort evidence/quotes into the paragraphs where they'll eventually go, but don't write out your entire paper until you're sure that the structure is strong and logical.


To read more about creating effective thesis statements:

Read "Creating a Strong Thesis" from the University of Texas at Austin.

Check out Virgil, an online writing tutorial from the UT Undergraduate Writing Center.  They walk you through any topic, prompting you with questions to provide more accurate assistance.  Here's part of the thesis segment.  The UWC also has helpful handouts.

Try "Tips and Examples for Writing Thesis Statements," from the Purdue Online Writing Lab. Read Full Post.

How Much Help Is Too Much Help?

How do you know if you're having the appropriate level of involvement when helping your child with schoolwork?  I recommend keeping the following points in mind:

  • Don't do anything for a student that he could be doing himself.
  • Your goal is to build the student's skill set.  He or she should come away from your interactions with increased independence.
  • Ask yourself: Is this process/activity/appointment empowering the student?  (It should be.)
  • Ask yourself: Is this process/activity/appointment making the student dependent on tutoring?  (It shouldn't be.)
  • Remember to ask questions that will guide a student toward the proper revisions rather than directing.  E.g., Try to start with: "Have you already read through the paper for proper comma use?"  Rather than: "Please correct your comma use in the third sentence."  (Of course, this assumes that the student is already familiar with the comma rule relevant to the third sentence and could spot the error independently.)
Think about tutoring as a form of sustainable development; you want to assist short-term while you transfer the resources that allow the entity--in this case, a student--to support itself long-term.

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