Apr 012014


Facebook for Homeschoolers

There are thousands of homeschool pages and groups on Facebook. Here is a short list by category:

General Support, Ideas, Community

Homeschooling Ideas
Practical Homeschooling
Simple Homeschool 

Santa Cruz County

Santa Cruz County Homeschoolers
Santa Cruz Christian Homeschoolers

Curriculum Resources

Homeschooling with Khan Academy
Homeschooling Around the World
Homeschooling with Netflix

Well Trained Mind

Single Parents

Single Parent Homeschooling Support

Comprehensive search of homeschool groups and pages

Jul 172013

Weather mapp

The National Weather Service has developed an application which allows users to create their own customized geographic zones for weather forecasting. It’s called User Defined Area Forecast (UDAF) and they’re asking layfolks like us and our students to test it out and submit feedback via a survey. What fun!

Click here to begin designing your weather area:

It’s pretty easy, just click on the map to set boundary markers. You can then drag the markers to alter the size or definition of your forecast area. Zoom in on the map to define a very local area or zoom out for a more regional view.

The program was developed for state and local emergency responders, government and military agencies, and the general public. It would make a great cross-curricular project for homeschoolers.

Mission Statement of the National Weather Service (NWS):

The National Weather Service provides weather, hydrologic, and climate forecasts and warnings for the United States, its territories, adjacent waters and ocean areas, for the protection of life and property and the enhancement of the national economy. NWS data and products form a national information database and infrastructure which can be used by other governmental agencies, the private sector, the public, and the global community.

More information –

User Defined Area Forecast (UDAF):

US National Weather Service San Francisco Bay Area / Monterey Bay Area Facebook page:

NWS Forecast Office:

The Survey (for after you’ve played with the program):

Jul 172013


Greetings! I am so grateful to Lisa Smith for this wonderful gift of a working homeschool blog. After a month of playing around with the backend, I’m delighted to reach out to readers and fellow homeschoolers to continue developing a valuable resource for the homeschool community.

Please contact me with your events, ideas, photos, resources and any information that you feel would be of interest to homeschoolers.


May 302013

Happy summer! It’s been a while since I’ve posted. My kids and I enjoyed exploring southern Oregon earlier this month. Now I’m preparing for my oldest to graduate at the end of summer! Bittersweet season…

My writing has taken a different direction. I’ve decided to stop publishing Steer Me Right so I can focus on my book for single moms and some other projects. I’m thrilled to say I’ve found a wonderful, competent homeschool mom to take over.

Mary Andersen has homeschooled her 9th grade son locally since he was in 1st grade, and plans to continue through high school. She’s a blogging whiz and an excellent writer. Her vision for Steer Me Right is the same as mine: a comprehensive site for regional homeschoolers to find information and resources, and connect with like-minded homeschool families. I’m very thankful to know that Steer Me Right will be continuing with such a capable administrator.

To email Mary with comments or suggestions, simply use the “Contact Me” page. Mary and I have inserted Mary’s email address there.

Don’t forget to read my encouragement blog for moms at Susanna’s Apron!

Thanks for reading and supporting Steer Me Right, and God bless you as you continue the wonderful adventure of homeschooling in Santa Cruz County!


Feb 222013

My son confidently explains an exhibit at the Natural History Museum in New York.

My son confidently explains an exhibit at the Natural History Museum in New York.

Socialization has been on my heart lately, as my oldest child nears adulthood. I worry that he will not believe in himself, having lacked the opportunity to prove himself in daily interactions with a large group of peers. I wonder if he knows he has what it takes to succeed.

We’ve by no means been isolated. From church youth groups to classes to summer camps, visits with family and friends, travels, and regular life about town, my children have had many opportunities to interact with people of all ages in various situations.

They enjoy participating in activities away from home. The separation anxiety that can trouble younger children was entirely absent from my children in years past. On the contrary, they barely remembered to wave goodbye! (One of them did experience intense separation anxiety as a toddler, but that was shortly after his father had left the family. It was entirely mitigated, I assume by a stable home life.)

As they progress through their teens, this carefree, almost lackadaisical attitude to exploring the world is translating to bigger experiences, such as camps away from home or short vacations with friends, and the upcoming job search. My son’s annual two weeks at Camp Hammer, beginning the summer he turned 16, have provided a great “test flight.” Significantly, he reported absolutely no homesickness.

“Homesickness and Growth in Children,” an article published by Psychology Today, reports “Most cases of homesickness seem… to be associated with a child’s fear that he/she does not ‘have what it takes’ to survive without family.” The absence of homesickness suggests that, contrary to my fears, homeschooling has taught my children they have what it takes.

While waiting in the Express Service lobby for my van recently, I was questioned by a polite young man in his 20’s. “You homeschool? I noticed the sign on your van.”

“Yes, I’ve homeschooled since the beginning, and my oldest is almost 18.”

“I was homeschooled.”

Shocker! I was waiting to give advice to a young parent. I asked him how it had turned out for him. “Academically,” he explained, “It worked. But I felt very unsure of myself when I left home.”

Obviously, this exacerbated my current worries. “Did you come through that OK?” I asked. Now, what was he going to say? “No, I’m still really insecure and that’s why I exude confidence and respect while talking to complete strangers”?

“Oh yes, I’m fine now!” I think this young man was realizing something important, as was I. He explained how he had gone on to college, lived with his grandparents for a while, and now worked successfully – from home. Apparently, the years his parents had invested at home had somehow built a strength into him that had carried him through that difficult, but temporary, adjustment to life as an adult.

I think we both left the conversation with a deeper understanding that quietly, through the years, homeschooling imbues kids with the social confidence needed for life.

By Columba Lisa Smith

Feb 102013


Making laundry detergent sounds like the quintessential homeschool mom activity, doesn’t it? Similar to keeping chickens, baking bread, and taking educational road trips through all 50 states. I figure if I find an easier way to fit the stereotype, I should try it.

Homemade laundry detergent seems to be a low-level online craze these days. My hunch is it was brought on by the floundering economy. There’s an unspoken consensus that if we must flounder, let’s at least do so in clean clothes. I couldn’t agree more.

I found a recipe at Chickens in the Road, a successful blog maintained by a far more competent homemaker than I will ever be. For the most part, the instructions were easy to follow, with a few hiccups, as you’ll see. If you want to save a few bucks, check this out!

First, gather some natural, organic, eco-groovy ingredients: Borax, baking soda, and a bar of ordinary soap. (Homeschool tip: Borax is a mineral collected from the Mojave desert in Southern California. I don’t know if it’s collected by 40 mules or regular machinery; your kids can research that.)

Next, grate the soap. Make sure you clarify to any passers-by that it is not cheese. (Unless they’ve been sassing you lately. In that case, you have the right to remain silent.)

Heat six cups water. Stir in the grated soup until it melts.

Add one cup Borax, omitting the team of mules. Stir.

Add one cup baking soda. Stir.


Now, here’s where things got interesting. I did not think to turn down the heat, or scoot the pan off the burner. So this happened, just so you know:


I got a clean stove into the bargain!

Next, dump what’s left into a bucket. Stir in three cups water. This is the concentrated option. The recipe I followed had both concentrated and regular options. I think concentrated is better in many ways. It takes up less space. It’s lighter. Perhaps it even helps with concentration!


Ladle the detergent into a container. I have to admit that it does look a teensy bit like bath water. I was somewhat skeptical because I’ve never appreciated bath water; but we washed several loads with it today, and they came out beautifully clean!


Use only three tablespoons for a regular sized load. Here’s what that looks like.


And that’s it!

Got any additional tips for making laundry detergent? Comments welcome!

By Columba Lisa Smith

Feb 082013

Young student studying homework

An invaluable piece of advice I received during the early homeschool years was to make sure my children knew their math facts. Addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division – all are foundational to the rest of math. Knowing the math facts makes learning the rest of math a far smoother process.

I’ve never been a math buff, so this was not great news; but I saw the wisdom of it. I tried math fact family flash cards, but these didn’t fit with any of my children’s learning styles. They were quickly dreaded: “Run! It’s those horrible yellow cards again!” We also tried drilling to movement – but my kids would rather move without repeating boring numbers, thank you!

When we moved to our brown house in the woods, I spent several weeks unpacking and organizing. We covered very little schoolwork, and I decided to write that time off and trust that my kids would catch up later. (They were 7, 5, and 3, so we had lots of time.) I knew that they were playing endless rounds of Animalopoly. I didn’t realize they were learning their math facts! Board games, it seems, are a great way to pick up this information almost painlessly.

A selection of board games provides a fun way to learn math facts!

A selection of board games provides a fun way to learn math facts!

A second way I found effective was printing math fact sheets for my children to fill in. We did plenty of these, and they helped a great deal. Plenty of fact sheets came with the Saxon curriculum I used, but drill sheets are also available online. I bookmarked Donna Young’s website, which is packed with homeschool resources, including many drill sheets for math facts. You can access it here.

A few years later, I purchased Wrap-Up Keys. I’d overheard a mom raving about these at a homeschool convention. My daughter was still learning her math facts, so I thought Wrap-Ups would be another valuable aid. Sure enough, they proved fun, easy to use, and adaptable to a variety of games and challenges.

These chunky, plastic keys are connected at the top with a rivet. A strong piece of yarn is attached to the top, and math fact problems are printed in raised figures down the left side of each key – one key for the 1’s family, one for the 2’s, and so on. On the right side are matching answers, listed out of order. The child wraps the yarn into grooves, matching the problems to the answers. On the back of the key are raised lines. If the yarn matches the lines, the child has the correct answers – an immediate reward! You can purchase Wrap-Ups at the Steer Me Right Favorite Curriculum Store. (If the products don’t show up at first, please refresh your browser.)

Wrap-Ups are a wonderful, fun alternative for drilling facts.

Wrap-Ups are a wonderful, fun alternative for drilling facts.

Now in their teens, my children have a solid foundation in math. My oldest plans a career in engineering; he’s taking advanced math to prepare. I’m thankful that, one way or another, all three of them mastered their math facts!

By Columba Lisa Smith

Jan 312013

MOOCs - Bringing college to a laundry room near you!

MOOCs – Bringing college to a laundry room near you!

The latest trend in higher learning, massive open online courses (MOOCs) provide college-level courses in many subjects completely free. Top level universities, such as Stanford, CalTech, Duke, and more offer videos of courses taught on campus by high caliber professors. The courses are enhanced by cutting-edge online learning interactive tools; they almost feel like video games! (Know any kids who’d be down with that? I do!) Anyone can sign up completely free, and watch the identical presentations that on-campus students pay tens of thousands of dollars a year to attend.

Colleges don’t offer credits for these courses yet, complains the news report I’ve linked below. But they’re forgetting about CLEP exams.

The College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) offers testing in various general courses for college-bound students. A passing score ensures college credit in that subject at many colleges and universities. (Not all accept CLEP, so be sure to check.) Our local junior college, Cabrillo, accepts many CLEP exams. Instead of paying for a course, students can take an $80 test. As I see it, students could take one of these free courses in preparation for a CLEP exam, pass the exam, and save both money and time on general ed undergraduate courses. I assume this approach would also work for SAT subject tests.

For more information about CLEP, visit the College Board website, here.

To see the news report about MOOCs, click here.

Follow these links to check out three innovative suppliers of MOOCs here:




Don’t forget about CollegePlus, for personalized career direction and assistance with CLEP planning, jump-starting higher education at a fraction of the cost. Click here.

And, of course, there’s also the Khan Academy.

As the news report points out, the main drawback is lack of community and face-to-face interaction. However, this can be mitigated with study groups. Perhaps local high school homeschoolers can create a group learning situation centered on these courses. As the mom of three computer-savvy kids, I’ll be giving this serious consideration. Let me know if you’re interested!

By Columba Lisa Smith

Jan 162013

Beef Fajitas Elliot

Beef fajitas by my son

A homeschool mom extraordinaire introduced me to the idea of assigning teens regular responsibilities in the kitchen. My teens are loving this creative, fun life skill – and I appreciate the break! On Sunday evenings, they scour recipe books for the yummiest dinners they can find. They list the ingredients, and take turns shopping. Yes – I turn them loose in the grocery store. With my debit card. So far, so good! It’s actually saving us money, because they buy only what’s on the list.

Three nights of the week, they become chef, chef’s assistant, or waiter. On their “chef” night, they cook the meal they planned. The chef’s assistant cleans the kitchen before dinner, including throwing away food scraps, wiping counters, and washing knives and pans. The waiter sets the table and cleans the kitchen after dinner. (And don’t forget the supplements!)

Kebabs by Caleb

Kebabs by Caleb

I’ve been amazed at the quality of their efforts. My two boys, as always, turned it into a competition. They compete to create the best meal, and I have to give my studied opinion. They lose points for burned food, not enough to go around, or absent veggies, etc. My daughter couldn’t care less about winning, but she does enjoy presiding as co-judge, and presenting her own lovely dinners. So far, they’ve made curried chicken, flank steak spinach pinwheels, teriyaki kabobs, and more. It’s fun to watch their confidence grow, and wonderful to know they’ll be able to cook when they leave home.

Do you have a trick for teaching life skills to teens? Leave a comment!

By Columba Lisa Smith

Jan 012013

Snow trip with Beri 2007 053

Happy New Year! My kids are sleeping in this morning. Still nothing happening at 10:30 a.m. What better time to blog?

My oldest child turns 18 this summer. I can’t quite believe that! The years pass so quickly, so take the time to enjoy your children’s company. Here are twelve simple, free activities kids love. Try doing one a month, and don’t forget to take pictures. You will treasure the memories!

  1. Squeeze a raw egg as hard as you can (over the sink, just in case). Why doesn’t it break?
  2. Put on rubber boots and raincoats. Find some nice, deep puddles and let your kids get as muddy as they like.
  3. Tie a fork onto the middle of a long piece of string. Wrap the ends of the string around your children’s index fingers and have them put their fingers in their ears. Bonk the fork against a table, and they will hear the bells of a great cathedral! Be ready with that camera!
  4. Find a steep hill. Make sure it’s safe, but even if you’re a little nervous, encourage your kids to climb it. This is a great confidence builder!
  5. Long hikes build children's confidence and teach a lifestyle of fitness.

    Long hikes build children’s confidence and teach a lifestyle of fitness.

    Go for longer hikes than you think they can manage. They can manage, and they’ll be so proud of themselves.

  6. Set up a miniature train. Have your children lie on the floor with a digital camera and video it coming closer. Other fun things to video close-up include bugs and any moving toys. Use them to create a silly movie.
  7. Make a volcano using vinegar and baking soda. Set it up in the back yard. Surround it with plastic dinosaurs, and video it. Instructions here.
  8. Read and read and read and read. Then, read some more.
  9. Tie a rope between two trees in the back yard. Throw a blanket over it and secure it with rocks, to make a tent. Allow your kids to set up their “den” and sleep in it at night. You can join them, too!
  10. Poke toothpicks around the middle of an avocado seed. Set it on a glass of water and allow your children to watch the roots grow. Perhaps this project will morph into a full-on garden!
  11. Melt crayon ends at low heat in muffin pans. Use them for abstract art projects.
  12. Lean two matches against each other, touching at the top. Poke one into the match box so it is stable. Lean the other one against it, with the ends touching. The “foot” of the leaning match can stand on a penny. Ignite them. Watch what happens when the flame reaches the middle of the leaning match!

My kids photograph bugs of all varieties!  This June bug was crawling around the deck.

My kids photograph bugs of all varieties! This June bug was crawling around the deck.

Want to share a fun craft or activity with other homeschoolers? Leave a comment!

By Columba Lisa Smith