Saturday, April 1st, 2017

Learning Piano Online For Free!

by Kristen Suzanne in family, homeschool, kamea

Practicing proper piano posture.


I grew up playing the piano, clarinet, and even the drums. Piano and clarinet were better instruments for me than the drums, and my family probably agrees. My mom played the piano and sang, my brother, a genius with music played piano, saxophones, trumpet, guitar, and anything he wanted really. Music was just always in our family. 

While I didn’t always love practicing music, I’m glad I have the skills for music now. It was probably really good for my brain, too, because that’s what research is showing. Thanks, mom for pushing me to play music! I think my big brother served as inspiration, too. If he was doing it, it was probably cool.

Naturally, I wanted Kamea to take music lessons.

We started her with some basic music lessons when she was three. They went well enough, but life got in the way and we put them on hold. She was really young, too, and as we were proponents back then of unschooling, I wasn’t keen on “making her practice something” for fear it’d kill the joy.

After a couple of years, we decided to buy this awesome keyboard. We hoped that simply having it around, with both parents playing on it, we’d inspire Kamea to play. Or maybe she’d learn through osmosis. Hey, it was worth a shot.

In truth, she did take to playing a bit here and there, but she wasn’t really interested in learning how to play.

Fair enough. We’ll wait a bit longer.

A year later, before her brain matured too much, I started her back in music lessons. I figured we’d hire a teacher to come to our house who could play with her and get her excited about music lessons, without requiring much on her part. Long story short, they didn’t go as well as I’d hoped, for a variety of reasons. Poor fit with music teacher, lack of enthusiasm on Kamea’s part, and not concentrating on just one instrument.

I continued to be against forcing Kamea to practice for a set time every day if she didn’t want to. I wanted her to enjoy what she was doing, but I also wanted her to learn some music. I also felt that she’d be glad she did it later in life, even if she didn’t love it now. At this rate though, she wasn’t learning any music. I wasn’t sure how to proceed.

So. We took another break before spending more money on something that wasn’t working for us.

I decided that maybe I could just teach her, but decided to wait before pursuing it.

Then, something happened.

During this time off, Kamea took some homeschooling classes online through 

I realized that I could basically search for anything online and find a class for it. So, I wondered, hey, are there online piano classes? And, if so, they’re probably less expensive than a person coming to our house. 

Google: online piano lessons.

Jackpot! Of course there were lessons, lol duh, because you can pretty much find anything online.

I found a couple of options, and I decided to try Hoffman Academy which was FREE.

Yeah. Free.

What did we have to lose? Um. Nothing.

First online piano lesson.

We jumped in and started them over a week ago, and so far, they’re solid gold. Brilliant little lessons long enough to teach something and short enough to keep the student interested. Kamea played a song after her first lesson! That didn’t happen with in-house private lessons for weeks when we had a teacher coming here.

We put her iPad on the keyboard. Watched the lesson, pausing when required, practiced, and LEARNED PIANO! Mr. Hoffman rocks.

The next day, Kamea woke up and asked to take another lesson. YAY! (And, did I mention they’re free?)

It’s working! Online piano lessons are fun.

So far we’re doing their basic free program which is great. I suspect at some time I might sign up for the premium option, which is still awesomely cheap at about $15 a month. Or maybe we’ll just stick with the free ones. 

I’m still smiling at the fact that my kid is taking piano lessons online.

Ukulele here we come next! (After all, I figure she’ll need an instrument we can take abroad when we move.) 

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Tuesday, March 28th, 2017

Homeschooling with a Headache

by Kristen Suzanne in homeschool, kamea, Kristen Suzanne, Motherhood


Science with dad


Wow, I’ve had a splitting sinus headache today. It’s spring, and with spring comes gorgeous flowers, pollen, and allergies. 

Sneeze sneeze runny nose irritated nose painful eyes….. and then headache. Ouch. 

I finally took some ibuprofen after suffering for the day. The headache just wouldn’t go away. 

Well, in spite of my headache, we homeschooled. At least part of the day. :)

Here are the things we did. 

  • Math (adding on worksheets)
  • Writing practice
  • Art (lots)
  • Building with Legos… a lot. (phew, cuz I had a headache so Kamea did lots of play and building)
  • Story time
  • Minecraft tutorials on Youtube
  • When Greg was done working, he did some kitchen science with Kamea. Pictured above. 

Looking forward to a good sleep and waking up refreshed for another day of homeschooling. We started some online piano lessons that are really quite amazing. I’ll tell you more about them later.

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Thursday, February 9th, 2017

Unschooling Isn’t Working For Every Subject

by Kristen Suzanne in homeschool, kids

Math tools for homeschooling

We homeschool our young daughter and subscribe to a general belief that unschooling is important. 

What is unschooling? 

As unschoolers, we don’t follow a specific curriculum, or really any curriculum at all. Our focus is learning as much as we can from living life. I find that especially important helpful fun during Kamea’s early years (for various reasons).

What does unschooling look like for us? Here are some good examples… 

  • Playing dolls with my daughter and using the opportunity to teach various life lessons and even business lessons as we play. 
  • My daughter would like to start her own business. This provides the perfect opportunity to teach business, math, communication, reading, writing, courage, etc. 
  • We love to cook. This allows knife skills, a little math, a bit of chemistry, some biology and more. We can talk about the nutrients in the food, from where the food hails, and all kinds of things. We can also teach history, art, and language through cooking. 
  • When we move abroad there are plenty of unschooling opportunities. We will learn, through just living, the epic lessons of what it’s like to be in another culture. We will learn social studies, maps, geography, history, art, food, language and so many things.
  • Using a passion of hers, like art, and finding ways to teach any (or all) other subjects through art or while she’s creating art. 

All sounds awesome, right? 

So that is what I’ve used as a guiding principle to how we approach education with our daughter. 

But, unschooling does not come without its own challenges for me. 

The hardest thing for me to effectively teach through unschooling is math. I can teach a little bit of math here and there, sneaking it in. We can play blackjack and she can familiarize herself with adding, or we can play the game Play Nines, which actually introduces negative numbers (that’s cool). In cooking, I can show her that 3 teaspoons makes up a tablespoon and give her a basic introduction to fractions. We play math games on her iPad, like the clever game DragonBox. She can learn a bit of geometry while drawing shapes. 

In spite of numbers and math seeming to be everywhere, my main challenge is we don’t get enough math regularly to reinforce what she’s learning. So much of math in the beginning is memorization and repetition via worksheets. While I don’t want her to sit down at a table with a worksheet and drill numbers, numbers, numbers, I want to expose her enough times to numbers and math so that she can remember it! 

And therein lies my challenge. 

I can’t seem to find enough ways to incorporate math in our daily lives which will satisfy my idea of what I hope she’s learning and have her giddy to do it. Maybe I’m not trying hard enough. Maybe I’m not creative enough. Maybe I’m just lazy or maybe I’m getting the whole “unschooling” thing wrong, but my instinct tells me to switch gears when it comes to facilitating Kamea’s learning of math. 

I think some unschooling proponents would say to not concern myself so much (and perhaps to not try so hard). She will learn what she needs to learn when she wants to learn it. I’m just not totally comfortable with that. Because, honestly, if I take a backseat with respect to math and let her learn it on her own, which in reality seems to be only little drips of math here and there … she is just not going to know a whole lot of math. And while I love the idea of her enjoying every topic she learns, perhaps that is not realistic, or if it is, it requires too much creativity on my part. 


Perhaps she could learn all of it later, as I’ve heard some unschoolers do. That doesn’t feel right either, because I think it would help her in other areas of learning to have a stronger math background. (Thinking out loud here … then again, if she’s doing these other things which require math she might get the math she needs.) 

Well, here is the beauty of homeschooling. 

Homeschooling education can be customized to whatever we want, whenever we want. We can start down one path spending whatever time we want on whichever subjects we want, and changing that later to spend more time on other subjects (or less) as we see fit. If something isn’t working, we can change course. 

It is really awesome and helpful to have such flexibility. 

So, although I champion unschooling methods most of the time for us, I feel it’s time to divert from it for math. 

Here’s what we’re doing now. 

  • I found a great book that teaches math in a most quirky and entertaining way: The Life of Fred series. We’ve gone through one book in the series, and she likes it enough that we’ll continue. I have to reiterate that it is so quirky and weird it’s almost addictive, strangely, at least for me. I’m eager to see what results we’ll get because it is so… weird. 
  • We are using Khan Academy on her iPad. 
  • We are playing another math-centered game online, Prodigy, and she loves that game. 
  • Plus all the other unschooling math tricks I mentioned above such as finding ways to incorporate math-speak frequently. “Ok, Kamea, we’re 38 miles from Nana’s house. When we’ve traveled 30 of those miles, how many are left?” OR “You have $6 and want to buy a $20 toy. How much more do you need?” OR “5349 to the third power equals what?” <– just kidding.

Perhaps after she gets some fundamentals we will shift gears and go back to an unschooled approach with math. I really don’t know what the future has in store for us for any subjects.

I love it all though. I love homeschooling, I love the freedom and flexibility we have, and I love the opportunity I have to be with my daughter all day. 

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Friday, February 3rd, 2017

Digital Nomad Expat Prep: Google Alerts For Travel

by Kristen Suzanne in Digital Nomad, Expat, homeschool, travel, Worldschool

One of the things I’ve done to research future expat destinations is setting up Google Alerts. 

What is a Google Alert? As you can see in the image, a Google Alert is

“a content change detection and notification service, offered by the search engine company Google. The service sends emails to the user when it finds new results – such as web pages, newspaper articles, or blogs – that match the user’s search term.”


Lifehacker says this about Google Alerts:

Google Alerts is one of Google’s hidden gems. It’s a really powerful tool to keep track of trends, interesting topics, or anything really new that appears on the web. 

A Google Alert is easy to set up, and it’s a good way to monitor the web for desired topics being written about.

Once you set up a Google Alert you will get a daily email with links to articles on that particular alert for the day. For us, that’s various travel destinations. 

For example, after Playa del Carmen (one of our chosen places to live) had violence in a nightclub last month :( I was able to easily follow the news on it with Google Alerts. As a result, I’ll follow the alerts for the next year to see how Playa fares but we’re also going to check other locations now.

Even though we aren’t leaving the United States for a while, Google Alerts gives me a better feeling of the places we’re interested in living.  

Worldschool here we come!

Digital Nomadism here we come!

Adventure here we come!

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Monday, January 9th, 2017

Using an Online Drawing Class with My Daughter for Homeschool

by Kristen Suzanne in homeschool, kamea, Motherhood

Getting ready for our online drawing class.

We are planning to move abroad (Worldschool here we come!), and even though we won’t be doing this for over a year, I’ve been diving deep into research to decide where to go.

Through my research I found a witty blogger and author, Christine Gilbert, who wrote a book called Mother Tongue which I am crazy eager to read. If the book is anything like her blog I’ll be entertained the whole way through as she tells her family’s globe-trotting tale.

So while devouring her blog, I learned that her husband offers an online drawing class for only $12 (looks like the price went up to $39 now but still worth it).


Have you ever sat yourself in a cafe in some unfamiliar place just to people watch? Have you been thinking about keeping a visual journal of your trips? Make this the year you take your travel sketchbook out to sketch your travels, and start by learning how to put on paper what you see in the world.

Wow. Awesome.

This will be a super fun way to spend time with Kamea and improve our drawing skills. Kamea is a huge fan of doing art. It’s never been my forte but that’s because I suck at it. :)

Case in point: the assignment for the first day it was to look at a picture of yourself and draw it. By the time I was done I looked like I had drawn a monkey.

Don’t laugh. No, please, go ahead and laugh.

That’s going to change though. I’m already seeing progress.

The assignment for the second day had amazing results because of the technique used. We drew a picture that was presented upside down. It was trippy seeing the results when I turned my sketch right-side up.

Mine: left. Kamea’s: right.

Hard at some fun work.

I can see it now … Greg, who is very good at drawing, alongside Kamea and me, with our sketchbooks and pencils in hand … drawing what we see as we travel the world. I’m loving this dream.

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