Friends, I've been holding out on you. Not to be outdone by their mother, my 8-year-old and then-9-year-old published more novels this summer. These sweet stories would make perfect gifts for the kids in your life, and maybe they'll even inspire your budding authors to write and publish their own stories. The skills learned in undertaking a large writing project and seeing it through to the finished product are invaluable. (I've documented our publishing process here and here to get you started.) Happy reading and writing!
Great news! Distribution for Equus Rising has expanded, which means you can purchase it just about anywhere books are sold.
If you’d like to stay home, you can now support your local book shop by buying copies through these websites:
If you enjoy the Equus Rising, please consider leaving a brief, written and starred review on Goodreads and the website where you purchased the book. Reviews greatly help the book’s visibility for future readers. Thank you!
I'm happy to share that my interview with Rebecca Bohman of The Luminous Mind Podcast is now available for your listening pleasure.
In the interview, we covered a full range of topics relating to lifelong learning, including my impetus for writing Equus Rising. I'm hopeful that our discussion of the importance of broadening our narrow perspectives on history will resonate with even more people today than it would have when we recorded the conversation on May 7.
We also talked about how my approach to homeschooling has evolved over the last three years, as well as the benefits I see in teaching kids photography. (More minds might be open to these discussions as of mid-March, too.)
You can listen to the podcast here:
The Luminous Mind Podcast website
Libsyn (iTunes and Stitcher Publisher)
Happy Publication Day to Equus Rising: How the Horse Shaped U.S. History ! The book is now available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle editions. (The Kindle edition is a print replica format, so please make sure it's compatible with your device before purchasing.)
Let's celebrate together! Illustrator Robert Spannring and I would like to invite you to our virtual book launch party tonight, May 14, on Instagram Live at 8 p.m. EST. I'll be hosting the party on my account, @juliasoplop. To join, open the IG app, go to my profile at that time, and click on my profile picture, which should bring up the live feed.
At the launch, we'll answer questions about why and how we wrote and illustrated the book, do a very short reading, and give away a paperback copy. To enter the giveaway, all you have to do is submit a comment or question during the live event. We'll announce the winner at the end. I can't wait to get this book into your hands!
Hope to see you tonight.
I’m thrilled to reveal the cover for my book, Equus Rising: How the Horse Shaped U.S. History (May 2020).
The cover photo features a wild stallion from the Pryor Mountains of Montana. Isn’t he gorgeous? I’ve been admiring wild horses for years, but when I began to research this book, my respect for them skyrocketed. I knew we needed one on the cover.
As a journalist by training, I try to write on a level that is approachable for just about any reader. This book will resonate with horse lovers and wild horse advocates, but it's also for any adult or teen interested in reading a unique perspective on how this country came to be. No prior horse knowledge or experience required.
Equus Rising is now available for pre-order on Amazon for Kindle only. The paperback will be available for order upon publication in May 2020.
So you’re suddenly homeschooling? The first thing to do is relax. You’ve got this.
I’m a mom of three and we’re nearing the end of our third year of homeschool. Many friends and family across the country have sent me messages this week asking for homeschooling advice, so I thought I’d compile some ideas and resources that have helped us along the way.
All you have to do is a quick search on Pinterest to find thousands of curriculum options and online academic programs. I’m going to push you to think more deeply about this opportunity, though. Homeschooling is partially about academics. But it’s also about building a relationship with your family that looks different from the one you have when you all spend the day apart from each other. (I didn’t use the word “better” to describe that relationship. It’s just different.)
Some days it means too much yelling and a lot of guilt. Some days it means accomplishing projects that you’re all super proud of. Some days it means never getting out of your pajamas or getting around to schooling. But it always means togetherness—and togetherness changes your daily dynamics.
If you are just starting to homeschool because of the closures due to Covid-19 or for any other reason, I encourage you to think about more than pure academics but also what you hope this togetherness will bring to your family. Below you’ll find some philosophies, project ideas, and resources we’ve stumbled upon or created along the way to help you think creatively about this strange time in which we find ourselves.
Working and homeschooling
If you haven’t done it before, the thought of working from home while caring for and educating your children may sound overwhelming. But I’ll let you in on something: many, many homeschooling parents work and homeschool simultaneously. Some work part-time, others work full-time.
That is to say, people often combine homeschooling with jobs and YOU CAN ABSOLUTELY HANDLE IT. Of course some jobs are much less flexible than others. Some jobs have rigid schedule requirements and immovable deadlines. Those jobs will be tougher to do while educating your kids than more flexible jobs. But it is possible. People in our communities are making it work all the time. Will you feel crazy some days? Possibly to probably yes. But if this is your first foray into working while simultaneously homeschooling, I guarantee you will come out the other side working more efficiently.
There is no need to emulate a classroom
Please, for the love of your family, back away from the worksheets. Stop yourself from drawing up a minute-by-minute daily schedule. (Why, people? Why?) Refrain from ordering a white board so you can stand up and deliver a formal lecture. Learning is much more efficient and can be much more casual when you’re teaching a few kids versus 20 or 30 in a classroom, so you don’t have to pretend your kitchen is a traditional classroom. Kids are sponges. They learn all the time whether you're stressing about it or not.
Homeschool can be anything you want it to be. Imagine the type of education you wish you’d had, then work to make that happen for your kids and for yourself, whether this time of homeschooling lasts two weeks or several months. I’ve read that homeschooling is not just an education for the kids but a reeducation for the home educator. In my experience, this has absolutely been true. I choose to explore subjects with my kids that I’m interested in learning alongside them. (For example, I got so absorbed in a unit study I created for my kids that used the horse as an avenue to study U.S. history that it got completely out of control and morphed into the book I’m publishing in May, Equus Rising: How the Horse Shaped U.S. History.)
“Routine, not schedule”
I’ll tell you more about Julie Bogart in the resource section below, but in her wonderful homeschooling book, The Brave Learner, she encourages the idea of having a routine rather than a schedule. Schedules are stressful and often pointless. Routines help set expectations but allow for flexibility and spontaneity. Rather than drawing up a rigid schedule of math from 7:30 a.m. to 8:05 a.m. and literature from 8:07 a.m. to 8:37 a.m., consider following a routine or pattern: once everyone is awake and you've had your coffee, convene and take turns reading aloud from a good book. When it feels like time to move on, have everyone write a story. Then give the kids some time to get bored, so they get creative entertaining themselves with Legos and art supplies. Using a routine instead of a schedule means when your child gets obsessed with the story she’s working on, she can write for an hour and a half without interruption instead of having to stop after 20 minutes to maintain a ridiculous schedule. You can move on to the next activity when she'd done.
We do not homeschool for 7-8 hours a day. I repeat: we do not homeschool for 7-8 hours a day. Homeschool is more efficient than traditional schooling. There’s no waiting around for the teacher to deal with misbehaving kids (except when those kids are your own!). There’s no lining up and walking to different parts of the school. There’s no set recess time. We do what I call “sit-down” learning for a couple hours a day (including things like reading and discussing literature, working through math books, designing science experiments, etc.). Then we do stuff outside. Or the kids entertain themselves with some crazy self-directed project they’ve come up with. Or they just lie around reading Harry Potter.
When we first started to homeschool, I read a suggestion that kindergarteners should do about an hour of school a day. With each subsequent grade, you should add about half an hour of schooling. We’ve loosely followed that suggestion, though it’s not all sit-down learning, and some days we get really into a project and work much of the day on it.
RESOURCES AND IDEAS
This is the perfect time to take a break from traditional subjects and explore photography. Learning to still yourself and observe the world is a valuable skill. (How can someone lead you astray by telling you to ignore what is in front of you if understand how to see it like it is?) Learning to tell a story effectively, whether through images or words, is an important life skill, too.
My heart goes out to everyone whose life has been upended by this pandemic, so I’ve decided to offer a free downloadable sample of my intro photography curriculum for kids, Documenting Your World Through Photography: An Introductory Course for Elementary and Middle Schoolers. The sample is packed with activities to keep you busy for two weeks to two months, depending how you pace it. And it’s great for teens and adult learners, too. If you’re not a photographer, now is you change to learn alongside your kids.
I’m also putting the full curriculum on sale through the end of March. The paperback version on Amazon is already marked down by 15%. To received 15% off the digital version, please use code: MARCH31
If you end up using this time to learn photography, consider going a step further and helping your kids to create and order a photo book online. Have them write their own captions. It won’t occur to them this is educational activity if you don’t call it school.
Read good books + write good stuff
Even if your kids are prolific readers, sit down with them and read books to each other out loud. There is so much joy in getting sucked into good literature together. Discuss what you’re reading, too. Choose books written from a variety of perspectives on a variety of topics. Watch the movies together after you finish the books and talk about them.
Many “classics” aren’t worthy of that classification. Think more broadly. The book Give Your Child the World: Raising Globally Minded Kids One Book at a Time is an excellent resource, organized by grade level, for selecting K-12 books.
Our first year of homeschool, we did an “Around the World” theme by continent or region of a continent. I posted some of these units. You can find them here (scroll down to the bottom of that blog post for the whole list of the ones I got around to posting).
Brave Writer, founded by Julie Bogart, is a fantastic resource for literature and language arts, as well as for helping you to figure out how you want to live your unique homeschool existence. Brave Writer offers a lot of free content (such as how to start holding Poetry Tea Time—a favorite in our house), as well as paid products. We use their literature and language arts guides.
Julie’s ideas about how to teach kids to write resonate with me as a writer. One of her suggestions is to make weekly time for your kids to freewrite (with or without a prompt from you). Then don’t nit-pick their mechanics! They get enough of that at school, and it can stifle creativity. Just let them write and write and write. Later, you can help them edit one of their pieces, and they can write a final draft.
Last year we turned the girls’ freewriting into published books, which was a really fulfilling project for them. One of the books we just published using an online photo book company so my daughter could have a copy for herself and to send to the grandparents. One of the books, Rascal’s Life, we actually published and it’s available for purchase on Amazon. You can read about the process we used hereand here.
I'm encouraged to see many more people are coming to the realization that a traditional history education is woefully narrow and that viewing the past from innumerable lenses enriches our understanding of how we got to where we are today.
One of my impetuses for writing Equus Rising: How the Horse Shaped U.S. History was to offer up an additional perspective that made room for the inclusion of not only the energy source that powered the nation for centuries (the horse!), but also human figures often written out of traditional histories: women and people of color. The book could help to broaden your history curriculum for high schoolers or late middle schoolers. It also branches into science, literature, and policy, making for a comprehensive unit study.
I’m a science nut. I could go on forever about science project ideas and experiments, but they’re really easy to find just searching Pinterest. So I’ll just give you a few ideas that make up a lot of our science studies.
Nature study: we spend a lot of time outside identifying the plants and animals we find. Sometimes we just make note of what we locate and look it up later. Sometimes we take a photo of it, then upload the photo to a free app called iNaturalist, which helps us with identification. (It’s awesome.)
Nature journaling: we keep nature journals and use them in a variety of ways. Sometimes we go outside and draw what we find as we’re looking at it. Sometimes we just use our outdoor time to find inspiration, then go home and find some pictures of the subject online or in a book and draw or paint it at the kitchen table. Then we write some interesting facts about it. Other times I choose something I’d like us to study and we go from there.
Scientific method and science experiments: As a writer who trained as a medical journalist, I’ve learned over the years that, unfortunately, many non-scientist adults (and kids) don’t understand what science actually is. And they don’t even realize it. It keeps me up at night. Let’s make sure our kids are learning that science is more than memorizing classifications or putting two things together to make them fizzle. Look up the scientific method and discuss what it is. Then design an experiment you can do at home with the supplies you have.
My 2nd and 3rd graders have gotten into doing behavioral experiments on our hedgehog. After designing the studies, we collect and analyze the data, make charts and graphs, then write up faux journal articles. One of our studies, for example, was “Instantaneous Sampling of a Hedgehog’s State Behaviors.” Another was “A Hedgehog Case Study: Distance She Can Push a Paper Towel Roll.” They were a blast! Of course, these studies need to be ethical and not harmful to the pet. Lots of treats should be involved. Just search for some ideas on how to design a basic behavioral study.
Make sure to talk your kids through each step of the study, so they understand that science is about observing, measuring, and testing the world around them. The process of science itself is not political. Religious beliefs are not science. They are beliefs. Science is about building evidence to develop a better understanding of how things work.
If your school has not assigned specific math curriculum for your kids, I’ve got an idea for you. A high school math teacher told me that a huge challenge for many kids entering high school these days is that they never had to memorize their basic math facts in elementary school. That means many high school kids can’t tell you off the tops of their heads what 8 + 7 is or what 4 x 8 is, which makes higher-level math more difficult. This math teacher has told me, when I get stressed about teaching math to my kids, that what they really need to know is their basic math facts. Drilling math facts doesn’t always happen in traditional schools any more. So if you don’t have a set curriculum to work through these weeks or months, what if you saved some time each day for flashcards? You can make them yourself or order them online. Or print out some free “time tests” and make a game out of it for your kids? (I always hated time tests, but it turns out they work.) Send your kids back to school with their math facts in check.
You can also bake with your kids to practice their fractions. (You don’t have to tell them that’s the goal, though.) Double a recipe and help them think through how much of each ingredient you need. Just make sure you double everything in the recipe. Only remembering to double half the ingredients is my downfall.
Finally, the medical journalist in me needs to take a moment to promote social distancing. Even if you’re not in a high-risk group for complications from Covid-19, it’s essential that you participate in social distancing to “flatten the curve” of disease spread so cases don’t spike to a number that overwhelms our health care system. (We don’t have actually have “a” health care system. We have a messy combination of systems.) It doesn’t matter if you’re young and healthy; your life could be endangered if our health care system became overwhelmed. It would mean that if you got in a car accident or had a medical emergency unrelated to Covid-19, there may not be medical professionals or equipment, such as a ventilator, available to keep you alive. This worst-case scenario isn’t theoretical; it's happening in other countries as we speak. Whether you choose to act selflessly for the good of others or selfishly for your own good, you’ve got to participate in social distancing. We can't overwhelm the system, and the only way not to do so (since we have failed to contain the virus from spreading through the community) is by social distancing. Right now. Today. That means no playgrounds. That means no playdates. That means stay home to stay safe.
I'm excited to announce that I've contributed to a homeschool bundle sale, which means for a limited time you can get my introductory photography course for kids, along with 20 more phenomenal homeschool resources, for just $28. (The regular price for my digital course alone is $42. The value of the bundle is $287.) These resources cover science and nature studies, art, geography, American Sign Language, and on and on. Below is the full list of products in the bundle. You can find details on each product and make your purchase here. I hope you'll enjoy these resources as much as we are!
“The Home Educator’s Journal” Issues 1-3 by @SecularHomeschooler
Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library - Online Book Club by Literary Adventures for Kids by @hidethechocolateblog
Deschooling Essentials Online E-Course by Fearless Homeschool
A Child's World: Winter Study for Pre-K/K by @yournaturallearner
Documenting Your World Through Photography - Introductory Course by @CalmCradlePhoto
Biome Collection by @chickieandroo
Pre-Kindergarten Game Pack by @BlimeyBox
Our Place in the Universe Homeschool Study by @Creativeandgrowingkids
The New Zealand Issue by @Curious WandererSociety
Body Books: Bundled Lessons by @weelittlenomads
A Child's World: My Body Unit - 1st Grade by @yournaturallearner
"Getting on Moon Time" MP3 - Issue No. 4 Article written by @wilderchild, recorded by @secularhomeschooler
Weekly Vocab - February for Early Elementary by @threelittlehomeschoolers
Five Beginner App Coding Projects for Kids by @bitsboxkids
ASL Alphabet Flash Cards by @familyasl
120-page Homeschool Planner - Soft Damask Style by @threelittlehomeschoolers
A Child's World: Myth & Fairy Tale Unit - 2nd Grade by @yournaturallearner
A Year of Temperatures: A 365 Day Weather Tracking Printable by @schoolnest
Visual Reminder Tool Pack by @thehiphomelife
"Whodunnit?" Bundle of Four Tracking Lessons by @fireflynatureschool
Homeschool Weekly Journal Lesson Printable by @schoolnest
It didn't occur to me that tonight was the end of the decade until the bombardment of articles began last week titled things like, "2010s: What the **** Just Happened?" I found myself reading these pieces and nodding in agreement.
What a strange, strange decade it was in terms of politics and culture. What a disappointing and confusing decade it was in terms of what those aspects uncovered about some of the people in our lives and our struggles to navigate those relationships. And what a depressing decade it was in terms of the contrast between our continuously increasing understanding of climate change and what it means for our children's futures and the ever-growing, insidious science denial and greed that have prevented significant mitigation efforts.
And yet. As I was tallying up the disheartening ways we've collectively failed our children and their peers during this decade (I'm an optimist, I know), I started to wonder if there was anything fundamentally different about this 10-year block of time than any other, or if my perception of the world and the people in it has just changed.
That's when it struck me: at the beginning of 2010, I wasn't a parent yet. I was a different person.
At the close of the 2000s, Jeff and I were newlyweds, young people with endless energy. We worked full-time jobs on opposite sides of town by day, then met at a state park near our house just about every evening to mountain bike together. Afterwards we'd grab dinner and head home to work on our new house or just snuggle up and watch a show together. Work hard. Play hard. Relax.
Eventually I left my job to write and start a small photography business. My lack of schedule combined with Jeff's remote job gave us something we both craved more than a stockpile of money: flexibility. We traveled more weekends than not and, for as long as we'd been a couple, we'd somehow pulled off being seasonal residents of the Colorado Rockies. A summer here. A winter there. Plenty of shorter trips in between.
Being married to each other came pretty naturally to both of us, too. Our family dynamics were, more or less, relaxed. And on a broader level, the country was progressing in a way that felt right to us, that jived with our personal morals of equality and so on. Social regression wasn't on our radar. We were so busy growing our own dreams and assuming the best in people that we missed the undercurrent broiling just beneath the surface.
I do actually think the 2010s were fundamentally different than other decades in certain ways, but it's also true that my entire perspective on life and my role in it flipped during those years. The reason is that we created an entire family from scratch in this decade: three girls. Our dream come true. They turned our lives upside down in the very best, and most chaotic, way. (You can stop asking if we're going to try for a boy, by the way. We've never tried for a boy. And I'm done giving an awkward courtesy laugh when you ask.)
Those first Mama-Bear emotions when you're looking down at your new baby are deep and primal. Your initial mission is to keep this fragile being alive—an overwhelming task. But as time wears on and you learn how to feed and tend to the basic needs of your child, those maternal instincts expand. You still feel the desperate need to keep your child alive, but at some point, you manage to glance up from her face and notice the world around you again. Somewhat surprisingly, it’s still there after all this time. But the angle is different, and now there is an eerie quality to the light. It's changed in a permanent way that you can't quite put your finger on.
You start to see the world for how it's going to affect your child, how it's going to hurt her, get in her way, let her down. You start to see what you need to try to do to change it, to give her the best shot at life.
I went through this process of reawakening to an altered world with each of my children, but it was the most dramatic with my last. She was 7 months old. I was nursing her on the bed. And when I looked up, what I saw staring back on that November night in 2016 were elections returns.
In a moment, the wool came off my eyes. The world I thought I had just brought three kids into was unrecognizable. (Yes, I've been schooled since on how naive I was to not have fully understood the undercurrents of hate coursing through the country before this moment and am grateful for that schooling.) This moment was not the same subtle awakening I had with the first two kids, but something else entirely.
In a split second, those maternal instincts shifted from focusing on my infant's survival to putting on my gloves and preparing for a larger fight. It was as if my role as a woman and a mother suddenly came into stark relief in a way it hadn't before. Gone was my good-hearted assumption that the world would respect my daughters and their peers. Gone was my inane notion that evidenced-based reasoning was a method people at least tried to use to make decisions, even if unsuccessfully. Gone was my desire to please others for the sake of keeping the peace or not making them feel awkward for their willful ignorance.
Keep your head down and get along? No, thank you. I see what my kids are up against now and will set false pleasantries aside. I'd rather be fighting for the health and safety of all children, regardless of how they got here; for the equality and dignity of vulnerable and marginalized populations; for the basic rights of women to define their own lives regardless of what any men do or don't do to them.
Thankfully, my husband has experienced a similar perspective shift in becoming a father, and we've spent the last years of this decade supporting each other in trying to translate some of these new instincts, awareness, and drives into our careers, personal lives, and family relationships.
Perhaps in the years to come, we'll find more similarities between the 2010s and other decades in our country's history that aren't obvious in the moment. But I can tell you with certainty that for me, no decade in my life will compare in growth. Nothing will compare to the joys of bringing three children into the world with the love of my life, the weight of the realization of what that world and the people in it really look like, or the constant struggle that has followed to figure out how to maintain hope for these kids of ours, and to figure out how I can best contribute in some way to making the future better for them.
Wool pulled off. Gloves on. 2020s? Bring it.
Photo: Watching the sun set on the 2010s at Jordan Lake.
I'm pleased to announce the addition of two new photography collections in my shop: Wild Horses of the Outer Banks and Wild Horses of the Pryor Mountains. Click here to view both series and place orders for prints and canvases. Drop me a line if you'd like to order custom products with these images.
I'll continue to add small, themed collections to the shop throughout 2020, so please check back or send requests for the type of work you'd like to see.
P.S. Don't forget to check out my introductory photography curriculum, which is 15% off through 12/8/19. The price is already marked down for the paperback version on Amazon. To receive the discount on the digital version, enter CYBER2019 at checkout on my website. Happy snapping!
Last March, I made a special trip up to New York City to take newborn portraits of my best friend Rachel's second baby. (You can see the photos and birth announcement I created for her first baby here.) What a treat!
Unlike during a typical newborn session, we had the luxury of spending a full day together, so there was no rush to get the perfect shot in a short time frame. Baby Hannah ate and slept and ate and slept. Big Brother Max ran off steam at the playground while I captured some quiet moments with Rachel and Hannah. And I got to spend some quality time with Max throughout the day too. Rachel and I even had a takeout dinner date together after the kids went to sleep (and before they woke up numerous times, of course).
When I started photographing newborns as a new mom of one, I found it less stressful to photograph first babies. There were no toddlers bustling around, acting unpredictably and making the newborns cry. But now that I have three kids of my own, I prefer sessions that include older siblings. Now I see that nothing could be sweeter than watching a brand-new sibling relationship emerge.
I'll say it until I'm blue in the face: it's such an honor to bear witness to the earliest days of a new life and all the changes that baby brings to a family.
My portrait work always includes context, meaning I try to capture a sense of place. When a family looks at newborn portraits later, I want them to remember not just the tiny toes, but the place they called home when those tiny toes arrived.
When I walked into Rachel's New York apartment, I knew right away the large windows in the living room needed to figure prominently into some of the photos, as did the gallery wall behind the sofa and the bold blue rug in the bedroom. I wanted her family to remember what this space felt like when Hannah became a part of it. And I'm so glad these elements made it into the images, because a few weeks later, Rachel found out they needed to move out of their apartment.
I found the transition from one child to two the most challenging part of parenting so far. It was hard to say goodbye and hop back on the plane knowing what Rachel and her little family were up against—the juggling act of managing a baby and a toddler, the exhaustion that would settle in, the demanding careers to return to. But I left hoping that whatever awaited them, these portraits would always serve as reminders of the pure joy of this moment.
Above: Front of birth announcement. Below: Back of birth announcement.
I'm Julia Soplop, writer and photographer. I believe there is something profound in bearing witness to moments of joy and pain in others’ lives. My husband, three girls and I live outside of Chapel Hill, NC. You can read more about me here.