Marcia Miller's Reflections & Resources

Fire Station Field Trip!

After many years of sharing a variety of outings and field trips with our son, Ben, when he was younger, it was great fun to be able to have him host us on a trip to the fire station where he’s working as a part time resident firefighter this year. He was working a 24 hour shift on Christmas day, and some of our extended family was in town visiting, so we decided to enjoy a trip together to see him. Our young cousins, ages three and six, were ecstatic to have their older cousin give them a personal tour of the fire station. The rest of us were pretty delighted, too.

It was an amazing feeling to watch our son welcome us and walk us around the grounds, introduce us to his colleagues, show us the station and all the details of the fire engine. He looked bigger, stronger, more mature than ever. And I had just seen him the day before. It reminded me of all the other times we went places together to see new things, meet new people, and gain new experiences.  I’m so glad we had all those times together when he was younger. And I’m glad we got to experience this new part of his life up close.

Ben’s gear is laid out like this right by the fire engine, ready to go for a call. The boys asked if he would show them how he suited up.

Their goal is to suit up in under a minute. We timed him. Ready, set, go!

This is why they call it “throwing gear”. It took him just 52 seconds.

Then, if you can believe it, while we were standing right there in the engine bay getting ready to leave, we heard the printer go off, saw some red lights flashing overhead, and three more firefighters emerged, exchanged a few words, grabbed their gear, and jumped in the engine and aid car for a call. We quickly got out of the way and watched, mesmerized by the sight of our twenty year old son driving the fire engine off into the sunset.  Chills and tears, I tell you. It’s amazing how kids grow up right before your eyes.

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This summer, Ben participated in a two-month intensive fire service training academy through the Getchell Fire Department, Snohomish County Fire District #22. It was the first part of their 15 month resident firefighter program. He worked really hard and did well. He’ll continue there as a probationary resident firefighter, learning through study and on the job training. We’re so proud of him!

Receiving badge and certificates from the chief and drill instructor


Getchell Fire District Valedictorian Award, GRIT Class of 2013


At ease


Feeling happy and accomplished with other Getchell recruits


With the drill instructor who saw him through eight weeks of intensive training


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Happy New Year

It’s a lovely new year, with many new days and months to create new adventures for yourself, your family, and your children.  You can start over or keep things the same. You can make big or small changes, or appreciate the things that are going quite well just as they are.  You have more time to appreciate life, to appreciate your children, and to delight in who they’re becoming.  You don’t need to worry about what you didn’t accomplish last year or what you think you should accomplish this next year.  You can appreciate right now.  Each new day, month, and year you have together is time to grow together and love each other. Your children will learn new things every single day.  You will also learn new things every day.  Enjoy your new year!

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Smart, curious, alert, observant…

Ben and cousin Sam working together

I once again came across this wonderful quote from John Holt, and thought it deserved sharing:

“What makes people smart, curious, alert, observant, competent, confident, resourceful, persistent – in the broadest and best sense, intelligent – is not having access to more and more learning places, resources, and specialists, but being able in their lives to do a wide variety of interesting things that matter, things that challenge their ingenuity, skill, and judgement, and that make an obvious difference in their lives and the lives of people around them.”   ~ John Holt, Teach Your Own ~

If you haven’t read any of Holt’s books lately (or ever), do yourself a favor and take some time to do so.   You’ll be glad you did. Here are a few to get you started:

Teach Your Own: A Hopeful Path for Education

Learning All the Time: How small children begin to read, write, count, and investigate the world, without being taught

Growing Without Schooling: A Record Of A Grassroots Movement

Instead of Education: Ways to Help People Do Things Better

John Holt was one of the first homeschooling authors I read. His books were full of insight about children and learning, and I loved everything he wrote. As a former teacher, he was the bridge from my education background, to help me see the need for self-education and unschooling. He spoke my language. I could relate to all of the anecdotes he shared about his classroom experiences, and then how he grew and changed to appreciate all the learning experiences outside of the classroom, too. I could tell how much he liked and respected children, and how much he trusted parents. He had tried and tried to make educational reforms in his classrooms and on a broader scale, but eventually he realized that families were in a much better position to create the educational change children deserved.


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Create Your Own Graduation Party

Reilly, Sarah, Ben, Taylor, Tanner

After years and years of homeschooling together, five families from our local homeschool group decided it would be fun to throw a graduation party for our lovely young adults.  We thought it would be a nice way to commemorate all the big and small experiences they’ve shared with each other over the years.

Each of them has explored the world in their own ways, finding their own paths, learning and growing toward adulthood.  They’ve studied a variety of different topics, focused on their own independent projects, and pursued their own passions throughout their teen years.  Because of this, holding some sort of formal or traditional graduation ceremony was not something any of us had planned on or felt necessary.  Then at some point earlier in the year, a couple of them thought it would be meaningful to create a personalized graduation, or coming of age ceremony, and after sharing a few ideas with the others, they all decided to join in the fun.

This was such a great way for our families to collaborate and create something memorable for ourselves.  We started by brainstorming simple elements that were important to each individual or family.  We decided on the following details to create a simple gathering: an informal ceremony followed by a relaxed open house for family and friends, a slide show of favorite photographs, personalized diplomas, a speaker who knew them and could relate to their unique experiences, graduation caps (but no gowns), fun and meaningful music, a potluck meal, a home-made cake, and time for socializing and badminton in the back yard.  It sounds like a lot, but everyone contributed a little, and our efforts went a long way.

The photos we took give the best view of some of the special moments during the party.  Each family took time to say a few words, and it’s easy to see the love and attachments that have formed over the years.  Here’s to creating our own home grown celebrations!


Ben is here with Evan, a longtime mentor and staff member from Not Back To School Camp. Ben and his friends asked Evan to speak during the graduation ceremony.

As a fun, memorable addition to the celebration, Don carved wooden ‘graduation’ spoons for each of the graduates.  There’s a bit of history to this from Sarah’s family.  When Sarah was younger, she asked how she would know when she was graduated.  At the time, Larisa told her that when the time came, she would use a favorite magic wand-like spoon, tap her on the head, and declare her graduated.  We all loved the idea, and so Don decided to carve special graduation spoons for each of them.  Just to make it official.

Becca and Michael are presenting Reilly’s home-grown personalized diploma. A few of us enjoyed adding a bit of whimsical content to some of the diplomas along with the more predictable content.

Don is reading a specially chosen quote for Ben.

 “A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, con a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”    ~ Robert A. Heinlein

Larisa and Sarah share the back story about the idea behind the graduation spoons.

Kevin and Taylor share an emotional embrace after he hands her her diploma.  (Yes, all the work you’re doing to build strong attachments with your children is very worthwhile.)

Nina and Tanner have some fun with the graduation spoon ceremony.

Ben with his spoon and diploma

 The day before the party, a few of the kids got together to make some special cakes!

Don, Steve, and Thornton, from their band, ThorNton Creek, played music for part of the evening. Ben has been listening to their music for most of his life, so it was a fitting tribute for them to help us celebrate.

 This is Reilly’s delighted reaction when she realizes the band is playing one of her favorite U2 songs in her honor.

 A wonderful day for mother and son!

Kevin, Nina, and I enjoy a warm moment together after a full day of celebrations and many years of sharing our homeschooling adventures together.

Tanner, Ben, Josh, and Hayden have also shared many years of homeschooling experiences together. It’s delightful to have watched them grow up together.

Graduation party badminton!  The kids wanted to enjoy a relaxed gathering with friends and family…so they did!

Lots of time for celebratory family photos! Aadrial came up from Portland to support Ben and share the weekend with us.

Years and years of wonderful homeschooling experiences with a lovely and meaningful culminating party for Reilly, Ben, Sarah, Tanner, and Taylor.

 A final photo of the five fabulous families!

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Hard Work & Recognition

Surrounded by mentors and recognized for a year's worth of hard work!

Sometimes people question the ideas of unschooling because they wonder how kids will learn to work hard if they’re not forced to do things they don’t want to do, or if they’re not given regular assignments or arbitrary tasks to accomplish throughout their lives.   People wonder how kids will grow up, how they’ll learn to find their way in the world.  Well, I think kids like to learn things and work hard for the same reasons all humans do.  We find something interesting, something worth learning about, and work we want to do, and then there’s no stopping us.  We find people who inspire us, and we want to learn from those people as much as we can.  We find fascinating things to do, and we want to keep pursuing those things.

This is what we noticed with Ben throughout his younger years as well as more recently as he’s grown older.  He found interesting people to learn from and interesting things to do to make his life full and good.  A couple years ago, a friend was participating in a local fire service program, a career and tech prep program through the local school district, and he thought Ben might it enjoy, too.  It sounded like good, hands-on work, and knowledge worth pursuing.  So Ben tried it.  And he loved it.  For the past two years, he has worked really hard, learning new skills and new content related to fire service work.  He tackled things that were not common to him before–lots of textbook reading, regular written assignments, and numerous multiple-choice tests.  At first, he wasn’t sure how he’d do with it all, but he learned the ropes (and hoses and ladders), kept at it, and did very well!

This year, at the year-end fire service graduation breakfast and awards ceremony, Ben was recognized with their highest award for his hard work throughout the program, both academic and on the drill grounds.  We’re quite proud of him!  Mostly, however, we’re happy for him, because he’s met good people and found important work worth doing.  And so the learning will continue.

Outstanding Student of the Year!


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A Day at North Bend Fire Training Academy

Just out of the fire!

Ben has been participating in a fire service technology class for the past couple years at the Fire District 1 headquarters and training center in Snohomish County. There are about 20+ other students from various high schools in the area who also participate. Together, they learn as much of the hands-on skills and academic content needed for fire service work. This trip to the state training academy was a full day of live fire training–essentially a hands-on culmination of what they’ve been learning throughout the year. It was a day filled with excitement, determination, hard work, and many smiles like the one in the photo above.

Company A -- Alex, Ben, and Verghel
Chief McGaughy with Ben and Company A
Everyone loves watching the burn tower.
Burn Tower
Each floor of the burn tower holds various live fire experiences for practical fire training opportunities
The companies are getting ready for various training assignments.
Taking care of the gear.
Suiting up -- Each hands-on practical lasted about 20-30 minutes, and between sessions, they came out to cool off and then get their gear ready again.
Ready to go.
Company A discusses plans for their next live fire practical.
Many experienced firefighters assisted in all the training.
Lots of conversations both before and after practicals.
Great mentoring throughout the day.
Ladder talk
Cooling off and debriefing
So much excitement and exhilaration after coming out of the fire.
Pertinent road signs


A lunchtime break and good words to remember.
Loading gear
A good, long day of hard work.
Company officers
Fire District 1 Student Firefighters



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Traveling Adventures

“And when the kids are old enough, we’re gonna teach them to fly…”

Thank you, Dave Matthews.

This song was playing as I watched Ben and his friend, a couple years ago, standing tall and carrying their backpacks as they walked slowly away toward the Amtrak train, getting ready to board for a long journey to Not Back To School Camp together. Granted, at that point in their lives, it was only a train, not a plane, but they were definitely learning to fly in the independent, leaving-the-nest sense of things. And my friend, Laura, and I were learning to let them go.

On the train from Klamath Falls to Eugene, Oregon, 2009

That was the beginning of some amazing travel experiences for each of them, and it’s been great to watch the accompanying growth, confidence, and maturation. Since then, Ben has taken several trips by train or bus to and from that same Oregon camp. He has flown by himself or with friends by plane from Seattle to Phoenix, Reno, and Kansas City, and has enjoyed road trips through Washington, Oregon, and California. Given these travels, he has had the chance to see the Grand Canyon, experience a wilderness camp in California, backpack in Desolation Wilderness in the Sierra Nevada, explore new cities, and enjoy many interesting landscapes. He’s been able to try new things, find mentors, and nurture many friendships, both old and new.

A view of the Grand Canyon, 2010

During the week of Thanksgiving this past year, Ben had the chance to visit friends in Kansas City, Missouri for a NBTSC camper reunion. There were several friends coming in from many different states and descending upon the homes of two welcoming families for a big Thanksgiving feast and week-long gathering. He really wanted to go, and thought carefully about if it would be possible, related to both costs of travel as well as taking time off work.

Whenever he has had the opportunity for an adventure like this, we’ve tried to figure out ways to help him make it happen. In this instance, at first I thought it would be nice to have him home during Thanksgiving, but I also knew that as he grows older, and as his life gets busier with more commitments like work and studies, he’ll want to venture out on his own during times like this when his friends are also available. So I realized this was one of those opportunities, and started brainstorming with him about how to make it work.

One of his first hurdles was needing to take a little time off work…during a holiday…as a courtesy clerk at a grocery store. No small task. He has been working at PCC Natural Markets since last summer, and really loves it. He gets along quite well with the staff, is flexible with his schedule, and frequently offers to cover other people’s shifts. He started early with his request for time off, knowing it might take a while for his manager to make this kind of scheduling decision. Ben reassured him that he would have a good deal of time in December to work extra shifts and cover for other people’s needs for time off then. Ben had to be quite patient while waiting for an answer, but his manager likes him and was able to make it work. Lucky kid.

Since he’s been working for a while now, he had the money he needed to buy a plane ticket, however I knew he was also thinking about various building projects he was saving money for as well. We told him we’d be willing to contribute a bit, and this was helpful when he realized that tickets would cost more depending on the holiday dates he traveled. I like helping him with these kinds of adventures when we can afford it, because I know how exciting and valuable they can be for him. It’s also fun when he comes back home, telling us about people he’s met, places he’s explored, or new observations he’s made. This time, one cool thing he noticed was how the architecture of the various homes there was quite different. It’s a small thing, but it makes his world, and ours, bigger.

This is how it happens. One trip, one new adventure, one opportunity at a time, and soon he’ll be grown, off on his own, living his own independent life. I’m glad it doesn’t happen all at once, but gradually, so I have time to get used to it. I’m excited for him, and happy I get to watch the process.

On a backpacking trip with friends, Desolation Wilderness, CA, 2010
Deer Crossing Camp, traveling back by boat from Loon Lake in California's Eldorado National Forest, 2010
Friend and mentor, Blake Boles, talks to campers during a 2009 NBTSC workshop session: "And then to save money on travel, you learn to fly."






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18 Years

Ben at Not Back To School Camp, 2011 - Photo credit, Vanessa Filkins

My sweet son, Ben, turned 18 a little over a month ago. I’ve been thinking about what a pleasure it has been to be with him and watch him grow all these years.

When Ben was six years old, I remember thinking very clearly about how much he had grown as a boy during the first six years of his life.  He went from an infant, to toddler, to young boy in such a short period of time.  Then it occurred to me how much more he would grow and change in the next six years of his life. So when he was twelve, he would be much different than when he was six.

At age six, Ben loved playing with Legos, climbing trees, doing any kind of hands-on work, and playing outdoors with friends at parks and lakes. He enjoyed all kinds of board games and card games, and loved listening to stories even though he didn’t yet read independently.

By the time he was twelve, Ben still loved Legos, although instead of bricks, he played with Lego Technics and robotics. He had become an avid independent reader and still enjoyed listening to stories. He played computer games more than board games, participated in wilderness programs, and continued to climb trees. His love for hands-on work took the form of learning glass flameworking, electronics, robotics, and simple woodworking.

Now, at 18, he’s studying in a fire service technology program and pursues a variety of hands-on projects both at home and in the community. These have included glassblowing, metalworking, and building custom longboards and electric bass guitars. In the past, he was a homebody, but in recent years he has traveled by air, rail, and car to several states around the country. He’s worked a variety of jobs, including a high ropes course assistant, art festival vendor assistant, summer day camp assistant, and most recently as a courtesy clerk at PCC Natural Markets. He likes to hike, run, read, cook, bake, watch movies, hang out with friends, and he still loves climbing trees.

It’s been amazing to me how much Ben has grown as a young man during these past several years.  I couldn’t have imagined when he was twelve what he would be like at age eighteen.  And I must say I am so happy to see who he has become.

Tree climbing at Not Back to School Camp, 2010
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Not Back To School Camp!

A camp circle in the big field at Camp Myrtlewood

At the end of August, when most teens are getting ready for school, Ben and a few of his lucky friends are happily anticipating Not Back to School Camp at Camp Myrtlewood in Bridge, Oregon.   It’s a terrific camp for unschooling teens, created by Grace Llewellyn, author of The Teenage Liberation Handbook and one of our first inspirations for considering life without school.

Every year now for the past five years, Ben has enjoyed wonderful camp adventures.  He has met new friends from all over the country, learned new things, found mentors to challenge and inspire him, and gained a greater sense of self as he makes his way toward young adulthood.  Each year, we look forward to hearing his stories, seeing camp photos, and noticing how he has grown and changed in just a short period of time.  Enjoy!

Ben and friends wait expectantly for the train at the Amtrak station. This train trip travel time together is the beginning of the adventure.
Ben brought a big beach ball to share for outdoor fun and games.
More beach ball fun...
There is always plenty of time to relax and talk with friends.
A walk in the woods
Ben's advisee group
I love that these teens still know how to play.
After campers picked all these blackberries, Ben worked in the camp kitchen to make several blackberry cobblers.
Favorite longtime camp advisor Abbi shows campers how to use these silks for some acrobatics.
Ben and Josh take a little time to do some longboarding on the longboard they built together last year after camp.
Camp happiness
Asleep next to a good friend on the bus ride home from camp...


Photo credits: Celina Dill, Kate Geurrero, Sophie Biddle, Sophie Thompson, Benji B’Shalom, Blake Boles, and Qacei Gold

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Fire Station Field Trip!

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After many years of sharing a variety of outings and field trips with our son, Ben, when he was younger, it was great [Read More]



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