The Happy Guinea Pig

Once upon a time, a girl turned into a guinea pig. The girl’s name was Natalie, and she loved school—until 6th grade. In 6th grade, homework piled up, kids were mean, and grades were privileged over learning. Natalie was so miserable, she stopped doing her favorite things: playing outside, reading, drawing, and practicing the piano. Desperate to recover their daughter’s love of learning, Natalie’s parents decided to conduct an experiment. For 7th and 8th grade, the family moved school into their Los Angeles backyard. They planted a garden. They published a newspaper. They read aloud from a 600-page atlas, visited museums, and sewed quilts. This is how Natalie became the guinea pig—the happy guinea pig—at the heart of a schoolhouse experiment.

The Happy Guinea Pig
Natalie McDonald

Acting on Hope: From Art to Politics

The other night, as I went through my inbox deleting the junk mail that had accumulated throughout the day, a subject line caught my eye: “Dreaming in moments of uncertainty.” The email was from Women for Political Change (WFPC), one of the many Minnesota organizations that provided support to protestors in Minneapolis following George Floyd’s

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The Happy Guinea Pig
Natalie McDonald

“Say Nothing”: On Breaking Historical Silences

I recently finished Patrick Radden Keefe’s award-winning book Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland (Doubleday, 2018). It is a fascinating study of the Troubles and their aftermath. But the questions Keefe raises transcend Northern Ireland: Why is it important to reckon with the violence of the past? What role

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The Happy Guinea Pig
Natalie McDonald

Embracing Imperfection with Sourdough – Part 2

I have finally figured out my sourdough baking regimen. Dare I say, perfected it? I think not (note the title of this post), but I am happy enough with my routine that I’d like to share it with any aspiring sourdough bakers seeking inspiration, encouragement, or reassurance. As I explained in Part 1 of this

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The Happy Guinea Pig
Natalie McDonald

Embracing Imperfection with Sourdough – Part 1

Shortly after the pandemic began, my household acquired a new member: Stan the sourdough starter. Stan’s appearance in our lives was prompted by the concern that we would not be able to obtain bread while in COVID-19 lockdown; we take bread very seriously in our house. So we ordered a dehydrated starter, and after a

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The Happy Guinea Pig
Natalie McDonald

Teaching Citizenship on July 4th

Since January, I have been volunteering as a citizenship instructor, teaching weekly classes (over Zoom for the duration of the pandemic) to immigrants here in Los Angeles who have applied to become naturalized U.S. citizens. My co-instructor and I focus on preparing our students for their interviews with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, as well

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The Happy Guinea Pig
Natalie McDonald

A New Chapter for “The Happy Guinea Pig”

When my mother (Pamela Beere Briggs, Two in the World’s resident “Book Lover”) launched this website with me last year, we intended “The Happy Guinea Pig” to be a space in which to reflect on our two-year homeschooling experiment—and how this wonderful adventure continues to resonate in our lives 10 years later. But the world

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The Happy Guinea Pig
Natalie McDonald

This Little Light of Mine – Part 2

Here I am singing one of the various verses of “This Little Light of Mine.” We’re singing this song each day in our house. It reminds us that we must not give up. We have to believe that every little thing we do can help make a difference. And singing helps us breathe a little

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The Happy Guinea Pig
Judy Feuer Walden

A Teacher’s Perspective on Effective Classrooms, Part 4

The best learning environments honor the important connection between head, hand, and heart. I have made a list of what that means and what it might look like in a dynamic classroom where those three needs are honored and met. Here, then, is how a nurturing classroom recognizes that we are all unique learners: Heart

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The Happy Guinea Pig
Judy Feuer Walden

A Teacher’s Perspective on Effective Classrooms, Part 3

The best learning environments honor the important connection between head, hand, and heart. I have made a list of what that means and what it might look like in a dynamic classroom where those three needs are honored and met. Here, then, is how a nurturing classroom recognizes that we are all unique learners: Hand

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Natalie McDonald—the “happy guinea pig” who was homeschooled for 7th and 8th grade—graduated with honors from Pomona College in 2019. She continues to love learning as much as she did when studying in her backyard schoolhouse ten years ago.

Judy Feuer Walden was in her late 40s, with a son and daughter in middle school, when she decided to return to school so that she could follow her 6th grade dream and become an elementary school teacher. During her decade of teaching, she taught kindergarten, 2nd grade and 3rd grade in a public elementary school. Judy’s essays will be published once a month as part of The Happy Guinea Pig.