Homeschooling Resources: Book Sale at the Library

Our local library had a book sale today.  We always work hard to go to these sales as one of our best sources for new homeschooling material.  We are fortunate in the library we go to:  it is not in our town, and we have to pay a membership fee.  But they have a huge juvenile non-fiction section, where we have probably saved thousands of dollars in book purchases through the years.  Nevertheless, it is important to us to own books.

One reason we like to own books is that when we are reading them aloud to the kids, the reading may extend longer than the 3 to 6 weeks allowed us by the library check-out system.  This is also true if one person after another in the family wishes to read a book, as in the case of our book club books.  Since I often read a book and then recommended it to one or two more members of the family, I often buy that book for them to read.  Another reason we like to own books is that when we go on trips we work hard not to take along any library books.  Travel is hard on books, and even if none get lost, they don’t usually look the same after they’ve gone on a hiking trip.  In fact, on some hiking trips I have been known to take along a “disposable” book and tear pages off for the camp fire after I have read them!

Library book sales are an important resource for us.  At this book sale, we bought 30 books for $15.  That price wouldn’t even have purchased one of the Eyewitness Juniors books that we found there, as well as many other juvenile non-fiction books.  Why do we concentrate on buying that kind of book at book sales?  These books are invaluable as we make our curriculum interesting.  They contain many pictures and projects that we can use for science or history to make learning exciting and fun.  They spark the imagination when they are read outside of assignments, and lead to individual exploration and wider interests.

Many libraries, including ours, collect books from donations and overstocks throughout the year, but host large books sales like this one helped by volunteers only once or twice a year.  Other libraries have an area in their shelves that is for book sales all year round.  It is a good idea for homeschoolers to check these shelves often to fill their home shelves.  Often libraries sell of classics or old books that homeschoolers especially will enjoy.  This is an excellent way to build your home library.  The hardest part for us was sorting!  Even at prices like these, the budget is not unlimited.

Do you enjoy buying used books?  What is your best source for inexpensive library builders?  Please leave me a message.


Relaxed Homeschooling: A Thomas Jefferson Education

Reading Rachel Demille’s post on simplehomeschool today, I remembered again listening to her and her husband at a homeschooling convention about ten years ago.  Although many of the concepts they presented were new to me, I thoroughly agreed with their ideas about cookie cutter or assembly line education.  They spoke about the idea that public education churned out followers off an assembly, rather than leaders.  A true leadership education would teach a child how to learn anything he wanted, and then follow his own goals to whatever ends they led.  Even though I only had a four year old and a two year old at that point, I knew I wanted a truly liberal arts education for them that would allow them to follow their interests and to be brave enough to defy conventions and choose wisely for themselves.

Perhaps the most life changing idea I heard in that presentation was to forget the kids.  They stated that rather than focusing on what the kids were supposed to be learning, become a scholar yourself and model lifelong learning for your children.  Always a goal-oriented project finisher, I may have continued in the path of learning without the exhortation they gave in that speech.  On the other hand, I may have decided that my children were my project instead of focusing on the project of ME.  As I returned home from that conference, and I returned to their book A Thomas Jefferson Education throughout the years, this was the reminder again and again:  are you being the person you would like your children to be?

These ideas continued to motivate me through the years.  Perhaps without them I would not have immersed myself and family in the Spanish language 8 years ago, allowing us to learn Spanish well enough that some (non-Hispanics,:-)) have wondered if we had an Hispanic background.  Perhaps I would not have begun hiking and backpacking when after my youngest was born, thoroughly changing our lives for the better.  Maybe I wouldn’t have begun running 2 years ago, finding a natural way to deal with headaches and depression.  Maybe I wouldn’t continue to assign myself research projects.  Maybe I wouldn’t have started this blog.  Part of the reason I took on each of these challenges was that idea of modeling for my children what progressive adulthood would look like.

The truth is, I didn’t end up putting into practice many of the suggestions given either in the book or in the presentation for my children.  At that point in time, I was not able to be relaxed enough for complete child led learning.  However, I have seen the payoff in my children.  They are eager learners, ready to put in the effort to learn the things that they are interested in.  They excel because they love to learn.  I have used the ideas about great books, and a learning contract was essential to us for one year.  I recommend this book as a great read for evaluating the reasons you are homeschooling, and this time of year is a good time to think about personal goals for growth.

Some other books I have read recently that motivated me in the same direction are:  A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller, The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin and the Fat2Fit radio podcast, the last one strange, but all of them admonishing toward living now as you wish to be.

Please share your thoughts on these ideas.  Leave a comment.

Kids in the Kitchen: All Homemade Tuna Noodle Casserole

My two oldest children each make one full meal for our family each week.   When I set up recipes for the kids, especially in the beginning, I make extra step by step directions for anything I think they may have trouble with, including starting times for each component of the meal.  I keep the kids special recipes in a file on my computer, and print them out new nearly every time they make that dish.  I include comments about any substitutions directly on the recipe, and also directions about what to make to finish the meal.

I also like to teach them a component that they will be able to use for various meals.  For example, Brett learned to make Ragu (spaghetti sauce), so he can use it for pasta, spaghetti sauce, meatballs, or lasagna.  In this recipe, he learned to make a white cream sauce.  This is the same basic sauce I use for making macaroni and cheese or hot brown sandwiches.  Although right now he is just repeating this recipe as part of his regular rotation, soon he will use this same cream sauce to make a variety of other meals.  I will be able to print out or copy the portion of this recipe onto a new document, add more directions or variations, and he will be all set to go.

One of my workmates recently said, “Well, my kids could probably make dinner too, if I left out the exact directions for them to follow.”  Well, that’s what I do!  She acted like it was too much hassle, and she would rather come home and cook for herself.  Not me!  I am never so delighted as when I walk into the house and dinner is cooking, the sink is full of half-washed dishes, and one of my darling children is responsible.  This is what I came home to on Wednesday night:

Tuna Noodle Casserole

½ onion, chopped small

6 tablespoons  butter

6 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 2/3 cups milk

1 cup sour cream

In a saucepan, cook onion in butter till tender.  Stir in flour, ½ teaspoon salt and dash pepper.  Add milk all at once.  Cook and stir till thickened and bubbly.  Turn off heat, stir in sour cream.

Heat a large pan of water to boiling.  Salt liberally.  Cook medium noodles (16 ounces) or 3 cups elbow macaroni.  (About 10 minutes.)  Drain.

Saute 1 cup chopped onion, 2 carrots, chopped, 2 bell peppers, chopped, and 2 zucchini sliced, in 2 tablespoons olive oil.  Cook until carrots are beginning to be soft.  Salt.

Stir together: sauce, noodles, vegetables, 2 cans tuna (drained) , and 1 ½ cups milk.

Spray 9 by 13 inch baking dish.  Put noodle mixture in baking dish, top with 4 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese.  Bake in a 375 degree oven for 25 to 30 minutes.




These are the extra notes at the bottom of the recipe I printed out for Brett to make today.

Another important point about this recipe is that it is made of REAL FOODS.  The original recipe called for cans of cream of mushroom and celery soups instead of the white sauce.  At first, I wondered if kids were able to make the simple cream sauce I always substitute for those cans in any recipe I make.  So I allowed them to make the recipe using the canned components.  With my excuses if it hurts your feelings:  NASTY!  The canned taste ruins the dish for me.  Try using this simple recipe:  if Brett can do it, so can you!  And thank you, Brett, this was wonderful!

Do you have other simple meal components you think it is important to learn to make?  Leave me a comment!

Hooray for Winter!

Hooray for winter and Daddys who have a day off in the middle of the week!  We finally got a little snow, and were able to make use of it before everyone else sledded it off the hill.  Hooray for homeschooling, too!

Happy Wednesday everyone!

Art Project: Blind contour drawing

Having used the book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain myself and with my older kids, I was excited to see this idea for blind contour drawing with small children on the Camp Creek blog.  It took forever to remember to get paper plates to block their line of sight so that they couldn’t as easily watch what they were drawing.

The idea behind blind contour drawing is to force your eye to stay on the object you are drawing.  Since you cannot see what you are drawing, the brain cannot auto-correct and draw what it thinks you “ought” to be seeing.  It is an excellent exercise in really seeing what you are drawing, instead of drawing what you think you should see.  When we did this type of drawing before, we drew our own hands and tennis shoes as suggested by the book.  This time, the kids drew a table lamp that had a nice urn shape and lots of curliques to follow with the pencil.

The results are very interesting.  I love the way the object is identifiable, but obviously not perfected — very abstract.

Winter is a great time to concentrate on these art projects.  Even though we are able to be outside some of the time, we are not able to spend as much time outdoors as during finer weather.  Max and Lulu have been keeping themselves occupied just the same.

Have you tried this kind of drawing?  What are your suggestions for art projects for indoor kids?  Please leave a comment.

Screen Free Sundays

Beginning in November, we instituted screen free Sundays for our family. While there are some exceptions (explained below), we do not use computers, televisions or internet linked telephones on Sunday. We also do not use ipods or other go to movies on this day. This is certainly not a technology free day for our house — we use cameras, microwaves, and the washing machine! We just choose to break our connections with the electronic world for one day each week.

I was motivated to begin pushing for a screen free day after reading The Winter of our Disconnect by Susan Maushart. While this brave woman with 3 teenagers even went without electricity for several weeks to break their electronics habit, I felt we neither had the extreme problem with electronics in our family, nor would I have any support from my husband in taking such a drastic step. Also, since the older kids use the computer for the school, such a drastic step would not be possible during the school year. However, the excellent results she had in encouraging her children to pursue other interests inspired me. I also recognized the need in myself to build better levels of concentration. I found myself breaking off my reading to check on blogs I was following or to look for a recipe. I wanted to regain control of my own use of technology.

Since our screen free Sundays started just as the cooler weather began, we have not spent our days outdoors as much as we surely will during the summer. Instead, most of our Sundays have been spent reading, cooking, and hanging out together. One Sunday, Shandy took Max to a car show for his monthly date night. Several Sundays we have had our girls book club meeting. The guys like to go get a coffee at McDonald’s and hang out there together for a while. We have also resurrected board games.

Yesterday, after coming home from a nice dinner with Grandma and Grandpa, I took time to read a short story to the whole family. The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County by Mark Twain was a hit with everyone. Later, Shandy and the older kids got out Sequence and played while I pursued my “assigned reading” — I have assigned myself a certain number of pages so that I can finish my books from the library before they have to be returned unfinished.

We do make exceptions to the screen free rule — specifically, running time. Although I often run without my ipod, a distance of 14 miles in the cold can be a little intimidating with no distraction.  Also, Shandy hates to run or workout without his music, and since we always work out on Sundays, there is an exception made during exercise time only.

I highly recommend setting a day aside to turn off the electronics and focus on other activities. It has really helped us feel more satisfied about keeping our lives focused on things that are real and important.  Have you tried a screen free day?  How has it affected your family?

Kids in the Kitchen: Crepe Buffet

One of the reasons I do not send my little ones to regular school, and why I removed them from the online charter school the older ones are enrolled in, is the weak treatment of history.  Many teachers will tell you that children cannot grasp history.  Although I understand that children have a hard time understanding the breadth of time involved, they certainly can learn and learn from the stories of history.  Public school replaces the study of history with “social studies”, which is mostly just pap mixed with politics.  When the charter school asked my 3rd grader to write a letter to a politician explaining why dams should be removed from the Missouri River, I knew that we needed to go back to homeschool history.  We use The Story of the World by Susan Wise Bauer as the basis for our study of history, and right now we are in the Early Modern Times book.  We also use the activity book by the same author to give us ideas of what to read in literature and activities we can do to enhance our learning.

Since our study of history includes geography, we often visit the cuisine of the country that we are focusing on.  In our study of history we have visited restaurants for Greek, Indian, and Korean cuisine, and we have attempted our own recipes for Indian, French and German traditional foods.

Our history lesson this week was about Louis XIV of France, so we have been having some short fantasy vacations to France.  We watched portions of a Marie Antoinette documentary, looked at pictures of Versailles, and today we made crepes for lunch.  First, we read the book Crepes by Suzette by Monica Wellington.  This book is based on actual photographs of Paris, turned into imitations of famous artwork and including a crepe cart.  We were having our crepes for lunch, so we included broccoli cheese crepes with some of the sweet ideas in the book.  We had a “crepe buffet” including crepes au sucre (with powdered sugar), crepes au chocolat (with Nutella), and crepes au confiture (with strawberry jam.)

Crepes are so easy to make in the blender, and so great for kids especially when doubling or tripling the recipe, because there are lots of eggs to crack!


1 cup milk

1 cup flour

1 Tablespoon melted butter

1 Tablespoon sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 eggs

To make crepes, first measure all ingredients into the blender and whirl.  Scrape down the sides of the blender, then whirl again.  Refrigerate for about one hour.  To cook, prepare a small skillet or two.  Measure about 1/4 cup of batter into the bottom of the hot skillet, turning to coat the bottom of the pan.  In less than one minute, the sides of the crepe will by dry and bubbles will have formed in the middle.  Flip and cook for about 20 more seconds.  Stack on a platter while cooking the rest of the crepes.

For the broccoli crepes, I chopped steamed broccoli and we put a spoonful of broccoli on one quarter of the cooked crepe.  We topped with about 1 Tablespoon grated cheese, and folded the crepe in half and then in fourths.  These stayed folded better when we flipped them over so that the filled quarter was on top.

Since the kids were the chefs, they had to eat last, while they took orders and rolled crepes for everyone else.  It was like a salad bar, only better!

We enjoyed our imaginary visit to France, and can’t wait for another trip!

As you can see, a good time was had by all.  Do you enjoy introducing your children to food from various cultures?  How do you enhance your study of history?  Please leave me a comment.

Book Review: The Nature Principle by Richard Louv

The Nature Principle by Richard Louv is not just a repetition of his counsel from The Last Child in the Woods.  Instead, he focus on the benefits that adults can receive from nature therapy, and highlighs our responsibility to make this happen in our homes, community and world.  His basic thesis is stated within the first pages:

Our sensitivity to nature, and our humility within it, are essential to our physical and spiritual survival.

His book is divided into four parts.  In the first part, he states his case for the advantages being in nature brings to our mental and physical health.  Secondly, he discusses how we can bring nature into our home and family life.  Then he looks at our cities, and how nature can be brought close to home.  Lastly, he takes the long view of finding occupations in natural therapy and designing cities with nature incorporated in the design.

Since I live in small town Utah, and am not politically active, the last portion of his book was not as interesting to me as it might be to someone living in a big city.  The idea of mixed use neighborhoods and pocket parks is quite interesting to me, and if I were forced to move into a city I would definitely look for such a neighborhood to live in.  Until that time, however, I found very little in the last portion of the book which I will be able to use now.

One statement I did find interesting was about the office workers who work inside buildings with few windows or many cubicles.  He states that there are legal statutes which would prevent a zoo from keeping animals in such conditions, but nothing protects humans from this.  He also quotes Thomas Berry, a researcher and writer of the book The Great Work, who stated, “A degraded habitat will produce degraded humans.”  It made me think about the way an animal in poor zoo conditions prowls or loses hope.  Isn’t that what we see happening in big cities:  gangs are animals on the prowl, which eventually lead to depression and death for so many?  In that way, this reading related to my recent reading about the projects, and made me agree that the solution for many inner city problems may be more exposure to the natural world.

I had never really considered windows as a way of being exposed to nature, although the first thing we do in the morning is open the blinds so that we can let the sunshine in.  We often visit homes where the blinds are left closed all day, and we say, “It feels like your eyes are poked out!”  Even being able to see trees, birds flying by, or the sun, moon and stars out the window are restorative as we live in accord with nature and our own circadian rhythms.

Another important point Mr. Louv makes is the availability of nature in our own yards and gardens.  While I usually want my nature exposure to be more expansive (think–miles from a highway), even bird feeders or vegetable gardens in our own yards can be helpful in making our connection with nature.  That daily connection may be more helpful in the long run than occasional longer trips to the outdoors.  For children, an adult to introduce them to the joys of gardening may be all it takes to establish a relationship that will last a lifetime.  In fact, Mr. Louv encourages grandparents to help in establishing this relationship, since they usually remember a time when children were allowed more freedom and independence in the natural world.

This book gave voice to many of the feelings I have had about the importance of exposing ourselves and our children to nature.  Two of the areas I intend to focus on in adding nature to our daily life are:  bringing nature inside through house plants and working more in the garden with my children to add to our nature therapy.  I have also considered how I might invite other families to join us in our outdoor adventures.  Although one of my favorite things about our time outdoors is the solitude, perhaps even once a month or three times a year, we might be able to help others to get outdoors as well.

Have you read this book?  What were your thoughts on it?  Do you have a special way you incorporate nature therapy into your life?  Please leave me a comment.

Book Recommendation and Book Club Ideas: Close to Famous by Joan Bauer

I just finished reading this book, and I am so excited to use it for my girls’ book club!  Not only are the themes of this book close to my heart:  persistence, courage and independence; but it includes one of my favorite things ever:  cooking!

Foster McFee and her mother are on the run from a bad ex-boyfriend when we first meet them.  They wind up in the small town of Culpepper.  Foster’s love of cooking leads her to make and sell cupcakes at a local bakery, but her realization that cupcakes and cooking can make a difference in how people feel lead her to make cupcakes for a local charity house, an escaped convict, and a movie star.  Along the way, she follows her dreams and helps other to follow their dreams as well.  She also persists in learning to read despite great obstacles.

I am excited to use this book for our book club because I think it will lead to discussion of how the girls can help others, as well as working hard toward fulfilling their dreams.  I like the way Foster dreams big, and hope to encourage our girls to think of big things they can do, as well.  I want to talk to them about trying again even while overcoming fear of failure.   I also think we will be able to discuss how giving makes the giver and receiver both feel happy.

I also have an innovative idea for a book club activity:  I want to have each of the girls make their own 10 minute cooking show and post it to Youtube so that we can all watch them together.  I am sure some of the moms will want to do the activity as well.  Maybe we’ll use some of Foster’s own recipes as listed on the author website.

Do you have any good ideas for book clubs for moms and daughters to share?  Choosing books is easy for us, finding activities not so easy.  Do you have a good source for activity ideas?  Leave me a comment!


Homeschool How to: Managing the kitchen

Some time ago, a friend was visiting for a play date in the afternoon with my kids.  As she spent the afternoon with me, I cleaned up the lunch dishes and began making dinner.  She commented, “You must feel like you never get out of the kitchen!  You have to make breakfast, lunch and dinner every day!”

The truth is, when you are at home with the kids all day every day, sometimes the cooking does get to be a chore.  For me, it is not so much the cooking as the ideas that become a challenge.  I don’t want to feed my kids peanut butter and jelly sandwiches every day, although I don’t mind it once a week.  I want to include vegetables and fruits, and I want lunch to be fairly quick.  So coming up with ideas for lunch is an important part of my homeschool management.  This winter, we have been eating lots of soup for lunch.  When I make the soup, the kids can make cornbread muffins or potato rolls to go along with the soup if there is time, or we can toast a loaf of store-bought bread if there isn’t much time.  Soup, with bread and fruit beside it, is a quick, healthy lunch for my family.

This Sunday, Shandy took Max on his “date”, and since Daddy wasn’t home, that means everyone else gets leftovers for dinner!  Lucy and I took advantage of our lazy afternoon to make 3 different soups for our lunches this week.

(Sorry, Iphone pictures — Daddy had the good camera.)  From left to right, we made sweet potato coconut soup, spicy cauliflower soup, Thai fresh pea soup, and blueberry baked oatmeal for Monday morning breakfast.  I chose these recipes because they had relatively few ingredients, similar cooking times, and didn’t require too much intensive effort.  Multi-tasking on recipes is difficult enough.  If any one recipe is also difficult, then the multi-tasking doesn’t work very well.

We started with boiling the rice and spices for the fresh pea soup, and then Lucy helped out by cutting up the cauliflower while I sauteed the onion and carrot for the cauliflower soup.  Meanwhile, we cooked the sweet potato for the sweet potato soup.  The recipe  calls for a baked sweet potato, but when yams were on sale last month, I bought lots and we peeled, chopped and froze them.  So I just boiled one quart size bag of the sweet potatoes until they were soft.

Lucy helped keep track of where we were in each recipe, and we worked really hard to put the right spices in each one!  After all, Thai spices and Indian spices are quite different.

An important lesson Lucy learned during the cooking session is “mise en place”, having the spices prepared and measured before starting to cook.  This is especially important in doing more than one recipe at a time, or preparing a recipe with many different ingredients used in succession.  I usually don’t cook this way, but if I am making Indian food I always do this.


This cooking project took only about an hour and a half, we enjoyed good company, and are well prepared for the week ahead!  Hope enjoyed your weekend as well!

Sweet potato curry soup


2 sweet potatoes, baked or cooked completely

1 can coconut milk

2 teaspoons sweet yellow curry

2 teaspoons garam masala

1 cup water

1 teaspoon salt, to taste

Place all ingredients in blender and blend until smooth.  Taste for seasoning.  If I was making this for just adults, I would add a sprinkle of cayenne.  The soup may be refrigerated until ready to serve.  Heat thoroughly and serve with a dollop of plain yogurt.