Mom School for the Summer

I promised a couple of weeks ago to talk to you about some of the exciting learning projects I have for myself over the summer, and I am finally getting around to writing this post!  First of all, let me explain to you why I set special learning goals for myself over the summer.

While I have read several wonderful posts lately about being thoroughly present with your kids during the summertime (see here for an example,) I have another memory of summer that I would like my kids to share.  I remember long, lazy days of boredom in the summertime, with hardly any adult involvement.  Oh, my mom was there to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch and make sure we did our piano practicing.  But she didn’t schedule our days, and she didn’t “help” us play.  She just did her own thing (I still have no idea what she was doing — cleaning?  cooking?  sewing?) and we did our own thing.  It was wonderful to be completely in control of my own time.  I would like my kids to share that experience this summer.

I also find that although my goal as a parent is to mentor my children in their learning and set an example as a learner, my time is limited by work at home and outside the home until it is difficult for me to follow new learning projects for myself during the school year.  Thus, every summer, I set some learning goals for myself.  Here are my goals for this summer:

  1. Continue my reading about the human brain, our learning capacity and how we think.  Having just finished Blink by Malcolm Gladwell and Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer (both highly recommended reading,) I want to continue my summer reading plan with Tipping Point also by Malcolm Gladwell and The Shallows, What the Internet is Doing to our Brain by Nicholas Carr.
  2. One of the things on my 100 things list for 2012 (my “New Years Resolutions”) was that I wanted to read one fiction and one nonfiction book every month.  While I have done well with my nonfiction choices, the only fiction I have read is “fluff.”  I want to finish reading The Wings of the Dove by Henry James this summer.  I have read James before, so I know that I can accomplish this goal — it’s just a matter of getting through the first 300 pages!
  3. I have quilting projects to do this summer.  Quilting is the only kind of crafting I enjoy, and I have a quilt to hand quilt on my frame right now, and a quilt to cut out.  Actually, our summer vacations started two days ago and I already finished piecing the quilt for my darling almost seven year old, so I am already headed down the road to accomplishment on this goal.
  4. I want to focus on my music.  I noticed the other day that I had spent so little time practicing lately that I couldn’t even move my fingers well to demonstrate a short piece for Max!  I want to spend at least 2 hours a week with the piano.  It will be hard to rob this time from the kids’ practice time — but I hope to do it.
  5. Eden and I have signed up for two online classes beginning in July through Coursera — one about World Music, and another about Science Fiction and Fantasy.  We’re excited to try out this new way of learning.  You could join us!  If you decide to try it out, please leave me a comment below to let us know!

Those are my big plans for the summer — how I will occupy myself while the kids do their own thing.  I hope they will enjoy themselves as much as I am planning to!

Do you make extra projects for yourself in the summertime, or do you just let the time float by?  Leave me a comment below!


Backpacking Paradise: Coyote Gulch with Kids

On May 11, we headed out for our second backpacking trip ever with the whole family.  It was the first time we had taken the little ones backpacking with us in the desert.  Backpacking in the desert is harder than the places we go in the mountains because you have to carry enough water for everyone.  Although we have backpacked places where there were no reliable sources of water, this trip would take us into a beautiful desert canyon with a creek running through the bottom.  We knew we would be able to find enough water to purify, so everyone got to come along.

Access to Coyote Gulch is on the Hole in the Rock Road outside of Escalante, Utah.  I know I’ve been talking alot about this area, and I have to say again — this is a desert rat’s paradise.  I wish I could live there.  I don’t think I would ever get tired of exploring.  About 33 miles down this washboard dirt road is the Hurricane Wash trailhead.  Again, I am not going to give detailed trip mileage, because it is easily found on other sites.   From the Hurricane Wash trailhead, the first 3 miles is a sandy open trail following the wash, but as water comes into the wash and you near Coyote Gulch, the canyon deepens and is quite pretty.  Once you enter Coyote Gulch, you are in one of the most beautiful places on earth.

The creek has huge meanders which have cut deep alcoves into the rock.  In these alcoves, springs and hanging gardens making a beautiful green contrast to the red sandstone.  There is an abundance of life in this canyon, with birds calling from every side, HUGE lizards, desert toads, tadpoles, fish and plenty of deer tracks (although we didn’t see any deer.)   We also saw a rattlesnake in Hurricane Wash.  This is only the second time we have ever seen a rattlesnake in our hikes.

The main high points usually referenced in the trail guides are Jacob Hamblin Arch, Cliff Arch (also called Jug Handle Arch) and Coyote Natural Bridge.  But every step of this gorge is beautiful with waterfalls cutting through sandstone ledges or water sparkling over sand, springs spraying through hanging gardens to the creek below, and huge cottonwoods making shade over boulders.

We packed into a beautiful spot near Jacob Hamblin Arch.  We had heard that there weren’t many camping spots farther down canyon, but when we dayhiked the rest of the canyon the following day, we found that there were many spots continuing for miles past our camping spot, so don’t feel pressured to pick your spot early.  If you are lucky, you might catch one of the spots on the sand ledges inside an alcove — there are several beautiful ones.  After we made camp the first night, the kids enjoyed water walking while we rested and set up camp.

The second day, we hiked down the creek, making it within half mile of the river.  There was a large climb over a pour off here that we were unable to do because the kids had dropped their shoes a couple of miles up river (they were hiking barefoot in the sand.)  So, we turned around, went back to our camp (round trip about 12 miles) and then hiked another 3 to camp in Hurricane Wash the second night.  This left us with only 5 miles to do Sunday morning, which is a good thing because everyone is tired of hiking by the third day.

Lulu and Max were excited because they had “hiked a marathon.”  We were all happy that we had done this trip.  It was an excellent place for backpacking, and we  can’t wait to go again.

Do you enjoy backpacking with your kids?  What do you think are some keys to making backpacking with little kids successful?  Please leave me a comment!

Delicious Veggie Sandwiches for Summer Picnics

Ready for summer picnics?  I am!  I love to picnic.  This is one of my family’s favorite recipe for a sandwich to take along for a picnic lunch before or during a hike, at the swimming pool, or one of any other million places we might want to take food.  (After all, homemade is always better than fast food, right?)

My lettuce is in full swing in my garden right now, and just looking at it makes me want to make this sandwich.  The basis of the sandwich is a delicious cream cheese spread.  Top that with whatever veggies you have on hand (I like plenty of spinach and lettuce, cucumber and red onion.  Red bell pepper is nice, as is some shaved carrot.)  Use a little meat if you want.  I prefer it without, but you notice a little bacon snuck into this sandwich for someone’s lunch.  The best bread for this sandwich is a lovely sourdough made by Eden, toasted, but if you don’t have that — any good hearty bread will do.

Cream Cheese Spread for Sandwiches

1 8 ounce package cream cheese

1/2 cup butter, softened

1/2 cup sour cream

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon salt

4 tablespoons mixed fresh herbs (I use oregano, thyme and parsley from my garden) or 2 tsp. dried Italian seasoning

Put all ingredients in bowl of mixer and mix thoroughly, or use a hand mixer until completely combined.  Use as a sandwich spread in place of mayonnaise on toasted bread.

Remember, just like the spring weather, lovely lettuce is short lived.  It doesn’t like heat!  Enjoy it now while it is still delicious.

Hope you are taking full advantage of the spring weather to get outside.  Do you enjoy picnics?  What is your favorite recipe?  Please leave me a comment.

A Wonderful Gift for an Imaginative Childhood

Look what a wonderful aunt handed down to my kids!  This box of hand me down Legos from a cousin now turned 20 is probably the best gift they have received for a very long time.  Legos are great for building imaginative worlds and my kids are taking great advantage of these toys.

Do you pass down toys to other kids who will enjoy them?  Do you enjoy hand me down toys?  Please leave me a comment?  Psst…. by the way… if you haven’t subscribed yet, please

Annular Solar Eclipse 2012

What kind of home school mama would I be if I didn’t help my kids watch the solar eclipse when we are within the 85% zone!  I was so excited to hear about and see the solar eclipse — I still remember the partial solar eclipse when I was a kid.  It was a big event, even though we couldn’t see much.  I wanted to make this just such a memorable event for my kids.  So, we had an ice cream social/eclipse viewing party with Grandpa and Grandma, of course.

We prepared by watching videos about how eclipses worked and writing down in our science notebooks (so we wouldn’t forget.)  We ordered special eclipse sunglasses from Amazon, and used a carpet tube to make a pinhole camera to project a larger image of the sun onto white paper.

We ate homemade ice cream (and licked the bowls.)


And we tried really, really hard to get a good picture.  Shandy finally held the welding lens in front of the camera and took a picture of the lens.

Zoomed in, this is what that picture looks like.

Were you able to watch the solar eclipse this year?  Leave me a comment to let me know how you celebrated this exciting event.


Looking into the Distance: Curriculum 2012

To all the Simple Homeschool readers stopping by, Welcome!  I hope you enjoy looking through some of my ideas, and would be glad if you left me a comment.  You can follow this blog by clicking on the link at the left.

As I thought about writing this post, I realized how long I have been homeschooling.  It has been 12 years since I taught my oldest to read!  As parents, we are always looking into the distance, trying to decide what will be best in the long run for our kids.  During the time I have been teaching, I have tried lots of different  curriculum, and changed my ideas many times.   One of the formative influences on my early homeschool was a speech at a homeschool convention by Oliver and Rachel DeMille about Thomas Jefferson Education.   However, to those of you just starting out, I want to share a few recommendations about teaching littles even though I don’t have little ones any more.

  • Explode the Code (wonderful phonics workbooks)
  • Pathway readers (sweet stories about a happy family for young readers)
  • Bob books (great beginning readers)

Each of my kids read by age 4 using these methods for just about half an hour every day, and lots and lots of exposure to adults reading aloud.  One of my treasured possessions are our Pathway Readers with the dates each child completed reading it aloud to me.  Once your kids are reading well, you can begin introducing other curriculum, but for our family reading has always been the key.

And now on to today’s subject:  our curriculum for 2012-13.  Our family tried a different approach to schooling last year, enrolling all of the kids in an online charter school at the beginning of the year.  After only 2 weeks, I withdrew the younger two and homeschooled them through the year.  Our family has never been much for multiple choice type tests, since I believe you could pass them without ever studying the material.  Also, we believe more in delving in depth rather than skimming the surface of lots of things (reading “selections” from classical literature makes me irritated.)  So the big kids stayed in (their choice,) and the littles came back out to mommy school.  This year, my tenth grader is coming back out to homeschool again with me as her main teacher.  This is mostly for the same reasons:  we have a great biology curriculum with a microscope and dissections that she doesn’t want to miss for “virtual” dissections, also, she has been disappointed with the on-line geography and history because they don’t allow her to study deeply, they just hurry her onward.

My oldest will be finishing his high school credits through the online charter school.  He doesn’t feel like he could get the “best” education from me or from them, and he’s working on his own studies while he waits to attend college the following year.  He took the ACT this year as sort of a marker to find out if he is doing well in his studies, and scored 28 on his first ever attempt at standardized testing!  I was very happy!

My tenth grader’s curriculum begins with this:

As always, she will continue with her music.  She practices about two hours a day.  We consider music one of the the “Three Rs” in our house.  Along with music, she will be studying history with Susan Wise Bauer’s wonderful book and a study guide made by me.  I wish I could find study guides made for this series, it is a LOT of work to make your own history curriculum.  Luckily, I already worked through this book with her older brother.  We really like Apologia Science, especially for the older grades, and she will be studying Biology this year.  We purchased the DIVE cds to help with Algebra 2, and hopefully this will be enough extra help.  If not, she may enroll in an online Algebra class, along with online French.  For English, we have a scheduled series of classics to read including Dickens, Edith Wharton, and some American classics.  She will also be participating in NaNoWriMo again in November, this time with a 50,000 word goal.

As a teenager, she directs almost all of her studies herself, with “mentoring” from me, her music teachers, and an especially widely read grandfather.  She is able to follow her interests, and many time I follow her interests as well (they’re interesting!)

I took a picture of the  curriculum for my younger ones for next year, and thought “No one is going to believe that we verge on an unschooling family!!”  I never claimed to unschool, but we do take a very eclectic approach to our schooling.  That means we do what works for us.  So the picture here:

These show some of the things we will use — but we will probably only use parts of each item.  For example, I have used Saxon Math with each of my kids, but we condense and hurry through lessons so that some of the repetition is left out.  Lulu will be using Math 87 this year, I think, because she complained all year last year that Math 65 was all review.  We’ll try out the 87 book.  If it doesn’t work, we can drop back to 76.  Max will be starting in Math 54.  There is a leap between Math 3 and Math 54 — instead of worksheets, the child must write down each problem.  I find this especially challenging for my boys, arriving at the book at age 7.  We’ll work around this by homemade worksheets some of the days to relieve some pressure.

We love the Story of the World history books, and we’re actually in the middle of the Early Modern Times book.  We don’t do all the activities by any means, but I do use the activity book for literature ideas, and the kids beg to do the coloring pages.  We like to do lots of fiction and non-fiction reading about history, so it takes us more than a year to study one book.

For science, our basis is again lots of reading.  We have studied both of these  Apologia books before with Lulu and Eden, but Lulu could use a review as a “big kid,” and Max will enjoy these books this time.  We may use all or parts of both of these books this year.  Our science curriculum also revolves around hiking, and the things we see on our hikes drive much of our research.

I purchased the Saxon Grammar books for Eden a few years ago.  She enjoys things that are very methodical and orderly.  I am not sure how Lulu will fare with this curriculum.  It’s more of a maybe for her.

Lulu will continue studying piano and violin this year, and Max is becoming an excellent little pianist.  He enjoys his practice time and makes us very proud of the way he can “pick out” a tune.

Another thing that is an essential part of our school which is not in the picture is tickets to the Symphony, local plays, museums and all sorts of other activities.  These definitely qualify as school in our house.

Whooo…. if you stuck with me this long you are really great!  Do you stick with one curriculum, or do you jump around like I do?  Please leave me a comment, and come back soon!

Hiking Peekaboo and Spooky Gulch

Just a few more pictures of a must visit hike in the Grand Staircase/Escalante National Monument.  Peekaboo and Spooky are a very accessible hike for families at the Dry Fork trailhead about 25 miles down the Hole in the Rock road.  After a short climb down slickrock to the wash bottom, you will find Peekaboo slot canyon.  Help each other up the moki steps (steps chipped into the rock such as may have been used by ancient peoples,) then enjoy winding your way through connecting arches of stone.  Try not to giggle and laugh and you climb over, under, around a through tunnels cut through the stone.

It truly is a great place to play Peekaboo!

When Peekaboo narrows up to much to go on, climb east over a sand ridge to Spooky Gulch.  It is a most flat but very narrow slot canyon, at times only about 18 inches wide.  When you have traveled as far as you like, return the way you came, or climb to the top and out the top.  You may retrace your steps to the trailhead (we did, another trip through Peekaboo is fantastic!) or follow the wash to the slickrock climb to the parking lot.

Hope you are having a great day!

Encouraging Bravery While Teaching Caution

Maybe you, like I, hope that our children will grow up to be stronger and braver than we are.  In my case, that doesn’t take much. As a child, teenager and young adult,  I passed up many opportunities for fun adventures because I was afraid.  I didn’t go water skiing because I was afraid of how I would look in my grandmother’s swimsuit (I had forgotten mine.)  I didn’t go on the hike because I was afraid of heights.  I would never have considered touching a snake.  Since I regret the way I acted, I spend much of my time now encouraging my kids to be risk takers.

I encourage my kids to climb trees, hike to the top of the mountain, and pick up the snake.  They catch lizards (yuck!) touch toads, and wriggle up to their knees in mud.  But as we hiked along today, we saw this:

It made me stop and think about how in encouraging our children to be brave and strong, we also need to teach caution.  Honestly, the most dangerous snakes they will encounter in life are not the ones that could bite them and inject venom into their veins.  We need to encourage them to be risk takers but teach them which risks to take.  Here are some ideas I have about how to do that:

  • Talking to our kids about what things are truly dangerous, or how to help themselves out of a dangerous situation is terribly important.  So when we are hiking in the desert, we talk about how to orient yourself (see those mountains over there?  If you were lost, you would need to keep walking toward them until you reached the road.)  When we are climbing a cliff, we talk about the careful steps we would need to come back down, and about making sure we CAN come back down before we start up.  When we are inside a slot canyon, we talk about where we could climb up if a flash flood came down canyon.  When we are walking through the city, we talk about making eye contact and looking at people who scare us so that we don’t look like victims.  We talk about letting a thief have our money rather than fighting for something unimportant.  We hope that all this talk helps give our kids a more adult outlook on risks.
  • Ask them the question, “What is the worst that could happen?”  If the answer is, “I would get really wet and have to hike out with wet clothes,” it’s probably an acceptable risk.  On the other hand, if the answer is, “I could fall and break both legs,” it may not be an acceptable risk.  And if the answer is, “Death,” then it certainly is not an acceptable risk unless the reward is equally great.
  • Education is everything.  To help our kids be confident about which risks are acceptable, they must be certain of their knowledge.  If they are certain what a rattlesnake looks like, they won’t be afraid to touch a little garden racer.  Have you considered a short self-defense course for your daughters?  Have you thought about what a little training with climbing ropes could do for your family?  What about fire drills?  All of these things help certainty.  Certainty builds confidence and caution — but in appropriate situations.

Do you think risk taking is an important character trait to teach our children?  How do you encourage your children to bravery?  Is caution easy or hard for you to teach?  Please leave me a comment below.

Grand Staircase/Escalante National Monument: Take the kids to the Devil’s Garden

Devil’s Garden, about 14 miles down the Hole in the Rock Road outside Escalante, is another must visit place if you are passing through.  Not really a hike, more of an adventure/explore, this is like a natural playground for kids of all sizes.  The hoodoos are weathered into separate spires, and are gentle enough to allow climbing on, around, and through arches, tunnels and holes through the rock.

Allow plenty of play time, but unless you are following your kids closely, hang whistles around their necks.  That way, if they get turned around, they will have a way to alert you to their location.

Coming up soon:  Upper and Lower Calf Creek Falls and Peekaboo and Spooky Slot Canyons (for kids.)  Also, how to take time to summer school yourself (for Mom.)  Hope you are planning a great weekend!  Leave me a comment about your plans!

Picnic Chicken for Hiking Fun

Hiking requires real nourishment.  It was a challenge when we first began hiking to find foods that would be appealing after some time — sometimes several hours — spent in a backpack.  They needed to be nourishing, fairly lightweight and hassle free, but also tasty so that our time spent on the trail would be enjoyable.  I happened upon this recipe from Mark Bittman’s cookbook How to Cook Everything, and with some slight modifications it fit the bill exactly.  It has been a regular on our picnic menu for several years now.

Chicken Adobo

Serves 6

5 pounds chicken legs and thighs, skinned

1  cup water

1 cup soy sauce

1/2 cup vinegar

1 Tablespoon chopped garlic

1/2 teaspoon pepper

Combine all ingredients in large stock pot and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium and simmer for 30 minutes, moving chicken pieces occasionally to insure total immersion in the liquid.  Remove to broiler pan.  Grill on barbeque grill or under broiler about 2 minutes per side, until nicely browned and crispy.  Serve warm or cold.  I freeze the chicken legs and allow them to thaw in our backpacks, making a great, tasty high-protein lunch.

Hope you are enjoying your spring!  Get out there and hike, and then leave me a comment to let me know where you’ve been!  Thanks for stopping by.