3 Great Places for Young Artists

I bet you have an artist in your family.  Even if they are currently “undiscovered,” young children love to create and do art projects, often just for the tactile pleasure of the medium.  As children grow, they need more ideas and stimulation to progress as artists, so that they don’t become disillusioned (as many adults have,) and start making statements like “I can’t draw!”  One way to provide this stimulation is to visit places in the community which give them ideas and motivation to continue working on their projects.

  • Art Museum.  If you have young artists in your family, have you considered taking them to a local museum to copy works of art?  Lulu and I had a date at the art museum last month at her request, and it gave her some great ideas for art projects in the coming months.  She took time to sit and sketch one of her favorite sculptures, and she wrote down ideas such as, “Grass doesn’t have to show every spike.”  There was also a video playing which gave her an idea for adding texture to her paintings.  Our local museum even has a family night which allows kids to be taught by a local artist.
  • Nature walk.  Going on a nature walk specifically to collect objects of interest for collage is a good way to stimulate interest in a different form of art work.  This time of year, leaves, flowers and seed pods are interesting and abundant.  If your child tires of gluing these onto paper to make interesting shapes, why not try making a flower person or sketching a variety of grasses?
  • Visit an Artist’s Studio.  If you search the web for art classes in your area, you might be surprised how many artists you will find in your area.  We were privileged with a tour from a potter.  Watching him throw pots on his wheel was very exciting to the kids, and led to collecting clay from a river bank to try making clay pots of their own.

Above all, keep supplies handy so that kids can follow their imaginations.  I will never forget the kids who visited our house and were so delighted because they could use tape!  Paper is cheap.  I buy one roll of tape for me and put my name on it, and let the kids have the rest. (If I don’t put my name on it, then there is never tape in the house when I need it!)  Try to keep the craft supplies in a place that are accessible, and then let the kids have permission to create.  You’ll be happy you did.

Where do you take your budding artist to get ideas?  Please leave a comment below.


First Day of School 2012

Today is crazy around here as we begin our eagerly awaited first day of school.  Although I don’t really use grades to classify my kids (they would be too far ahead of their ages in many areas, and far behind in others (like the knowledge of the rules for baseball, football and soccer–more on that another time,)) Max is the right age for 2nd grade, Lulu for 4th, and Eden is 13 but starting her 10th grade year in high school.  Brett is finishing his senior year with an online charter school.  We’ve had school meetings with each of the kids, defining their goals and mine, and making a list or schedule for the subjects they are studying depending on their ages.  Now we finally get to start.

This is how teenagers do school at our house (notice the ear buds.  Not worth the argument to stop the music.)

Eden gets the upstairs desk.  It was built for Dad, but he does his work in the armchair now.  Eden is so excited to use real books (as opposed to online books.)  Brett, on the other hand, just wishes everything was optimized for Ipad.

Max and Lucy started the school year by watching the documentary Planet Earth:  Caves with David Attenborough.  We have so many great ideas to use in our study of caves now, we might take all year just on this one subject!

I wish I could share with you some of the excitement of today, and then bottle some and save it for February aka Homeschool Blah Month.

Have you started school yet?  How are things going for you?  Share your great ideas in the comments below.

Peaches and Cream Oatmeal from the Slow Cooker

I recently have fallen in love with steel cut oats cooked in the slow cooker (Crock pot.)  I put my big Pyrex mixing cup in my slow cooker filled with delicious ingredients, fill the surrounding pot with water and turn it to low.  Early the next morning, I wake up to a delicious, creamy breakfast.  While my usual recipe calls for apples and applesauce, my counters are overflowing with peaches from a local fruit farm right now, so I decided to try peaches in my oatmeal.

Peaches and Cream Steel Cut Oats

1 1/2 cups steel cut oats

up to 1/2 cup brown sugar

2 cups milk

4 cups water

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

5 peaches, peeled and chopped

Place all ingredients in glass bowl or mixing cup and mix together.  I used 1/2 cup of brown sugar and found it quite sweet.  Place inside crock of slow cooker and cover with aluminum foil.  Fill slow  cooker with water to level of mixture in glass bowl.  Turn slow cooker to low and cook for about 8 hours.  Serve topped with milk or vanilla yogurt.

This is an excellent recipe for substitution.  As I said before, I often use apples and applesauce and add dried apricots, chopped almonds or chia seeds for extra nutrition.  I have also cooked cracked 9 grain cereal using this method.  It falls apart more than the steel cut oats, and I didn’t like it quite as much that way as cooked on the stove.

This is a great recipe for school days because it can be prepared the night before and is ready to eat early in the morning. If at your house, like at ours, you sometimes stagger breakfast eating times, this is very convenient for staying warm and good to eat.  (We sometimes have to start practicing piano early in the morning due to other commitments, and so whoever is practicing eats at a different time than the rest of us.)

Hope your school year is starting off great!  We start Monday, and I am looking forward to bringing you pictures of our first day of school and the various projects we have in store.  Have a great weekend!


Kids in the Kitchen: Eden’s Tomato-Corn Bisque

Late summer and autumn are a great times to be a vegetarian.  Not that we’ve completely given up meat, but this time of year, who needs it?  Eden made us a wonderful late summer soup with a trip to the garden and the corn stand on Main Street.

This soup makes a quick, rich, and delicious lunch or dinner.  It is fantastic served with homemade bread or biscuits, and is the perfect accompaniment for a grilled cheese sandwich. The only trick to this soup is heating thoroughly without boiling the milk.  Younger kids can help cut up the vegetables, but older ones can make this easily with very little to no supervision.

August Corn and Tomato Bisque (adapted from Prairie Home Cooking)

2 tablespoons butter

1/3 cup chopped onion

1/3 cup chopped bell pepper

1 tablespoon flour

2 cups finely chopped tomatoes

1 1/2 cups half and half or evaporated milk

1 cup fresh corn kernels

1/3 cup water

salt and pepper

Saute onion and bell pepper in butter until the onion is translucent.  Stir in flour.  Add tomatoes, corn and half and half.  Bring to a simmer over medium heat but do not boil. (Cream is okay to boil because of its fat content, but lower fat milks including half and half will curdle if boiled.  If this happens, it still tastes fine.  Eat it with your eyes closed.)  Season with salt and pepper and serve with fresh bread of your choice.

Slow Cooker Tomato Jam (Ketchup)

As I mentioned in my last post, fall is a stressful time for me.  Besides starting school off on the right foot, I am trying to preserve as many fall fruits and vegetables for winter as possible.  Being crazy, I bought 10(!) boxes of tomatoes last weekend.  They were turned into 48 wonderful quart bottles of whole canned tomatoes, 7 quarts of beautiful spaghetti sauce, 10 quarts of amazing creamy tomato soup and 8 pints of homemade tomato ketchup.  I have to share this recipe with you, and then I have to find more tomatoes to make more ketchup — this is the kind of ketchup you eat with a spoon, no french fries required.

Slow Cooker Tomato Ketchup

16 cups tomatoes, crushed, drained well and then pureed

2 heads garlic, peeled and crushed

2 large onions, chopped fine

1 cup apple cider vinegar

1 1/2 cups brown sugar

1/3 cup honey

1/3 cup molasses

1/2 teaspoon cloves

1/2 teaspoon allspice

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon



Blanch, peel and quarter tomatoes.  Thoroughly drain them in a colander.   (The better you do this step, the better the ketchup will be.  Try to drain all water from the tomatoes.)  Puree in a blender, then measure puree to get 16 cups.  Place in slow cooker with garlic and onion.  With lid off the slow cooker, cook on low (depending on how close you want to watch it) for about 12 hours.  I cooked on high for about 3 hours, then turned the pot to low and went to bed.  In about 8 hours, the sauce had reduced by nearly half.  When the sauce is reduced, add spices, sugars, and vinegar.  Cook 3-4 more hours to allow to reduce more completely.  During this time, you may want to put the lid on the pot, propped open with a wooden spoon.

When the sauce is thick, taste and adjust seasonings.  Ladle into clean pint jars, top with lids and rings, and process in a hot water canner for about 10 minutes.  Remove from heat and allow to cool completely before checking seal and storing.

This tomato jam was wonderful on this sandwich, accompanying the cream cheese spread.

Looking Down the Trail

Fall is a season when I spend a lot of time looking down the trail ahead of us.  We hold school planning meetings, I make pages and pages of schedules for the coming school year, and often shed tears thinking about how much work I won’t have time to do.

By late winter and early spring, the schedules have all been discarded, the plans have totally changed, and we’re back to our normal half-relaxed routine of deciding what’s really important for the week on Sunday night, and changing it three times before Monday noon.

Even knowing that’s how things work, fall is still a very stressful time for me.  I often wonder who arranged the traditional school year to coincide with harvest time?  Someone who didn’t bottle fruit!  Of course, as homeschoolers we have the freedom to ignore the traditional school year.  However, we have done that in the past and discovered that it doesn’t make us happy to be doing school in the middle of the summer.  So, we spend fall planning, starting big projects and working harder than is probably absolutely necessary.

Thank goodness for hiking trails like the one pictured above.  May all of our trails look as bright as this one.

Do you make big plans at the beginning of the school year, even though you know you won’t accomplish all of them?  Or do you try to keep things realistic?  How are things going for you right now?  Please leave me a comment!


White Pine Hollow Hike

I’ve never lived anywhere but Utah, so I don’t know if it’s the same everywhere, but Utah’s statehood day — Pioneer Day– is a very big deal here.  Everyone gets a paid holiday from work, and most of the little towns have parades, fireworks and fairs just like the Fourth of July.  Well, parades and fireworks are not really my thing — especially this year with the fire hazard– but we stole away for the day and did a lovely hike down the mountain near our home.  We had done this hike as a “girls only” hike with my sisters-in-law and cousins a few years ago, but I really did not remember it as beautiful as it was this time. We had also put it off because it is a “two driver” hike, with a car at the top and bottom of this scenic trail.

The hike begins at the same trailhead as the Mt. Nebo Scenic Basin trail, and just about 1/2 a mile from the Mt. Nebo Summit trail.  heading nearly straight north, it goes over a hill and then heads down a steep wash, following an intermittent stream as it meets more and more springs until it exits the canyon on the Santaquin Canyon road.

The drainage was very wet this year, which was surprising considering the dry year we have had.  The bushes and undergrowth was head high.  We even got into stinging nettle– fun!

Since this trail was relatively short and easy (about 6 miles,) and we had all day, there was time to make leaf people.


And eat wild raspberries (of course there’s always time for that!)


And climb a crooked tree.

At the bottom of the trail, the stream passes between rock buttresses.  In wetter years, there is no way to hike this part of the trail without wetting your feet.  This year, most of us got wet but Shandy preferred to stay dry.

After enjoying our hike, we had a picnic and collected the truck we had left at the trailhead.  An excellent way to spend a midweek holiday!

Do you like to celebrate holidays in traditional ways, or do you view them as opportunities to do the things your family likes best?  Please leave a comment  below.

Are you ready? Homeschool Scheduling

As we begin August, most homeschool families are in the final throes of scheduling for the coming school year.  For some of us (unschoolers?) we are planning what we won’t schedule, but for the rest of us, we are sorting out how long it’s going to take to teach the things we want to cover, and deciding how we will lay out our days.

Like a road map or a trail guide, a good homeschool schedule helps you determine how to get where you want to go, without being too strict about the timing.  You’ll want to linger at a viewpoint, stop for a snack or to fix your shoes, and hurry along some of the less scenic parts.  Like a good hike, the best schedule will probably leave you hurrying along the last stretch so that you can cover the ground before dark, and wishing to do the hike again just to see anything you missed.

Our schedule this year starts slowly.  Because the kids have done a few math lessons during the summer (keeping their hand in,) we are starting off with only our history and science plans.  These were the areas that felt neglected at the end of the last school year, (we were hurrying right along,) but we want to put them to the forefront this year.  We are working on finishing up Story of the World Book 3, and it is a good time to linger as we explore the west along with Lewis and Clark and read a little Shakespeare.  Our science year is going to start out with a bang as we do a couple of field trips, significantly a field trip to a local cave, to give us some good ideas to use in our work.

I use an Excel spreadsheet to lay out all the Math and English lessons for the year.  This helps me to know if we are staying on track.  I schedule lots of off days, but we don’t take off unless we are doing something fun, so that some years we finish these curriculums significantly earlier than our planned May 15th end of school.  We rarely take a day off for illness–we’re healthy folk– but we dash out for an unplanned hike, a quick vacation, or just a play day.  These work into the schedule.  We also have some months that we have big projects planned — we like to spend extra time in our ministry work in March, so we schedule that time in at the first of the year.  I schedule all Mondays free of Math and other big projects, because with music lessons we just don’t have the concentration time for that.

The combination of scheduling with flexibility has worked for me for about 12 years now.  How do you start the year?  Do you have a full year plan made now, or just a first week plan?  Please leave me a comment below.

Unschooling Science Experiments

I have always had a slight problem with doing science experiments.  Here’s why

  • They are messy and time consuming, and yet often the results are not dramatic or the experiment doesn’t work at all.
  • Kids love to do the experiment, but they don’t necessarily want to use the “scientific method.”  It’s a hassle to get them to write down the steps they took or the results.
  • Kids can’t always make the connection for the narrow to the wider subjects.  That is — just because they can see red food coloring swirling around in a bowl, doesn’t mean they get the concept of convection currents.

I always count myself more of a naturalist.  I like to observe and name things in the natural world, drawing conclusions about how things work without doing actual experiments to duplicate the results.  However, kids love doing science experiments, and they don’t really care if they’re learning to see the big picture.  Fortunately, a kind aunt sent us these this summer:

We have checked out many of these Janice VanCleave books from the library before, but have never owned any.  The kids were delighted to receive this box, and immediately went through marking all the experiments they wanted to try out.  Since these experiments were not dangerous and involved mostly household items, I decided we would completely “unschool” with these books.  This meant that Lulu and Max would be completely in charge of the mess, the clean up, and whatever learning they did.  If they wanted help or more resources, they could ask me.

So far, this has been a successful way for us to do science experiments.  It led to green pennies (made by soaking them in vinegar) and the statement from Lulu, “So that’s why the Statue of Liberty is green.”  Again, I didn’t even read this experiment with them, so I don’t know if it was a quote from the book or if she reached the conclusion on her own.  I am guessing the former, but that’s fine.  She learned something that she will be able to use as a building block later on.  It also led to volcanoes in the sandbox.  Now, I don’t know what you are supposed to learn from mixing baking soda and vinegar to make a volcano, because that has nothing to do with real volcanoes, and I heard no talk of acids and bases.  However, it is a classic childhood activity, and they had a blast.



I don’t think this is the way we will do science forever, but the kids have sure enjoyed this way so far this summer.  Either way, the  books will be a great resource for them to extend whatever science studies they pursue.

Do you like to be in control of science experiments for your kids?  Do you feel like they have to “write down” about things in order to learn and remember, or do you have a more relaxed approach?  Please leave me a comment.