Last Day of School 2013

Last Thursday was our last day of “school.”  I put it in quotation marks because we continue doing school during the summer, we just don’t call it school.  During the summer, we do a math lesson or two each week to keep our hand in, and reading never stops in our house.  Truly, I don’t know how parents whose  children don’t like to read survive the summer.  During the hottest days of the year, my kids end up hiding out in the basement reading book after book.  But since this is just the beginning of the summer, we had to celebrate by spending the last of our last day of school camping.

We made aircraft carriers out of bark and floated them in the stream running through our campsite.

max and boatLulu and Max made “houses” complete with broom cupboard.

lulu's houseWe picked the best place for the tent, with shade . . .

tentand a view.

benny creekEarly the next morning, we ran (Lulu and Max are in the middle of a couch to 5k program.)

lulu runningAnd then we hiked  . . .

nebo from loafer trail

and did a little  cow anatomy.

cow bonesWe sat in camp and read.  Eden brought along a little last minute school work.

brett reading eden working in campIt’s a hard life, but somebody has to do it.


Here’s hoping your summer is starting out just as challenging!  How did you wrap up school for the year?  Please leave me a comment below.







Living Books for Homeschool Science: Dissections

One of the pressures we put on ourselves as homeschool parents is trying to avoid textbooks for learning.  Whether you are of the Charlotte Mason group, the Thomas Jefferson education group, or an unschooler, much negativity resides on the word “textbook.”  Instead, we encourage ourselves to find “living books.”  A living  book is described as one with original, first-hand knowledge of a subject, not “dumbed down” for children but written in a way that broadens and challenges horizons.  Can a textbook be a living book?  Not in the minds of most people.  And yet, one of the main reasons Eden wanted to quit the online charter school she did last year and come back to “mom-school” was the Apologia Science Biology book.  While she was dissatisfied with the science she learned from an on-line textbook through the charter school, this biology book has encouraged her toward further research and led her in directions she would not originally have known about.

One of the reasons Eden wanted to use Apologia Biology was remembering the dissections that Brett did while he was using this book.  She was not convinced that online, virtual dissections matched the real thing.  While there might be discussion about whether dissections are appropriate, the only thing I have to remember to resolve this question for myself is that dissection of human corpses was banned for hundreds of year, and this led to lack of knowledge and more deaths for humans.  Since we already had the dissection kit, we only needed to purchase more specimens, and Eden was ready to go.

This week, she got to try her hand at her first dissection: an earthworm.

girls doing dissectionShandy had helped Brett with his dissections, but Eden needed help at a time when he was really busy.  Also, Brett had done his dissections outside (mostly to keep the smell of formaldehyde out of the house) but the weather has not been nice enough to do that kind of school work outside.  So we layered up the counter with newspaper and went to work.

The instructions in the science book were very detailed.  The most difficult part was slitting the epidermis, the outer layer of skin, without destroying any of the internal organs.  Worms are, after all, quite small.  There were clearly labeled step-by-step photos in the science book, I suppose to allow students who decided not to perform the dissections themselves a learning opportunity.  They were very helpful in identifying the different parts, although what our worm actually looked like varied from the photos.

All in all, Eden was very satisfied with her first dissection experience.  The little ones were eagerly looking over her shoulder the whole time, so I am sure they, too, will be looking forward to their opportunity to use this living? textbook. Although Eden’s future plans at the time do not include major scientific work, the experiences she has now can broaden her interests for her entire life.  I am glad she was able to perform this dissection.

In an upcoming post, I hope to list some of the other living books we have found useful for studying science.   How do you find living books for your children?  Do you believe textbooks can serve as these books?  Please leave me a comment below.

Quilting to teach Elementary History

lucy with doll blanket

For the younger kids, we are still using The Story of the World series as a basis for world history studies.  We own both the book and the accompanying activity guide, and enjoy finding additional reading suggestions and project ideas, as well as coloring pages and maps to study in the guide book.  This week, we read about abolitionists and slavery in our history chapter.  One of the ideas in the activity guide was to make a log cabin quilt block, because not only was quilting a very important part of pioneer life, it was a way houses on the Underground Railroad could carry messages to others who helped slaves to escape.  The pattern of the quilt hanging on the clothesline could convey a specific message.

While I am not aware of any specific message conveyed by the log cabin block, it is an easy and fun block for kids to make.  This was not Lucy’s first time quilting.  In fact, she completed an entire rail fence quilt last year.  I was hoping to involve Max in this project, but he decided he would rather build with Legos instead.  I decided to let him follow his interests as Lucy and I worked on this project together.

The Log Cabin block is traditionally built around a red or yellow square.  If the square is yellow, it means the light in the window of home, while red means the fire in the hearth.  We used a 2 1/2 inch square, pink, because we had strips of various colors which would match this square.  The strips were cut 2 1/2 inches wide, but of various lengths.  We did not cut the strips to length before we sewed.

Lucy sewed the strips to the square in order.  Remember — Log Cabining means going around the square in order adding strips, so that the strips are dependent on each other to make a square.  Afterwards, she ironed the seam to one side and trimmed the strip even with the edge of the square.

lucy using sewing machine lucy ironingUsing a sewing machine and iron are both important skills for kids to learn.  They can improve on these skills later by their own practice, but it’s good to have the first try under the watchful eye of an adult.

We continued adding strips until the block was finished.

lucy with blockWhen the block was complete, I explained to Lucy how to cut the batting (the filling inside the quilt), the back, and how to finish the block, and she was able to turn this block into the little doll blanket you see her holding at the top of the post with no further help.  It was an excellent project for a wintery afternoon.  Imagining making a whole quilt by hand, and usually with much tinier pieces than we used today, helped us to know what pioneer life was like.

As a side note, Eden’s English curriculum contained a page of information about quilting and log cabin quilts this week as well.  In a short story she will study this week, the woman was making log cabin quilt blocks and canning cherries when she was taken away on suspicion of murder.  The curriculum felt like they needed to explain what quilting was and why it was important to pioneer women, and how the canning process worked.  It made me smile to think that not only does Eden know what both of those things are, she has personally done both of those things!  We love canned cherries, and Eden is working on finishing her fourth quilt.

This was a great project for us, and I hope it gives you an idea you could use for your history curriculum.  Do you like to “experience” history?  What do you do for your historical studies?  Please leave me a comment below.

Ocean Science at the Beach

This post could be subtitled “Why we count beach vacations as school days.”  One of the things I love about teaching my children at home is being able to recognize the real learning that comes about in the course of our lives, without worrying about catching up on busy work missed from school.  Our recent trip to the ocean really reveals how that works in our family.

We had hands on experience with ocean science last week, as we took a quick trip to Pacific Beach to revel in sunshine, warm air and beach sand.  The kids had studied up on ocean science in the few weeks before our trip, learning about currents, tides and tidepools, so they were interested in thinking about some of the things they had learned.  But mostly, they were just delighted to play at the beach.

Max and Lucy running from the waves Max running from wavesWe visited Scripps Aquarium to see fish in aquariums.  My favorite part of this aquarium is the huge kelp forest tank, where the kelp forests off the coast of San Diego are recreated.  The kids especially enjoyed the jellyfish and the sea horses, which Scripps has in abundance.

seahorse aquariumScripps also has tidepool aquariums — man made areas where we saw many of the huge variety of creatures that live in this specialized environment.

seeing tidepools at scrippsWe were able to observe the tide going in and out, something not too easy for kids living in Utah to understand.  At low tide one evening, we visited the rocks on the beaches just south of Seal Rock in La Jolla to enjoy the tide pools.  We saw many anemones, large and small, small fish caught in the tide pools, barnacles, mussels, and hundreds of hermit crabs.

tidepools at La JollaThis sort of “live” experience is better than any sort of youtube video or book reading for helping us understand what the ocean really is.  Although the huge variety available in an aquarium or seen on tv is wonderful, it doesn’t match the experience of seeing it for yourself.  Of course, we didn’t have our camera with us when we walked to the end of the pier and watched dolphins swim past under our feet.  But our eyes saw it and our hearts will remember it.

There were some parts, however, that I’m not sure how to label as school — for example, would you call this mining science?  Or perhaps spa therapy training?

lucy burying Max buried in sandAnd the only name I can think of for what we did at Balboa Park was People Watching 101.

castle van, san diegoI guess in unschooling or interest-led learning, those are perfectly practical course options!

Another very interesting lesson was learned by the older kids.  Both Brett and Eden are reading The Grapes of Wrath right now, and traveling across the desert and through Barstow to southern California really made them understand the Joad’s journey.  What we traveled in a few hours in great comfort must have been quite a trip.  Eden kept commenting about the “weirdness” of reading about Barstow in Barstow.

Anyway, it was a great break from our normal routine, and left us refreshed to finish off winter with a smile.  Do you take a mid-winter break?  What is your favorite way to continue learning during vacations?  Please leave me a comment below.

Awesome Ocean Science at Home (for kids)

In anticipation of a hoped-for vacation to the beach, I began a Unit Study about Oceans today with Lulu and Max.  It has been about 7 years since I used this particular curriculum.  Lulu was 2 on our first (my first!) ever visit to San Diego to see the ocean.  In the months of planning toward that trip, Brett and Eden made Ocean Journals, read tons of books and did many experiments.  While our unit study may not be as in-depth, we are using the same book for the backbone of our curriculum that we used before.  The book Awesome Ocean Science, by Cindy A. Littlefield , is wonderful.  It is written in an interesting and entertaining way.  But most importantly — THE EXPERIMENTS WORK!  (And many involve food coloring, which is irresistible, right?)

Awesome Ocean Science

I have shared with you before my frustration with science experiments at home.  Often they require lots of mommy time, effort and mess, with little result or little correlation to the subject being studied.  I usually unschool science.  I bring home lots of books on various subjects, and try to let the kids go ahead with the experiments they can perform on their own.  I have been excited to do the experiments in this book, however, because they really prove their points, quickly and easily.

For example, this drop of salt water is dropping through the fresh water because salt water is denser than fresh water.

sinking salt water

This carrot is floating in salt water, for the same reason.

floating carrotThe kids now understand the phrase “just the tip of the iceberg.”

kitchen icebergAnd we know why melting ice in Antarctica can raise sea level, while melting sea ice does not.

melting polesSome of our next experiments are about ocean currents, and they will be looking at tide pool videos on Youtube and making tide pool creatures from clay.

Do you have any recommendations for our Oceans unit?  Please leave me a comment below!

Snacking and the Homeschool Family (How to Feed the Horde)

egg quesadilla

For those of you who, like me, are home with the kids all the time, you know that their appetites are bottomless.  After breakfast, and second breakfast, and lunch, and afternoon snack, and dinner and dessert, you may feel like you never get out of the kitchen!  Although I love to bake, I have nutritional qualms about feeding cookies and sweets for all the snacks my family wants during the week.  This started me working on some snack ideas which are not sweets, but would contribute to a positive nutritious balance to the day’s meals.

While I enjoy a bell pepper or a sweet potato for a snack, that is not something that flies for the kids.  They usually eat either fresh or home-canned fruit (peaches, pears or apricots) for one snack per day.  They complain if that is ALL there is for snack in the house, though.  While snacks like  crackers and peanut butter or popcorn are okay occasionally, I usually prefer to save the peanut butter for lunch (!) and crackers always seem like a waste of money to me.  There are enough cooks in our house to make cookies every day, but that could hardly be said to be nutritious.

Here are some quick foods we have eaten this week for snack.  Try out these “regular” foods at snack time, and see how they leave your horde feeling.

1.  Egg “quesadillas”.  This is not truly a quesadilla, since queso implies cheese.  Instead, I melt a tiny bit of butter in a skillet, add a scrambled egg, and swirl to spread.

scrambled eggAs the egg begins to set on the bottom, top it with a corn tortilla and another tiny pat of butter.  After about 30 seconds to 1 minute, flip the egg over so the tortilla side is down.  Allow to fry for another 30 seconds or so, until the egg is mostly cooked.  Fold in half.

folded egg quesadilla

Allow to brown slightly on each side before serving.  This would also work with a little cheese sprinkled over the egg so that you could have a real “quesadilla.”  We sometimes eat these for breakfast or lunch, 2 or 3 at a time.  Just one makes a nice quick mid-morning snack with a good protein boost to stave off hunger pangs.

2.  Tuna salad.  Lucy loves tuna.  When we make tuna sandwiches, she often asks for some more tuna salad “on the side.”  With this in mind, I mixed up a can of tuna with a little mayo, salt and homemade zucchini relish.  She ate the whole thing with gusto.  Another snack problem solved.

lulu eating tuna

3. Hard boiled eggs or egg salad.  This is another idea we often reserve for lunch, but everyone likes these by themselves or with a slice of bread.

Some other snack ideas I am exploring:  homemade pudding (tapioca, anyone?), fresh bread, homemade tortillas.  Obviously, I must love to cook!  What are some of your favorite ideas for snacky kids?  Please leave a comment below.

Try This Now: Caramel Popcorn

I finally broke down and bought myself a hot-air popcorn popper.  I’ve wanted one for a while:  I’ve heard many dieticians recommend popcorn as a whole grain, and while I don’t really like it myself, I thought it would be a good snack for the kids.  I don’t like to offer microwave popcorn because of all the additives involved, so when I replaced my Crock-Pot (I broke the pot!), I bought a popcorn popper as well.  The kids have enjoyed popcorn with butter and salt, butter and Parmesan, and butter and cinnamon-sugar.

In an upcoming post, I’ll let you in on a few things I’ve found out about snacking and home schoolers.  But for right now, I just want to share my sister-in-law’s wonderful recipe for homemade Caramel Popcorn.

Start with a big bowl of hot popcorn.  (My popper uses 1/2 cup kernels to make a big bowl, just right for this recipe.)

In a large saucepan, boil together:

1/2 cup butter

1 cup brown sugar

3 Tablespoons corn syrup or pancake syrup (I haven’t tried this variation)

When the butter is completely melted and boiling, add:

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon vanilla

This is what it will look like:

carmel for popcornImmediately pour over hot popcorn and stir with a big spoon.  I thought I could use my hands for this, but it was just too hot!

Here’s the finished product:

carmel popcorn


And this is what you will look like eating it:


Start to finish:  15 minutes.  Enjoy those happy faces!

What is your favorite addition to popcorn?  Please leave a comment below.


Math Out Loud (the Easy Way)

For those of you who are familiar with Saxon Math, you know that each lesson involves lots of practice, both on new skills and review.  This is both a wonderful thing — old skills are not forgotten as kids work on developing new ones– and a difficult thing –very time consuming.

Saxon Math lessons are structured in 3 parts:  mental math, lesson practice and problem set.  The mental math section teaches kids to do increasingly difficult math in their heads, without any written practice.  This is one of my favorite parts of Saxon math, because I have seen so many adults who are unable to do even simple multiplication without writing something down.  As I tell my kids, you won’t always have a calculator with you, and who wants to be cheated at the store because you can’t do some mental math!  The lesson practice comes immediately after the new skills for the lesson are explained, and practices that skill in progressively more difficult problems.  Then comes the problem set, usually about 30 problems of review.  For my kids, that averaged to about an hour of math each lesson day.  While not terrible, it did cause lots of grumbling.

In the past, I have tried several different methods of shortening math time while maintaining quality.  Sometimes I would have the kids do only odds on the problem set.  Other times, I would do two lessons on the same day, and allow them to do only one of the problem sets.  Unfortunately, as I tried these strategies with Brett, I realized that the lack of practice was really robbing him of confidence.  He would come back to problems a few lessons later with very little idea how to solve them.  After struggling with him for math comprehension, I realized that, at least in our family, every single problem of math needed to be worked, even if it took a lot of time.  While we only do math 3 days a week, I still was seeking some way to cut down the time spent on math and still have great comprehension.

This year, we found a new way for me to be content that they have done enough practice while cutting down on the time of the lesson.  I take an extra ten or fifteen minutes after their lesson for them to do any of the problems they can mentally and orally without writing down either the problems or the answers.  Max is usually able to save himself about 15 problems of written work this way, and Lucy 10-12 problems.  This has been a great way to give them a boost toward finishing their math quickly.  I write orally next to the problems I have heard the answers to, and mark them in the book, so that I know when I correct papers later that those problems were done already.


max doing math

This has led to lots more smiles during math time!  Do you allow your kids to do any of their math work orally?  What strategies do you use to keep progressing in math skills while maintaining interest?  Please leave me a comment below.

Reason to Homeschool #239

Reason #239:  You don’t have to share the sledding hill.

lucy on snowboard


eden and max


Share one of your favorite reasons to homeschool in the comments!

Risk Taking 101 for Parents of Homeschoolers

Yes, that is my 9 year old in that picture.  Yes, it is high and steep.  Yes, I am brave (and she is, too.)  Managed risk taking is a skill we value in our family.  Since I took this picture, and began writing this post, so much has happened that saddens me to think about the huge risks we take every day, usually just by doing things we take for granted.  We risk when we get into our automobiles, and yet we rarely think that this could be our last ride.  Parents risk every day when they wave goodbye to their children at the door of the schoolroom.  So if we live with so much risk, why would we encourage our children to be risk takers?

  • Risk takers enjoy life more.  A person who cautiously doesn’t dare to try a new sport, learn a new task or climb a little higher doesn’t get the thrill of achieving his goal and seeing the view from on top.  You cannot achieve if you do not start.  Just because you start, doesn’t guarantee achievement, but non-starters never achieve.
  • Risk takers are high achievers.  Those who have risked and achieved goals in the past have more confidence toward the next challenge.  They are able to reach higher and gain more.
  • Risk takers find fulfillment.  Knowing that you did something you set out to do leads to fulfillment and happiness.

How can we help our children to be risk takers, but in a controlled, managed way?

  • Help your children evaluate the risk.  Is the risk is a tumble down a sandstone hill, as shown in the picture above, or is it a life-threatening chance?  What are the benefits to be gained?  If the benefits outweigh the risks, why not take the chance?  Even very young children can be taught to think in this way, and choose which risks are worth taking.
  • Ask your child about how he feels while taking the risk.  As he climbs higher on the jungle gym, don’t just demand that he descend immediately.  Ask if he feels safe.  Be there to assist if necessary, and help him to be careful, but don’t insist on his complying with your feeling of safety.
  • Sometimes it’s better not to look.  I have a 16 year old that just received his first driver’s license.  While he has driven many hours with me beside him in the car, I am better able to cope with his driving when I am not alongside him.  I am not sure I even make him safer by “co-piloting” the vehicle.  After all, when he cannot rely on me for a second opinion, he is forced to rely on his own sense of caution.  Our children need to be able to feel safe inside their own bodies and with their own decisions, and sometimes this involves a parent turning a blind eye.

While none of us can guarantee safety throughout our lives or our children’s lives, we can live each day to its fullest, living confidently and happily in the present.

Is risk taking something you encourage for your family?  How do you cope with the emotions brought on by letting go? Please leave me a comment below.