Learning by Cooking

This mom is feeling extremely pampered today.  E is working on his cooking merit badge.  Today was the day he prepared ALL the meals for the family!  Every single meal AND he did ALL the dishes!!!

Tortilla Soup BrightThe cooking merit badge experience has been great.  The boys have learned their caloric and nutritional needs and developed three days worth of meal plans that satisfy those requirements.  It was nice to see E develop an appreciation for how well balanced some of his favorite meals are.  He has always liked tortilla soup, but now that he knows how many requirements it fulfills he seems to like it even more.

I like the shopping trips we do for scouts.  I don’t do a very good job of including the boys in that aspect of things, so it’s really been good taking E shopping with a budget.

IMG_0212Beyond the merit badge, scouting is really helping E gain confidence and independence.   It’s a great reminder for me that I need to hang back and let the kids contribute more.  It’s a huge help when we are packing lunches and the kids make their own sandwiches. Sometimes I think, “Wait, why am I doing this?  This kid knows how to pack for a weekend outdoors, cook over an open fire, and use a backpacking stove.”

Cooking doesn’t have to be all about meals.  Sometimes it’s still fun to bust out our metric cookie recipes and make a batch of cookies using our best kitchen lab skills.

Frog Watch

Vernal Pool 1Several years ago we discovered vernal pools.  In fact my first ever blog post was about exploring vernal pools and the cover picture for the blog is usually of the boys sitting beside their favorite pool examining larvae.

A person might think we would get tired of studying frogs each spring, but there is a certain happiness to hearing the first spring peepers.  This year we are thrilled to join citizen scientist across the US monitoring local frog populations.

Tadpole 2014Our local zoo, Akron Zoo, is part of Frog Watch USA, a citizen scientist project.  We attended training back in February and received a CD of all the local frog calls.  Thankfully there are only 16 species of frog we need to know by call.  We started out knowing about six of the calls and were able to learn the rest within a few car rides listening to the CD.

IMG_1810Once each month we will be visiting a couple of our favorite frog locations.  After sunset we will listen to the frogs for three minutes and report our findings through the Frog Watch website.

When we started homeschooling, one of our major desires was to “learn more about animals.”  Frog Watch is a great opportunity to learn more about our amphibian friends and contribute to our community.

Learning with Pottery

C's 2016 Winter PotteryOur learning plan this year  included taking pottery classes.  Last summer we found a groupon for a 2 part pottery class and the boys absolutely loved the process and the artist / instructor.

Finding the right classes and mentors for an interest led course of study sometimes involves a little bit more than signing up for existing classes.  In this case it wasn’t particularly hard, just approaching the studio owner and asking for a quote to take a 6 week class.  We quickly worked out an agreement and things were set for the boys and I to learn to do pottery on our own.

C at WheelOur class was designed so we could become independent in the studio.  We learned how to work the clay to get all the air bubbles out.  Next up was learning the wheel.

Green PotteryEach week we trimmed our pieces from the previous week.  We spent much of our time the next to last week learning to add handles where desired.

E Pottery Winter 2016The final week we glazed all our pieces.  Then it was just a matter of waiting. As Monty Python fans the boys thought making chalices was very cool.

There are so many lessons in learning to do pottery.  Obviously there are technical skills to learn – how to work the clay, how to use the wheel, how to shape things on the wheel.  The soft skills of pottery are really valuable – having patience and dealing with setbacks and disappointment.  Pottery teaches you that “stuff” happens – you can mess things up just when its going perfect, pieces are sometimes dropped and break, pieces can explode in the kiln, the glazing may not turn out the way you envisioned.  It’s disappointing but you just have to start over again.

My Winter Pottery CreationsI particularly liked taking pottery outside a “school” setting.  When I was in school, art was always very limited when it came to materials and time.   In our studio classes we had more freedom to explore and create than I ever had in school.  Also we weren’t worried about a grade.  If something “failed” it was just a learning experience.

What interest led projects have been the most fun for your kids?  How do you display your kids creative pieces?

Learning with Catapults

Catapults from kitsMy boys love catapults.  Whether we are learning about early methods of warfare, watching Pumpkin Chunking’, or flinging marshmallows at each other – catapults are a constant source of engineering wonder.  Over the years the boys have built multiple catapults from kits as well as from scratch.

This year they were able to compete together in a Science Olympiad event called Ready, Aim, Fire!

IMG_0069The competition requires building a catapult of dimensions less than 65 cm x 65 cm x 65 cm powered only by a falling counterweight.  At the competition teams are given counterweights of 1 kg and 2 kg that are used to launch projectiles of 20-40g and 40-60g respectively.  Before the competition teams are expected to launch projectiles of various masses and record data.  The team prepares plots that are used to show where various projectile masses are expected to land.  On the day of competition the catapults are impounded.  After all devices are impounded, the judges announce the masses of the two projectiles that will be used that day.  Teams use their prepared graphs to determine how far they think their catapult will throw the projectiles and then tell the judges where they would like their target set in 0.5 m increments.

Launch scores (LS) are determined using the formula:

LS = TD – 3A +B

where TD is the target distance requested by the kids, A is the distance from where the projectile makes first impact to the center of the target and B is a bonus for hitting the target.  B = 0.15 x TD if the projectile hits the target and 0.30 x TD if the projectile stays in the target.   All distances are in meters.

Points are also awarded for graphing. (Up to 12 points).

This was a great project for the boys.  They handled much of the build themselves.  I helped out with a few of the cuts and my husband taught the boys to use the drill press.  My husband handled the original “basket” build with the boys making modifications later.

E recently had lessons in geometry and basic trigonometry, so he was able to use his knowledge of sin and cos to make the throw arm its maximum length while maintaining the optimum ratio of counterweight arm length to projectile arm length.   We also taught C the methods he was using.  It was a rather complex calculation so we set up a spreadsheet to do some iterations (side lesson on radians vs. angles was necessary).

The boys previous build experience came in very handy.  From the beginning they understood a trebuchet design would be best design for distance.  They also understood the importance of release angles and were quite keen at recognizing when the release angle was off and doing things to improve it.

Testing the trebuchet took quite a bit of time as they chose to make improvements to the basket and sling which required re-collecting all the data points they already had.  They used a spreadsheet to organize their data and select the trend line.

All their hard work paid off when they were able to make accurate predictions the day of the competition.  They were able to hit the target on the 1 kg launch and come very close on their 2 kg launch (the ball landed just a bit to the right).

Boys with TrebuchetIt was a very exciting day for them.  They were thrilled to take home first place medals and they are already looking forward to competing in the middle school division next year.

Sharing at:


Happy New Year!

2015 started out looking like it was going to be a same old same old sort of year.  I really didn’t have big expectations for the year, but it turned out GREAT!

IMG_1658We found a homeschool tribe!   It all started with a post inviting homeschoolers to join a Science Olympiad team.  The events were fun and the boys enjoyed working with their team mates.  The day of the Olympiad all the kids were together in our homeroom and I’m pretty sure that is where the idea for Science Club spawned.  Science Club has been great for both moms and kids.  It’s a twice per month meet up for a class or field trip.  In addition to the official events, we’ve met other families we can call to go for a hike when the weather is beautiful or share a trip to the zoo or science.

ScoutsBoy Scouts – I hate to admit this now, but I was really hoping E would give up the Scout thing at the end of Cub Scouts.  Turns out Boy Scouts is a much different experience that is expanding his circle of friends, increasing his independence and helping him learn new and useful skills (like cooking and meal planning for eight people).   The whole family has made new friends through the scout group and it’s helped us be more connected to our community.

Canton Brew Daft Dudes – This one doesn’t involve the kids.  Last January a friend of ours mentioned that he and a friend were putting together a group whose purpose was to visit all the craft breweries in our area.  I discovered I enjoy tasting different beers.  It’s fun to just taste and appreciate the flavor instead of having a whole glass of the same thing. But it isn’t the beer tasting that makes this group so great, it’s the people.  It’s sort of like college, in that the group includes a delightful mix of backgrounds, interests, jobs and talents with the added bonus of a variety of ages.

C on Mountain BikeNew mountain bike trails – When we moved here the kids were small and it was hard for me to get any time on the trails.  Last year they started hitting some off road trails with us and it’s been so much fun – aside from a half hour where one of the kids got lost and a tail bone injury this year.  A few months ago they discovered an RC track at one of the places we ride so now trips over there include biking and RC cars.   This year one of our favorite places to ride nearly doubled the amount of trail available and two parks near us added brand new trails.  My husband has gotten more involved in the local mountain bike scene and made new friends doing trail building events and such.

C on Ropes CourseLearning new skills – I never feel as alive as when I’m learning something new.  2015 was full of new experiences for all of us.  We learned to ski / snow board, shoot bows, and use the pottery wheel.  We did some high ropes adventure courses that really stretched me in particular.  The boys did swim lessons for the first time in a long time and enjoyed them.

Highline TrailLastly we had an amazing vacation this year.  We went to Glacier National Park.  It was all very beautiful, but the length of the hikes and the height of the hikes sometimes propelled me out of my comfort zone.  That’s me in the pink coat way above my comfort zone.

I’m not sure what 2016 has in store for us, but I’m hopeful it will be just as great as 2015!




LEGO Dragon Trash Trek

Congrats to the LEGO Dragons!  They took home the INSPIRATION award at their FIRST LEGO League (FLL) tournament this past weekend.  The LEGO Dragons are C’s team that I coach.  E’s team was awarded the PROGRAMMING award.   I’m very proud of both teams and all the work they put into the season.

Neither team is moving on to districts.  The threshold to be considered for a district invitation is placing in the top 55% of teams during the robot competition.  The LEGO Dragons just barely missed the cut off score, I think they were 1 point behind 10th and 7 points behind 9th with 320 points.  They  scored 433 the night before in our practice rounds.  Unfortunately they made a very slight error when they built one of the practice models and were unable to make changes to the programming while at the tournament because of a separate misunderstanding about what “saving” meant followed by a program crash.  The fix to the program where the mission model was set up incorrectly was easily done in a few minutes, but doing so at the tournament would have risked messing up 3 other mission runs that were worth 140 points.  It was really a tough thing, but the kids took it pretty well.  They really showed so much growth in how they handled the robot game this year.  When things went wrong they adapted quickly and made lots of good decisions.

One of the core values of FLL is being in the competition to learn, not just to win awards.  This year in particular I feel like we learned so much.  I know I’m much more conscientious about avoiding plastic shopping bags.  I also discovered I was throwing away film plastics that can be recycled by taking them to the store with any plastic bags I happen to collect.  I taught our team how to use a sewing machine and  I learned how to use a cutting machine for vinyls.

NXT CatapultI’m viewing the fact we didn’t move on in the competition as an opportunity to connect with the robots in more creative and fun ways.  Instead of focusing on points in the robot game maybe we will be building robotic animals that respond to sound or “eat” food pellets.  The contraption above is one E built to send fun size candy bars down a conveyor belt, drop them into a catapult, and fling them at the recipient.  It was a bit crazy and didn’t work exactly as he wanted.  but he was very engaged in making it and trouble shooting.   Maybe we will set aside the robots and do some 3D printing or make animated Christmas cards.  I’m not sure exactly what we will be doing, but I’m looking forward to the space for creative play.

Happy Halloween!

IMG_2623What a fun crafty time of year it is!  We actually finished a couple of our pumpkins ahead of time this year!  Can I tell you I got a little verklempt when E carved his pumpkin without help?  C painted a minion on a spaghetti squash which was a fun departure from the standard pumpkin fare.  When I saw recycled jars turned into luminaries at the zoo I knew we had to do that at home this year.  So super easy and fun!

IMG_2627 I thought I was done doing “room mom” stuff,  but our Science Club is having a Halloween Party and I volunteered to do the big kid craft.  We are doing paper haunted houses.  It’s really all about how much work you want to put into it so some kids will probably take a long time and others a few minutes.  I figured it would be something they could replicate at home if they enjoyed it.  I ended up making a quick pattern that I could print onto the card stock.  I was really wishing for a fancy cutting machine so we could make our own bat and tree cut outs.  You can check out the paper houses I used for inspiration.  I chose to make mine larger so they took two piece of 8.5″x11″ cardstock for the walls and another half sheet for the roof.  I didn’t make a floor to make it easier to just set them over an LED tealight.


The boys have been taking archery lessons this semester.  Usually they shoot inside, but this week they had the chance to shoot pumpkins at a much longer distance.  I love that we are able to work things like this into our schedule!

Hope you have a very Happy Halloween!

Sharing at:

Weekly Wrap-Up WUH

Community Service Day

If you are ever want to be inspired, you should spend some time hanging out with a FIRST LEGO League (FLL) team.  I’ve written several times about how these kids do an amazing job coming up with solutions to problems.  This year the challenge is Trash Trek.  Our FLL team has spent the last few months learning about trash, recycling and ways we can Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.

TrunkChallengeMonday the kids had a day off school and decided to spend it doing community service.  Our first project of the day was to contribute to the reuse portion of the cycle by filling the trunk with clothes and shoes for the Goodwill.  I’m not sure what the donation receiver thought when five boys spilled out of my car.  She was gracious enough to give us a quick tour and we looked around the retail store for several minutes.

CollectingTrashatLakeErieDuring the course of our trash research we were shocked to read how much micro plastic is in Lake Erie.  Since we live near Cleveland, we decided to investigate ourselves.  Getting out on the lake and collecting samples of micro plastics wasn’t practical, so we decided to conduct a beach clean up.

We took a couple of clip boards with survey information by the Great Lakes Alliance, trash bags and gloves, and we headed for the beach.

IMG_2558Probably because of the time of year (mid October) the beach looked pretty clean from a distance.  We found mostly bits of plastic, bottle caps, straws, and a few plastic bottles.  By far the most common items found were cigarette tips and small bits of plastic.  We only stayed about an hour but collected 2.5 kg of trash.

BlueTrashScorpionWe thought it would be fun make art out of our litter finds.  During the summer months we would probably find more litter in the form of bottles and caps that would make better “art”, but the boys really seemed to enjoy figuring out things to construct.  A little spray paint really helped.

TrunkChallengeOverwriteThe LEGO Dragons are extending a “Trunk Challenge” to our friends, family, and readers.  Fill your trunk with donations for your favorite charity.  Donate.  Then post in the comments to let us know you took the challenge.  Issue your own challenge to your friends and family.

Sharing at:

finishing-strong-green-and-purple-200x200-      Weekly Wrap-Up WUH

Field Trip: Nina and Pinta

IMG_2511On a bright October morning, we headed to Pittsburgh to visit replicas of the Nina and Pinta.  We tend to enjoy living history exhibits and this display was no exception.IMG_2510

The Columbus Foundation sponsors these ships.  You can find their port schedules and more details about the ships at thenina.com.   We spent about an hour touring the ships and listening to crew.  The crew is all volunteer.  They are out on these ships because they enjoy sailing and history.  They are incredibly knowledgable and entertaining.


A historical detail we all found interesting was that the ships of the period were coated with black pine tar including the deck.  On a sunny fall morning in Pittsburgh, we were very comfortable even though the decks were a more natural color.  We could only imagine how unbearably hot it would have been sailing these boats in the Caribbean.


It was incredible to stand on the decks and imagine the decks packed with cargo and crew with livestock down below.  Today the ships sail with about 10 people total in two boats, but in Columbus’s day the crew numbered 20 – 26 per boat.


Growing up in the midwest I’ve had little experience with sail boats.  Today will forever change my experience when I read about explorers on caravels.  I will have a picture in my mind, not of a vague generic sailboat, but of a hot, crowded, black deck full of people and ropes.  I always imagined that sailors felt a bit lonely against the vastness of the sea.  Today I gained a sense of how the boat could feel crowded and chaotic or perhaps warm and friendly with a sense of companionship.  IMG_2515

My thanks goes out to the people who made this experience possible – both the crew and the dreamers, who thought of the concept and carried it to reality.

Interest Led Learning

How do you know what to teach?  This is one of the more frequent questions I answer as a homeschooler.  I think the thing that baffles some people the most is that we don’t use a science curriculum – because my kids love science.  What does “interest led” learning look like?

Last week I assured readers interest led learning doesn’t mean we wake up every morning wondering, “What will we do today?”  I shared our plans for the outside lessons and activities for the upcoming semester.  But some days we do wake up with a fairly open schedule – what do those days look like?


Monday we started with soccer because E has decided he wants to play goalie with his rec league team.  He’s been avoiding this position for the last several years, so I’m thrilled he is comfortable trying something new.  Since he is playing rec, they only practice once each week for a little over an hour.   We headed out to the soccer field and C and I took turns playing offense trying to score on E.  Once we were tired, C and I took some turns at goal as well.  It was nice to get the physical activity during the morning hours especially given that we had evening commitments. IMG_2421We took a short hike to look at Monarchs. There were a lot fewer than last week.  We pondered whether most of them had migrated away or they prefer evenings instead of morning.  I agreed to check the meadow during my evening walk.  Turns out it was probably a migration thing.

We read a bit about ancient Greece early in the day to prepare for our presentation at Geography Club. We spent some time during the evening watching a documentary from PBS called Sinking Atlantis to supplement what we learned about the ancient Minoans. I learned all sorts of fascinating stuff about the eruption of the volcano Thera and the decline of the Minoans.

We did a bit of grammar and writing.  We try to do a few lessons like that each week.  It’s a bit like mopping floors or cleaning toilets.  It’s that small bit of life that isn’t necessarily fun, but if you keep up with it isn’t that bad either.  The short and easy writing assignment ended up requiring looking up Arctic Terns and Woodpeckers, so C could be sure he was getting his facts right.

Somewhere along the way we had the globe out and there was a comment about the tilt of the earth that concerned me.  I thought perhaps one of the boys wasn’t understanding that the tilt was constant, so one kid was the sun and I circled around him with the globe reviewing the seasons.  Turns out he understood that just fine – what he was wondering was if the earth had the same tilt during ice ages.  Off we went to read about the cycle of the earth’s tilt and the factors that cause ice ages.  We watched some videos of Pangea separating which morphed into catching up on “It’s Okay to Be Smart” videos.

It was FLL day so we spent a couple of hours with the team going over missions and rules and talking about trash.

The remaining hours of the day were spent listening to the current audiobook, some while simultaneously playing computer games like Terraria and Kerbel Space.

So that’s what an interest led day looks like when your morning plan looks like – get exercise, prep for Geography Club, do some writing and maybe math.

Sharing at:

Weekly Wrap-Up WUH