Weekly Wrap-Up

Sunday we rode a 25 mile charity ride as a family.  C rode the tag along with daddy.  E pedaled the entire ride on a 20″ bike!  The boys did a great job. We finished in just over 3 hours.   We hadn’t gotten in a lot of practice time in so we were a bit saddle sore, but I’m  our legs all held up well.  Riding with E was fun because the other riders were so encouraging.  He was the only kid I saw riding a small bike.

We added a pet to our household this week.  You can read about our new pet here.


The other exciting news at our house is, “BASEBALL IS ALMOST OVER!!!!!!!!”  Happy Dance!   The kids tried to like it.  I tried to like it.  We’re really more of a soccer family.  I do want  to say thanks to our coaches.   I really appreciate them volunteering such a substantial amount of time.


Summer has been wonderful.  We’ve done a lot of hiking partly because the weather has stayed cool and pleasant.  I’m trying to make sure we are in good condition for vacation this fall.    Their stamina on the bike ride this weekend was really encouraging.  It has been so nice to catch up with our school friends by going to the pool and bowling.


We’ve kept up with our reading time and working on writing and spelling skills a bit. E read about dragonflies and fireflies last week. We found an off-cycle periodical cicada this week.  I’m sure those of you on the East Coast are tired of seeing those.  As we run across them in our walks he shares little tidbits with me.   The kids are watching a Mythbusters episode about once per day and playing lots of Minecraft.   We made a plateful of non-Newtonian fluid just for fun.  Another day we practiced our lab skills in the kitchen.


I really love when you get home and realize you caught what you were after, like this heron catching lunch.  DSC_0813



He hid out of sight to eat that fish but later on here he is with a fish going down the hatch.


Our interests this week have us trying to find out more about heron nesting habits.  We frequently see herons, but we’ve never seen any that stand out as juvenile or a nest.  We are also trying to learn more about hummingbirds. We have a few coming to our feeders.


Of course we need to find out more about snails now Stinky Jr.  has joined our family.


Lightning was also a big topic of discussion because lightning struck very large tree behind our house this week.


On our bookshelf this week:

Snailology by Michael Ross

Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator by Sarah Campbell

Herons by Frank Staub

Hummingbirds by Mark Rauzon

Minnie and Moo

Magic Tree House: Dinosaurs Before Dark by Mary Pope Osborne

How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell

How to Be a Pirate by Cressida Cowell


Hope you are having a great summer!


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Mary_CollageFriday      weeklywrapup125





Stinky Jr.

E found a tiny snail last year at the garden center and was THRILLED when they sent it home with us.   Stinky the Snail lasted less than 2 hours before he fell into the grass and made his escape.

Now, every time I take the boys to look for plants, they spend the time searching for snails.  Thankfully the garden center staff usually does a good job of keeping the snails at bay and we haven’t found another one there since Stinky.


This week when we were out in the woods we found about 15 snails in our path.  Of course the boys wanted to bring one home. I know there are homes where pets are welcomed in abundance.  Mine is not one.  It isn’t that I don’t like animals.  I do.  Outside, in their own environment, where I don’t have to remember to feed and water them. Outside, where I don’t have to clean up any poop.   I like the line in “Yertle the Turtle”  by Dr. Seuss  “And the turtles?  All the turtles were free, As turtles and maybe all creatures should be.”  

Anyway, back to the snails in our path and the pleading looks of my dear sweet boys.  I considered our petless state and the fact a snail would be about the least amount of work possible for a pet.  Certainly better than another hamster or (cringe) a gerbil (cringe).  I wouldn’t be obligated to keep a snail for years like a guinea pig.   So Stinky Jr. came home with us.


Stinky has actually has been fun to observe for the last week.  E has done a nice job researching what Stinky needs.  We had an old aquarium so it’s been completely free.  We’ve learned a bit about mollusks and gastropods so perhaps this counts as summer science!

By the way, Stinky Jr. doesn’t stink at all.  He is named after the snail in a certain video game.





Every Day Science – The Metric Kitchen

Does anyone else find the gram measurements on food labels abstract?

I truly would like to see the U.S. start using more metric units.  All scientific measurements are taken using metric units.  It is easier to make conversions between units by simply multiplying by 10 or 100 or 1000 instead of multiplying by 12 or 3 or 5280 or 16.   Not only is it easier to make conversions within length or volume,  did you know that a mL is 1cubic cm and 1 mL of water weighs 1 gram?

When we have a solid understanding of what a gram looks like, it makes food labels so much easier to understand.

With the above in mind, we’ve started taking advantage of our digital scale in the kitchen. Cooking with Scales

We started by taking the boys favorite cookie recipes and measuring the ingredients first in English units  then weighing out and recording the weight in grams.   Liquid measurements were easy because our measuring cup is marked in both mL and cups.

The next time we made cookies we used the metric measures we previously recorded.  So instead of saying, “I need a cup of sugar” we said, “I need 200 grams of sugar,”Chocolate Chip Cookie


This simple “experiment” :

1. Develops an understand of metric units by making concrete connections.

2. Develops a greater understanding of volume v. weight.  A cup of sugar weighs more than a cup of flour.

3. Provides a chance to practice good lab skills.

Plus,  we get to eat cookies!


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Our Favorites from 2012 – 2013

This year was so much fun!  I thought I would give you a peek at some of our favorite things from 2012-2013.Field Trips 1. Field trips are the GREAT.   I can’t say enough about how much we enjoy the chance to explore our community. As you can see the boys had a great time checking out the military equipment during Marine Week.  It is tempting to think of these trips as just fun but the kids really remember things and tie them back to what they are learning.   The science center has a coordinate plane model that works something like an etch-a-sketch.  I never noticed it but it immediately came to E’s mind when his math book introduced the coordinate system.   It is really a pleasure to go to the museums at non-peak times when we have plenty of time to spend at each exhibit.  This year we easily took 25 field trips.  Lake Hope / Hocking Hills 2012 2. Vacation.  When we went on vacation this year, we learned about hummingbirds, iron furnaces, and sandstone caves.  We had some great discussions while we were there and looked up more information once we were home.  Our experience feeding the hummingbirds last fall has prompted us to put out more feeders this spring. Building with Legos 3. Lego Build Days and FIRST Lego League – Like most 8 and 9 year olds these two enjoy Legos.  E enjoys the building aspect the most while C enjoys creating stories and dialog.  This year E had the chance to join a FIRST Lego League (FLL) team.  It was really a fantastic experience.   He learned how to do research and make a presentation along with programming and robot building.  His coach did a great job  involving the entire team in all aspects.  This summer both boys asked to go to a camp to learn more programming for the NXT robot.

4. Reading –  The boys always list reading books they like as one of the perks of homeschool.  I know many people are afraid boys this age would only chose Captain Underpants and the like; but we haven’t found this to be the case.  They choose mysteries and a lot of non-fiction. E reads many of our unit study books on his own and then I read those aloud to C.  We spend read aloud time with harder books that are enjoyable to them.  I have really enjoyed being able to spend lots of time reading aloud again.  We read several classics including “Farmer Boy”,  “A Wrinkle in Time”,  “The Secret Garden”,  “Trumpet of the Swan” and a few Chronicles of Narnia.   We had fun reading “The Tale of Despereaux”, “The Incredible Journey”,  and “Hugo Cabret”  then comparing the book to the movie.

Engineers Week   5. Engineers Week was an incredibly popular idea this year. So popular it lasted two weeks. Every afternoon they built or did experiments.  They built cup towers, straw towers, marshmallow and toothpick sculptures, boats, and airplanes.  We were studying the Great Wall of China at the time so they built a wall and the Lego Mongols attacked.  We tried to incorporate different fields of engineering including civil, mechanical, chemical, computer, and bio-chemical.  In the evening we watched Myth Busters and Modern Marvels. Vernal Pool Collage   6. Vernal Pool Unit Study Homeschool hardly ever feels more right than when a simple question turns into a unit study several weeks long.   “What’s that noise?”  The noise was spring peeper frogs and wood frogs.  We spent several weeks studying their habitat and finding out about the other animals that live or breed in vernal pools.  We spent a lot of time “in the field” including doing a night salamander hike.

7. A desire to learn more about Giant Squids led to several weeks learning about not only Giant and Colossal Squids but other cephalopods as well. This study was really fascinating because we were reading books about discoveries made in late 2012 and watching ground-breaking videos from 2013.  We took a field trip to the aquarium to see an octopus.  Homeschool 2012-132 8. Science experiments are another one of our absolute favorite things.  Our homeschool journey actually started because E was so sad about the lack science at school.  We put together solar contraptions, studied DNA, had a week of “egg”periments around Easter, observed butterflies, grew crystals, studied acid / base indicators and reactions, and much more.


9. Nature Walks –  Being outside when the weather is nice is great.  We are so inspired by our walks. Sometimes we make observations that spark questions and inquiries.  Mostly it is just fun to see birds, chipmunks, squirrels, ducklings, snakes and frogs.

10. Vision Therapy – C went through a six month round of vision therapy this year.  It was a big commitment of both time and money.  He did about 30 minutes each day of exercises at home and met with a therapist once per week.  After just 3-4 weeks he was reading for up to 30 minutes.  At some point we learned that in the past he had seen both red and black letters that somewhat overlapped. Prior to vision therapy he had consistently complained about stomach aches when asked to do reading or writing tasks.  Even 10 minutes of reading was a struggle.  Vision therapy has made a huge difference for him.

Those are a few of our favorite things from 2012-2013.  We are looking forward to what next year will bring.  What were some of your favorites this year?


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Summer Learning

What a fun week!

Racoons in yard by Scott


Saturday night the weather was perfect for a campfire.  Sunday morning we woke up to these cute critters asleep under the fire pit.  They finally woke up and wandered back into the woods around noon.  Didn’t Scott do a great job with the photography?


I’m helping teach the science rotation at VBS this week.  One of my friends is the director of her church’s VBS and I love the fact they always include science.  The theme is “Living Water” and the kids are learning SO much.  The people from my friend’s church have gone to Honduras to install water  filtration systems so people have clean water to drink.  It is so humbling to think of all the people in the world desperate for clean water.   This has been a wonderful week of missions and practical learning.

In VBS science we did a water tasting – pure water, water tainted with vinegar,  salt water, and water with cocoa powder.  We grew bacteria off the kids hands and other surfaces.  (Yes the toilet seats were clean.  The floor, the doorknob, and little kids hands not so much)  We tie dyed t-shirts as a fun art/science project.  We used glitter bug lotion to demonstrate the importance of hand washing.  We also talked about daily water usage and had the kids haul water like moms and children do in developing countries.  In crafts,  the kids made models of bacteria.

Chocolate Chip Cookie


At home, we practiced Chemistry in the Kitchen by making cookies and doing the measurements in metric units.  C chose no-bake cookies and E chose chocolate chip cookies.   Both were yummy!  Love using grams and mL to develop a greater sense of metric units.   It gives meaning to food labels and using the scales really makes cooking  like the chemistry lab.


We managed to get out to the farm and do a little strawberry picking this week.



This was the first week of CSA pickup!  Kale, salad greens,  lettuce, young beets, onions, salad turnips, scapes, and snap peas.  The beet greens were super sweet.   I’m so excited about the return of summer cooking and eating.

When I was young, my parents kept a fairly large garden.  When my dad came home from work the first thing he would do was check the garden.  Sometimes he would pick a turnip and peel it and we would eat it standing out there in the garden patch.  It was the only way I would eat turnips.  Today the first thing I did after bringing in the veggies was peel one of the salad turnips.  It tasted… like a young turnip.  Not bitter, just turnipy.  The taste took me back to being 7 years old standing in the garden with my dad and that was SWEET.  Miss you dad!

Hope you are having a fun summer!


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Philosophies of Learning

Sometimes I think it would be nice to have a tidy answer to “What curriculum do you use?”  We do use a couple of programs but those programs don’t define us.  Instead I find myself coming back over and over to the following principles.

Reading should be interesting.  Children should spend their time with books they personally desire to read.   Nothing kills the desire to read as much as being required to read for the sake of being evaluated.  We spend a lot of time reading about animals and scientists. We also like mysteries and books that are funny.  It’s okay to read books that are “below your reading level” if you find them funny, interesting, or relaxing.  When kids read books that are easy they develop fluency and  feel a sense of accomplishment knowing it is easier this year than it was last year. DSC_0048 Children need to move.  Frequently.  Sometimes every one is getting tense or squirrelly and I know we need to move.  Some days we have to set aside a lesson for a while so we can take a walk or swim.  Sometimes I try to push through just a little more book work even though I know they need a break and it doesn’t go well. DSC_0143 Play.  Every day.  In play children explore their world.  They make hypotheses and test them.  Their hypothesis is either confirmed or re-evaluated.  The scientific method develops organically through play.  Play allows children to create and test a multitude of things.  Developing plays and dialogue allows children to explore social reactions.  Play allows a child to compete against herself and develop mastery of skills  that lead to confidence.   (The skill might be off the wall and not have any practical value to the observer but the child is still benefiting.)   Play is not the exclusive domain of preschoolers.  If you know some one who continues to tinker as they get older you know they are most often very knowledgeable in their field of interest.  Even as adults we learn through play. DSC_0019 Nature is necessary.  Spending time in nature allows us to understand our place in the world.  Nature allows us to feel big compared to an ant and small compared to the vastness of the ocean or the universe.   When we study nature we begin to understand its cycles and the importance of time.  We see the incredible abilities of small creatures like the monarch butterflies to travel thousands of miles. We can marvel for days over the fact that if ice were more dense than water our world would be vastly different.   Nature creates a sense of awe and wonder.   DSC_0032 Curiosity is a wonderful teacher.  I have noticed unit studies that start with a child’s question last longer, have more depth and more staying power than studies initiated because they match up with the core standards.  Seemingly small events (a cicada molting on our soccer net, the call of spring peepers, a cartoon episode) can launch investigations if we take the time to follow our curiosity. Curiosity is powerful and motivating.

Grow the whole child.  The goal of our learning environment is to grow physically,  spiritually, emotionally, and in wisdom of the world. Each child has a unique personality with individual strengths, weaknesses, and motivations. As parents and teachers  we need to listen carefully to their desires and provide guidance on the path toward maturity.   We must meet children at their points of need, find the resources they need, and help them get the practice they need to develop new skills.


Those principles are the things I keep coming back to.  That and the evidence of happy, confident, growing children.

10 Fun Science & Engineering Activities for Summer or Anytime

Incorporating science and engineering into your summer is not only fun but easy.  Try these simple ideas to bring more science to your summer.

Red-spotted Newt hiding under root

1.  Go on nature walks. Take along a camera and magnifying glass. Kids are naturally curious and observant.   Repetition is key to maximizing the benefits of nature walks.  Some days we don’t find much, other days we see lots of animals. Sometimes the kids really enjoy looking for rocks or observing how a stick or leaf flows down the stream.  It might feel like this is just play, but it sets the foundation for learning theory.  The more often you go,  the more interesting things you will find.  We have a mile long paved walking path close to us. We try to walk there at least a couple of times a month in addition to other walks.  Over the last couple of years we’ve observed  foxes, salamanders, frogs, tadpoles, hawks, deer, groundhogs, black snakes, ribbon snakes, water snakes, ducks, geese, and other birds .  Of course we don’t see all of those every day, but sometimes we get lucky and see 18 snakes in one day or two foxes together.

Plasma Ball @ Science Center

2. Visit a science museum. We love visiting science centers and natural history museums. Your time at a good science center will look like play and it is. Play is imperative to developing scientific reasoning.  I love when we begin studying a topic and the boys say, “Oh, like the ……..at the science center.”

Racing Solar Cars

3. Science kits and toys.  Speaking of science centers pick up a science kit or toy while you are there.  Hobby Lobby is also a great source for science kits and toys.  Tornado tubes, circuit kits, magnets, geodes, Newton’s cradles ….. they all allow a child to investigate their world and learn through play.  Steve Spangler also has a lot of kits and ideas.  Don’t worry if the science principles behind the toy are beyond your child’s development.  They are building experiential knowledge of the world.

Illuminated Naked Egg

4. Open the Kitchen Pantry – The chemistry that happens in the kitchen is amazing.  Check out these fun experiments:

  1. Oobleck – simply mix cornstarch and water into a non-Newtonian fluid.  It seems like a solid under pressure but quickly liquefies when the pressure is removed.
  2. Make your own pH indicator–  You can use cabbage or black bean juice as a pH indicator.
  3. Make naked eggs – simply soak a raw egg in vinegar for a few days.  The shell will dissolve but the membrane will stay intact.
  4. Freeze water, salt water, and sugar water
  5. Make ice cream
  6. Make hard candy or lollipops – All you really need is sugar, water, and a candy thermometer.  Hobby Lobby has a kit that uses powdered corn syrup that is actually easier.

5. Programming– There are several ways to bring programming to a kid level.  Check out scratch, Light-bot, Alice,  Lego NXT or EV3.

We were fortunate to join an FLL (First Lego League)  team this year.   It is a great program that combines a research project and a robot game.  I’m fond of the Lego NXT and EV3 because they combine programming and robotics.  The ability to tell a robot what to do seems especially thrilling to kids.

Cookies Ready to bake

6. Bake – The kitchen is excellent preparation for the chemistry lab. It provides great opportunity to measure accurately, mix ingredients, and observe chemical reactions. My kids have actually requested to re-write some of their favorite cookie recipes into metric units and use the scales.

Mardi Gras flowers w/ bee

7. Garden – Whether you stick to flowers or have a kitchen garden, gardening helps you study plants, weather, the water cycle, insects, butterflies, birds, slugs, and much more.

Growing Borax Crystals

8. Do some easy experiments.  We have a few different books of easy science experiments.  One of our favorites is 101 Great Science Experiments, because it has great color pictures of the experiments.  The kids enjoy looking through the book and picking out a couple of experiments each week.

The Great Wall of China

9. Build – Build with LEGOs, PVC tubes, sand, cups, straws, toothpicks, books, or blankets. Build a pop boat.  Make paper airplanes.  Install a pulley system on your play set. See how high you can build a marble run.

Borax snowflake

10. Mix Art and Science – Grow crystals.  Create paper mache sculptures, tessellations, or optical illusions.  If you are really adventurous try a kinetic sculpture.  Take a look through the recycle bin and see what you can create.  Sculpt a clay creation and have it fired.  Watch a glass blowing demonstration.  Learn how to weave.  All of these hands on activities are great not only for our creativity but teach math and science principles.

Wishing you a happy summer full of learning!