10 Homeschool Perks

Homeschool has its perks.  These aren’t reasons we homeschool, they are just some of the stress reducers / enjoyable aspects of homeschooling:

Red-spotted Newt headshot1. Nature walks – at my house this might be a reason for homeschooling.  My kids love to observe nature and we learn so much about animals and their habitats.  I included it in perks, because I love the freedom to head outside on a beautiful day.  I truly missed spending that time with my kids when they were in traditional school.

2. LUNCH – I like making lunch at noon instead of packing it at 7 AM.  I like the simple focus on nutritious food.  I know the soup is hot,  the baked potato is just right, and the yogurt is cold.  I also enjoy sitting at the table with my kids.

Plasma Ball @ Science Center


3. Freedom to explore museums without the crowds.  We love going to the museums.  We know some of the docents by name, we go so often.  We also like to take classes at the zoo and science center.


4. Short sleeves or long sleeves, jacket or no jacket, jacket or coat, where is your jacket?! – I don’t miss predicting the weather at recess at 7 AM or hoping everyone is dressed comfortably for the entire day and will get home with all the clothes they took.

5. Speaking of getting home with everything – Library books, permission slips, reading journals, $2.00 for something, pajama day, box tops, send supplies for this or that,  ……..  Our school supplies all have a home.  Library day happens when we want new books. I usually keep a record of the books we have read but it’s just for my information. There is no constant back and forth of paperwork and supplies.

Chromatic Pool

6. Vacation is a learning opportunity and a break.  We went to Yellowstone this fall.  We spent 4 weeks before we went learning about the geology and the animals that live there.  We did a few “educational” things while we were there, but very minimal.  Once we returned home we studied a few additional subjects we had questions about as a result of the trip.   I felt like we got more out of our vacation dollars because we had the chance to study things before and after.  The hands on learning coupled with the book learning really cemented the concepts in the kids minds.

7. Sick days – With homeschool we hardly ever completely miss a day due to illness.   We might take it easy and do more read alouds or watch a documentary.  They don’t have make-up work while they are still recovering.  I also find the kids seem to get over things faster because they are well rested.  I like not having to decide less than an hour after they get up whether they are fit enough to go to school.

Boys beside creek - Hemlock

8. The freedom to take a break when we need it.  Sometimes that means 10 minutes between subjects.  Sometimes it means a mid-morning walk or a day at the museum.

9. Reading books that are interesting – This is always near the top of my kids list when you ask what they like about homeschool.  Reading is so much more enjoyable when the kids have a high degree of input on what they are reading.  It’s also fun to read books together as a family and discuss them.



10. Relationships –  I love having TIME to spend with my kids.  It gives us time to develop inside jokes and memories.  Because we are able to get our work done during the day it also gives us all more time to spend doing enjoyable things with dad.

These are some of the blessing I count at the end of my day.

We still have our busy seasons when we are rushing out the door to practice, but homeschool has helped us move away from the hectic rush to a more purposeful yet relaxed pace.


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Minecraft Birthday Party


I always feel a bit apprehensive about “at home parties”, but that is what C always requests.  I get nervous every year and then we all have a great time.

The boys helped make a lot of the decorations and come up with ideas for the party.  I have to admit, it was fun to have a theme where things had to be homemade.   It was a great chance to learn more about my kids favorite parts of the game.


Our guests played a bit of football when they first arrived.





Then they each set off a Diet Coke / Mentos fountain.  That has nothing to do with Minecraft, but lots to do with being 8-10 year old boys.









Next, we had a scavenger hunt for iron, diamonds, emeralds and gold.  After they each collected the four items they traded them in for goodie bag items.


Then they launched water bottle rockets.  My husband built the launcher about 5 years ago and we’ve used it quite a bit.  You can buy the commercial version or find instructions on the web.   Our design allows us to use the air compressor for some pretty impressive heights.  Since water bottle rockets aren’t precisely a Minecraft thing, we decorated one as a minecraft pig and called it “Rocket Pig.”





Some of the boys made either a mask or a water bottle rocket cover using cardstock. I provided lots of cardstock, glue-dots, and scissors.   About half the boys wanted to make a character and the other half wanted to just chase the water bottle rockets.










We also made torches from LED tea candles and a 6″ x 12″ piece of cardstock.






In case of bad weather, we could have done the scavenger hunt inside and decorated the goodie bags while listening to Minecraft parodies.  I also had glue and borax on hand to make slime if we ended up inside.

Food and Decorations:


The food was a breeze.  Chicken tenders, watermelon, apples and caramel dip, carrots, and pretzel sticks.  The newest Minecraft update added salmon, which would have been nice if we were also feeding grownups.


The drink station was fun.  The boys mixed up potions.  We labeled Powerades as Minecraft potions and provided Sprite to mix in as desired.


I was a total copycat on the cake.  My friend Carolyn posted pics from a Minecraft party this summer.  I’m not sure if hers had a lake, but I remember seeing some lakes as I was researching.   If you really like the jello lake idea, try to come up with a container you can slide into place at the last minute.   I used plastic wrap to isolate the jello from the cake and it was sort of difficult.  Also the jello didn’t come out of the mold well.  Per request I left the sides of the cake un-iced.



SNOW GOLEMS!  I came up with these on my own and they turned out great.  All it takes are cake pop sticks, marshmallows, an edible marking pen and orange sugar (which I happened to have in a Halloween sprinkle assortment).  Wipe the top and sides of a marshmallow with a wet paper towel and roll in orange sugar.  Stick a plain marshmallow on the stick followed by the orange sprinkled one.  Paint on eyes, mouth and buttons with the edible marker.   So Easy!  You might even add pretzel stick arms.


To round out the decorations we made crêpe paper spiders, decorated our light fixtures as torches, made creeper and endermen balloons,  and created a photo backdrop using tablecloths and square-cut clouds.

Additional Ideas:


The boys have been busy with the rainbow loom.  E came up with this cool creeper bracelet design and wanted to make them for the party guests.  Unfortunately we didn’t have enough green rubber bands and I couldn’t find any more locally.   He did make each guest a simple bracelet in a variety of colors.


We also tried making Perler bead pickaxes and swords.   Given the need for a hot iron and adult supervision, we decided it wouldn’t be the best party activity.  We thought about making swords and pickaxes for the goody bags, but we didn’t have enough of the desired colors.  With more time, I could have ordered the right colors direct from Perler.

I hope you’ve found an idea or two that will work for your party. Remember – at the end of the day it isn’t about the perfect decorations.  Birthdays are a chance to celebrate life and friendships!

Thanks for visiting our Minecraft Party!


The Journey



This week was all about the journey.  It was making time to climb trees and skip rocks.

It was reading aloud, chapter after chapter, because the story was delightful.



It was noticing the little things, like helicopters washed up along the side of the creek.

And baking cookies to fill the house with their delicious smell.




It was celebrating the first snow even though it’s only October.


This week we enjoyed our journey, we laughed, we loved, and we made memories.

Mary_CollageFriday     weeklywrapup125

7 Random Thoughts From My Week

Bedford Overlook

1. Kindness is everything.

2. If someone looks like she has the “perfect” life, you don’t know her well enough.  All of us face hardships, and all of us have strengths and weaknesses.

3. Sometimes the nature photos I took this year are indistinguishable from the ones I took last year.  That’s okay.  It makes me feel peaceful to look at them and I enjoy the time spent taking them.

4. Wow, kids grow fast!

5. When your kid is giving his/her best on the soccer field in the pouring rain, “Good job!” is one of the few appropriate things to say.

6. Birthday parties are for the birthday child and his friends, not mom.

7. I’m eternally grateful for the chance to spend time with my family.


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Today – Reflections by the Creek


It was a long and rainy soccer tournament this weekend.  Our souls needed some refreshment.

Hemlock - Tinkers Creek

The forecast for the week is rainy and possibly snowy, but today was sunny, and warm, and beautiful.Skipping rock @ Tinkers Creek Fall 2013We soaked up the sun and I enjoyed every moment of watching my precious boys grow, because it seems like yesterday when we played at this very same spot.


So today I loved them and enjoyed them, because the road we walk together goes so quickly!


 I love you sweet boys!

Pikas and Tornadoes – Weekly Wrap-Up

IMG_4435 “Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better” – Einstein





Pikas continued to be a hot topic at our house this week.  We saw this cute little pika in the Grand Tetons during our Yellowstone trip.  At the time we only knew a little about pikas from a documentary.  This week we read the two books I was able to find in the library system about pikas.  C actually read both books twice!  Interesting fact: Pikas are cousins to rabbits and hares, so they are lagomorphs not rodents.

Both boys worked on creative stories with pikas as the main characters.

res Fury Logo SM

We’ve also done a lot of weather research over the last couple of weeks, E in particular.  It is part of his research for FIRST LEGO League.  He is especially interested in tornadoes.  We have occasional tornadoes here and we used to live in the heart of tornado alley.  I’m always amazed by the amount of information kids can digest when they are really interested in something.  During our research I found a very nice article in the November 2013 National Geographic about Tim Samaras.  It is well worth a read if you remember Tim and Carl Young from Stormchasers on the Discovery Channel.



This week our free time didn’t seem to match up well with sunny weather, but I’m looking forward to getting in some great fall hikes with the boys now that soccer is wrapping up.  I’m always sad for the days to grow shorter, but I adore the beautiful colors of autumn.  I’m hoping for campfires and family time.


Hope you and your family are enjoying some beautiful fall weather together!


Thank you to the wonderful Friday hosts:

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Thermal Features of Yellowstone

The thermal features were the impetus of my desire to go to Yellowstone.  They seem to create scenes from a Sci-Fi movie.  It feels like being on another planet.Thermal Feature

Did you know half of the worlds geysers are found in Yellowstone? 

2013-09-22 Yellowstone

And Yellowstone sits atop a massive super volcano that fuels the hot springs, geysers, and fumaroles?  Magma is usually deep underground but scientist believe that in the caldera of Yellowstone the magma is a mere 3 miles beneath the Earth’s surface.

Old Faithful

Old Faithful is of course the most famous thermal feature.  It’s of impressive size, predictable, and close to the gift shop, lodge, and inn.   Standing around with lots of people and the temperature just above freezing in a light rain to watch it for the first time was sort of anti-climatic.  Watching from the lodge while drinking a cup of cocoa was an improvement.  Sitting outside under a full moon watching Old Faithful with my family was close to perfection.

Morning Glory

Although the ranger said Morning Glory isn’t as vibrant as it used to be, it is still well worth the walk.  The colors are caused by thermophilic bacteria.  You can actually tell the temperature of the water by the color.

Chromatic Pool

I thought Chromatic Pool was interesting.  Doesn’t it seem like a scene from Star Trek or something?

Mammoth 2


Stinky Mammoth


The terraced springs at Mammoth were unique and fascinating but stinky.


Firehole Drive 1


We were really glad we took the scenic Firehole Drive.  We saw 3 or 4 geysers erupting.  If I remember correctly this was toward the end of a day when the kids had already walked 10 miles so they were thankful to have so many geysers close to the road.

This was a really incredible trip!  I’m so thankful we finally made it a reality and I’m super thankful to Scott for taking so many pictures for me to share.

Check out the posts on Wildlife and The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and The Grand Tetons.



A Day at Grand Teton National Park

Just realized I didn’t get this post published.  Hard to believe we’ve been back for 3 weeks already.


During our Yellowstone vacation we decided to take a day trip down to the Grand Tetons.  It turned out to be one of our favorite days.



We went for what was supposed to be an easy hike around Jenny Lake, however due to a trail closure for reconstruction we ended up on the much more difficult horse trail.  That turned out to be a great thing because it made for wonderful views and….


we saw a pika up in the high rocks!!!  If you’ve never heard of a pika, they are adorable little creatures who live in rocky places high up in mountains.  They spend their time gathering bits of grass and flowers to eat during the winter and they are incredibly speedy.


Jenny Lake

Scott and E took the challenge of hiking all the way up to Inspiration Point.  C and I were a little concerned about missing the boat and being forced to hike back, so we only made it half way up before heading to the dock.  Scott has a Fitbit pedometer that tracks flights of stairs as well as steps, by the end of the day he and Eli had climbed 100 flights of stairs!

It was a terrifically rewarding day.  Check out the wildlife post for pictures of the moose and coyote we saw on the way back to the hotel.  Grand Teton felt more active and accessible than Yellowstone.  The road travels through a valley and there are places for bicycles.  There were some tour buses, but it had less of a “drive by and take pictures” feel. The hotel was promoting horseback riding and rafting.   It is definitely worth adding some time to your itinerary if you are making the trip.

Zombie Caterpillars



Last week we brought home broccoli, cabbage and kale from the CSA.  Hitching a ride were a few caterpillars.

Zombie Caterpillar

E noticed one of the caterpillars was sitting on something yellow that looked sort of egg like, but caterpillars don’t lay eggs!  Hmmm!…….

We looked at the yellow stuff under the microscope and we could see the caterpillar was spinning silk around these little yellow egg like things.  A few web searches later, we determined the caterpillar was a Cabbageworm (hence getting so many with our broccoli, cabbage, and kale) and the little yellow things?  Those are parasitic wasp larvae, Cotesia glomerata.

The adult wasps lay their eggs inside the caterpillar.  At first the caterpillar continues to eat and grow.  Then the wasp eggs hatch and begin to eat the caterpillar’s insides.  At some point, the caterpillar stops eating and in about 24-36 hours the wasp larvae eat their way out of the caterpillar.  The wasp larvae then spin little yellow cocoons around themselves.

You would think the ravaged caterpillar would be dead at this point, but somehow the wasps have created the perfect zombie.  Once the wasps have their cocoons spun, the caterpillar spins additional webbing over them and stands guard for another 24 hours or so before it finally dies.

We really hoped to watch a caterpillar metamorph to a butterfly, so we were disappointed to find all three of our caterpillars were hosts to the witch doctor, Cotesia glomerata.

It was a fascinating find.  I took some video and I’m still working on getting it uploaded to the blog so perhaps this post will get an update.

Wishing you many great science discoveries!





Fall Fun

Apple Picking 2013

Apple Picking!  It was a beautiful day.

Patterson Fun Fest

The boys used to love the hay shed, but this year they had sort of out grown it.  (I had to wipe a tear from my eye.)  Thankful many of the other activities were still very fun.

Zombie Caterpillar

Science found us this week, in the form of zombie caterpillars.  Fascinating and sad at the same time.

Cuyahoga River @ Cascade Valley

My wonderful autumn hike.  Fog was still rising off the water in the late morning. The boys were at zoo class.  They had a great time dissecting owl pellets.  I had a great time exploring on my own.

We took math outside this week to work on the times tables.  First C wrote out the answers he was practicing.  Then I called out a problem and he hopped on the correct answers.   It’s a fun way to practice and feels game like.  It also gave E a chance to complete his review without any distractions.

Last week we did a read aloud of The Phantom Tollbooth.  It was very clever and witty.  We had a great time discussing the vocabulary and idioms.  I could easily see making a unit study out of the book.   E has been reading lots of books about hurricanes and tornadoes as part of his FLL research and C is continuing reading books about Yellowstone animals.

Thanks again to the Friday hosts!

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