Appreciating Learning Styles

Tinker's Creek Winter Ducks 2

Sunday the temperature was above freezing, so I went for a short hike.  It was so nice out in the fresh air.  I really enjoyed seeing these ducks playing in the current.


When the weather is bitter cold, it’s fun to learn about polar explorers.  We watched “Chasing Shackleton” a PBS series about a group of explorers retracing Shackleton’s 1916 journey in a modified life boat 800 miles to get help for his crew stranded near Antarctica.  It was really amazing – both the Shackleton story and what the Jarvis team did.

It is always amazing to me how much the boys learn from documentaries like this.  They are constantly gathering new information, picking up on small visual details, and making comparisons to past information.

Tinker's Creek with Snow 2-23

Even though as a parent and homeschooler I want to adjust to their learning styles,  I have a hard time shifting away from the paradigm that learning comes primarily from print and other methods are for supplementation.  (I’m sure this is in part because I’m such an avid print learner.)  Yet I understand that some things cannot be learned from print and I appreciate the amount of information that is available in video and sound recordings. For instance, a picture of the Aurora Borealis in a text book can’t compare to a video.  For years I let bird calls go through one ear and out the other without pausing to think that I could learn the sounds.  The world really becomes a richer place once we open ourselves up to learning by different methods.  This is what I love about the homeschool journey – I’m learning right along side the kids and they are so gracious about forgiving me when it takes me a while to get it right.

How do you adjust to the learning styles of your children?

7 Fun Ways to Celebrate Dr. Suess’s Birthday

Dr. Suess’s birthday is March 2, so why not celebrate ?   Need some ideas?DSC_0778Make Oobleck –  Mix equal parts cornstarch and water with a few drops of food coloring.  Make additions as needed until you have a non-Newtonian fluid ( it behaves like a liquid until you apply pressure, then it acts like a solid).   Read Bartholomew and the Oobleck.

Menagerie of Polymer Clay Animals

Design your own menagerie of Suess worthy animals – You could draw them, make masks, or sculpt them with clay.  Let your imagination soar.  Read or If I Ran the ZooHappy Birthday to You! or McElligot’s Pool. 


The Adventures of Super Pig

The Adventures of Super Pig

Write and illustrate your own whimsical stories or poems.  

Painted Turtles Sunning 3/20

Read Yertle the Turtle  then take a hike to your favorite turtle pond.


Lay in the grass and see what you find in the clouds.

Chromatic Pool


Find pictures of exotic landscapes and imagine what might live there, then find out what really does.

Read books like 101 Freaky Animals or watch documentaries about the deep ocean to discover strange creatures that really do exist.


End the day by reading Dr Seuss’s Sleep Book




What will you be doing to celebrate?

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11 Wonderful Picture Books

I’ve been feeling a little nostalgic lately for the days when the boys loved picture book bedtime stories.  We still do read alouds together, but we are usually reading non-fiction or novels these days.

Join me for a trip down memory lane of favorite picture books from both their childhood and mine.

I Love You Because You’re You – The boys and I spent many snuggly bedtimes reading this one.  Momma fox loves her little fox when he is happy or scared, well behaved or misbehaved.  She always loves him no matter what he does.  She loves him because he is her son.

Big Red Barn  This was always a comforting book for the end of the day. The pictures are engaging and the rhythm of story is easy and peaceful.


The Crows of Pearblossom – This was one of my favorites when I was little.  It was one of the stories my dad enjoyed reading.  The author is Aldous Huxley – of Brave New World fame.  He wrote it for his niece, Olivia.  The book is easily understood by young children, yet it includes some advanced vocabulary.  It’s fun to read aloud- I really enjoy the variety of voices it allows.  It had been out of print for a while and was just republished in 2011.

Lost In The Woods A baby deer is alone in the woods.  He is confident his mother will come for him but the other animals are concerned.  Amazing photography and a nice nature lesson.


It’s Spring!– We had this in the board book edition and it was absolutely perfect.  It’s light and rhyming with delightful illustrations.


Farmer Brown Shears His Sheep I can’t begin to count the number of times the boys checked this one out from the library. It’s perfectly silly, yet provides a wonderful explanation of how wool becomes sweaters.

Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type We spent many an afternoon giggling over the antics of the cows and Duck. The entire series is wonderfully entertaining and clever.

There Is a Bird On Your Head! Mo Willems does an absolutely delightful job creating the antics of Elephant and Piggie. The simple wording is still completely entertaining.

We Were Tired of Living in a House by Skorpen – I’m quite certain my parents tired of reading this book.  Although not available on Amazon I was able to check the book out at the library to share with my guys.

 In searching for a copy of the aforementioned “We were tired of living in a House”, I stumbled across Andrew Henry’s Meadow. I’m so glad I did. It is a wonderful tale of a very inventive boy.

Sylvester and the Magic Pebble – Somethings cannot be explained. When I was young I checked this book out over and over. I finally had to learn to read it myself, because my mom didn’t enjoy it the same way I did. She would get sort of choked up when Sylvester turned into a rock. Fast forward 30 years. I bought the book for the boys with fond memories. They love it. I get verklempt every time I get to the page where he’s a stone out in the field during winter.   No matter how many times I read it, I’m overjoyed when he is reunited with his parents.

What are the favorite picture books at your house?

List_it_Tuesday     HHH

Still Winter with a glimpse of Spring

Winter DeerIt’s that time of year when the weather gets crazy.  Monday I wrote a post about anticipating spring.  Tuesday morning we woke up to an unexpected 8″ of fresh snow and had these visitors in our backyard.

Sledding 3-19Wednesday morning it was well above freezing, sunny and no wind, so we went sledding. I found myself just soaking up the sun.  45 F (7 C) felt so warm with the sun shining.

2014 Pinewood Derby Cars

The boys are (almost) done with their Pinewood Derby cars, The Cheese Racer and The Tie-Dye Turtle.  It was fun teaching C the technique for getting the color fade on his surf board.  Both of E and C had a fun time making polymer clay creations for their cars.  C had a difficult time getting the scale right for his turtle to ride the board, so he ended up using one that I made on the car.  I was okay with that, because he made 4 turtles plus a chambered nautilus.  He made one that was really good, but something was wrong with the clay and it completely melted in the oven.  I had a great time crafting and creating with them this week.

This week we finished reading How to Train Your Dragon #11.   Now we have to wait patiently for the next installment.  I’m really sad this series is ending.  We’ve had such a great time reading the adventures of Hiccup.

I’ve been busy previewing books.  Carry On, Mr. Bowditch looks like it will be a good book for the boys.  E in particular really likes historical fiction, so this should be a great pick for him.  I also read The Willoughbys (very peculiar)  and The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (interesting, kind of fun, and a little dated).  On their own the boys read Nanotechnology, Worlds Most Dangerous Animals, one about spiders and I think another crab book.   I read part of “The Whale Scientists” out loud.  This is the first one from the Scientists in the Field series that we just didn’t really find engaging.  C is rather sensitive to graphic descriptions of animal suffering so I found myself skipping a lot.

Winter Berries


The little bit of sunshine this week did my spirit so much good.  It was SO wonderful to be outside and actually be comfortable.

Hope you are having a great week!

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7 Warm Spring Thoughts

Early Spring Buds 3/20As I write this, the wind is howling around the house and it is snowing again, BUT by the end of this week we might get rain.  Spring is just around the corner.  Please, let spring be just around the corner.

I never want to wish away my life.  Each moment is precious and the months and years fly by so quickly.  Yet at this point in winter,  I long for the warmer weather and the comfort of being out in the sunshine.

Mid-march is only 4 weeks away.  I sorted through my pictures and found these warm thoughts from mid-March to give us hope that spring will be here soon.  The woods will awaken again.  We can make it.  It’s just a few more weeks!

These are some of the spring things I’m looking forward to:

Early Spring Wildflower 3/20

The first flowers of spring emerging from the brown forest floor.

Frog @ Turtle Pond 3/20

Frogs singing their mating calls from local ponds and pools.

Male Duck @ Vernal Pool 3/20

Ducks finding mates and nesting.

Red-winged Blackbirds 3/20

Red-winged blackbirds singing their songs high above the turtle ponds.

Painted Turtles Sunning 3/20

Painted turtles leisurely sunning themselves on the logs of turtle pond.

Yellow Spotted Salamander

Salamanders emerging to make their night time journeys to the vernal pools.

South Chagrin - Crawfish

Best of all, I’m looking forward to children exploring the woods and creeks.  I’m looking forward to seeing their delight as they discover snakes, frogs, crawfish, salamanders and caddisflies.

It won’t be long now! Spring is just around the corner. Just a few more weeks.


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A Homeschool Day in the Life with an 8 and 10 year old

What DO we do all day?


If you read the blog very often you might think we spend most of our days sledding or hiking.  We do love spending time in nature, but we also do traditional learning activities.

Below I provided a sketch of what our days look like.  We don’t go by the clock, but the order of activities is usually about the same.

Everybody wakes up on their own.  We did regular school for a couple of years and I really like the more relaxed wake up routine we have now.  The boys typically play on the computer or play with LEGOs for at least an hour.  I have some quiet time to myself to be online for a little while, have my tea and breakfast, and maybe even do a short work out.  The times below are approximate winter times.  During the spring / summer / early fall we want to spend more time outside and the sun helps us get an earlier start.

9 AM – We are ready to talk to each other.  The boys have a short breakfast.  If we have an exciting read aloud going, we start with that.  Sometimes they come downstairs early and watch a documentary or something else educational.

Reading 1/179:30 – This is usually independent reading time for E.  C reads to me and works on a phonics lesson.  Both boys enjoy reading non-fiction and historical fiction so this time not only serves to improve their reading, but it’s also when they learn an incredible amount about the world around them.  If we are doing a unit study there are lots of books available about the topic for reading time.

10:30 – Math – Both boys enjoy math and tend to set their own pace without being pushed.

11:30 – If we have time before lunch we might play a game like Blockus, Scrambled States, or Connect 4.

12:00 – Lunch / Recess – When the weather is cold, they tend to watch an episode of Mythbusters or Modern Marvels during lunch and then play for half an hour.  If the weather is warm we might have a longer lunch break and go for a hike or we might have a short lunch so we can finish earlier and do an outside activity.

1:15 – Grammar Time  – During the afternoon we do grammar, writing, and/ or spelling.

20131122-1356302:30 – Science / Games / Read Alouds – The boys naturally like to tinker and read about science and history topics so this tends to be an interest led time of day.

3:30ish – Our “school” day is done.  If we don’t have some sort of practice in the evening the boys usually go outside for a while or play an active video game.   I have a break before it’s time to start dinner.  I like to have a workout if I didn’t do it earlier or just have some time to get laundry or housework done without feeling rushed.

There’s a reason you didn’t get a specific day in the life.  This WEEK we got caught up in a good story and most of our week was spent reading, reading, reading.  It was a delightful way to spend a few bitterly cold winter days.  Sometimes life happens that way.

It’s also not uncommon to do activities that count as school time in the evening – going to the library, sports practice, programming the robot, or working on presentations for FLL.

Each day is a little different and our school experience changes all the time.  Changes with the weather and the season.  Changes with the growth of the boys.  Changes in interests and activities.





Happy Valentine’s Day


The weather finally warmed up enough to go sledding and build a snowman!

This week was the perfect time to practice friendly letter writing by making Valentines for the grandparents.

Love bug

As for the rest of the week….

The RoboTigers had a great time going to the State FLL Competition.  If you haven’t heard of FLL check out this brief overview of FIRST.   I’m so proud of E’s team and all the hard work they put in this year.

We used our car time on the way to and from the competition to listen to several podcasts about a variety of topics.  We listened to a few Freakanomics and a couple that were about the power of attitude and using encouraging words.  Since we are always talking to the kids about “choosing your attitude” it was nice to listen to the same message from someone else.  It was a really good reminder to me as well – our words are so powerful in the lives of those around us.   Another one of my favorites from the weekend was Science Friday w/ James Dyson.   Sir Dyson spoke about not only engineering and design, but the importance of making mistakes, failure, and perseverance.

We finished reading Sign of the Beaver and  How to Train Your Dragon: How to Seize a Dragon’s Jewel.  We almost finished reading How to Train Your Dragon #11: How to Betray a Dragon’s Hero.  It is going to be a long wait for the next installment in the series.  The boys also did a bit of non-fiction reading on their own.

The tooth fairy downloaded a free Minecraft mod.

Red Cabbage Indicator

Aside from reading a ton this week, I’ve been planning activities for Engineers’ Week.  Last year I didn’t do a lot of planning, but we had a great time and learned a lot.

I also wanted to share a link passed on to me by my friend, Alicia.  Check out the USA Science and Engineering Festival that will be in Washington DC at the end of April.  It sounds really cool!

So once again Happy Valentine’s Day!  Wishing you a wonderful weekend!

weeklywrapup125        Mary_CollageFriday

Engineers’ Week Past

Back when I was in Engineering School, we always celebrated Engineers’ Week right around St. Patricks Day, because St. Pat was an engineer.  You didn’t know that?  It’s true – he created the first  “worm drive”.  (Ba-dum-dum)  Okay, so the joke hasn’t gotten any better, but it is really fun to have an Engineers’ Week.

Last year our celebration was pretty spontaneous.  We purchased marshmallows, toothpicks, straws, and cups for building.

Engineer's Week - Green Boat Engineers Week - Boat

The boys found some left over foam supplies and built boats.  Since it was cold outside the stairs became the test ground for the boats.  The objective was to safely get your LEGO mini-figs down the stairs in your boat.

Toothpick Ferris Wheel

They had a great time making marshmallow and toothpick towers.  E even made a ferris wheel.

The Great Wall of China

We also happened to be studying ancient China, so after making several marshmallow creations and cup towers the boys built their own version of the Great Wall and attacked it with LEGO mini-figs and catapults.


On Chemical Engineering Day, we explored non-Newtonian fluids by mixing up a batch of oobleck.  Start with equal parts water and cornstarch then make additions until you have a liquid when the mixture is uncompressed and a solid when under pressure.

Red Cabbage Indicator



We also tested the pH of a variety of substances using red cabbage as the indicator.  You can make a pH paper from the cabbage juice, but we preferred using the cabbage right out of the food processor.

Chocolate Pi








On 3/14 we celebrated Pi day by making and eating Chocolate Pie.

Swiffer Bot








On computer science day we messed around a little on Scratch and E built a “Swiffer Bot” for me using his NXT.









We finished up the week by taking a field trip to the science center.






We had a ton of fun with lots of hands on learning!  The boys really got into it and they are looking forward to having another Engineers’ Week this year.

This year we are planning to celebrate Engineers’ Week March 10 – 16.   I’m working on a list of ideas to share with you all soon!

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6 Read Alouds for 8 and 10 year old Boys

I love our read aloud time. It is such a great time to expand vocabulary and share a common laugh.  When movies are available we frequently compare and contrast and discuss why movie makers might make the changes they do.  Here are a few of the books we’ve enjoyed so far this year.

Mr. Popper’s Penguins
A delightful story of a family’s adventure caring for eight penguins.  It is a wonderfully comedic story with rich vocabulary.  My boys were shaking their heads at the outlandish choices made by the characters and laughing uproariously at the antics of the penguins.  Originally published in 1938, some of the language and situations provide an opportunity for children to think about how things have changed in 75 years.  Both the book and the movie feature penguins and a man named Mr. Popper – that is about all they have in common.

The Phantom Tollbooth– Well worth the read and great as a read aloud for the discussion value.  The book is full of puns and idioms that might not be caught by a child reading alone.

The Elephant Scientist (Scientists in the Field Series)– This book is a higher reading level than many others in the “Scientist in the Field” series; however, it is just as informative and inspiring.  As with the other books in the series, we learned about new research and the scientists conducting the research.  This particular book does a nice job explaining how researchers need to work with locals when animals, like elephants, are destroying crops.  Better understanding of the elephants leads to better ways for people and animals to live together.

How to Train Your Dragon Series –  We love this series for it’s adventure and humor.  My boys have issues with the fonts and I don’t mind occasionally changing some of the character names, so it works well as a read aloud for us.   We’re currently on book 10.  Back in the early days of reading this series, we also checked out some non-fiction books about vikings to learn more about their lives and customs.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz – Certainly different from the movie, especially the ending.  It was written in the early 1900s so the vocabulary is at times unfamiliar to young readers.

The Sign of the Beaver  – This book, set in 1768,  is about a 13 year old boy, left alone to take care of the family’s new cabin while his dad travels back to fetch the rest of the family.   It does a nice job of touching on the conflicts between the indigenous people and the settlers; while showing the humanity and perspective of both sides.


Weekly Wrap-up with a Mid-winter Hike

IMG_0259This week was full of snow, again.  Sunday we went for a short family hike to enjoy the beauty of fresh snow.  It really lifted my spirit to be outside for a while.  I wish I was better about heading outside on cold days.

This week I read, “The Sign of the Beaver”, Newberry Honor Book and winner of the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction in 1984. The boys and I started reading it together and we should finish over the weekend.  It’s the story of a 13-year-old boy left alone to tend to the new family homestead, while his dad goes back for the rest of the family.  He ends up developing a friendship with a boy of the Beaver Tribe and learning many of the tribes ways.   What I really liked about this book was the way it gently showed the main character opening his thinking to consider multiple view points.  I also liked the way the main character showed tremendous strength and responsibility, but also made costly mistakes.


I absolutely love that the  boys get to choose what books they want to read.  I keep a spread sheet list that includes the reading level so I can see general trends, but they are free to choose material they think will be interesting.  They seem to spend much of their time on non-fiction books about a variety of animals.


IMG_0264We are prepping for standardized testing this month.  I really don’t care for standardized tests or feel they are an accurate measure of what kids are learning.  We do them because it meets state requirements and helps the kids practice in a low stakes environment.  My biggest problems are that I resent the practice time spent making sure they know what to do with separate answer sheets and the mundane / annoying nature of some of the reading passages.  I always did well on these things when I was a kid, but as I read through them now, I find them so boring and unimportant.  At any rate, I’ll be glad when it’s over and we move back to more meaningful learning and exploration.

IMG_0253Speaking of fun learning opportunities.   We are planning to celebrate Engineers Week again this year with a week (or two) full of engineer activities.   It seems there isn’t a standard national week for this event so we will be choosing either March 9th or 16th as the start date.

Red Beans and Rice



Earlier this week I posted some great  winter dinner ideas.



This week I found a couple of blog posts that really spoke to me:

I particularly liked Marianne’s post over at Abundant Life, “Experience Dyslexia”.  The demos were really eye-opening with regard to how hard some kids are working and how impatient teachers and parents can be with kids when they are having difficulty.

I’m also enjoying Sarah’s series over at Clover Lane as she does a multipart book review of Parenting with Grace.  We strive to use positive techniques with our boys as we guide them toward independence, so this series touches on a lot of the methods we use.

Hope you have a wonderful weekend!

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