A Beautiful Spring Morning

A Beautiful Spring Morning – if you were hoping for more snow.

It’s the time of year for standardized testing.  All the talk about testing lately reminded me of Hooray for Diffendoofer Day! a book, sort of, mostly by Dr. Seuss. “We’ve taught you that the earth is round,/ That red and white make pink,/ And something else that matters more-/ We’ve taught you how to think.” I think many homeschoolers will appreciate the sentiment of the book.

Since this seems to be the winter that will never end,  we spent a large portion of the week reading “The Long Winter” by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  It certainly made us appreciate all we do have.  Although this winter might be dragging on a bit – our house is warm and snug, we have plenty of food to eat, and we haven’t been stuck inside for weeks on end. It’s all about perspective.


We’ve been doing some “egg-perimenting” this week and I’ve almost finished a post for next week showing some of our experiments.  By now I think I should call them activities, because the boys know what will happen but still enjoy them.

Bald Eagle - Upper Falls of Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

The picture is a bald eagle we saw in Yellowstone last fall.  This week, E thought he saw a bald eagle flying close to our house.   He has since done more research and decided the bird he saw had too much white on the breast for a bald eagle.  It was definitely VERY large and fast.  We could see it circling with a mate for several minutes, but it was so far away I couldn’t get a picture.  We had a great time researching the comeback of bald eagles and expanding on the information about the number of nesting pairs we found in a book from ’98.

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about appreciating learning styles.  The boys are much more visual / auditory learners than I am.  They learn by watching movies and pay tremendous attention to pictures and illustrations in books.  This week C was reading Lizards from the Nature’s Children series (he’s been on a big kick of these lately).  He turned the page and instantly recognized a picture of a marine iguana.  He proceeded to tell me all about marine iguanas without reading the text.  How did he know so much?  It was from a segment in a documentary we watched 2 months ago.  Wow!  I had him read the page and he really knew his stuff.  Good job letting them watch so many documentaries!

Bleeding Hearts

I don’t talk about it much on the blog, because it’s just part of life here, but one of our kids is dyslexic.  (“Has dyslexia” if you prefer – it doesn’t make any difference to either of us – one way seems like a label, the other a disease – to us it’s a fact of life no matter how you say it) This week I’ve been thinking a lot about dyslexia, learning, and testing and I wanted to share a few thoughts.

1. Accommodations for testing make a world of difference.  I was very happy to have the chance to see exactly how my son was able to use  extra time and not feel so stressed by testing.    If you are in a school system please push for extra time AND a reader where allowed.  I think schools are often resistant to providing a reader,  but on the grammar and usage part of the test this can be so important.  My son is used to auto-correcting himself so that verb tenses agree.  If he messes up the subject by putting on or leaving off an “s” he automatically adjusts the verb.  When the test is read to him, he can instantly pick out when the noun and verb disagree and other similar issues.

We wouldn’t expect someone on crutches to be able to run around the track in the same amount of time as an able bodied person – something in the way the dyslexic brain processes things makes it take longer.  Because he had extra time my son was able to complete the tests, feel good about it, and perform well.  If he had been forced to stop after completing only 60-80% of the questions, he would have been so discouraged with the whole thing.

2. Both of my kids learn so much from documentaries.  We use Netflix, PBS, and Amazon Prime to take us around the world to places and times we will probably never see in person.  We have more opportunity to learn than at any other time in history.  It seems a shame so many people automatically equate screen time with entertainment only or  turning your brain to mush.  There are vast differences in the quality of screen time and how it is used.  This week I was thinking in particular how quality programming can help dyslexics by giving them background information that makes words on the page more familiar and less intimidating.

3. Reading alouds are a powerful thing.    My kids amaze me with their LISTENING ability.  I think about times it would have behooved me to be a better listener (not necessarily a note taker).   If you learn to really listen to people,  you have a chance to watch for emotion and pick up on details others miss.

4. Homeschool is a great thing when addressing dyslexia.  You can listen to the nuances of the child’s speech and make corrections – the sort of things like “v”, “f”, “th” that make spelling and reading more difficult.  You can take the “write out the number” questions from math and save them for writing time, since it will be a laborious exercise.  The work load can be adjusted to the child’s energy rhythms, instead of trying to address homework at the end of a long, sometimes frustrating day.  Homeschool lets the child know his / her strengths and enjoy learning.  The list goes on and is probably deserving of it’s own post.  If you are considering homeschooling a dyslexic child please don’t let fear hold you back.  You may want to use tutors and it will take a lot of patience and educating yourself, but homeschool can be a much better environment.

5. If handled correctly, these present challenges will become an avenue for blessings.  Each of us is unique and will follow our own distinct path created by who we are and how we respond to the challenges and situations in our path.  In all adversity, strength can be gained.  Dyslexia can teach a child the power of hard work and perseverance, as well as how to ask for help and find people to help them achieve their goals.


weeklywrapup125       Mary_CollageFriday

Easter Basket and Egg Ideas

Each year as the boys grow, I find myself trying to decide what to do for Easter baskets. My goals are not to overload the boys with chocolate and to take the opportunity to give gifts that are meaningful or useful (or at least will get a lot of use).   I try to be mindful about purchases, so I don’t end up buying a bunch of plastic pieces I’m going to end up throwing out in a few months.


The ideas below span a large number of years from preschool to preteen:

1. Clothes – We usually give the boys a set of color coordinated dress shirts – sometimes those go in the baskets sometimes they help me pick them out ahead of time.

2. Buckets instead of baskets – When the boys were smaller they spent hours in the sand box every spring and summer, so we used plastic buckets as their easter baskets.  Buckets still seem more useful for boys.

3. Garden or sandbox tools – The plastic shovels that come with buckets usually aren’t very sturdy so we’ve put higher quality tools in their buckets when needed.

4. Sidewalk chalk – Easter is a great time to replenish the sidewalk chalk supplies.

5. Puzzles – Some years it’s just too cold to be outside yet and working a puzzle is a good way to keep our hands busy.

6. Spring books or Field guides (especially the pocket size guides) – As we start getting outside for nature walks we are always finding new animals and plants we want to learn more about.  Pocket sized field guides are perfect for our backpack or keeping in the car.

7. A bible – What a great time to give a special bible of their own.

8. Seeds

9. Bubbles

10. Bike supplies – water bottles, cycling gloves, a new bell, a strip that keeps your pant leg out of the chain, maybe a bike computer or other accessories

11. A butterfly kit or net

12. Sports supplies – hat, batting glove, socks, new balls

13. Bug Podz  I thought this looked like a goofy toy, but it stayed interesting.   It was great for fireflies and other insects.

14. Camping / exploring supplies – binoculars, fishing net, magnifying glasses, flashlights

15. Art supplies – Fresh markers, pencils, sketch books or other art supplies

16. Swimming gear – goggles, towels, dive sticks or rings and other pool supplies.

17. Science kits – if you happen to have a few days off around Easter it can be helpful to give the kids a project.

Mini-fig egg

What about ideas for things to hide in the eggs besides candy?

1. Lego minifigs – One year I purchased a box of Lego mini-figs and divided them up in the plastic eggs.  Huge hit with the boys.

2. Gum – sort of like candy but longer lasting.

3. Money – Great way to recycle the change jar AND gives the kids practice counting change.

4. Tiny post-it notes

5. A compass

6. Tiny flashlights

7. Playdough or Polymer Clay

8. Coupons for special treats

9. Hex bugs

10. Egg decorating supplies – if you are hunting eggs before decorating you could include some decorating supplies like googly eyes.

11. Magnets

12. Balloons

13.  Scavenger hunt clues – Instead of putting little things in the eggs, make it all into a big scavenger hunt to find a gift or the main basket.   Come up with word scrambles or other puzzles to make it fun.

What do you do to keep the baskets interesting?

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Participation Trophies


This morning I read yet another article lamenting that every kid is given a trophy for Little League or soccer.  The author was of the opinion that parents are giving kids too much praise.  Other variations say we are harming children by not keeping score, because kids aren’t learning the value of competition.

Today I’m sharing some of my thoughts as a parent and coach of teams with both winning and losing records.

Are participation trophies harming kids?

I think the answer lies in WHY the children are playing sports in the first place.  Are your kids playing to:

  • get exercise
  • learn new skills
  • spend time with friends / make new friends
  • learn to work as a team – supporting each others strengths and weaknesses
  • feel superior to other players  / let you feel superior to other parents  (I’m not advocating this as a reason for playing youth sports, but it does seem to be the case sometimes.)
  • achieve the goal of winning the most games

If your kids are playing sports to get exercise, learn some new skills, be with their friends and have fun, those goals are achieved by playing the game.  It’s perfectly okay to congratulate the kids, at the end of the season, for making the effort to come to practice and games and for developing their skills.  A participation ribbon or trophy is simply a memento of the season.  They know if they had a winning or losing season without having it stamped on their trophy.  I don’t think a trophy is necessary, but I don’t think it does any harm or damage either.


If your kid is playing with the goal of showing off as a great player, that will prove itself out in the number of runs or goals.  His or her team will appreciate the contribution to the team.  There will be plenty of praise.

Are your kids playing to win the most games?

A recreational league probably isn’t the best place to try to achieve that goal. While leagues try to make balanced teams one kid can really tip a team toward a winning season or a losing season.   On the soccer field, one or two very talented kids can create a winning team.   Sometimes a team will have a new kid or a kid who just doesn’t enjoy the game or isn’t very talented.  If you happen to get a team with two or three kids in that situation, it can be really difficult to ever win a game.  Sometimes the schedule ends up so that the weakest team plays the best team 2 or 3 times and only plays the most evenly matched team once or perhaps not at all if rain outs aren’t rescheduled.

In an “everybody plays” league winning and losing is largely a matter of team composition. Which team you are on is a matter of luck.  Do we really want to be awarding trophies based on luck?  Is the child of average talent who happened to be placed on a strong team more deserving of a trophy than a good player who showed leadership on the field but happened to be on a weaker team?  Or would we rather say to all the kids – thanks for coming out, practicing and making the season fun for everyone?

If your child wants more competition find a competitive league.  There are leagues where teams have more flexibility on practice times and requirements, where kids play together for a long time and have a chance to develop as a team.

If you want a more competitive atmosphere try finding an individual sport.   Individual competitions, like karate or gymnastics, award more ribbons and trophies based on rank at a younger age, because in an individual sport the child has more control over their performance.  Karate and other individual sports can be practiced at home to achieve improvement.


As for giving too much praise, I wonder if the author has BEEN to a youth sports game.  There are parents who are supportive and understand their child is working hard out there on the field.  Those parents say things like, “Good job”, “Great try”, “You’ll get it next time.”  I’m not sure any kid has ever had their sense of self worth damaged by hearing “good job” when they do something right.  Occasionally there are parents who don’t understand the game well and praise kids for doing things that aren’t very helpful  (kicking the ball out of bounds every time they get it), but no parent stands out in my mind as delivering too much praise to their kid from the sideline.

Unfortunately there are many parents who coach from the sidelines in a critical manner.  I’ve had one or two kids on my teams that I tried to always play on the coach side so they couldn’t hear their parents.  Thankfully most of these are things I’ve heard from other teams:

“Why didn’t you get around him?  Be Aggressive.”

“What are you DOING?”

“You’re not going to score any goals like that!”

Sometimes I think the kids deserve an award at the end of the season just for putting up with all the coaching and criticism that comes from parents who couldn’t run the field for 10 minutes much less the hour of a game or the 2 1/2 hours of practice.  Even when kids know the right things to do it’s hard to put it all together and execute on it.

Do coaches and teams try to win?  Yes.  Children and adults want to score and win, because it makes the game more fun.  Does that mean we need to rank and compare teams?  No.  Winning teams know they are having a winning season without trophies or making a big deal out of their record.  It’s fun to have a winning record or be undefeated.

In youth sports the mission is to have fun, develop skills, build teams and build-up players. The score or the team record isn’t everything.  Success is found in keeping a positive attitude, perseverance, and improving your skills.  As a parent / coach I’m far more proud of a team who supports each other when things go wrong and improves their skills over the course of a season than I am of a team that wins every game if they don’t treat each other and their opponents with respect.

So don’t be afraid to say, “Good job”, “Great season!”, “Hope to see you next year!” and accept a small memento of the season.   Remember it’s the kids who slogged through a tough season that need the most encouragement to come back and give it another try next year. They need to know that at the end of the season what really counts is the effort they made and the way they treated each other.  It’s about persistence, tenacity, team work, and improving your skills.  Let’s not convince 9 year olds it’s only the scores that matter.

Behind the Scenes

Last week in place of a wrap up of the whole week I posted a nice picture story about visiting the vernal pools.  What about engineers’ week?  Did we do it?  What cool things did we create and build?

Laser Etched Jars

We went to the Fab Lab and came home with a couple of custom laser etched jars (they are clear jars, I just added colored paper for the photo).  It took us a couple of hours and we had some frustration, but it was cool to see the laser etcher do its thing.

Robots - Engineers' Week

The boys did spend time building with their EV3 and NXT,  but the programming didn’t get done.  We were missing the NXT software AND the cord for the NXT.  (UNLABELED cords – a major source of frustration for me.)  The EV3 owner got a bit overwhelmed and didn’t want to program anything.  With dad’s help over the weekend we were able to locate a cord and the software.  Yeah!


The chocolate factory tour?  Oh the chocolate factory tour.  We went on Thursday and someone’s stomach got upset before the tour started and we had to leave without even setting foot in the gift shop.  We tried again Friday, but it wasn’t a production day.  We went again this Thursday after zoo class and finally had a chance to watch the chocolate being processed.  We couldn’t see as much as we would have liked, but it was still fun to buy chocolate after seeing the processing.

Bridges?  Nothing yet.  Between the robot building and the failed factory tour trips we ran out of time.  If I get a little more research done we might have a chance to work them into another trip we are making downtown.

Circle Art

Circle Art? I thought it was fun.  I spent an hour or so relaxing and coloring in the circles with oil pastels.  The boys?  They haven’t colored theirs yet.  I think markers would be much easier than oil pastels.  We also used two different cup sizes for making the circles and I thought that added some interest.

Standing in an icy puddle along the Spring Peeper trail

The pictures you saw from the vernal pool outing didn’t show that it took us 3 tries to get to the trail with rubber boots, nets, and a SD card for the camera.

All of this is not to complain, just to let you know that behind the blog things don’t always go perfectly.  Sometimes our log doesn’t show as many “school” hours as I would like. Sometimes despite great plans, it’s tough to get it all together.  Sometimes I have a week where I think maybe their time would have been more productive at school.  Then I’m reminded of the #1 lesson I brought home from the business world: “It’s all about relationships.”  This homeschool thing – it isn’t just about providing a great educational experience – it’s about conversations, real world problem solving,  learning to handle mistakes and frustrations and most importantly building strong relationships.

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Mary_CollageFriday  weeklywrapup125

5 Lessons from the Business World

Years ago when I was fresh out of college, I had the privilege of working with a really great group of people.  My bosses were great and I learned SO much in those few short years. Many of those lessons are still helping me today, probably even more than they did back then.


1. It’s All About Relationships

When you have strong relationships with your customers, they will tell you when you do something wrong.  They will share with you what your competition is doing that is creating temptation for your customer to buy elsewhere.  Strong relationships alert you early to quality problems, price competition, and a myriad of other issues.

Mom Version:  When we build strong relationships with our kids, they will alert us to problems sooner rather than later.  Families are designed to have strong relationships.  As a parent I’m responsible to make sure my actions and attitudes build up my family.

2. It Takes Time and Shared Experiences to Build Relationships

The expectation when we were out of town was that we would ride with the sales rep to the customer site, go out to dinner with various sales reps in the area, and participate in social outings.  When the sales reps came to town we were expected to do the same.  It wasn’t so much about a need to entertain as it was about creating shared experiences.  “Windshield” time was not wasted time but valuable time to listen to the opportunities, problems, and pressures the territory was facing.

Mom Version:  I have lots of favorite things about homeschool,  but having extra time to spend with my kids is one of the absolute best things.  We have loads of times together and we are able to go on lots of outings.  “Windshield” time is still powerful time.  Sometimes the kids share really deep thoughts while riding in the car.

3. Know your talking points

You should always know the key points you want to talk about during an interaction.  Have an actually answer to the “What’s going on in ….?” question.  Keep it positive and tailored to the audience.

Mom Version:   It’s still important to know our talking points.  Some of mine/ours are:  The power of perseverance, Choose a positive attitude, Every person (including you) is created for a purpose,  Be respectful of other people even when you don’t agree with them or understand them, Friends may come and go but 30 years from now I expect you and your brother to be at Christmas dinner together,  No matter what Mom and Dad will always love you because you are our son.

4. Respond in a timely manner / Don’t commit if you can’t deliver. / Find ways to say “yes”

Different requests have different time lines – figure out what the time line is and respond appropriately.  Give it your absolute best to meet all requests, but don’t commit to things you can’t deliver on.

Mom Version:  I need to be extremely prompt about checking over assignments to make the most of learning opportunities.  Some of the kids requests don’t have to be answered right away and I should take time to really think it over before I answer.   With kids it’s also good to find ways to say “yes” instead of “no”.  I’m not talking about buying the kids everything they could ever want or letting them do anything they ask.

5. Believe in ABUNDANCE (Grow the Pie)

This idea was radical to me at first, especially coming out of the educational system where I had always strived to outperform my peers.  It’s really all about creating goodwill and win/win situations.

In business we can gain customers by taking business away from our competitors, creating new markets/products, or helping our customers grow their business.  When we create new markets or products or help our customers grow their business we grow the pie.

The desire to learn and grow as an individual will take you new places and keep things interesting.    Your growth will benefit your business and when your business grows it will provide opportunities for personal growth.

Mom Version:  For me believing in abundance means contentment, gratitude, and confidence.  Instead of comparing my kids to others, I can see a large variety of strengths in my kids, their friends, and other people.  We can cheer for others and learn from them when we aren’t threatened by the success of others.   Believing in abundance allows individuals to develop on their own timeline.  When we believe in abundance it frees us to be lifelong learners – we can spend more time studying something we are passionate about now, because there will be time to learn about different things later.

What about you?  What lessons from a different time of life are you still using today in a completely different situation?


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Vernal Pools in Winter

It’s still winter here.  It’s was warm for a few days and melted some of the snow.  Then it snowed several inches again.  Ah well, spring will be here soon.  Maybe you live somewhere warmer and spring has already settled in. Icy vernal pool in early March

This week we took a walk to check out some of our favorite vernal pools.  We learned about these cool ecosystems last year and have been observing them off and on through the changing of the seasons.

If you aren’t familiar with vernal pools, they are seasonal ponds.  Over the course of a year they fill and dry out.  The fact they dry up at times is essential to these unique systems.  Fish and other predators can’t survive when these pools dry out, so the vernal pools become the perfect place for frogs, salamanders, fairy shrimp, caddis flies, and dragonflies.

Winter vernal pool as seen from walking path

We started studying the pools last spring to find salamanders, wood frogs and spring peepers.   Now we make sure to take an occasional trip by our favorite spots to check the water levels and notice which animals are hanging around.


Despite a couple of days of temperatures in the 50s, we found the pools were still filled with ice, but the ice was starting to get slushy on top.  All around us, the squirrels and chipmunks were busy, and the birds were singing.

Pointing to the deer along the trail

In the distance, the boys spotted some deer.

Deer along the trail - early March

At least a few of the deer spotted us as well.  We watched them for several minutes, and were surprised to realize there weren’t 3 or 4 deer, as we had counted, but 8 tails running down the hill.Early March on the Spring Peeper Trail Time to head home and wait for a few more warm spring days!

If you want to learn more about vernal pools, I highly recommend Frog Heaven by Doug Wechsler.   The book follows the yearly cycle of a vernal pool in Delaware. The pictures are vivid and helpful for identifying the different creatures found in vernal pools. We checked it out from the library last year to learn about spring peepers.  We ended up buying a copy to keep as a reference.

weeklywrapup125  Mary_CollageFriday

Testing… and a Nature Hike

Cardinal and Sparrow (?) bathing in creek I thought about not doing a post this week, since standardized testing consumed most of our week.  Fortunately on Friday the temperatures warmed up, and we were able to take a nature hike.

It was so wonderful to get a spring thaw.  The entire trail seemed alive with the sounds of birds.

Upper Vernal Pool in Winter

We hiked along the path where there are several vernal pools.  Right now the pools are still covered in snow and ice, but as soon as the temperatures rise to the 50s the spring peepers and salamanders will start emerging.


We had a fun time hanging out and playing.

"Favorite" tree in winter




We actually have a “favorite” tree along the trail.  As we walked past I caught just a bit of movement and was actually able to snag a picture of……

Raccoon in Tree Hollow

A raccoon!   He poked his head out just long enough for the boys and I to get a peek before disappearing again.

Chipmunk in winter

Two chipmunks were frolicking about and enjoying the warm weather.

Our walk was a terrific way to put the drudgery of testing behind us and look forward with hope to spring.   Over the next few weeks / months we will be visiting the trails frequently to observe the changes.







5 Plans for Engineers’ Week

Homeschool 2012-132A couple of weeks ago I shared some of the activities we did for Engineers’ Week last year.  This year I’m actually planning ahead so I’m hoping it will be even more fun!

1. Visit a FAB LAB.  What is a FAB LAB?  It’s a fabrication laboratory where people can create “stuff” using 3D printers, laser engravers, and other equipment.  Check out this link to find out what you can do at a FAB LAB or this one to find one near you.

2. Computer Programming – Since E has 2 years of experience programming the LEGO Mindstorm NXT through  FIRST LEGO League (FLL) and C will be on a FLL team next season, we will be completing a programming challenge similar to the one found here.

If you want to do programming as part of Engineers’ Week, but don’t have access to a robot give code.org, light bot, or scratch a try.

3. Take a fun factory tour –  Check out Factory Tours USA to see what factory tours are available in your area.  We’re planning to tour a Chocolate Factory with some homeschooling friends.

4. Celebrate Pi Day on 3/14 – I’m planning to do circle art and calculate the perimeter of a very large circle.  Of course we will make chocolate pie for dessert.

5. Building Bridges –  We’ve recently picked up a couple of books about bridges including one with directions for building your own bridges.  We’re lucky enough to live close to a few historic lift bridges, so we will visit some of those.  I’m also planning on the boys putting together a model of a lift bridge like the one above.

Some of my plans may go by the wayside if the boys come up with their own ideas, that’s okay. This is a fun week of exploring, creating, building, and designing.

List_it_Tuesday      Highhill Homeschool