Why I Blog

As I mentioned in a previous post, Learning with Boys turns 1 year old this month.  It’s been a great year and I’m so thankful for everyone who takes the time to read the blog regularly or just pop in for an idea or two.

Fall Creek with fog rising off water

So why do I blog?  I’d been kicking around doing a post like this and when Lucinda at Navigating by Joy put her wonderful post out there I knew I wanted to answer this question.  Before I started blogging I was always curious, why any one would take the time to maintain a blog?  My initial assumption when I heard blogs described as an on-line diary was that bloggers were narcissistic.  However, as I read homeschool blogs nothing could have been farther from the truth.  The homeschool moms were supportive of each other even when they followed different paths.  I found parents very similar to myself – parents who were open to new ideas and methods, who researched learning techniques and methods, and who sought to light the fire of life long learning.

1. Community  I started the blog to feel more a part of the homeschool community.  I’d been reading homeschool blogs for almost two years and I wanted to “join the conversation”.  I love the way homeschool moms support each other by sharing experiences.  Many of the books I’d read focused on the “why’s” of homeschooling and offered a broad picture.  In the homeschool blogs, I was able to see the everyday experiences and challenges of homeschooling.

2. To encourage science and nature learning.  I’m passionate about teaching children from young to old to enjoy science and to see it in all aspects of their lives.  Learning about nature helps us find our place in the world.

Sometimes we do a lot of science learning with kits and experiments and other times we focus more on observation in nature.   We focus on connections within and between nature, technology, and history.

Science is so much more than a list of vocabulary terms or a process to memorize.  It requires time for children to explore and make connections between different disciplines.  Few things sadden me more than seeing K and 1st grade children filling out worksheets about the life cycle of a frog without ever visiting a pond.  When a reader comes to this blog, I hope they are inspired to get outside and explore the world with their child and to view that type of exploration as a necessity.

3. I love to write.  I enjoy the process. Over the years I’ve filled notebook after notebook with my thoughts and scribbles.  Writing is how I work out my thoughts and feelings to gain clarity.  Until a year ago, I’d never really shared my writing with anyone.   Even here, there are many drafts you never see.  Those drafts are immensely valuable to me.  They are where I refine my thoughts and opinions and sometimes overcome my worries.

Stinky Mammoth

4. To create a scrapbook.  I’ve never been a crafty scrapbooker.  I’ve tried.  I really want  a collection of photos that tell the stories.  I sometimes put together a nice scrapbook on-line, but I never seem to order them.  I love the discipline of taking photos and creating a weekly journal entry of what we are doing.  When I look back, I remember all the fun we have together, and I can see growth and accomplishments for the year.

5. I blog to learn.  A year ago I had no idea how to create content.   I wanted to know I could do this.  If I do start having ads or such, it will be because I’m curious how to set things up.  I want to be able to help my FLL (FIRST Lego League)  team create a webpage.  As the boys grow older, I think the best way to interest them in writing may be through their own blogs.

6. I blog to keep creativity in our homeschool.  Blogging creates accountability for me.  It’s easy to get stuck in a homeschool rut.  The exercise of writing about our projects / days helps me look at what we are doing from the outside.  I will readily admit I sometimes say to the kids, “We haven’t done anything picture worthy all week.  Would you like to do an experiment or go for a walk?”  I almost always have some good experiments waiting in the wings, but it’s so easy to get bogged down in the everyday reading, math, and language arts.

7. To be an example to my kids.  Blogging gives my kids a chance to see me enjoy writing and learning new skills.  It’s hard to raise life long learners if we aren’t stretching and growing ourselves.

South Chagrin - Crawfish8. To show there’s an alternative to traditional schools and help open minds.   I hope our story will show that all the standardized testing and reading from “readers” isn’t necessary.  Yes, we still use some curriculum.  Yes, we do standardized testing to meet state requirements, but the amount of testing is far less than traditional school.

We spend lots of time outside “in the field”  and even more time reading books that are interesting to us.  We watch documentaries on a wide variety of subjects and do experiments.

When we do the required standardized testing, the boys score exceptionally well.  When I check the common core requirements, we have usually covered all of them.

Children have an amazing capacity to learn and grow without the coercion of testing and grading.  They are interesting people who deserve a chance to learn about things they find interesting.

9.  To show homeschool can be great for Dyslexic Children – I felt extreme trepidation stepping out of the traditional school environment and homeschooling our dyslexic son.  It’s been an absolutely wonderful solution.   We are able to focus on growth at an individual pace and make appropriate accommodations without convening a committee.  We are able to spend extra time practicing sounds as a normal part of his day, not as a pull out or more likely as extra tutoring after a full day in school.  I can adjust assignments on the fly depending on how he is feeling (sometimes eye strain is an issue).  Certainly the individualized attention and pace is helpful for every child, but it seems even more helpful when dealing with dyslexia.  In addition, outside the school system it is easy to appreciate dyslexia not as a learning disability, but as a difference in how the brain works.

Before I was a homeschool mom, I was an engineer.  The part I loved most about my job was when I was able to share information with a customer that gave them a better understanding of how their system worked.  I also enjoyed connecting customers with similar projects so they could help each other.   I hope this blog provides information that helps other moms as well as providing connections.

Why do you visit homeschool blogs?  Why do you blog?  Why do you comment or what holds you back from commenting?

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Rock On!

Tree Roots @ Ledges

Isn’t that tree amazing?  I love how the seed for the tree somehow found it’s way into a crevice and managed to grow with its roots exposed.  It’s unexpected and beautiful.

Running Through the Ledges

We had a great time this week exploring local geology.  After a hike at the beautiful ledges, E had questions about the formation of Sharon Conglomerate.   I found another park with outcroppings of the conglomerate, so we went hiking there and visited the nature center.  Just as I was hoping, the nature center had a display that explained how the rock was formed.

Pebble Layer in the Ledges

This part of Ohio was once a river delta.  As the river(s) reached the ocean and slowed, sand, small rocks, and even small shells precipitated out.  Those deposits of sand and quartz pebbles eventually compressed and formed the Sharon Conglomerate.  When you touch the rock it is very obviously sandstone.

Rocky Holes - LedgesSometimes softer rock erodes away leaving a “honeycomb” pattern.

In some areas we see massive sections of the conglomerate “slumping”.  We learned this is usually caused by the softer shale layer underneath giving way.

When we set out on our hike last Friday, I wasn’t expecting the interest in the rock formations to emerge the way it did.  The trail is actually among the boys favorite places to hike, but they hadn’t given much thought to how the rock was formed and why the crevices exist.

We had a nice time finding answers to our questions and “spending time in the field.”  In addition, this made a nice extension of our previous geology studies this year.  This fall, between our Yellowstone trip and FIRST Lego League research, we did a lot of study on volcanoes, thermal features and igneous rocks.  I love how it is all coming together to form a really nice unit study of geology.

In other news, Learning with Boys blog turns 1 year old this week.  Thank you for making this such a fun adventure.  If you didn’t get a chance to check out  “Signs you MIGHT be a bit nerdy”,  please do and leave comments.  I’ve had a great time reading the comments and nodding my head in agreement!

Hope you are having a great week!

weeklywrapup125     Mary_CollageFriday

Thank You!

This month “Learning with Boys” turns 1 year old and it’s been 3 years since we made the decision to homeschool.


Today I want to say thank you!

First a huge thank you to my husband and boys for being willing to share our story!

Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to read even one post on this blog or make a comment.  It is such a delight for me to write and share.

Thank you to the pioneers of the homeschooling effort.  Thank you for having the convection and courage to follow a path less travelled.  I know it wasn’t easy.  I know you faced real difficulties.

Thank you to the families who invited us to dinner and showed us that homeschooling doesn’t produce weird unsocialized children.  Actually, thank you to all the families of children who had us to their homes back when we were a childless professional couple.

Thank you to all the bloggers out there who share encouragement, ideas, and humor.  You are an amazing community!    I really enjoy visiting the sites of large families, small families, un-schoolers and those who follow a classical approach.   I learn so much from all of you!

Thank you to all of you who visit the blogs and leave encouraging comments.  So many areas of the internet are full of strife and people needing to prove their points.  Among the homeschool community, I’ve found one of the most diverse AND encouraging groups of people around.  Thank you for every time you stick to the principle “if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

I’m thankful for those of you who express what might be a minority viewpoint or share cultural or religious traditions that are unfamiliar to me.  It helps me learn and grow.

Thank you to all of you who aren’t homeschoolers, but stop by the blog anyway.  I hope you find inspiration.

10 Signs You MIGHT Be a Little Nerdy

A while back, I was shocked to find out something I like is considered nerdy.  Occassionly I’m surprised to find out that things I consider normal are considered by others a bit on the nerdy side.  I don’t want you to be caught off guard, so here are some clues that you too might be a little nerdy:


1. You have the “Salamander Hotline” in your contact list.

2. You have the house to yourself for the first time in a month.  You are giddy with excitement …………and watch a documentary while doing laundry.

3. You have the library website book marked and regularly have at least 20 items checked out.

4. Your vacations are planned around geological features, ecosystems, or a particular species of animal you hope to observe in the wild.

5. You’ve had something similar to this happen:  After watching a show about deep sea exploration one of your kids is disappointed the Yeti Crab wasn’t profiled.  Two other members of the family point out it’s because the show was filmed before the Yeti crab was discovered.  Seriously?  Who notices the copyright date? People who were wondering why the Yeti Crab wasn’t mentioned.

6. The failure of the United States to adopt the Metric system is a soapbox topic for multiple members of you household.

7. You don’t have Dish or cable and you can’t figure out why that’s a big deal given your streaming options.  (Apparently live sports are worth a lot of money to a large number of people.)

8. Going to the hair salon is a necessary evil.  (For some of you – so dreadful you employ DIY options. )

9.  You wish the news was more about inventions, white-nose syndrome in bats,  colony collapse disorder in bees, and debates about the use of water resources instead of celebrity updates.

10.  You have memberships to multiple museums, zoos, and science centers.

And two additional signs I find shocking:

11. You’re a “They Might Be Giants” fan.  I’m still in denial about this one.

12. Your favorite shirt says, “Mmmmm……….π “.

Do the above descriptions fit you?  Take heart.  Some might call you nerdy.  I think you are probably a Lifelong Learner who is passionate about life.  So, learn on dear friend…Learn On!

What nerdy things happen at your house?

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Finding Inspiration at the Ledges

Boys @ LedgesAfter all the longing, it seems like Spring has finally arrived, mostly, except the day it snowed this week.  I didn’t take pictures of the daffodils drooping their poor heads down, covered with snow.  I tried to ignore it.  I knew spring would be back and we would be outside again.

It was a pretty productive week on a lot of levels.  I did a ton of planning for summer weekend trips, some birthday party planning, and made summer camp reservations.

Calendar Pic @ Ledges

We had a really nice hike on Friday.  The boys were feeling quite photogenic, so I got  some great shots for the grandparent’s calendar.

Pebble Layer in the Ledges

Even though we’ve hiked this same trail multiple times before, the boys had new questions about the rocks and their formation.  I think it will make a great jumping off point for a geology unit.  We’ve studied volcanos and igneous rocks quite a bit, but we haven’t done much with sedimentary rocks.

During the last 3 years,  I found the learning that really sticks usually starts with a question asked by the boys themselves.  This is the great opportunity of homeschool – the freedom to wait for interests to develop.  The opportunity to ask your own questions about the world and seek the answers is a wonderful thing.  In fact it is exactly the thing the great scientists and inventors have always done.


14 Ideas for Summer Fun




SummerFun150      List_it_Tuesday

We’re in the Navy and lots of other happenings


What a wonderful week!  Months ago the scout group scheduled a sleepover on the USS Little Rock at the naval park in Buffalo.  It sounded so fun and unique.  I signed all of us up so we could make a weekend of it.  We had a great time, but I’m certainly not navy material.  The boys enjoyed hanging out with their friends and exploring the ships.

Niagara 2Before our naval sleepover,  we took some time to visit the Niagara Falls area.  We went to the New York Power Vista Visitor Center to learn about the hydroelectric plant on the American side.  We braved the cold and rain to take a few pictures of the whirlpool and gorge and visited the Falls from the American side (this was my 3rd trip to Niagara and the first time I’ve ever viewed them from the American side – weird).  We headed over to Canada where the kids were anxious to check into the hotel and go to the water park.  It might not have been the best time of year for sight seeing, but the kids had a great time at the water park.  Given how cold the weather was the next morning we headed back to the water park for a few hours before crossing back to the US for our navy adventure.

Vernal Pool @ Brandywine - Reflecting

Our vernal pool unit study continues.  It’s still early in the season, but we’ve already had some great finds.  We’re eager to be outside and this unit is the perfect reason.  We also studied the pools last year and the boys are doing a great job expanding on their prior knowledge to make new discoveries.  We found some deformed tadpoles this week and were able to use our contacts from zoo class to help solve the mystery.  I love that the boys are learning to ask experts for help.

Nature Walk April 2014

This week we saw muskrats at the creek for the first time.  The weather was so warm and nice on Thursday we decided to call it a field day.  First we went by the vernal pools to see if we could spot any frog or salamander eggs yet.  We think we spotted some salamander egg clumps.   We found plenty of bullfrog tadpoles and our first snail for the season.

Nature Walk - VP1

We frequently take pictures of E wringing out his socks.  He returned the favor today.  I may have been paying more attention to the picture I was after than water depth.


After a short trip by the house so I could change clothes we headed to the zoo.  The storks provided the most entertainment.  There was a huge gust of wind that caused them to lose their balance and one of them seemed like he was going to fall down the hill. As soon as they recovered they started vocalizing and clicking.  It really seemed like they were sharing a laugh over the whole incident.

You would think with all time outdoors we wouldn’t have found time to do any reading, writing, or math, but somehow we managed to stay reasonably productive on that front.

We finally read – “Sir Ernest Shackleton and the Struggle Against Antarctica.”  I was hoping E would select it to read on his own, but he hadn’t yet and the library wouldn’t allow me to renew it.  It made a nice quick read aloud.  “By endurance, we conquer.” is inscribed on the Shackleton coat of arms (although in Latin of course) and became a motto of Shackleton’s.  The determination and fortitude of the Antarctic explorers is so amazing.

Hope you are having a great week and enjoying warmer weather as well!



Real Science with Tadpoles

As many of you know we are busy again this year investigating vernal pools.  Today we’ve come up with an observation that hasn’t been easily solvable.

One of the sites we frequent isn’t actually a vernal pool (in 7 years we’ve only seen it dry up once).  We call it “turtle” pond and it supports a large population of turtles and bullfrog tadpoles.  Today we were doing some catch and release of bullfrog tadpoles when we came across two unusual specimens:

Bullfrog tadpole with wormlike protrusions from mouth

The first one had several worm-like protrusions from one side of its mouth and some redness around its fins.  At first we thought perhaps it tried to eat something a bit too large to swallow, but it really looked more like intestines hanging out of its mouth.

Bullfrog tadpole with wormlike protrusion from side

We found another smaller tadpole this time with a few protrusions coming out one side.  We also observed some redness of the protrusions and the tail wasn’t in the best condition.

We released both tadpoles after taking pictures.

Given our zombie caterpillar experience from this fall we thought maybe it was some sort of tadpole parasite, but I haven’t been able to find any similar pictures.

We’re still following a couple of leads to try to find an expert who might be able to explain this.

The boys are of course a bit concerned about a parasite harming the tadpoles.

Do any of you have any insight into what might be the problem? Do you know someone who might be willing to help a couple of young citizen scientists?

UPDATE:  Our contacts at the Akron and Toledo Zoos were SO helpful.  They let us know that it probably IS intestines hanging out caused by the tadpoles being smashed or damaged.  We were really happy to find out it wasn’t anything contagious to the other tadpoles in the pond.  A special thanks to Ms. Carrie!


10 Ways to add Fun back into your Homeschool

Sometimes we hit a patch of the doldrums or the grumps, or we just lose interest in our lessons.  Sometimes it would be nice to have a reset button for the day or maybe a “do-over”.

Walking a log @ Brandywine

Today I’m sharing ways to get the spark back in your homeschool.

1. Take a Hike.  Literally.  It’s no secret we love to take nature hikes.  Learning about animals and ecosystems is a core interest at our house.  Most of the time when we are out for a hike, it’s because we want to see what we might discover, but sometimes the reason we put on our boots and head out the door is because things just aren’t going well.  We might be grumpy or unable to focus and we need a change of scenery.  Once we are outside discovering and observing we are all in better spirits.

2. Play.  Give the kids a chance to play.  It could be free play, building LEGOS, playing a board game or whatever. The important part is for the kids to choose the activity.  For older kids it might be an art project, computer project, or playing a musical instrument or going to the driving range. Kids are naturals at learning when they are allowed to direct and make discoveries on their own.

3. Make their day.  I bet you know a few things that are almost guaranteed to put a smile on your kid’s face.  It might be a chocolate chip bagel or specially shaped pancakes.   Maybe it’s time at the park or going for a bike ride or mom joining the tag game.  Maybe it’s having a play date scheduled with a particular friend.  Take a break and just do it.

4. Take lessons outside.  Some kids might like to read a book or do the normal lesson outside.  Consider working math problems or spelling words with sidewalk chalk.  Figure out some outdoor science experiments or work on estimating distances.

5. Go on a field trip.  Pick something your family enjoys whether it’s the art museum, science center, going to a farm or going to the city.  Just get out of routine but keep learning.  What if you live far away from anything?  Consider a virtual field trip.  Many famous museums have on-line collections or you could watch a travel documentary.

6. Declare a pajama day, read-aloud day, art day, or engineering week.  

7. Design something.  Do an art project or build something from instructables.  Take a glass blowing class or create a new dish for dinner.

8. Give kids more influence over their schedule.  I enjoy my responsibilities as mom, teacher, cook, and keeper of the house.  I love the opportunity to bless my family and spend time with them.  It’s a great job. But if someone else set up my schedule and forced me to stick to it, I would be a complete grump.  I would probably become resentful about fixing meals and keeping laundry clean.  Study after study shows the amount of variety and autonomy a person has at their job is positively correlated with job satisfaction.  So figure out ways to create autonomy for your kids.  It might mean setting their own schedule or modifying some assignments.

9. Go out of town – A short weekend trip is a great way to create family memories and focus on spending time together.  It doesn’t matter if you are camping in the woods or exploring a nearby city.  One of the best parts is coming home again.  After 2 or 3 days of being away, I find myself thankful to cook a simple meal and enjoy the spaciousness of our home.

10. Take care of yourself – It’s super easy for moms to feel like we can’t take time for ourselves or to take shortcuts when it comes to our own health and well being.  I’m at my best and most cheerful with the kids when I make the time to exercise in the morning and eat a healthy breakfast.  I almost never feel like exercising, but when I do I have so much more energy.  When I exercise regularly,  I make better food choices and feel more confident about just about everything.

What about you?  How do you re-establish the spark in your homeschool?

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Yeah for Spring!

Crocus breaking thru snow

This picture is from March 30.  The last couple weeks were delightful here at the Boys’ house.  We went sledding (I hope for the last time this year).

The weather has finally warmed up!

Vernal Pool @ Brandywine - Reflecting

Warm weather means LOTS of hikes.  We even had sunshine for a few days!

Brandywine Falls - March 31

This is such a great time of year.  The spring peepers are peeping and the wood frogs are quacking.  Not only is nature waking up but our studies are moving outside and our zest for learning returns.  Yeah! Spring!!!!