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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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:

signsofnerdy

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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14 Ideas for Summer Fun

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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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Egg-periments

With Easter coming up it’s a great time to do some egg-perimenting.

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Egg in a Bottle – I’d been wanting to do this experiment forever, but hadn’t been able to find a jar with a neck the correct size.  I finally discovered that Starbucks Fraps come with the perfect egg-sized neck.   We used a candle held upright in a pinch of play dough as the combustion source in the bottle.  Light the candle and top the bottle with a PEELED boiled egg.  As the air inside the bottle heats and the pressure increases the egg will dance around releasing air from the bottle.  Once the flame goes out and the air cools the egg should be sucked down into the bottle.

Egg Spin

Spinning Eggs – This one is so wonderfully simple!  Spin a hard boiled egg and an uncooked egg and observe the difference.

Egg Toss

Egg Drop –  Use plastic grocery bags, sponges, strings, balloons, tape and/or pipe cleaners to make parachutes for eggs and then toss them off the play set.

Illuminated Naked EggNaked Egg – Soak a few uncooked eggs in vinegar for a couple of days.  The vinegar will eat away the shell but leave the membrane.  The vinegar also permeates the membrane and swells the egg.  As a follow up try soaking the egg(s) in corn syrup.

Natural Egg Dyes – You can find a list of natural dyes to try at Better Homes and Gardens.    Red cabbage is supposed to produce a nice blue color on the eggs.

Color MixingUse regular egg / food coloring to do color mixing experiments.

Use Egg Shells as containers for Seedlings 

Egg Walk

 

 

Walk on Eggs – We saw this one posted somewhere and I thought why not give it a try.  The key is to go quickly and stay well balanced.  One of the boys did it effortlessly without any broken eggs.  The other…..well let’s say we all had a terrific laugh and the kitchen floor got mopped.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That’s the end of our list for now.  So break out the eggs and have some fun!

 

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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.

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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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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.

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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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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.

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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.

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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

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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?

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