2014-2015 A Homeschool Year in Review

I’ve been thinking a bit lately about our homeschool “style”.  I love the term Lucinda over at Navigating by Joy uses – “Us-schooling”.  We learn in a way that matches with our interests and opportunities.   We follow a pretty traditional approach to math and grammar while everything else is interest led (aka – unschooled).  Sometimes we join with a team or a class and have a particular topic to research.  Sometimes we follow rabbit trails – so a book about squids leads to several books about the entire cephalopod family followed by ocean mammals and then sharks.  So what does a year look like in our homeschool?

2014FieldtripsField Trips!

I love the freedom to take lots of field trips.  Experiential learning is an incredibly important aspect of our homeschool.

Our list for this year was long: Mammoth Cave, Corvette Factory Tour, Canal Fulton, COSI, Nat. History Museum – Mammoths & Mastadons, Cleveland Orchestra performances, TIMBER and Intergalactic Nemisis at Playhouse Square,  Cleveland Botanical Gardens with special LEGO exhibit, Airshow,  University of Pittsburg – Human Engineering Department, TechShop Tour, Pittsburg Science Center, Apple Farms, Beehive tour, Bourbon Distillery,  Maple Sugar processing, Great Lakes Science Center – Mythbusters Exhibit, and NASA Hubble Day

It’s impossible to pick a favorite field trip from this year.  I really wish I could have captured a picture of the boys’ faces during the Corvette Factory Tour.  They were so amazed by the enormity of the entire factory.  While a bourbon tour might seem a bit odd, it is a great chance to see a distillation column up close. (I think I may have spent 2 years sizing distillation columns before seeing an industrial sized one up close.)


The boys did the usual soccer teams.  This year they’ve really developed more ability to handle their bikes and we’ve been able to enjoy riding single track together.  The boys and I learned to ski / snowboard which greatly increased our enjoyment of the winter months.  The boys also took parkour classes during the winter.  Come spring we switched over to swim lessons and plan to continue swim during the summer.   This summer we will be checking out a boys gymnastics opportunity.  My goal is to keep them fit and active in the now, as well as discovering sports and activities that will keep them active throughout their lives.

2014ActivitiesTeams / Activities

In addition to their soccer teams the boys were on FIRST LEGO League (FLL) teams and a Science Olympiad team.   One of our favorite group classes is zoo class, which is typically twice each month.  We also joined the Geography Club which gives the kids an opportunity to make presentations to a peer group.  The kids from Science Olympiad enjoyed getting together so much, we formed a Science Club which typically includes an hour of an activity followed by an hour for socializing.

2014UnitStudiesUnit Studies

Some of our unit studies were on our own, while others were with FIRST LEGO League teams, and others were with Science Olympiad partners.   Our best integrated learning path started with the Percy Jackson book series, led us through Ancient Greek and Roman history, and finished with building catapults.

We did unit studies / projects on Atmospheric Science, the Power House, Bees (FLL), Catapults, Learning (FLL), Animal Tracking (SO), Aerodynamics (SO), Mousetrap Car (SO), Simple Machines (SO), Greek and Roman Mythology, Cells and the Maldives

Reading (including audiobooks)

The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Heroes of Olympus, Chronicles of Prydain, The Once and Future King, Nature’s Children series,  Redwall, and a variety of non-fiction books related to our projects and unit studies.


Singapore Math 4A and 4B and Growing with Grammar 4

Singapore Math 6A and 6B, Challenge Math, Growing with Grammar 5


Lastly, my favorite reason to homeschool – quality time in nature.  During our Mammoth Cave trip we also took some time to drive over to Cumberland Falls, KY, where we enjoyed a few days immersed in beautiful fall colors playing next to the river.  The large picture above is from a smaller waterfall just down the river from Cumberland Falls.  We visited Brandywine Falls in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park many times this year including when it was just a cascade of ice with barely a visible trickle of water.  On two separate occasions we found fossils while we were just out exploring parks.  We’ve spent time playing in creeks and watching butterflies.  Not every trip is exciting or different but over time we increase our knowledge and love of nature.

What was your year like?

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Weekly Wrap-Up WUH

Real Spring

IMG_1795We were walking in the woods last week when we heard them, spring peepers and wood frogs.  It’s one of the most beautiful sounds on earth.  When the peepers and wood frogs emerge and sing their mating calls, a person can’t help but feel the hope and renewal of spring.

IMG_1803As we were walking my son said, “There should be two first days of spring.  The equinox and the day the peepers come out.”

It doesn’t look like much.  The trees are still bare.  Only the earliest plants are pushing their way up through the soil.  BUT the air is warming up.


Many of the local park services are hosting night hike visits to vernal pools.  During night hours the spring peepers can be absolutely deafening.  It’s amazing to me that a creature barely larger than my thumbnail can emit such piercing call.  For just a few days the yellow spotted salamanders come above ground to mate in the pools before heading back to their holes for another year.


We found this super cool fossil next to a creek the other day.  The shell filled with mud and sand that solidified.  It’s amazing the things we find and the deep learning that takes place when we have time to just explore.



Enjoying the Holidays


It’s been a little bit odd this year getting into the holiday spirit.  Our FLL tournaments were just last weekend and both teams advanced.  Super happy for the kids!

Thankfully my husband enjoys doing the biggest share of the holiday shopping (online of course).

Christmas Tree

I absolutely love our tree.  Each year we add a few photo ornaments.  It’s so fun to look back at the pics from when the kids were little.

The outside of the house isn’t showing much Christmas flair, but I think we are looking pleasantly festive inside.

This year I’m focusing on keeping it easy and not purchasing things that require storage.  My holiday decorating purchases have been limited to a piece of black foam board and having a few winter nature photos printed.  I’ve had a ton of fun and everything has been peaceful and stress free.  I think it’s all about attitude.  This year I’m just doing what we have time for and enjoying it.  Every little holiday touch is appreciated.  Things will get done when they get done and if they don’t –  that’s okay.  The holidays should be about enjoying people.  It’s really not about how much greenery is in the house, how perfect the lighting is, or how many presents are under the tree.

Three Popsicle Snowflakes


The boys made giant popsicle snowflakes for me.  I love the way they turned out.  Turquoise wasn’t a color I had in mind when we went to buy paint but I love it!  I’m so glad I didn’t say, “I was really hoping for red.”  I will admit to purchasing red paint, just in case.


I’ve seen a lot of chalkboard ideas out there.  I thought a chalkboard over the mantle would be really cool, but I honestly didn’t have time to purchase the plywood and paint it this year.  Black foam poster board and a tiny bottle of white paint to the rescue.  I’d like to add some poinsettias or rosemary trees or candles.



I switched out our usual family photos of the kids feeding giraffes for some winter nature scenes.


SnowflakesWe made lots of paper snowflakes.

A few ornaments hung on ribbon over the kitchen sink add a little sparkle while I’m doing dishes.

The decorations are far from “perfect”.  We don’t have multiple Christmas trees or holiday towels or even specially scented soaps.  But we’ve spent time together.   We’ve made cookies and crafts and played games and watched movies.

It’s been such a nice season and I’m so glad for the time with family.

Wishing you and your family a very Merry Christmas!

Weekly Wrap-Up WUH  Mary_CollageFriday

The Best Christmas Gifts

Can I share with you two of the best Christmas presents I’ve ever received?


It’s a LEGO bee.  It really looks great in person.  It’s sort of a modern art interpretation.  Considering the materials he had available I thought C did an amazing job.  He made it to express his appreciation for coaching his FLL team this year since their project was, “How can we improve the way people learn about bees?”


It’s a polymer clay sculpture of chocolate pie under the microscope.  It looked better before we baked it, but I think it still looks very much like our microscope.  E says he was conveying my support of their interest in science, my quirky sense of humor, and my love of math.  It’s also a reflection of my son’s interest in science and math and his quirky sense of humor.  I think it’s great!

These gifts are the type of stuff I will cherish, because they came from the heart and tell a story about the relationship between giver and receiver.  After all life is really all about the relationships.

Weekly Wrap-Up WUH  Mary_CollageFriday

The Creek at Sunset


“Sometimes we must take a break to experience the world before we have anything to write.”



Beautiful Autumn Days


October is probably my favorite month to live in Northeast Ohio.  Sometimes I can’t get over how lucky we are to live near such gorgeous parks.  Even though much of this week was rainy, we still managed to spend a few hours hiking and biking around the woods.


This week at our house we studied how the microscope dramatically changed scientific knowledge of the world.  Did you realize the first microscopes used candlelight?  Or 175 years passed between the discovery that cork was made of cells and the confirmation that all plants were made of cells?  It wasn’t until 1858 Rudolf Virchow is credited with concluding all cells come from cells.  Of course people understood that animals give birth and plants come from seeds, but cells were thought to form more like crystals.

I enjoy studying science and history with an integrated approach.  It is amazing to think how inventions, discoveries, and innovations are shaped by the technologies, communications, and politics of their time.  When we read dates we try to think about what else was going on in the world and what daily life looked like.


We learned about so many things this week: animal cells, plant cells, gecko adhesion, trout, musk oxen, colony collapse disorder in bee hives, and white nose syndrome in North American bats.  We spent time using our microscope and programming the EV3 robot.


Of course we are following current events, especially cases of ebola.  We practice math and grammar nearly every day.  The boys are also using the Kindle’s immersion reading feature to read the first book in the Lord of the Rings series.


All this amazing learning is going on every day and still life is peaceful (at least mostly).  Our days have a flow and rhythm that suits us well.  This is what I love most about homeschool – the freedom to pursue our interests not in a sliver of “free” time, but as a natural part daily life.

Hope you are having a lovely season of learning!

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A Morning in the Woods

Ledges October


We traveled along a familiar path


past our favorite rocks and trees.

Along the way we reviewed things we’ve learned together and shared jokes.

October Mushrooms

“Why should you invite a mushroom to a party?”

“Because he’s a fun-guy”

The one about a mushroom going into a bar and being related to the yeast (in the beer) was a bit of a flop, but had potential.

October Ledges 2We talked about history and geology and chipmunks and Chronicles of Narnia vs. The Hobbit.

Red Leaves on GroundWe joked about me taking too many pictures of leaves.

These are the moments my mother heart will cherish forever.  Moments made possible by the courage to follow a different path.  I’m so glad we are able to share this journey together!

This Present Moment

Yellow sunflower and bee along meadow trail

A beautiful walk.  Bees buzzing about flowers.  A symphony of warm weather insects.  These are the moments of late summer I cherish.

Wild purple new england asters along meadow trail

Each day brings the passing away of beauty and the appearance of a new wonder.  The coneflowers fade as the mums break forth in riotous blossoms.  Soon the green will fade from the trees to reveal the diverse palette of color, hidden as the leaves went about their work.


This is life.  Each season, each year, each month, each day – they all bring the appearance of new wonders and beauty as well as the passing of cherished time.   Perhaps happiness lies in appreciating this present moment.

A Path Less Traveled


Lately I’ve been thinking about this “path less traveled” we choose to walk.   The amount of freedom we have blows me away.  The responsibility is tremendous, but the freedom is incredible and enjoyable.

By homeschooling we are free to decide how our hours, days, weeks, and months are spent.  We choose what topics we want to learn and we decide what materials, classes, and methods work for us.  Each day we choose which hours will be dedicated to “school.”  We study topics as long as we want and pursue opportunities beyond our home.

We don’t choose just the easy things.  There are some skills we need to develop that aren’t easy.  We’re still free to find fun ways to learn, abbreviate lessons, and eliminate fluff and busy work.  We are free to use the most effective methods for our own learning styles.

This week we tried out a new class.  On the way home we discussed what we liked about the class and how well it met our expectations.  Then the kids were able to decide, “Is this class worth our time to put on the schedule?”   What an incredible life skill !

This quote is from a recent post on Becoming Minimalist:

Every day we are presented with countless choices of how to spend our time, our energy, our effort, and our money. The wisest of us recognize we always have the power to choose. And they choose to pursue their life’s greatest mission by repeatedly saying ‘no’ to things that distract from it.

Joshua Becker


By saying “no” to public school we have gained the freedom to wholeheartedly pursue the boys’ interest in science.  We are able to take field trips to see migrating song birds, visit aquariums, and tour power plants.  They have time to play with robots and visit the FAB LAB.

Having choices is a wonderful thing.  Learning to recognize our power to choose is even more wonderful.


New school year resolutions

I love new beginnings and fresh starts.  I need them.  I need the reminder to evaluate what I’m doing and recommit.  As we head into a new school year these are things I want to work on as a mom.

new school year

1. Speak with kindness and encouragement – I sincerely believe the world would be a better place if we were all more intentional with our choice of words.  It grieves me to see parents speaking harshly  and I wonder how often that is me.  I truly think I will spend my entire life learning to watch my words more carefully.

2. Remember my kids – all kids – all adults are a work in progress.   Knowing something and being able to consistently execute on it are two different things.  I know how to do a better job listening to my kids, but I don’t always practice it.  My kids I might know how to defuse an argument, but be too set on winning the argument to care about de-escalating it.    As kids there are lessons they will have to learn over and over and over again.  I must be patient to teach those lessons over and over and over again – looking not for perfection in this moment but improvement.   Sometimes they will have all the knowledge they need but need practice facing the situation.  It’s difficult, but in those time I need to be able to watch them without lecturing.

3. Have a sense of adventure – Somedays instead of asking, “why?” I need to say “why not?”  Honestly I can be a bit of a ‘fraidy cat sometimes.  We go to a particular water park each summer and there was a ride there I had convinced myself I didn’t want to do.  This trip C asked if I would do it with him and I said yes.  It was actually sort of fun and not at all the big deal I had made it in my mind.  So many things I’ve been afraid of have turned out well.

4. Choose a positive attitude – I like to think I have this one under control. Yet when one of my kids struggles with a negative attitude for the 3rd time today, I realize I still have a long way to go.  I say to my child, “You have the power to choose your attitude” yet I also say, “Your behavior makes everyone around you irritable.”  If I can choose my attitude, I shouldn’t be claiming he is making me irritable.

5. Cultivate a thankful attitude –  I truly am grateful for the wonderful blessings I have in my life and I hope it shows in my general attitude and countenance.  This is one of those things I think I feel but I want to exude. It isn’t really enough to be quietly secretly thankful.  Thankfulness isn’t so much about our circumstances, but about our ability to see the goodness around us regardless of our circumstances.  Perhaps the reason I don’t exude thankfulness is because I do have a hard time transcending circumstance.  Sure sometimes I can be thankful in the midst of facing challenges, but make my environment dusty or smelly with some annoying bugs and I have a hard time.

Just this morning I saw this wonderful post called Give me Gratitude or give me Debt and I thought it was really good.  ( Ironically I was on my way to select new countertops for our kitchen. )  Anyway I think it speaks to the ridiculousness of our first world discontent.

6. Make time for friends – Not just vague, “Let’s get together sometime.” This year I want to make sure I actually say, “Would you like to come to our house next Saturday?” or “The boys are interested in seeing the ____ movie.  Would you like to go with us?”

What are your resolutions for the new school year?

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