Weekly Wrap-up – Finishing the Year

WildflowersLast Friday we went on a wildflower hike with our science club. It was a nice hike, looking at flowers and chatting with friends.  We all had lunch together at the park amidst more chatting and playing.  It was one of the first really beautiful days to be outside which made it even more special.  I really appreciate this group of kids and parents.

While not exactly related to homeschool, E had his first Boy Scout camping trip over the weekend.  The weather was perfect for camping and he had a great time. While E was off at camp, C requested a trip with mom and dad to the art museum.  Sunday E returned from the camping trip and worked at the scout pasta dinner.

Water Balloon Catapult

This week was a finishing week.  We finished our standardized testing for the year.  E also finished his grammar book.  While we were finishing things, we also finished our first catapult and we’ve had a great time firing off water balloons.

IMG_1870We’ve essentially switched over to our summer schedule which typically means an hour or two of reading, math, and/or writing followed by time outside.  We were extra fortunate this week to have the chance to meet up with friends to take a short hike, wade in a creek, and play in a clay deposit.

Have you switched over to a summer schedule yet?  Is there much difference between your summer schedule and other times of year?


The Once and Future King (audio)

Nature’s Children: Snow Leopards


Salmon Filets with Corn on the Cob- I prefer to avoid the crowds on Mother’s Day and grill at home

Pulled Pork Sliders

Garden Veggie Soup

Stir Fry

Tikka Masala with Tofu and Chickpea

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Engineers Week – Part 1

Engineers WeekMy favorite tradition in our homeschool is celebrating Engineers Week.  Last year we tried celebrating a different type of engineering each day.  This year we decided to focus on one project.

Over the years I’ve found weapons are a great avenue for my boys to learn about history.  The evolution of technology and weapons is helpful for placing events in chronological order.  It’s amazing how intertwined technological advancements are with military conquest.  Sometimes armies are just better at utilizing new technologies, but quite frequently research is funded solely for military purposes.

I thought you might be interested to see part of our learning path for this semester.  I mapped out the paths that were relevant to our current project.  It’s purposefully a bit messy to illustrate the non-linear nature of interest led learning.

Catapult Map.001

Given our current interest in ancient history, we decided our project should have something to do with onagers or ballista. (Trust me before having boys I had no idea what the difference was between a trebaucht and catapult.  I certainly would not have been able to correctly describe a ballista or onager.)   A search of the library system lead me to The Art of Catapults.  I placed a hold but we weren’t able to pick it up until Tuesday.  That left us a bit short on planning and build time during our official Engineers Week.  No big deal we will just continue into next week.

The boys were so impressed with The Art of Catapults we ordered our own copy of the book within a few hours.  We decided to make a model sized wooden ballista for C and a pair of large PVC “Stone Thrower” catapults to launch water balloons at each other.

Catapult Parts

Wednesday we did the shopping which was a good experience for the boys.  They found all the pieces and loaded the carts.  They also loaded the car while I questioned my sanity.

I purchased a special PVC pipe cutting tool, which I managed to destroy it in just two cuts.  Then we used a saw.  The boys were somewhat helpful with the hacksaw, but it was taking forever.  My husband came home and hooked us up with his reciprocating saw.  Yeah, power tools for mom!  The cuts went much quicker on day two and we got about halfway finished cutting and dry fitting.

I’m hoping we will have things completed in a few days and enough warm weather to do some enjoyable testing.  I’ll keep you posted on how this project comes along.

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Keeping our Sanity in the Cold – A Weekly Wrap-up

How does a homeschool family keep their sanity during the harsh snow filled days of winter?  Read on to find out what we’ve been doing to stave off the winter blues!

It’s been COLD.  Bitterly cold.  Freeze the snot in your nose while you take out the trash cold.  Locally we’ve set records for the coldest temperature on a particular date.  Today the high was 19 F and it felt like a break.

So what’s a homeschooling family to do with all this cold weather?  Lots of school work apparently.  This is our highest monthly total school hours for this year.  The boys have been book worms this month really upping their hours.  That doesn’t mean we’ve just stayed home and done school work though.

Winter hike - Creek and Snow

We still went for a hike this week.  We followed coyote tracks through the woods which was pretty cool. We also found an intersection with deer tracks.  E is participating in the “What Went By Event” in the Upper Elementary Science Olympiad, so we’ve been taking every opportunity to find animal tracks in the snow.  The squirrels have been kind enough to leave tracks on the back porch, while a bunny regularly leaves prints as he hops down our sidewalk.


It’s important to get exercise too.  As a treat we took the boys to a mountain bike park.  It was fun to be back on our bikes even though it was -2 F outside.  It’s nice to go late in the evening, because there aren’t many other customers making it possible to really ride your own pace without worry.

E handfeeding birds

One of the local nature centers encourages hand feeding birds.  E was amazingly patient and stood still for about half an hour in the cold.  He was rewarded with birds coming to his hands 30 times.  It was such a delight to watch his expressions.

C wind testing house constructions

Our local science center is hosting Mythbusters: The Explosive Exhibition.  It’s a fun traveling exhibit.  There was a house of brick, wood, straw test station that the boys enjoyed.  The exhibit also had tons of other fun stuff.  The final section included building sleds, boats, and parachutes using duct tape.  Of course after our visit the boys used up all the duct tape in the house and we had to buy more.  E made a rather impressive boat out of popsicle sticks and duct tape.

Over the last two weeks we’ve also gone to a community theatre production, visited the Jewish Heritage Museum, gone to a professional theatre production, attended zoo class, and met with our Science Olympiad partners.  Soccer and scouts were on the list too.

I don’t like our schedule to get too crowded and despite the long list of activities it has all felt very manageable.  This year I think we are finally managing to get the right amount of physical activity including outside time.  It also helps that the kids are getting older and have stronger immune systems (or maybe we’ve just been lucky this winter).

I almost forgot.  E’s FLL team did a segment on the local news along with three other teams from the area.  E’s team in purple is in two of the segments.  A special thanks to the building custodian who came in on a snow day to make sure the building was open for the kids.

On the bookshelf:  Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan

In the kitchen: Pulled pork sliders (although we do a lot of vegetarian dishes, during the winter we all crave meat), Spinach enchiladas, Seared Chicken Breast with Balsamic Grapes, Sautéed Spinach, and Nutty Bulgur (this is a “food bag” from my husband’s work, they do all the prep work and I just cook and assemble. Yeah!)

Hope you are having a great week!  What are you doing to stave off the winter blues?

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I want an Orrery


This week at the Natural History Museum I noticed a display case for the first time.  POCKET SUNDIALS!  What a cool invention!  All the one pictured here include a compass for proper alignment. We’ve heard a lot about pocket watches, but I’d never given any thought to their predecessor.  One of the pocket sundials was calibrated to three different latitudes, so it could be used throughout Europe.

It’s always amazing to think about the intersection of science and technology with history.  Whether it’s the telegraph and railroad creating a war time advantage,  vaccines shifting population demographics, or computers making space travel possible, technology and history are fantastically intertwined.


Isn’t the orrery cool?  The time and workmanship that goes into making those is just amazing.  I would like to own something like this, but they are so expensive and typically rather large.  Other women want designer handbags, I want an orrery.


Science Olympiad Update:

What Went By? – E and his partner for the event attended a clinic put on by the local park system.  We also met at the Natural History Museum and spent some time looking at the display of local animals and talking about habitats and habits.  We borrowed a kit that had life size stamps of front and hind prints from the museum.  I think the scat identification might be difficult, but I think at least some of the questions will be about making observations about the scat without actually narrowing it to one species.  The scat of a grazing herbivore will be different from the scat of an omnivore.  Predator scat may contain bone fragments.  Some of the tracks can be narrowed done to 3 or 4 local animals and then other clues will provide more information.  Muskrats and otter slides might look similar but we might expect chewed up twigs and cattails with a muskrat.  E also worked on spelling animal names this week.

Not much happened with the Mousetrap car this week.  We need to take it up to the school to test it out.  I just haven’t been in the mood to get out in the cold.

Aerodynamics – Observations this week – (1)  It is hard for 10 and 11 year old boys to throw gently.  When throwing gliders asking them to throw in slow motion seemed to help. (2)  Those old Pamper Chef scrapers work great for smoothing airplane folds.  (3) Testing gliders is hard – big spaces and high ceilings are necessary.  (4) Making designs of their own and testing them is really part of the fun of this.

Simple Machines – The mom of C’s partner is doing the coaching for this event.  I’m impressed with what they’ve learned over the last few weeks.  They know their simple machines and are really learning a lot about calculating forces and mechanical advantage.


We went to see a local production of Shrek the Musical on Sunday.  A friend of ours has a lead role in the play and lots of kids we know are in the production.  The cast did a spectacular job.

I attended a meeting this week with a group that has formed to promote FIRST LEGO League in our area.  It is a really great bunch of people and I’m excited to see what we can do to get more kids involved in robotics.  When I asked my own kids about career paths this week, they both expressed interest in programming.  E  lists his top pick as mechanical engineering and C is considering wildlife biology or bio-medical animal science with programming as a hobby.   I don’t know if bio-medical animal science is really a thing, but I figure as much as people love their pets, it will be by the time he is in college.  He also thinks he might want to do some combination of food and science like that guy that cooks steaks in a water bath (sous-vide)  and has the huge cookbook (Nathan Myhrvold).   It’s always interesting to check in on the career aspirations of kids.

I’ve mentioned I developed a simple spreadsheet to track our school time.  In Ohio part of our homeschool notification involves signing a paper stating we will spend 900 hours covering a list of subjects.  That is approximately the amount of time children in elementary school spend in class each year.  I’m so glad I started tracking our time.  This week we reached 800 hours for the school year.  I can’t tell you how excited I am about that.  It’s not like anything will change when we hit 900 hours.  I’m just happy to know we are spending so many hours on learning activities even though our school time is relaxed.

This week I’m including my “What’s for Dinner?” list.  I’m always looking for ideas myself and I was reading an article this week about parents feeling guilty because even though they are cooking it doesn’t fit their ideal.  I want you to know that it’s okay to keep dinner simple.  Some of the dinners I listed took less than 15 minutes of prep and cook time.  The pulled pork dinner was probably the easiest, since it took about 3 minutes to put in the crockpot.  Raw carrots, broccoli, apple slices, and strawberries are about as fancy as we get for sides.

 What’s for Dinner?

Blackeyed Pea Dip

Salmon Mac (super quick and easy)

Corn Dog Muffins ( I know, I know, it embarrasses me that I allow any hot dogs in the house, but C loves these.  Corn Muffin mix with a 1/4 of a hot dog stuck in the middle.  I buy the preservative free ones but still.)

Pulled Pork Sliders w/ Sweet Potato Fries and Baked Beans

Butternut Ravioli

Butternut and Black Bean Enchiladas

Hope you have a great week!

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Let it Snow – A Weekly Wrapup

Frozen Brandywine Top of Falls overlooking creek

View above Brandywine Falls


It snowed a lot this week.  According to the weather service we have 18″ of snow on the ground.  There would be more snow on the ground if we hadn’t had a few patches of rain mixed in with the snow.

One of the big differences between living in the north vs. the south is that a forecast of 8-12″ of snow doesn’t send everyone into a panic.  I went to the grocery store a few hours before the storm hit and was able to purchase everything I needed.  When we lived in the south, even a few inches of snow in the forecast would leave the store shelves void of milk, bread, tuna, and bottled water.

IMG_1649Tuesday was cold but sunny, so we got out of the house and went skiing and sledding and took a hike.  We still had plenty of time for school work in the late afternoon.

Wednesday we had a few lessons then zoo class.  On our way home it started snowing so we decided to skip the boys’ parkour class and do some baking.  In just a few hours we got about 4″ of snow so I was glad we weren’t out in it.

Frozen Brandywine Falls

Thursday we went to geography club for the first time.  It was a really nice event.  Each family gave a short presentation on a river.  The kids ranged from 4 year old assistants to about 14.  It was great to see the variety of presentations and the creativity the kids demonstrate.  After seeing the presentations, my boys agreed to do a presentation next month.


Most of our days this week included some prep work for Science Olympiad.  We are  learning about simple machines, aerodynamics, mousetrap cars and animal tracking.  The mousetrap car is working well, but we still have some tweaking to do.  The objective for the competition is for the mousetrap car to travel exactly 10 meters.

Hope you are having a great week!



Weekly Wrapup

photoThis week we took a field trip to the Natural History Museum.  Of course we had to visit the outdoor animals.  C was really proud of his picture of the fox all curled up.  The traveling exhibit about mammoths and mastodons was pretty cool.   We also spent time in the children’s department checking out tracking information to prepare for the “What Went By” event at the Science Olympiad.


We are really enjoying the combination of ski passes and homeschooling.  Monday was beautiful, just the perfect day to be at the ski hill.  We ended up spending almost 4 hours skiing on Monday.  We are all making a lot of progress and it has been SO invigorating for me to learn a new skill.    We went again on Wednesday but C and I just weren’t having a great day.  I had a boot that didn’t fit well and made for a very scary trip down.

Despite all the time skiing we’ve been very diligent about our reading, math and grammar this week. I actually felt like we were able to focus better after spending the morning outside.  I have a simple spread sheet that helps me keep track of how much time we spend doing school related activities.

E finished up Singapore Math 6B last week.  I didn’t feel like the timing was right to move straight to 7A, so we decided to try Challenge Math.  We’ve decided to just enjoy math for the rest of the year.  It’s been a bit of a change not having all the needed information presented in each problem, but I think E is getting used to it.  I certainly think he is feeling challenged.  I’m a little disappointed that Challenge Math uses primarily English Units instead of metric,  but we need to be able to use both.   Overall I’ve been really impressed with Challenge Math, I think it will really make a great bridge from elementary math into more advance algebra and geometry skills. We are enjoying the focus on problem solving.

IMG_1561We’ve been working on Science Olympiad events.  We are meeting another family to work on Simple Machines and also Aerodynamics.  We spend about an hour on simple machines and then drive over to a local gym to fly airplanes.  The boys have had some good luck testing their distance planes at home, but we’ve found testing the gliders is much more successful in a large space.

On Our Bookshelf:

Percy Jackson 1-5.

D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths

McElderrry Book of Greek Myths

Nature’s Children: Stingrays

Spinach and Tofu ShellsOn the Table:

Spinach and Tofu Shells

Make Your Own Taco Bar

Beef Stew

Tortilla Soup

Tomato Soup and Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

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Beating the Winter Doldrums

IMG_1542I think we’ve finally have found a way to stave off cabin fever / winter doldrums.  We purchased ski passes this year for the first time.  We don’t have mountains, but we do have ski hills.


We had our first lesson on Sunday.  C had a difficult time on the skis.  We went back on Monday and the boys gave snowboarding a try.  That went much better!

I’m having a great time learning something new.  It’s frustrating at times and we all agree there are grandmas going faster than me, but I’m gaining confidence!  We went again Tuesday afternoon and we’re hoping to go again Friday afternoon.  This is one of those times our flexible schedule is so appreciated!  There’s plenty of time to go to the ski hill for a couple of hours and still do our school work.

We wrapped up our FLL season this week.  I was proud of the kids because they stayed enthusiastic and happy despite having troubles at the robot table.  I’m already excited about next years’ topic – “TRASH TREK”.  I checked out several books about trash this week, but the boys tell me I need to give them a little more of a break.

I wasn’t too disappointed that our FLL season ended, because we are working on Science Olympiad.  This month we need to build a mousetrap car and some paper airplanes as well as learn how to track animals and identify simple machines.  We’ve already worked with C’s Simple Machines partner and his mom is doing a great job coaching that event.

The boys are reading the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series.  It’s the perfect time of year to dive into a good story and they are flying through these.

Dean Kamen, the founder of FIRST and FLL, was on CBS Sunday Morning.  If you aren’t familiar with his work he is the inventor of the Segway, medical devices, a wheelchair that can balance at standing height, and an amazing robotic arm.  I loved this quote from him, “I don’t read novels. I like reading old physics books and old math books, ’cause I can read a page of differential equations as quickly as I can read a comic strip.”  Like so many inventors and innovators he struggled with dyslexia.

Snow Leopard Twins

I was a good sport last week and let the boys take me back out into the cold (10 F, -12 C) after zoo class to visit the snow leopard cubs.  It was super cute to see the cubs jumping and playing in the snow.   The red panda and penguins were also very active and happy in the cold.

E is about to finish Singapore Math 6B and I’m looking for some “fun” math to do for a month or two.  Thankfully Lucinda at Navigating by Joy has some suggestions.  E is especially interested in doing more geometry so I’m hoping to do some art projects.

Hope you are having a great week!

Bee Friendly

I was afraid I wasn’t going to have anything to share this week.  After having an awesome vacation last week we needed to “catch up on our paperwork.”

Bee Collage

Thankfully FIRST LEGO League, FLL, added interest to our week. Our normal FLL meeting time was spent doing a field trip related to our project.  We visited a local organic farmer to learn about bee keeping.  He was great with the kids and we had a good time learning about bees despite the rain.  I learned quite a few things about the farm even though I’ve been a member of their CSA program for a couple of years.  I also learned some new things about bees.

EV3 PBL Mission World Class

The local public school had the day off for election day, so I invited C’s team to our house for some “open table” time.  The kids came two at a time for a couple of hours each to work on their programming.   While we get a lot done during our normal meeting time, sometimes it helps to have an even smaller group.  They can concentrate better and spend more time testing their results.

If you want to gain hope for the future spending time around FLL is great.  The kids come up with some great solutions / innovations.  It’s also super fun to watch them as they learn how to program the robot.  They get such a sense of accomplishment as they solve problems and make things work.  Because gracious professionalism is one of the core values of FLL, we also set a high standard for behavior and manners.  They are still high energy kids and a bit wiggly and silly sometimes, but they are practicing kindness and respect.

Model Trebuchet

This week E built a trebuchet as an engineering project.  Apparently it’s been a bit hard to tune, but the boys and their friends have had a great time building cup towers and walls to attack with the trebuchet.  I wish I had known sooner how much fun kids could have with a few packages of plastic cups.

This week I asked C what he likes about homeschool.  He quickly answered, “We get to learn from TV.”  I’ll admit it has be a long road for me to accept watching documentaries / educational programs as more than just a supplement to “real” learning.  As I see how much information C learns and stores in picture form, it has helped me understand that we really do have different learning styles.

How have you learned to respect and accommodate your kids’ learning styles?

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Learning and Vacation

Autumn Hues Along Cumberland River below FallsThis week was amazing!  We took a much anticipated fall break.

We stepped away from our workbooks but not from learning.   The week was full of learning about new and interesting things.

Mammoth Cave 2We learned more about geology and cave systems by visiting Mammoth Cave National Park.

Blue CorvetteThe boys particularly enjoyed a visit to the Corvette Assembly Plant in Bowling Green, KY to see sports cars being assembled and tested.  We also made a subsequent visit to the Corvette Museum.

We learned a bit about the distilling process by visiting Makers Mark Bourbon Distillery.

Cumberland Falls with RainbowThe week was also full of hiking and relaxing in Cumberland Falls, KY.

This week was part of our larger goal this year – “spend more time relaxing.”  The implementation included a goal to go camping each month during warm weather.  I’ll be sharing more about this goal in a separate post on intentional leisure.

For the moment I’m feeling quite accomplished that our bags are unpacked, laundry is almost done and there are meals available for tomorrow.  Hopefully soon I can work in a little more time to spend online.

Hope you are having a wonderful week!

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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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