Weekly Wrap-Up – Lots of soccer and good food

Soccer ballSoccer, soccer, soccer.  Between our two boys some one is playing soccer every day except Saturday.  I decided I’m not cooking dinner until November.  Seriously.  I fix a nice lunch each day that hopefully yields some leftovers and the kids eat  lunch type foods at dinner time.  So far it’s working out well for every one.  My husband has access to great food at lunch time and doesn’t mind having a light evening meal.

I’ve been taking advantage of soccer practice to get back in the habit of walking every day. I’m annoyed with myself because I fell off the fitness wagon last year and it’s been a struggle to get going again.  I started walking about 2.5 miles during practice and now I’m up to 3.5 – 4.0 miles.   I added in 15-20 minutes / day  of strength exercise this week.  I really hate being back to square one and working so hard on things that used to come easier, but you have to restart somewhere.

The boys were  back in routine this week.  In our Yellowstone study,  they read about Black Bears and Geysers.  It was really interesting to learn the history of bears in Yellowstone.  During the early 1900’s the bears were welcomed to eat the garbage thrown out by the hotels.   We also learned about geysers around the world and under the sea.  Unrelated to Yellowstone, but related to hydrothermal ocean vents, we had a great discussion of Yeti Crabs.

The highlight of the week was another Zoo Class.   These boys LOVE animals.  They are having a great time learning about all the individual animals at the zoo.  They really enjoy learning the back story on the animals and having a chance to pet many of the smaller ones.  This week they were had the chance to pet a sugar glider!   I really was sort of jealous when I picked them up.!

Raspberries in baskets @ Greenfield Berry Farm From our raspberry picking last week I made a completely from scratch raspberry pie.  Amazing!

Ground Cherries

Ground Cherries

This week the CSA included edamame (yum!) and ground cherries.  I’d never heard of ground cherries before and we didn’t really get very many.  The ripe ones were like a small cherry tomato only sweeter and the not so ripe ones were a bit sour.  E thought I was going to eat the whole pint trying to decide what they tasted like!  I ended up using them as a tomato replacement in a Greek inspired pita and they were quite good.   I also broke out the dehydrator for some banana chips and kale chips.  I made banana chips for the first time a few months ago and E and I are hooked, so much better than store bought.

Hope you are having a great week full of learning!  Next wrap-up I hope to have LOTS more pictures!


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Yellowstone Unit Study Week 1

My boys really enjoy studying science.  Maybe because it has always been largely an interest led topic.  We do a lot of unit studies and most of them end up covering science and some history.  I’m not formal about creating a lesson plan because we tend to answer our questions as they come up.


This year we are starting the year with a unit study on Yellowstone National Park.  We will study the geological features, the wildlife, history and some botany and weather.

E in particular is always drawn to learning more about wildlife. Part of our unit study will be reading books about the wildlife in the park.  I easily picked up books about bears, elk, moose, wolves, and coyotes.  Oddly enough, the library didn’t have any books about marmots.

We are also using a guide book of Yellowstone as a resource and supplementing the information with internet searches. One big discovery, for the kids, was that the trees in a petrified forest have no limbs.  They had been picturing entire trees with intact limbs. I was glad I didn’t lead them on a long hike to Specimen Ridge only to discover the trees looked nothing like they expected.

The boys like to watch movies so we are working our way through some DVDs from the library.

I also found The Mystery at Yellowstone National Park by Carole Marsh.  It’s part of the America’s National Mystery Book Series.  It is always a challenge to find fiction the kids like to read but I’m hoping the combination of a mysteries and new places could make this series interesting.  I think the reading level on it was listed as 5.8, but most in the series were a little lower.


The boys did drawings of the types of thermal features found in the park. C’s are shown here.  E was still working on his.  We discussed all four types but they were free to draw whichever ones they wanted.

The school year is off to a great start. You can find the wrap-up of our entire week here.

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Back to School with BIG Science

One of our back to school traditions is to start the year with a science experiment.  So while traditional school parents are buying backpacks,  we are ordering a solar bag.  The experiment works best on a sunny morning.

Solar Bag 1


We tried this at our house last year and  decided it would be a much better idea to go to the park.

The bag is really long.








Solar Bag 2

Solar Bag 3


Solar Bag 4


Finally its almost full!

We tied it off and added a string.  Then we waited a little bit for the sun to do its job.

Solar Bag 5


Solar Bag 8


Solar Bag 9






If only we had reeled it in and called it a day right here.









Solar Bag 9


The string wrapped up in a tree.

Solar Bag 10

I spent about 15 minutes walking across the ball field rolling up string!


It was a great way to celebrate the “first day” of back to school with a great hands on science activity.  You can order a solar bag from Steve Spangler.  In addition to the solar bag make sure to take some invisible tape and scissors.  Oh and be prepared to answer questions and make friends.

Wishing you many happy experiments!


The Students

Here at Learning with Boys,  C is starting 3rd grade and E grade 4/5.

In our typical school style,  the first week of school includes:South Chagrin - Crawfish

nature hikes and observations

Science Experiment Solar Air Bag

 and science experiments before breakfast.

We’ll celebrate the first week of school by taking a field trip (our favorite part of homeschool).

Wishing everyone a safe and happy year!


Learning Summer Vacation Style

This week I pondered the question, “What did you do this summer?”  Oh, the perennial topic of so many back to school essays.

We read lots of books.  One of my boys read non-fiction all summer with the exception of one historical fiction.

Waterfall @ South Chagrin May 30

We spent a week at Vacation Bible School learning about water borne illnesses, the importance of proper handwashing, and the need for clean water around the world.  The church sponsors the Living Water initiative to bring clean water to people around the globe.   I was so completely humbled as I researched the need for access to clean water.

Sports Collage

We rode our bikes.  We worked on soccer skills. The boys even tried out baseball.

Mindstorm NXT



July was spent learning outdoor skills with the Cub Scouts, going on a family vacation, attending a NXT Programming Camp, and taking a couple of classes through the National Park Service.


Wildlife CollageWe hiked amazing places and saw some incredible wildlife.  One morning we had an amazing salamander hike.  We spotted a heron catching a fish.  Another evening we spotted a beaver.   They caught frogs and tadpoles.  We even found a snake skin in a tree.  After many afternoons watching dragonflies we learned the difference between dragon and damsel flies.

Hummingbird in the evening - Scott


We watched the hummingbirds in our backyard and learned their calls.  The boys spent a fair amount of time reading about hummingbirds and watching documentaries and TV shows.

Bat Barn @ Stanford House CVNP


We learned more about White Nose Syndrome in bats and Colony Collapse Disorder in bees.




We watched TV shows like Mythbusters and StormChasers and Nature (PBS).

Cooking with Scales


We did science experiments and practiced our metric skills.



It was a great summer of learning!

On this eve of back to school I ponder, “Would the school system agree?”  I have this suspicion the system may or may not think we had a great summer of learning. Observing nature, programming, being physically fit, learning about grave scientific issues facing our nation and planet, doing science experiments, pursuing interests and accomplishing goals you set for yourself – Those aren’t measured on a standardized test.  No, the important things would be:  How fast can you do your math facts?, How many minutes did you read?, and How does your reading level test on Aug. 23rd compare to May 23rd?

So tonight I say, “It’s great to be a homeschooler!”




Our 2013-2014 Curriculum

Can it really be that time again?

We follow an interest led approach to homeschool.  That can mean different things to different people.  At our house it means we have open reading everyday, we work through a math workbook (so far they enjoy it), and we have a grammar or spelling lesson every day.  The rest of our day is spent learning about things we find interesting.  Frequently our reading in the morning ties into our unit studies.

This coming school year E will officially be in 4th grade and C in 3rd grade.  So what workbooks / programs do we use:

Singapore Math.  The boys enjoy math and tend to catch on to concepts quickly.  They like that the Singapore Math series doesn’t bog them by expecting problems to be solved in a particular way.   So far we have used books 1B – 5A and I’ve been pleased with the way concepts are presented.

When the boys were in public school, they used a spiraling curriculum.  They didn’t like the information being presented in such small segments.  They didn’t feel like they were learning anything new.

Easy Grammar We will use Easy Grammar again this year.  It does a nice job of building up skills and reviewing them.   The lessons are short enough that they are not cumbersome. There are no pictures or color, but the boys don’t mind at all.  My left handed son appreciates that Easy Grammar is spiral bound at the top.  I usually take his workbooks and have the office supply store cut off the binding and hole punch them, so I appreciate not having the extra step as well.

All About Spelling – Very straight forward and well planned out.  The tiles that come with this program are fantastic. The boys enjoy putting words in jail when they break the rules.    I’ve done quite a bit of reading regarding what works for kids with dyslexia and this program really does use recommended techniques.

That’s it for workbooks at my house.

What about science, history, music, art, sports and reading?

Last year they studied Greek mythology and history, the Vikings, China ( the Great Wall, Pandas, and ninjas), cephalopods, and vernal pools.  We also touched on WWII and the Civil War.  We did lots of science experiments and read about scientists and their work.

This year we will have a unit study on Yellowstone (including field trip / vacation) !!!   We will also study weather, natural disasters, and programming using the NXT format as part of our Lego League teams.    Bats and White Nose Syndrome will be a topic of study.  I’m hoping we can make it to Mammoth Cave this school year. The boys are starting to take an interest in greek and latin word roots.  They will be playing soccer and golf.  We will try to go rock climbing, sledding and skiing during the winter.  Beyond that I’m not exactly sure what we will be learning but I’m excited to see how the year unfolds.

Right now we are trying to enjoy another month of summer.  Oh and reading, programming, swimming and developing our outdoor skills.

How are your plans for the school year coming?





Every Day Science – The Metric Kitchen

Does anyone else find the gram measurements on food labels abstract?

I truly would like to see the U.S. start using more metric units.  All scientific measurements are taken using metric units.  It is easier to make conversions between units by simply multiplying by 10 or 100 or 1000 instead of multiplying by 12 or 3 or 5280 or 16.   Not only is it easier to make conversions within length or volume,  did you know that a mL is 1cubic cm and 1 mL of water weighs 1 gram?

When we have a solid understanding of what a gram looks like, it makes food labels so much easier to understand.

With the above in mind, we’ve started taking advantage of our digital scale in the kitchen. Cooking with Scales

We started by taking the boys favorite cookie recipes and measuring the ingredients first in English units  then weighing out and recording the weight in grams.   Liquid measurements were easy because our measuring cup is marked in both mL and cups.

The next time we made cookies we used the metric measures we previously recorded.  So instead of saying, “I need a cup of sugar” we said, “I need 200 grams of sugar,”Chocolate Chip Cookie


This simple “experiment” :

1. Develops an understand of metric units by making concrete connections.

2. Develops a greater understanding of volume v. weight.  A cup of sugar weighs more than a cup of flour.

3. Provides a chance to practice good lab skills.

Plus,  we get to eat cookies!


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Philosophies of Learning

Sometimes I think it would be nice to have a tidy answer to “What curriculum do you use?”  We do use a couple of programs but those programs don’t define us.  Instead I find myself coming back over and over to the following principles.

Reading should be interesting.  Children should spend their time with books they personally desire to read.   Nothing kills the desire to read as much as being required to read for the sake of being evaluated.  We spend a lot of time reading about animals and scientists. We also like mysteries and books that are funny.  It’s okay to read books that are “below your reading level” if you find them funny, interesting, or relaxing.  When kids read books that are easy they develop fluency and  feel a sense of accomplishment knowing it is easier this year than it was last year. DSC_0048 Children need to move.  Frequently.  Sometimes every one is getting tense or squirrelly and I know we need to move.  Some days we have to set aside a lesson for a while so we can take a walk or swim.  Sometimes I try to push through just a little more book work even though I know they need a break and it doesn’t go well. DSC_0143 Play.  Every day.  In play children explore their world.  They make hypotheses and test them.  Their hypothesis is either confirmed or re-evaluated.  The scientific method develops organically through play.  Play allows children to create and test a multitude of things.  Developing plays and dialogue allows children to explore social reactions.  Play allows a child to compete against herself and develop mastery of skills  that lead to confidence.   (The skill might be off the wall and not have any practical value to the observer but the child is still benefiting.)   Play is not the exclusive domain of preschoolers.  If you know some one who continues to tinker as they get older you know they are most often very knowledgeable in their field of interest.  Even as adults we learn through play. DSC_0019 Nature is necessary.  Spending time in nature allows us to understand our place in the world.  Nature allows us to feel big compared to an ant and small compared to the vastness of the ocean or the universe.   When we study nature we begin to understand its cycles and the importance of time.  We see the incredible abilities of small creatures like the monarch butterflies to travel thousands of miles. We can marvel for days over the fact that if ice were more dense than water our world would be vastly different.   Nature creates a sense of awe and wonder.   DSC_0032 Curiosity is a wonderful teacher.  I have noticed unit studies that start with a child’s question last longer, have more depth and more staying power than studies initiated because they match up with the core standards.  Seemingly small events (a cicada molting on our soccer net, the call of spring peepers, a cartoon episode) can launch investigations if we take the time to follow our curiosity. Curiosity is powerful and motivating.

Grow the whole child.  The goal of our learning environment is to grow physically,  spiritually, emotionally, and in wisdom of the world. Each child has a unique personality with individual strengths, weaknesses, and motivations. As parents and teachers  we need to listen carefully to their desires and provide guidance on the path toward maturity.   We must meet children at their points of need, find the resources they need, and help them get the practice they need to develop new skills.


Those principles are the things I keep coming back to.  That and the evidence of happy, confident, growing children.

Finishing Up

Even though today was our last official day of school, we have already mostly transitioned to our summer schedule.  We are still reading, writing a tiny bit each day, and doing some math.


We found time to build some Lego kits and make pop rockets.

Sunday we had an informational meeting at our house about FIRST Lego League.  It is a great program that introduces kids to the fun of programming.  The competition includes researching a problem, designing a solution, and playing the robot game.  E participated last year and had a great time.


Early in the week when the weather was nice we went on several hikes.  We are planning a vacation to Yellowstone in the fall and I want to make sure we are ready to explore.  We saw lots of chipmunks, a baby squirrel, and a few caterpillars.

We started a positive reinforcement program this week.  Each time one of the boys displays a good attitude or is particularly helpful he gets a pebble for his jar.  It has been great.  It has really helped me to see all the good stuff they are doing and let them know.  Each of them has his own jar.  When he fills it there will be a reward for both boys (like a trip for ice cream or mini-golf).  I designed it that way so they will root for each other; but, there will also be a certain amount of pride in filling your own jar.

Today I took E to the cemetery to place flags on veterans graves.  It was only 45 degrees and so not the most pleasant day to be out there, but the VFW men appreciated the boys coming.  When I thought of all those men had given for us, it seemed a very small thing to be out in the weather for an hour.

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Grist Mill Visit and Camping Trip

This time of year I get a lot more relaxed about official “school” time.  With one exception we have accomplished or exceeded all our curriculum goals for the year.  The weather tends to be beautiful and we are all longing to be outside again.  The learning doesn’t stop, the balance just shifts even more to interest led learning.

For Mother’s Day we went to Mohician State Park in Ohio.  It was very beautiful.  We had a cottage right next to a scenic river.  Unfortunately it was very chilly and kind of rainy while we were there.  We are all looking forward to going back when the weather is warmer.


The sound of the water rushing past was so relaxing.  We were excited to see a heron(?) come to feed.  A few people floated by in canoes.

Lyons Falls

We took a hike to Big Lyon Falls.  It was so nice to be out in the woods with the leaves back on the trees.


Adjacent to the park, a volunteer group has restored a grist mill from the 1830s.  We frequently find grist stones on some of our hikes but had never seen them in action.  It was very neat to see old equipment and the massive size of the gears.  Thinking about all the machinery in use before electricity was amazing.


On the grounds of grist mill there was an old wagon.  We spent a few minutes marveling over how brave/desperate/adventurous the pioneers must have been to fit everything they would need to start a new life into such a tiny wagon and head west.  I thought of how full we loaded the mini van for a weekend trip!



Orchid Mantises by Andrew Hipp

The Mysterious Universe by Ellen Jackson  from the Scientist in the Field Series

April Adventure by Ron Roy from the Calendar Mysteries series

Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder


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Weekly Wrap Up @ Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers