Back to (Summer) School

Practicing Cursive

Practicing Cursive

Hooray!  We started summer science today and it went even better than I hoped.  I had kicked around a couple of different ideas for this year’s summer school, including an in-depth study of Da Vinci (one of my heroes) and going through our Curiosity Files from The Old Schoolhouse and just doing one or two a week.  I really wanted something that didn’t require a whole lot of planning on my part because planning for autumn is taking up so much of my time.  What I landed on is nothing short of Awesome!

        _20150615_091145                 _20150615_091126

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know Middle is obsessed with becoming a video game designer.  You also know I have been wondering how on earth I’m going to teach him to write code when I am about as code-knowledgeable as a stump.  I found the greatest deal for a program that teaches him coding, and I just have to share it with you.  The class is called Game: IT Junior from STEM Fuse, a site that offers several different IT classes for both home- and public schools.  This particular class is $1,499.00 on their website, but if you use the coupon code HOMESCHOOL, it’s only $50.


Fifty. Dollars.  We decided we would all take the class for summer science.

It is an 18-week course that begins teaching what a game is and proceeds through the engineering design cycle, the physics of games, game engines, programming basics… on to truly programming their own games with Construct 2, an easily installed construct from which games can be created.  You can download the whole class and print it or install it on your tablets or do a mixture of both, like we did.  My Middle is so excited, I thought he might burst during class this morning.  And Littlest enjoyed it just as much.  Especially since their first assignment was to play some of the games they’ll be working with.

The best part about doing it for summer science is that we don’t have a full school day so instead of doing one lesson per day we can do 2 or 3 as time and interest allow.  Today we did the first two lessons and school felt so easy and fun.  Stress-free for everybody.  I’m loving it!


It’s not just about video games.  Obviously, learning to write code has tons more applications.  Some of the other things that can be learned from this class are computer programming and graphic design, collaboration, creative and critical thinking, engineering, physics, and math concepts, and using digital research tools.  The awesome thing is that while the Junior class is geared toward middle-schoolers, there is also an elementary class and 3 different levels for high school.  And an app class for learning how to create apps.  Um… Can you say cool?

And, really, saving $1,450.00?  How could I resist?! I’m so happy to be able to provide Middle with this awesome class Right Now while his interest is so strong.  I think it will help him decide if he wants to continue on this career track.  If he does, I will definitely be looking into the higher levels at STEM Fuse.

Today, what I love most about homeschooling:  Getting to provide my Littles with their dreams while they’re having them.

Love wins,



Conquering Your Homeschool Fears

Our summer science begins next week, and it’s got me thinking about some people I know who are still trying to make the decision to homeschool.  It’s a hard decision and a scary one.  As parents, we believe we know what is best for our children.  We see the flaws in the public school system and hope a miracle occurs that will fix them.  We see the bureaucracy involved and know the miracle probably will not come.  At least not soon enough for our kids.  We do research and realize private schools and charter schools, while they may be trying, are really not much better.  We have to decide.  Send our kids to school?  Or take on that enormous responsibility for ourselves?

Native American Crafts for American History 2012

Native American Crafts for American History 2012

Knight and horse craft 2013

Knight and horse craft 2013

Homemade kites 2012

Homemade kites 2012

If you’ve never done it before, deciding to homeschool is downright terrifying.  I remember well how scared I was as my beautiful husband and I made the decision.  I remember going to my neighbor’s house.  She has nine kids (I’ve counted them!), and has now graduated 3 from homeschool.  She had been homeschooling for several years when I went to her for advice.  She said, as any experienced homeschooling mama generally says, “Absolutely! You should go for it.”  There was A Lot more to that conversation.  Mostly I needed someone to tell me I could do it.  That I wasn’t setting out to destroy my children and setting myself up for an Epic Fail.

Let me be the first to tell you, you can do it.

Middle concentrating 2011- our first year

Middle concentrating 2011- our first year

As amazing as professional teachers are, each year they have 20-35 kids to look after and educate.  You only have a few, or maybe even just one.  So what you can give your kids that a public school teacher can’t is one-on-one.  Even when you’re unsure of your methods, that one-on-one training opens up so many possibilities.  When I first started, my homeschool looked very like public school–I taught the Littles according to their grade levels, gave them separate subjects, worked on a schedule much like a middle or high school is set up: certain subjects at certain times every day.  As that year progressed I realized my boys were far beyond what was considered their ‘grade level,’ so I upped the stakes and they followed along winningly.

Castle craft 2013

Castle craft 2013

Mayan temple craft 2011

Mayan temple craft 2011

The only thing I have kept from that first year is adherence to a schedule.  In my house, we all work better with structure so we keep it structured.  However, now the only subject they’re on different levels in is math, and they both learn science, history, art, language, geography, and music together.  It helps that the Littles are only two years apart.  Once they both had the basic understanding of a subject down, they could move on together without anyone feeling held back or left behind.  I do expect more from Middle when it comes to research, writing, and the like, but he is technically 2 grades ahead of Littlest so it’s only fair.

My point is, there are so many ways to homeschool and if you pick one no one is saying you have to continue with it.  You can change it up.  I do.  Every. Single. Year.  The Littles love not being boxed in to a certain type of learning or even a set number of subjects.  They give me input on how we should do things, and decide on their own electives.  They even help me decide what order we’ll do our schedule in.  That way, they are learning to make their own decisions about their education, which I hope will stead them well when the time comes for college.

Littlest with his Robinson Crusoe journal 2014

Littlest with his Robinson Crusoe journal 2014

The myriad options for approaching homeschool should erase at least some of your fears.  There are others, of course.  Like the whole, “Wow, if I do this, I am committed to doing this for 12-13 years.”  Well, yeah.  But you’re going to be raising them anyway, and it is kind of your job.  The one thing to keep in mind, though, is that if it all gets overwhelming or you find that homeschooling isn’t working for your family, you can send them to school.  As long as you have kept them at their grade level in work they should assimilate pretty easily.  So take that fear off the list.  You can homeschool for a year or until they graduate.  The option for change is always there.

Then there’s the financial question.  I’m not going to lie–there are months when we struggle a bit and I start thinking, “We wouldn’t have to worry about this if I just went back to work.”  In my case, my beautiful husband is always there to remind me why we made this decision and of the cost of child care and professional clothing and daily lunches and gas money.  And we remember we’d be giving up this wonderful opportunity to raise our kids ourselves in order to make an extra–what?–$50 dollars a week?  A hundred?  After we factor in the costs of me going back to work, it suddenly seems like a Really Bad Idea.  So we make it through and things get right again, and I am always grateful I didn’t cave.  If you decide to give up half the family’s income in order to homeschool, it’s going to be hard.  You’ll have to give up some luxuries and some social activities in order to afford books or paper and pencils.  Or a rocking printer like the one I finally invested in.  But the rewards are so numerous.  I promise you, getting to be the one who teaches your kids their values and ideals, sees every nuance of their growth, and witnesses all their firsts makes it worth it.  And as a good friend of mine says about the people you owe money to, “They can’t eat you.  What are you stressing about?”  Also, I know several families in which the primary homeschooler has a part-time or even a full-time job.  The options are there and apparently doable.

Scarecrow-building day with our homeschool friends 2013

Scarecrow-building day with our homeschool friends 2013

You might also be really scared of what will happen to your kids socially.  In our society, the public school system is where kids learn to interact with others, right?  It’s where they make friends.  Now, I know there are people out there who have been lifelong friends with people they met at school.  I am not one of them.  My circle these days is made up of people I’ve worked with, family, people I’ve met through my husband, people from all sorts of places… none of them people I knew in high school.  In fact, barring a couple of exceptions, I have never had a desire to remain friends with the people I went to high school with.  I had a lot of friends in high school.  I wasn’t comfortable around most of them.  I didn’t agree with the way they thought, the things they did, or the way they viewed the future.  I always felt like an oddball.  Why would I still want to feel like that as an adult?  I mean, think about it–public school throws us in with a bunch of other people our age that we don’t get to pick and we have to at least find one or two we can tolerate for the next 12 years.  In high school, most of my friends went to other schools and I only saw them on the weekends.  So technically, public school didn’t do much for me socially except teach me to hide who I really was.

Do you want that for your kids?  The thing is, as long as you don’t hole your kids up in your house 24/7, they’re going to make friends.  It’s what kids do.  It’s what humans do.  I’ve talked about this extensively in another post, so I’m just going to say, wipe that fear off your list.

Equinox lesson at local forestry's nature center 2013

Equinox lesson at local forestry’s nature center 2013

Listen, fear begets courage.  It’s healthy to have a little fear, because it helps you think things through.  It can even help you throw on your big-girl boots and tackle a problem head on.  If you’re still wavering about homeschool because of fear, take a deep breath.  Remember who you’ll be doing this for.  Contact someone with experience and let them encourage you.  Look at how happy my Littles look in all these photos.  Then look at your own kids.  And go for it.

Love wins,


This Crazy-Cool Country Life

I’ve mentioned often that part of the Littles’ learning process here at home is working on the farm, but I’ve never really given you much of a tour.  So today I’m going to take you on a photo tour of some of the cool things we’ve done/encountered so far this summer.

We’ve had a couple of run-ins with snakes already.  Now, my beautiful husband loves snakes and there isn’t anybody here who is afraid of them, so when my sweet mama called me and said, “Snake in my strawberry netting!” with abject fear in her voice, Martin rushed home from work and we went over to save her.  Save the snake.  Save somebody.

IMG_20150529_154922413IMG_20150529_155023776_HDRMy beautiful husband was about as patient as a person can be.  The blacksnake’s head was caught in the netting.  He had a mouse halfway down his throat that he couldn’t swallow because the netting had tightened around his neck.  Martin took his pocketknife and a pair of scissors and loosened that netting strand by strand.  Eventually, the snake coughed up his dinner, his head was extracted from the netting, and Martin set him free at the edge of the woods.  Mama Did Not put netting back over her strawberries.

Look at those muscular arms.  Swoon

Yesterday was a different story.  Littlest came running over at feeding time.  It’s his job to gather eggs.  “Daddy!” he yelled, “there’s  a snake in the hen box.”  So off we all went again to get a look at yet another blacksnake.  This one was stealing eggs.  It was so cool to witness, we just let him eat.  I mean, what’s one egg?  Right?

IMG_20150609_161721759IMG_20150609_161709971How often do you get to watch a snake suck down an entire egg?!  The Littles got to see how his jaw unhinged, how when he got to the biggest part of the egg his eyes closed, how patient he was to get that meal into his gullet and get his belly full.  We watched him for about 10 minutes.  But after the initial awesomeness, it kind of became like watching paint dry.  Apparently, it takes a Long Time for a snake to eat an egg.  The little thief.  Isn’t he beautiful?  We couldn’t even be a little bit mad.

Because it was incredible.

Snakes aren’t the only things we see a lot around this place.  Dragonflies and butterflies love it here, especially when we let the meadow grow up and provide plenty of food and hiding plabutterfliesces.  These butterflies are Everywhere.  They came and hung out on the ladder when we were working on one of the outbuildings.  They follow us around in the woods.  I think they’re trying to let us know that we might think we own this place in human terms, but really it belongs to them.  I’m good with that.IMG_20150609_164627063

IMG_20150609_163713009It’s berry season, and the wild raspberries are finally ripening.  They grow everywhere along the edges of the woods, so we spend a good part of our summer walking along the edges and gathering all that yummy goodness.  I love that the Littles are getting the opportunity to learn how to identify these plants and also learning to appreciate what the Earth has to offer us that can’t be found in stores.  (If you’ve never tasted a wild raspberry, you haven’t Really tasted a raspberry.  They are so much better than the ones you can buy in stores.)  finchesI don’t know if you can tell in this photo, but when we went out to get to the bushes between the woods and the meadow this morning, we scared up a flock of goldfinches.  They landed safely on the electric lines and chirped at us until we were out of sight.  They nest in the tall meadow grasses and we get blessed with the sight of them daily.

Yesterday, for some unknown reason, all my boys decided to go hang out on the IMG_20150609_164052305tailgate of Big’s truck.  In the blaring hot sun.  You can tell by their faces that it is too hot and bright to be hanging out on a black tailgate.  But they wouldn’t be country boys if they didn’t tailgate in some way.  So even though Littlest Still Won’t Put on a Shirt Unless You Make Him (he’s been like that since birth), I had to capture the moment.  See the turkey by the truck?  His name is Peeper, because of the loud peeping sounds he made as a baby.  He is a family pet.  He travels everywhere on the farm with us.  And scares any woman who dares show her face here with his strutting and cooing.  It’s pretty funny.

IMG_20150609_163423360Here are a couple of cool things about our veggie garden this year.  See the weird white thing at the bottom of the pic in front of the pepper plant?  That is half a bar of Irish Spring soap stuck onto a stick.  Why?  It keeps the rabbits away.  My sweet mama taught me this trick, and it appears to be working.  I guess the strong smell of the soap masks the smell of the plants.  Rabbits were tearing us up a couple weeks ago, but since we put out Irish Spring on either end of our rows, they have left it alone.  A quick spray of cayenne pepper diluted in water keeps the bugs away from the leaves of the plants.  We never use non-organic materials on our garden.  Unless you count the landscape fabric we put down to keep the weeds out.  We learned that from the GAC reality show Farm Kings.  If you’ve never watched that show, it’s a really good way to learn some new farming tricks.  You know I don’t like TV, but this show really does teach something a person can use.

This next pic shows my beautiful husband’s idea for getting my cucumber plants up offIMG_20150609_163356241 the ground so they’re easier to harvest from.  We had some old wall-racks for feeding livestock hay that we had no use for.  Instead of building a trellis, he lay them down by the plants, covered them with a piece of fencing, and the plants are growing up through them beautifully.  And, they can just be carried back to the barn in the fall with no fuss whatsoever.  He’s a genius.

But the really cool thing Martin has done around here?  IMG_20150609_163509560He built me my very own building.  Walled with bookshelves.  Containing a desk.  And electricity.  A haven for me to write in, read in, escape to when I need some quiet.  Sitting in a clearing just inside our woods, it reminds me of something out of Little House on the Prairie.  It’s my favorite place in the whole world.

Blue and Storm

Speaking of favorite things, how cute are my cats?  They totally have that brotherly love thing down.  I’m taking them to the vet today to be neutered,  and even though logically I know they’ll be okay, I have this weird, paranoid fear of anesthesia.  So wish them luck.

IMG_20150325_152457355Some of the animals we raise to sell here on the farm include rabbits, doves, and golden pheasants.  Pheasants are incredible creatures.  They look like little Samurai warriors, and their colors are breathtaking.  In comparison, the doves are like the IMG_20150504_082657032sweet version of bird on the farm.  They have soft voices, soft, lovely colors, and a gentler approach to life.  We don’t often get to see the little ones before they’re IMG_20150514_091549644learning to fly, but here’s the one pic I’ve been able to catch of them while they’re still just a few days old.  My favorites, though, are the rabbits.  I love how the little ones will cuddle against your chest until their heart rate slows and they get drowsy.  I love that the Littles get to see how they grow from birth to weaning and learn the responsibility of taking care of something and keeping it alive.

IMG_20150529_161626590There are so many things to learn on a farm.  Invaluable lessons about life that are harder to grasp in the city.  Animal husbandry.  The life cycle of mammals and how to handle death.  The miracle of birth.  Getting your hands dirty and feeding yourself.  How to tell one tree from another, one plant from another, one insect or bird from another.  Every day is a free science lesson.  I am grateful every second to get to live here.

I suppose I’d better get busy…

Love wins,


15 Ways to Cure the Summer Blahs

Want to know something that both frustrates me and amuses me mightily?  During the school year I have to wake my Littles up at 7:30 to get chores done and breakfast ate so we can be in class by 8.  And sometimes it’s hard.  Sometimes it’s downright improbable.  Middle is about to turn 13, after all, and his body is doing that weird teenager thing where he wants to sleep F-O-R-E-V-E-R once he finally gets in bed.


During the summer?  I can’t even get my first cup of coffee down without those boys rolling out of bed and bounding into the living room sometime between 6 & 7.  Talking.  Immediately. Incessantly.  Ever seen me before my 1st cup of coffee?  It’s not pretty.  And you really don’t want to talk to me at all.  Because chances are my response will be something along the lines of, “Please stop talking.  For like half an hour.”

Not the best thing to say to your kids.  So I suck it up.  I let them talk, even though I would rather hit myself in the head with a rock.  I even try to respond.  Kindly, I swear.  I can’t help the way my tone sounds when I’m not fully awake!  But the one thing that gets me on a gorgeous summer morning when I’ve thrown the windows open to let in the smell of the woods and fields and the sunshine is just topping the trees and turning the yard golden and the birds are twittering happily outside and that is All I Want To Hear..:

“Mom, what can I do?  I don’t know what to do.  I’m bored.”

Um.  Can I finish my coffee before we have this conversation?  Pretty please???

Of course not.

It’s summer break.  You don’t have school.  You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do once your chores are done.  In fact, sometime today we will probably do something awesome.  But first… be very quiet and let me finish my coffee.

So I’ve come up with a list of responses to beat those summer blahs.  Because it is, actually, hard on a little to go from a structured day to one in which he has to fill the hours by himself.  And it’s not his fault daylight comes earlier and there’s no reason to try to steal an extra 15 minutes asleep.  (I mean, we won’t be skipping math or writing because of it during the summer.  Not that we do anyway, but I think they always hope.)

So here’s my list of things they can do on their own, without my input, so I can finish my coffee and they will (God willing) stop talking to me for half an hour.  Notice they are all unplugged things.  I live in the real world, but I just don’t feel right recommending they turn on a screen to combat boredom.  Especially not a 6 in the morning.  Where I might have to hear it.

1. Build a tent fort My Littles love nothing more than getting out the sheets and blankets and building a fort.  Especially if they can trap the dog in there with them.  I make them a deal that I will let them keep it up all day if they build it themselves.

2. Read your book When a kid is bored, this often sounds boring.  But if you can them started they will eventually get interested and forget they were ever bored to begin with.

3. Quiet time basket! I have extolled the virtues of the quiet time basket before, but it works as well for boredom as it quiet-time-basket.jpgdoes for diffusing tension.  If they are claiming boredom and I yell, “Quiet Time!” they obediently grab something from the basket and become absorbed.  I set the timer for half an hour.  And finish my coffee in peace.

4. Play a Bored (board) game We just picked up a like-new copy of the old game Scotland Yard for 50 cents at a yard sale.  The Littles Love It, which is awesome because I remember playing it with my family as a child and loving it as well.  But I usually mean Sorry or Checkers or Clue, something that works better with only 2 players

5. Finger paint Everybody loves to finger paint.  I keep a supply on hand, along with a roll of freezer paper for them to paint on.  Here’s a secret about freezer paper–it’s cheaper than butcher paper or any other roll you can buy that’s meant for school-age kids.  And it works just as well.  We use it for everything.  And it has that great waxed backing, so paints don’t soak through it.  Seriously, invest in some.

6. Get out the Mad Libs We love Mad Libs.  We use them to drive home grammar lessons during school, even have some that help with math, but mostly we just love getting them out and making funny stories.  Even that early in the morning, I’m down for a game of Mad Libs.  So I get to play, too.  Of course, most of the words end up being disgusting words and body parts, but They Are Boys.

7. Grab the Nature Walk bag, head outside, and see what you can discover.  For some reason, the clover is doing Very Well in our yard this year.  (Makes the deer and rabbits happy but somehow doesn’t keep them out of our garden.)  I tell the Littles to go find me a four-leaf clover, find a new flower in the garden, discover a bug, search out a skink.  Take the magnifying glass and look at one spot for several minutes.  Record what they see.

8. Go play basketball/baseball/football  Any sport they enjoy.  Sometimes just getting up and getting moving chases the boredom away and helps them figure out how they want to spend the rest of their day.

9. Tell me a story Sure, I need quiet first thing in the morning.  But if I can get them to tell me a story, they start using their imagination, practice their story-telling skills, and maybe suddenly say to each other, “Hey, this would make a great game!  Let’s go play.”

10. Pick an activity out of The Dangerous Book for Boys I love this book.  It’s full of fun, adventurous things for boys to do like making paper airplanes, tying knots, building a treehouse, juggling, building a workbench.  Sometimes they look through it for long enough that by the time they pick an activity I’m awake and ready to help them.

11. Draw/Do a craft Littlest likes to draw stories.  He will draw several hours’ worth of action on a single sheet of paper, then IMG_20150605_143011994come tell me what’s happening.  Both the Littles like to get out the gobs of craft paraphernalia and create.  Again, it often leads to a game they’ve made up together.

12. Build a Lego/block house for your action figures If you have boys and they’re anything like mine, your house is a haven for action figures of every sort–superheroes, Pokemon, Transformers, Walking Dead characters… I promise they can keep the house up all day if they build it themselves.  Suddenly they are entertained For Hours.  Because why build a house and not play with it?

13. Take your cars outside and create a race track/crash-up derby/monster truck rally The great thing about summer is you can take your toys outside, get to be out of the house, and have a whole new (and bigger) area to play in.  Make the most of it.  Take some water; make some mud.


14. Get out your water guns Sometimes, filling up a bucket with water and sending them outside with a water gun is the only way to get them clean.

15. Make my breakfast Hey, if you’re that bored, chances are I haven’t eaten even though I’ve been up for a while.  The Littles love to work in the kitchen, so cutting me up some fruit or heating up some leftover rice is going to go a long way to improving my morning mood.  Which serves everyone.

If nothing on this list works and I am out of spur-of-the-moment ideas, I tell them it’s up to them to come up with something to do.  One of the wonders of boredom is that it makes us Try to think of something to do.  Littles need to learn how to counter boredom on their own, and often Middle and Littlest come up with things on their own that I would never think of.  And then the Real Adventure begins.

Know any other ways to chase off the summer blahs?  Please post them in the comments.  My pre-coffee brain needs them!

Love wins,


Animal Study Freebie

I’ve been working hard on our Asia Unit Study for the 2015-16 school year.  I’ve been through geography and history and now am working on the science portion of  our program.  You might remember that we are doing animal science and geology in order to learn more about Asian countries and really bring those lessons home.  Plus, science gives us an opportunity to do lots of hands-on lessons to make our learning fun.

There are lots of interesting animals to study in Asia that we don’t have here in the U.S., so it will give us a chance to learn more deeply about animals to which we might not otherwise pay such close attention.  One of the things I have been remiss in teaching in science is the classification of animals.  Then again, we’ve never done a serious animal study before, unless you count nature study, and we tend to draw and write info in our nature journals then, so it never occurred to me to include it.

The Littles are really excited about doing serious animal science.  Middle can’t wait to do his own research and Littlest can’t wait to try his hand at drawing some of the beautiful creatures who make their homes in Asia.  So as I’ve worked on our unit study, I’ve come up with a worksheet that includes all the things I want them to learn along with all the things they want to learn.  Of course, this won’t be the only thing we do where these gorgeous animals are concerned, but I think it will give us a good starting point to learn the basic facts.

This worksheet would also be great to use for a nature study.  Or any kind of animal study you’re doing.  I made it generic so it can be included in all of the unit studies we’ll be doing next year.  Because it seems like it would be useful for so many things, I thought it would be great to offer it to my readers as a freebie.  The link is below.  Feel free to use it however you see fit.  I hope your littles enjoy it and learn gobs of stuff about animals using it.


Animal Study Worksheet

Love wins,


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