Category Archives: Education

History on the Homestead

History is fascinating. The boys are always asking me questions about their past, my past, their dad’s past.

“Were you a kid once Mommy?”

“Did Daddy eat broccoli when he was little?”

They are starting to become more curious about what happened…before.

Before they were born and before they could remember.

I wanted to start introducing them to, not just their own history, but their grandparent’s, great-grandparent’s and great-great-grandparent’s history.

We are using Story of the World (SOTW) Year One: Ancient Times as our history curriculum this year. I chose SOTW because it is a great, hands-on, take-your-time-and-have-fun curriculum.

We read the introduction “What is History?” the first week in September and started our timelines. (above)

We started Chapter 1 the second week in September. We talked about nomads, the Fertile Crescent and the first farmers.

We made our own cave paintings with a paper grocery sack and acrylic paint and watched The Croods for fun.

We started Chapter 2 recently. Chapter 2 is about the Ancient Egyptians. Our first craft in Chapter 2 was building papyrus boats out of straws, duct tape and string.

We floated them in the bathtub and the boys had their little Lego figures sailing along and, I think, fishing.

The activity book in Chapter 2 had instructions to make a model of the Nile with dirt and grass seed in a tin casserole pan.

What a cool project! We were all ready to make our model when my husband said, “Why don’t you make it out in the swales?”

Of course we should make it out in the swales! It’s a bigger model and the boys get to get muddy and play in the dirt.

We trekked out to the pond (which is really just a large puddle now) with shovels and spades and a map of the Nile and got started.

Joe directed traffic for a bit as he consulted the map. There were a few tense moments where they argued over who got to dig the “split part” aka the Delta, but in the end they worked it out.

Joe worked from the top, Jake from the bottom and I helped in the middle with instruction on the depth and shape from both of them.

After about an hour of hard work digging in thick, goopy clay, we had a miniature Nile on our homestead.

Now it was time to test it out. We had a slight problem deciding out to flood the Nile, our hose wasn’t long enough and it was a clear, sunny day so we couldn’t count on heavy rains. In the end, Joe suggested we use a bucket of water.

We got the papyrus boats we had made the previous week and proceeded to flood our mini Nile.

It worked! Our papyrus boats floated down the river after getting stuck only once or twice and out into the Mediterranean Pond/puddle.


We did it a few more times before the river started filling in and everyone got hungry for lunch.

It was fun, engaging, messy and exciting. We will likely also make the model in the tin pan, but the boys will have the memory of playing in the mud to create the Nile with them for a long time.

It’s now part of their history.

 

Eggsperiments

We are a house obsessed with all things egg.

We like to eat them fried, scrambled, boiled or deviled.

We use them for baking, for breakfast and sometimes for lunch and dinner.

Yes, we are a house full of egg enthusiasts and, just when we thought we couldn’t find another way to enjoy the egg, DIY Sci came to Prime.

DIY Sci is a Fox series hosted by Steve Spangler and a recent Amazon Prime discovery for my boys. The show is fast paced and silly with fun experiments and scientific explanations.

Everything Spangler does can be done at home with (mostly) common household items.

Like vinegar…and plastic bottles…and eggs.

First, the boys used an empty bottle, paper plate and cracked egg to demonstrate how to use to suction to separate the yolk from the white without breaking it.

I was totally impressed with this. I always make a mess or break the yolk when I try separating eggs…even when I use those little egg separator tools. Who knew that all I needed was an empty water bottle?

Then, Joe wanted to show me how to squeeze and egg so it wouldn’t crack. He held it in his hand longways and squeezed. It didn’t break! Then I tried it, but didn’t hold it longways like he did…what a mess that was.

The latest experiment was an oldie but a goodie. The ol’ blow-the-egg-out-of-its-shell-through-a-pinhole trick.

The shell was still intact after this one so Joe wanted to use it for one more eggsperiment: The Rubber Egg.

He put the empty egg in a glass, covered it with vinegar and weighed it down so it would stay completely submerged.

After a few days, he checked on it and sure enough, some of the outer shell had dissolved.

DIY Sci has inspired may experiments around the house, but so far the eggs have been the most fun. It is probably not a coincidence that they are also the messiest.

 

Flexibility

Homeschool on our Homestead has gone through several drastic changes.

When we first started, I thought I’d create a schedule that we would follow every day of the week.

We’d start in the morning at 9AM and be done by noon with each subject having a specific time and day. We’d play and do chores everyday.

The first day was a huge success. We were all excited and ready to get going. It felt great to check the boxes and cross out completed tasks…one of my favorite things.

The second day was less exciting. The third day I had to push to keep the boys on task and by the end of the first week we were all frustrated and in tears.

The strict schedule was not for us.

I was trying too hard to mimic public school with the strict schedule. I’d forgotten that one of the things we really loved about homeschooling was the flexibility.

So we tried no schedule next. I would observe them daily and whatever caught their interest would be turned into a lesson.

I’d try to cram English and Science into everything we did. I randomly bombarded them with questions and ended up pushing them, and myself, too hard to try and fit everything in.

We did a lesson on opaque, translucent and transparent materials.

I worried that we weren’t doing enough and that they’d fall behind their peers. After two weeks of struggling, I was in tears and felt like I was failing.

‘No schedule’ was not for us. 

We tried a loop schedule, then a block schedule and neither worked. Everything we tried made all of us more stressed.

Then, as I was planning this year’s goals, I decided to write a mission statement to help me get back to our reasons for homeschooling in the first place.

“Our goal as a homeschooling family is to create a love of learning in our children. We want them to remain curious knowledge-seekers and problem-solvers. We want them to be self-directed learners and be able to, each year, work more independently. We want them to become stronger and smarter every day.”

Writing this mission statement made me realize that we didn’t need a schedule. We needed a routine that would allow for my need to check boxes and the boys need for breathing room…and choice.

A routine doesn’t have to be done at a specific time. We may not start at 9 every day. We may have doctor appointments, grocery shopping, last minute field trips or any number of things pop up.

In history, we are studying Ancient Times. The boys simulated cave drawings using paint rather than charcoal and ochre.

Our routine changes, but the basics stay the same.

  • English at least three days a week
  • History at least two days a week
  • Science at least one day a week
  • Field trips and classes at least one day a week
  • Math and reading everyday
  • Chores everyday
  • Learning everyday

Nothing has a specific day assigned, everything is flexible. The only requirement is for the boys–all of us–to become stronger and smarter everyday.

Look for magic in the daily routine. – Lou Barlow

 

The Big Molt

The new girls are now half again the size of the leghorns and their feathers are fluffy and shine in the sun.

They are truly beautiful birds, and the old ones?

Well, they are looking…pretty bad.

Their feathers are missing, they are pecking at each other and raw red patches of skin are showing.

They’ve become more and more bedraggled over the past couple of weeks. We change their water regularly, keep them in food and clean out their coop so what the heck is going on?

I was sure they were slowly murdering each other.

Ray thought they might be molting.

I liked my explanation better, but I looked up molting anyway.

Bingo. Our leghorns are going through a rather hard molt.

Great patches of feathers are missing. Some of the hens look fuzzy with odd looking new feathers growing through stubby old ones, while others look like they’ve been plucked alive.

During molting, all of the feathers fall and new feathers grow. Feathers are more than 80% protein so growing them takes a lot of energy.

Energy that is normally used to lay eggs.

Our egg production has not gone down that much, but it has dropped from 11-12 a day to 8-9 a day.

In order to balance things out a bit, we are going to start supplementing their diet with extra protein.

They’ll get mealworms, sunflower seeds, fresh herbs and maybe leftover scrambled eggs…maybe.

Few fluffy feathers
Hastily hobbling hens
Bare, bedraggled birds

Little Brown(ish) Eggs

The new girls have started laying eggs!

At first they were tiny and cream colored with titanium shells. Seriously, they took a few good whacks to crack. Crazy enough, every one has had a tiny yolk!

After about a week, they started to get a little bit bigger and the brownish hue deepened into a nice caramel color.

And then today I collected the biggest so far. It’s barely smaller than the behemoths the old hens lay. It’s not as brown as the others have been, but it still has a cream hue.

Old hen egg (left) vs New hen egg (right)

The new girls were pretty proud of themselves and were rewarded with grapes…their favorite.

Little brown(ish) eggs
Growing so slowly in size
Soft and creamy white

Operation JBE: Status

Operation Japanese Beetle Eradication (JBE)
Date: June 30, 2017

Subject of Study:
Japanese beetles aka Revolting Beasts

Entomoligists:
– Joseph the Bug Hunter (JBH)
– Jacob the Bug Whacker (JBW)
– Issabella the Scout
– Cheyenne the Soldier
– Melissa (Mom)

Report:
Experiment #1: The beetles in the bug house were not as destructive as I thought they would be.
Status: Failed.

Experiment #2: The containers with dead beetles were slightly effective, but by the time we installed them around the perimeter, there were just too many beetles to combat.
Status: Failed.

Experiment #3: We tried a homemade essential oil spray: cedarwood oil with water. We sprayed one row of kiwi and, while there were fewer beetles the next day, there were again too many to combat.
Status: Failed.

Experiment #4: After seeing that they were leaving the chocolate mint completely alone, my niece had the idea of making a “potion” of mint and water. We pulled a bunch of mint and blended it up with water, strained it and loaded up a couple of spray bottles.

The troops were deployed. This time, we sprayed two of the rose bushes, leaving the third as our control.

Again, it worked slightly, but there were just too many to combat.
Status: Failed.

What do we do now? I’m at a loss. Further research will be needed to determine our next steps. Stay tuned.

The Final Experiment

Operation Japanese Beetle Eradication (JBE)
Date: July 2, 2017

Subject of Study:
Japanese beetles aka &#%!@?s

Entomoligists:
– Joseph the Bug Hunter (JBH)
– Jacob the Bug Whacker (JBW)
– Melissa (Mom)

The Final Experiment

While I believe that one or all of the natural methods we tried would have worked to manage the onslaught of the beetles, I also believe that, by the time we tried them, it was too late and there were just too many to combat.

So, I am going to try organic Neem Oil in an effort to stop them from completely obliterating what is left of the vineyard, fedge and our young fruit trees in the swales.

We are also going to spread milky spore over the lawn to kill as many grubs as we can in the hope of hatching fewer beetles next year.

The potential problem with both of these methods is the cost.

Beetles are laying their eggs all over the 5 acres we own for the entire 8 weeks they are here. That means that next year Japanese beetle grubs will be waiting to emerge from the soil as a full-grown army of maniacal demons.   

If we wanted to cover the entire property, we would need a ton of milky spore to have a chance against such an enemy. 

Does this mean we won’t try it? Absolutely not. I will try everything withing my power to destroy my insect enemy, but we need to be vigilant and prepared with the other methods we have tried in order to stop–or at least better manage this blight.

They may have defeated us this year, but my team of entomologists will be back to fight the battle anew next year…armed with new knowledge and better weaponry.

Down but not yet out
We learn from all our failures
And come back swinging

Operation Japanese Beetle Eradication #2

Operation Japanese Beetle Eradication (JBE)
Date: June 26, 2017

Subject of Study:
Japanese beetles aka Revolting Beasts

Entomoligists:
– Joseph the Bug Hunter (JBH)
– Jacob the Bug Whacker (JBW)
– Melissa (Mom)

Report on 1st Experiment:
The beetles in the bug house are not as destructive as we predicted. It is possible that we have disturbed their behavior patterns by taking them out of their natural environment.

But I suspect something more diabolical.

They are up to something. I just know it.

New Observations:
– With high winds in the early afternoon, subjects behaved as they do in early morning and twilight hours. They were hanging on tight to their green victims, but they did not flee when approached.
– They are moving onto the blackberry leaves in force. I find more congregating there everyday.
– There are no Japanese beetles on the blanket of mint growing on the vineyard floor. Is the scent too strong?

They are increasing in number and becoming more destructive by the day. We must figure out how to stop them before it’s too late.

Experiment #2:
In further studying natural methods of disposing of the revolting beasts, we have decided to strategically place containers of drowned beetles around the perimeter of the most attacked areas of the homestead.

Other beetle battlers have reported success with this method. Apparently, the smell of rotting beetle bodies deters others from coming into the area of destruction.

Results pending. (I’ll believe it when I see it.)

Operation Japanese Beetle Eradication #1

Operation Japanese Beetle Eradication (JBE)
Date: June 23, 2017

Entomoligists:
– Joseph
– Jacob
– Melissa

Subject of Study:
Japanese beetles aka Revolting Beasts

Appearance:
– Six legs
– Oval in shape, 1/3-1/2 inches
– Metallic green with coppery brown leaf covers
– Five patches of white hair on each side of the abdomen and 1 patch on the lower abdomen

Life cycle and Known Facts:
– Egg, grub, and adult stages.
– From early June to late July they emerge from the soil as pupa, become fully grown adults and begin their attack.
– They have an 8 week lifecycle during which they are laying eggs every day.
– The females live for a couple of weeks feeding on trees, shrubs and roses in the morning.
– They hide during mid-day and return to the desecrated plants in the afternoon.
– At this time, they carry out their true objective: they lay more eggs.
– They leave their scent on the leaves they eat as if to tell their cronies “this is a good spot”.

Observations:
– The beetles seem to be sleeping during twilight and the early morning hours.
– Cool rainy weather makes them lazy and depressed.
– In extreme winds, they have a tighter grip on the leaves they are desecrating.
– They are beginning to go after the early fruit as well as the bright green leaves.
– They love roses and are VERY fond of hardy kiwi and grape leaves.
– They are starting to attack blackberry, seaberry, aronia, cherry, blueberry and raspberry leaves.
– They seem to enjoy healthy plants as they are leaving the unhealthy ones alone.

Experiment #1:
– I caught four of the fiends and put them in my son’s bug house for observation.
– In this first experiment, we will make note of how long it takes 4 beetles to devour a leaf.

Results pending.

Counting Change

Ray and I like to let our spare change pile up on the dresser.

We have containers for quarters, nickels, pre-1982 pennies and everything else and we always say we’ll sort it later…which means we will get to it anywhere between a week and 6 months later.

The last time we did a big sort, Ray had the boys help. He talked to him about each coin and told them how many quarters, nickels, dimes, pennies it takes to make a dollar. At the end of the sorting, the boys each got a Sacajawea dollar for their piggy banks.

That was 6 months ago.

Last week, we decided it was past time to sort change. I wanted the boys to help me again, so I looked for a fun printable/activity on Pinterest. I couldn’t find exactly what I was looking for, so I made my own.

Make a Dollar from Change.

First, I talked to the boys about each coin. I asked them who the president was on each coin, which side was ‘heads’ and which ‘tails’ and talked to them about why some of the coins had ridges…something we had just learned when we read The Tuttle Twins and the Creature from Jekyll Island.

Then, we talked about how many of each coin it took to make a dollar. I handed out the printable I had made and told them if they made a dollar with each coin, they could keep all the change for their piggy banks.

They loved it. They learned and they made a little money for helping me.

Jake was tired of counting change by the time he got to the nickel page, but Joe plugged right along until he’d completed all four sheets.