Category Archives: Education

Something New

Spring has zipped right into summer and the boys are outdoor explorers once again.

I bought little notebooks at the Dollar Tree last week. I thought they could use them as their Nature Journals. They’re small and easy to pop in their pocket for their outdoor explorations.

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As soon as they’d personalized their notebooks, they headed outside to hike the swales and search the property for something new to record.

Joe hopped on his scooter and hunt for milkweed.

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Jake waded through the tall grass searching for carrots.

 

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They both enjoyed showing me what they’d found and recorded in their journals.

Last night, while hunting for wild mulberries, we made quite the discovery.

“Mom! Come here and look at this! Hurry!”

Joe was by a large milkweed bouncing on his toes. “Look! A monarch butterfly caterpillar!”

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Jake, who’d been hunting for carrots again, ran over to join us. He was just as excited as Joe and both boys recorded the find in their journals.

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We contemplated putting it in our bug house, but ultimately decided to leave it in its natural habitat and observe it daily.

Joe added more detail to his milkweed drawing on the spot.

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We continued on our trek through the swales, once again in search of wild mulberries.

Today, when my nieces came over, the boys could hardly wait to show them the caterpillar. As I finished making a fresh cup of coffee, Joe burst in the house with some sad news…the caterpillar had been killed.

“A spider is eating it right now!”

He was shocked. Angry. Absolutely heartbroken. This spider had destroyed his monarch butterfly caterpillar.

I followed the crew to the milkweed to see the carnage for myself.

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It was a sad and gruesome sight. Joe wanted to get rid of all the spiders.

“This is how nature works buddy. Why don’t we find out more about this spider?”

He perked up a little bit at that, but I think he was more eager to find out its weaknesses so he could retaliate. Either way, the distraction worked.

We spent some time looking at pictures of spiders on the internet. One was too brown, another too small. We searched and searched, comparing our picture of the predator with the Google results until…we found it.

The Crab Spider had eaten the caterpillar.

 

“Now that we know what it is, we can research it. Find its weaknesses.”

“Ok Mom. But right now I’m going to go find frogs with the girls.”

Just like nature, a little boy’s moods can change in an instant. Something new pops into their mind…and they’re off on another adventure.

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A world of danger
A world of discovery
A world of wonder

 

 

 

 

Freedom to Change

“When are you done with school for the year?”

I get this question a lot. My answer is always something like: “Oh, we never really stop.” To which the reply is usually: “So you do school year round?”

Yes. We do.

For many, the end of the school year signifies the end of the structured day of learning. No more scheduled recess and lunch. No more assigned seats. No more after school programs.

For us, school is not a physical space we go to every day for 6-8 hours. I hesitate to even call what we do “homeschool”. There is, or used to be, such a stigma there.

Instead, maybe it should be called “life training” or “skill development”. Because really, that is what we are doing every day. We are providing the tools our kids need for living their best life.

We are creating little life-long learners early and in a safe environment.

We don’t stop learning with the end of a school year. We just keep going.

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We get to explore new interests whenever we want. There is not a set time for learning. We don’t do recess at 11 and then lunch at 11:30.

We don’t get in trouble for looking out the window when we are supposed to be doing our math work. We go outside and continue our math while jumping on the trampoline, doing laps around the house, or gardening.

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There aren’t punishments for talking in class without raising a hand. Some of our best discussions have been born from a wild and off-topic question during a lesson. We have the freedom to drop everything to investigate and explore.

If a fun field trip, activity or play date pops up, we go. We can do this because our school day is just another day.

On Sundays, I sit and make a list of lessons I’d like to do for the week. This structure, or checklist, is for me. The boys don’t care. Their interests change daily, weekly, hourly and sometimes by the minute. My list is a loose guideline that I can quickly adapt, adjust or abandon completely to chase a crazy question that pops up over breakfast.

We have the freedom to be flexible.

That is what homeschooling is–freedom to change. Freedom to choose a different direction or curriculum. Freedom to learn. 

Spring Science on the Homestead

Today, it is gorgeous. The sun shines, a light breeze drifts through the trees and the boys are enjoying the outdoors. Finally.

We are even starting to see a few birds tentatively testing the warmer weather and hoping that Spring is here to stay.

I found a perfect lesson at Mystery Science for kicking off Spring:

How could you get more birds to visit a bird feeder?

The lesson started with a couple of short videos about birds’ unique habits and behavior. Mystery Doug introduced a few new terms: biodiversity and prototype. Then, we got to the activity: Design and build a prototype of a bird feeder.

First, the boys each picked the bird they wanted to attract to the feeder. Joe, after a few moments of careful consideration, picked the cardinal.

Jake, almost immediately, picked the jays.

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Then, they answered a few questions: What does my bird eat? Where does it like to stand when eating? And the big one…how can I keep my feeder safe from cats.

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Joe, determined to save all the birds from Boots and Echo, took his prototyping task very seriously. Those cats would NOT get his cardinals.

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Both the Jays and Cardinals prefer a tray-style bird feeder so they can stand right in the pile of seeds and pig out. The boys, of course, turned the design and building activity into a (mostly friendly) competition.

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Once Joe got started, he decided that he also wanted to attract Goldfinches, so he built another prototype of a peg-style bird feeder.

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Once the prototypes were complete, the boys had to brainstorm ways they could protect their feeders from the elements. Using tin foil and binder clips, they both created a shelter and weighted down their feeders to keep them from blowing away.

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Finally, it was time to test them out. We went outside and the boys picked a tree. In order to protect the feeders from the cats, Jake wanted to put his feeder up high.

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Joe wanted to put a fence around the tree to keep the cats out.

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This was the longest lesson we have done in one sitting. The boys spent two hours discussing, designing and prototyping bird houses. TWO HOURS!!!

We learned about biodiversity and engineering, practiced writing in cursive, tapped into our creativity and practiced reading all packaged in one Mystery Science lesson.

 

Ready, Set…Grow!

I’m a little late to the game this year, but the seeds are finally started. All 68 filled and fertilized seed pods are sitting in the South facing window of the schoolroom, waiting.

In a Sunday afternoon, my assistant and I managed to get all the tomatoes, peppers, greens, celery, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts and assorted herbs planted.

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Normally, I would have stagger started the seeds, but since it’s March I thought it best to go full blast.

Are all 68 going to bud? Probably not, but we have plenty of room for them even if they do, and plenty of people we can share them with if we get tired of digging holes.

My assistant and I also planted spinach, onions and shallots in a raised bed.

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He even found a spot right next to the driveway where he planted marigolds. He thought it would be a good place for them to grow.

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My seed-starting process was a little different this year.

I bought plastic shoe boxes to hold each pot and wooden clothes pins as labels.

I’ve used plant labels, popsicle sticks and masking tape in the past. All three have been utter failures. I suppose that throwing them out in frustration when they move around and pop out of the pots is a user issue, I’m just not sure. But I’m hoping the clothes pins work out better.

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It was a long process, but my adorable assistant stuck by me through it all and even helped me carry each shoe box into the school room.

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Spring seeds are started
Chickens are prepping the soil
Let the season start!

Spring Lessons

Spring means planning the garden, cleaning the house and purging the closets. But it also means fun lessons on gardening and nature and outdoor exploring in warm(er) weather.

We started this week with a lesson on pollination and then, since it was SO nice out, an outdoor cursive scavenger hunt.

The pollinator lesson was a blast. We found it on my favorite science lesson site: Mystery Science. If you have not heard about this site, I highly recommend checking it out.

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The lessons are called mysteries and each mystery is grouped into an overall unit with units grouped by age/level. The content is engaging, the activities are fun and optional extras for extending the lesson are provided. We’ve been using it for the 18 months.

In this lesson, the boys learned about pollination and then made their own paper flowers and pipe cleaner bees to “act out” a bee pollinating flowers.

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We used coffee grounds and cornmeal as our “pollen”. It was super fun and the boys were engaged the entire time.

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Next, we went outside where I had hidden cursive flashcards. I gave each of the boys a clipboard with handwriting paper and explained the rules of the hunt.

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On your mark…

Get set…

GO!

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They raced around to find all the letters of the alphabet and wrote them on their paper. I challenged Joe a bit more. He had to write both upper and lowercase letters since he had learned them all. Jake has only recently learned all of the lowercase letters.

It was close…but Jake finished first took the victory.

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After the hunt was over, the boys played outside for a very, very long time. They jumped on the trampoline, drew sidewalk chalk cities and rode their scooters. It was such a beautiful day.

I’m looking forward to more playful lessons outside. More warm weather. More sunshine.

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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