Category Archives: Homeschool

Hard at Work

The tomatoes I started are leaning…actually, they are bending over in the pots. Rather than transplant them yet again, we planted them in the kitchen garden today.

The boys were a big help. They love to plant, dig for worms and play in the dirt. This was also an excellent opportunity to talk about life-cycles and the importance of healthy soil.

Science outside today!

Jake found a bunch of worms and wanted to build a worm home and keep them…inside.

We talked about how worms are a sign that the soil is healthy. Worms break up the soil so the roots can grow and their castings are a great fertilizer.

“What are castings?” asked Joe.

“Basically, worm poo.”

As you can imagine, that got a few giggles.

At least 5 worms were in every shovelful of rich, black dirt. The squirmy, wiggly worms told the story of the chickens scratching and fertilizing their way through the garden.

Both boys worked hard at digging their holes. Joe planted two peppers and Jake and I planted three tomatoes.

I pulled the squash arch out and put it closer to the deck this year. I also lined out my paths and will come back over the cardboard with wood chips once the ground dries out a bit.

This is our garden so far. Doesn’t look like much does it? A few chives, some tomatoes, two lovage and a couple of pepper plants. We’ll plant more next week, and the week after.

By June, this space will be lush and green and, with any luck, starting to produce.

 

 

 

 

Hatching Our Own: Step 1

This week, we will start incubating the fertilized eggs we’ve been collecting.

Pecky and 5 hens have been separated for just 2 weeks. We gave them about a week to get settled and then started to collect the eggs for incubation rather than eating.

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Once we have 12 and I’ve tested the incubator, we will be ready to start the process.

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The incubator I ordered holds 9-12 eggs, automatically turns the eggs and keeps the temperature and humidity at the right spot…at least that is what is advertised. I’ll have to report back on the success.

The boys and I are very excited to get this started. Every time I collect the eggs from “Pecky’s Girls”, they ask if there are baby chicks in them yet.

We’ve talked about the life-cycle of a chicken, but we will delve deeper as we go through the process.

Pecky and his girls
Separated from the flock
A science project

Seed Starting: A Lesson

It’s that time again.

The time we flip through catalogs filled with seeds.

The time we inventory our seeds.

The time we start our seeds.

This year, I decided to turn the process into a lesson for the boys.

They were eager to help.

First, we created our mix. I added some vermiculite to a commercial seed starter to make sure the soil was extra loose.

At this point, I will not put fertilizer in with the seeds. The potting mix is already balanced with nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium so I will wait until we transplant to the garden to add the extra boost to the soil.

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Then we talked about the three main requirements for growing healthy plants.

“What do seeds need boys?”

“Water!” said Jake.

“Sunlight!” said Joe.

“And air!” I added.

Next, we filled our containers with the mix.

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When it came time to put the seeds in, the boys had almost lost interest. It took them quite a bit of time to fill the seed containers with soil, so I really couldn’t blame them. They each plopped a few seeds in and then went to play.

I finished sowing the seeds, watered them and covered the whole container with plastic wrap to keep the moisture and warmth in and encourage germination.

We put the tray in the schoolroom so we can watch them and water them. The windows are south facing and we get a lot of sunlight pouring through so it really is the perfect place.

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Finally, while the boys sat down to watch an episode of Wild Kratts, I grabbed my coffee and started looking through my catalogs once again.

Now that I’ve inventoried what we have, I’ll be ordering what is missing…and what looks good too.

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Starting seeds with kids
Exciting, joyous and fun
Learning for us all

Sight Word Towers

Reading is the gateway to independent learning.

“Mom, what does that sign say?” will become “Mom, that sign says ‘Stop!'” when the boys learn to read.

“Mom, what do roly poly bugs eat?” will become  “Mom, I just read what roly poly bugs eat!” when the boys learn to read.

Reading is also a challenging skill to teach. There are so many rules, and teaching the logic behind all these rules to a 6-year-old can be frustrating and tear jerking.

Enter sight words.

Joe gets frustrated when he doesn’t get something right the first time he tries.

When he gets frustrated, he gets angry.

When he gets angry, I get frustrated.

And when we are both angry and frustrated, there are tears…on both sides.

So, in an effort to keep learning as frustration-free as possible, we constantly try learning in different ways.

Joe loves Legos, so I grabbed a bunch of blocks, a fine point Sharpie and a list of Kindergarten sight words.

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I wrote sight words on both sides of the blocks and called Joe over to play a word tower game.

I asked him to pick up a block and read the word. If he got it right, it went on the tower.If he got it wrong, it went back in the bag to be tried again later.

He loved it! He was having a blast building the tallest tower…and then it fell over and crashed.

All. Over. The floor.

His lip trembled and his eyes filled with tears.

And then, suddenly, he smiled.

“I’ll build a town instead!”

He picked up the blocks and started building houses.

We went through over 150 words, most of which he was able to read after one or two tries.

He was excited…and what’s more, he was engaged.

He’d found a whole new way to play the game, and not a single tear fell.

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So…Now What?

From Halloween to Christmas we are in a whirlwind of activity.

There’s food, family and friends.

There’s shopping, cooking, eating.

There’s planning, writing silly stories about elves and–did I mention eating?

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We spend quality time with family and friends and we make resolutions for the upcoming year. Habits we will break, books we will read, changes we will make and skills we will acquire.

We are kept so busy by all of the holiday hubbub that when the sun sets on January 1st, we feel a little lost…at least I do.

What do I do now? Now that Christmas is over and I’m determined to start this year off with a bang? I used to make a million resolutions. All the cliches were on my list.

I’ll start eating right and exercising.

I’ll spend less time on the computer.

I’ll follow a cleaning calendar…ha!

Normally, these resolutions run out of steam after a month…maybe two.

This year, I’ve listed our homestead goals, but I’ve also doused them with reality. I know that I will not complete some of them and I’m ok with that.

This year, I’ve made a few, general resolutions so I won’t feel overwhelmed when I look at my list.

Yes eating right and a cleaning calendar are on my list again, but I’ve removed the pressure and given myself permission to fail…one candybar does not mean I have to wait until 2018 to start all over again.

This year, I’ve asked for help and support from my family, my friends…myself.

Goal #1 – Grow my Blog
My husband is going to help me with this one. He’s going to push me and remind me to share, look for ways to reach more people and provide more quality content via YouTube, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram.

Goal #2 – Follow a Loose Daily Schedule
I have one for cleaning, I have one for school and I have one for blogging. I’m going to try to follow them. I’m going to believe that I will follow them. I’m going to know that it’s ok if I don’t follow them exactly.

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Goal #3 – The Garden
Even though I’ve listed this as the 3rd goal, as in previous years, it is the biggie.

So many lessons we’ve learned and so many new and exciting methods to try, plants to sow, trees to grow and processes to implement.

It. Is. Overwhelming.

Overwhelming, but exciting. My seed catalogs have already started to arrive. I’ve started pre-planning in my head and jotting ideas down in my gardening notebook.

I need to map out the kitchen garden. The squash arch will be moved closer to the deck and the garlic will be planted between rows.

I need to research how to make peppers and cucumbers grow in our soil and order seeds. I will not go overboard this year!

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We need to make sure the trees get fertilized and pruned.

We need to continue watching the videos on plant propagation and transplanting so we can implement the methods at the right time.

And the chickens!

We need to butcher a few more to make room for new ladies and fill our freezer.

We are going to try hatching our own chicks this year. It will be a great project and learning experience for the boys (and us). But, since Pecky is a blue cochin and the ladies are pearl white leghorns, we will likely not get great egg producers.

We’ll need to research and order new chicks. I’m not sure we will go with the leghorns again. They are aggressive, peck at hands and they’ve all been really mean to poor Pecky.

Who knew that such cute little chicklets would become such mean little hens.

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So, now what? Now, we plan, we plant, we learn and we grow.

Now what do we do?
Since the holidays are through?
We plan and we grow

13 in 17: No, Really

When I pulled up last year’s list of skills/resolutions we made for our homestead to prep for this post, I was a little shocked.

Shocked because we hadn’t looked at it since I wrote it in January.

Shocked because we’d failed to move forward on 5 of the 13.

Shocked because we barely made any progress on the majority of them.

I felt like we failed Homesteading 101.

Then, I found a post I’d forgotten I’d written. After I re-read it, I went from feeling like a failure to feeling like a success.

  • We planted 65+ trees.
  • We built a new, bigger run for the chickens.
  • We learned that we are not rooster people.
  • We expanded the vineyard.
  • We transplanted seaberries and blackberries.
  • We built a squash arch.
  • We built an herb spiral.

I’ve learned that nothing is certain. That even the greatest intentions can be pushed aside for those unexpected opportunities that pop up.

So this year, I’m listing the same goals and resolutions as last year.

I know other things will come up and we may switch gears to follow something else. I’m not going to feel bad or guilty about failing the skills below because I know that no matter what, we will learn and move forward.

1. Writing
I’ve been submitting to magazines and publishers after learning SO much in the workshop I attended in May. I’m going to continue to push forward and accept failures, learn from criticisms and take more risks.

2. Seed Saving
We saved more okra and amaranth seeds than we can use. This year, we are going to start saving tomato and pepper seeds too.

3. Concealed Carry
Another goal we have not tackled. We found a range near us that offers the class, but I want to get some range time in and get comfortable holding, handling and shooting my gun.

4. Essential Oils
I’ve been using and diffusing essential oils on a weekly basis. I will continue to use them and learn more about natural remedies for common ailments.

5. Back to “prepping”
I want to step this up. It’s an easy one and it is silly that, beyond ordering a few kits from Amazon, we’ve not made progress.

Our goal is to get back to food rotation and copy canning so that we have at least 6 months of meals.

6. Curriculum Planning
This is the one goal that I feel REALLY good about. The boys and I have a routine that often gets disrupted…and that’s ok.

8. Stocks and Investing
Ray has learned quite a bit about the stock market and investing. I have not.

This year, I’d like to start an investment club with friends. It will force me to learn and ask questions about the stock market and investing.

9. Fitness
I have let this one slide. This year, I’ll try to have a set routine…especially because the boys can go to a Kids Get Fit class while I work out.

10. Blogging
I had 268 followers at the end of 2015 and I have 362 followers now. Not too shabby! However, I can do better. I’ve started to share my blog posts on more social networks like Twitter and Pinterest. I’ve also created an Instagram account for my blog so I can share pictures of what we are up to.

11. Tree Care
This year we planted more than 70 trees, but have done little to make sure they will thrive. We are taking a “survival of the fittest” stance, but I think that might really be an excuse for not putting the effort in to make sure they survive (ie, laziness).

I’m determined to prune, fertilize and care for all of these trees…even those that seem on the verge of death.

12. Propagation
In an effort to at least start this goal, we’ve watched two videos on propagation.

We’ll continue watching these videos so that we can execute what we’ve learned in the Spring.

13. Brewing
Nothing has changed since last year on this one.

“We know how to brew and we know how to make wine…but I don’t remember the last time we’ve actually done either. We’ll be focusing on getting our kegs full and learning more about making meads and cysers from fresh fruit.”

We have a 8 gallon bags of grapes, blackberries and aronia that we will be making into wine this year. No, really.

No, really we will
No excuses for failure
No, really we will

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Energy Redirection

Winter is coming.

Even in this beautifully mild November weather, the boys are already showing signs of cabin fever.

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They woke up this morning full of energy. They must have had a good night’s sleep, because they were bouncing off the walls…literally.

I’d planned a few reading activities and games for the morning, but I scrapped those plans as soon as I saw the gleam of mischief in their eyes.

They were full of energy and, if I didn’t redirect it, our day would be full of frustration and tears.

They sat long enough to eat a good breakfast. Then we headed out the door to burn off the crazy amount of energy they’d stored up overnight.

“Where should we go today?”

“The zoo!” shouted Jake.

“The Nature Center!” shouted Joe.

“Ok,” I said. “We’ll try for both.”

And we did.

First we went to the zoo. Many animals are much more active in this cooler weather. There are also not as many people there since school started so we pretty much had the run of the place.

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“Pick an animal. We’ll learn three new facts about it and draw a picture of it.”

The both picked a tiger and wanted to learn why they eat meat, how the meat “goes through their body” and how they survive the winter.

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When they’d had their fill at the zoo, we ate a quick lunch and headed to the Nature Center.

“Pick something you want to learn about at the Nature Center.”

“A cardinal!” said Joe.

“Yeah, a cardinal!” said Jake.

When we got to the Nature Center, we asked a guide about cardinals. They wanted to learn how they survive the winter, what they eat and what kind of nest they build.

We searched and searched but did not find one. Joe drew a picture anyway.

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After about an hour at the Nature Center, all the fresh air and exercise was starting to take it’s toll on poor Jake.

He was exhausted.

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While we drove home, I asked the boys about what we had seen on our field trips.

Tigers, lions, giraffes. Trees, birds, deer beds.

They didn’t remember everything, but a few facts stuck and they had a great time discovering while burning off almost all their energy.

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(Don’t) Be Specific

Childhood is magical. I watch my boys look at the world with wonder and excitement. There is such joy in their eyes at the simplest discoveries.

For them, finding a caterpillar is the most exciting thing in the world and learning a new song is the most thrilling accomplishment.

The world is full of wonders for them. They are invincible. Nothing can stop them.

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As we grow to adulthood, we wonder where it went….that intangible something that made childhood so special.

That magical ‘thing’ is the imagination without boundaries.

Creativity without direction.

Learning without specifics. 

Specificity, when taken too far, stifles creativity, kills the imagination and takes all the fun out of learning.

When we decided to homeschool, I wanted to get the right curriculum and follow all the rules. I wanted to have specific instructions on how to teach each grade.

In Kindergarten, the boys would master x, y and z. In first grade they would learn a, b and c. I was determined to get on the right path and make sure the boys kept up with everyone else their age.

As you’ve guessed and I’ve confessed, that plan did not last long. In fact, it bombed and, instead of being excited and hopeful, I felt frustrated, worried and tearful.

Our journey through education changes constantly.

My plans for the day, more often than not, get derailed.

We improvise and switch directions on the fly. When the boys aren’t interested in the way I’m teaching the day’s lesson, I do not push them to do it that way.

I’ve made that mistake. It ended with all of us angry, in tears and extremely frustrated with each other.

Instead, I try to keep the instructions minimal. I don’t give specifics unless requested.

We learn quite a bit through games, activities and songs, so I found a sight word activity on Pinterest.

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The instructions were simple:

  1. Draw a sight word card.
  2. Correctly identify the word.
  3. Find it on the whiteboard and put an ‘X’ through it.

I explained the steps to Joe, but he had other ideas.

Rather than read the card first, he drew an arrow to a word and said it out loud.

Rather than draw an ‘X’ through the word, he drew monsters or smashers to chomp the words.

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The part of me that learned to follow directions, stay inside the lines, do things the right way…shuddered. My instinct was to redirect him to follow the instructions I’d given.

I ruthlessly squashed that instinct.

He had found his own, creative way to learn. He had made it a completely different game with different rules, but with the same end: learning sight words.

I’m not saying that specificity has no place in learning…of course it does.

But, had I been unwilling to let Joe bend the rules to fit the way he wanted to learn, I never have witnessed his imagination at work.

I never would have seen him draw sight word smashing machines and make sound effects while scribbling the words out.

I never would have seen him draw a venus fly trap to chomp the “this fly”.

And that would have been a true loss.

Specificity has its place, but we should be very careful when using it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The STEAM Boat

Our journey through the US continues! This week, we are studying Massachusetts.

In the mailbox today, the boys found a note card with a few simple facts about the Mayflower:

  • It was the ship that brought the Pilgrims to America.
  • It docked at Provincetown Harbor in Massachusetts in 1620.

We also talked about how many passengers were on the ship and how long the voyage took.

Under the notecard, there were two baggies with instructions and materials to build their very own version of the famous ship.

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The materials were simple:

  • 1 piece of tinfoil
  • 5 post-it notes
  • 10 popsicle sticks
  • 5 beads
  • 5 toothpicks

They were given 25 minutes to create a boat that would float holding 5 pennies. They could use only the materials listed above.

Jake: I need glue.
Me: No, you can only use the materials in front of you.
Jake: Ok, can I use a stapler?
Me, with a chuckle: Nope.

They had their materials and their mission, so I went into the kitchen to set the timer and wait.

After about 15 minutes, Joe was done.

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“I need a container with water Mommy.”

His ship was big. He’d used the whole piece of tinfoil so we decided to fill the bathtub to see if she would float.

Success!

Using a little critical thinking and imagination, he was able to build the ship and make it float.

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Joe used the foil, post-its, beads and toothpicks.

Jake used only the foil and popsicle sticks. He needed a little help, so Joe and I worked with him and built a little raft-like boat.

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They both had a lot of fun building it and Joe was quite proud of himself…as he should be!

I found this idea on Pinterest–that wonderful resource and terrible addiction.

It’s a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) activity, a challenge to use multiple skills to build a boat that floats with only a few simple materials.

Although they didn’t realize it, they tapped into the majority of these skills with this activity.

Joe was using the scientific method to design and construct the boat. He knew it had to float so he bent the sides of the tin foil up so it wouldn’t take on water.

Although technology did not come into play with this activity, it could easily be modified to include documentation on the computer for recording findings and practicing keyboard skills.

He planned and constructed the boat using his engineering skills to create the boat out of the supplies at hand.

Using his art skills, he decorated his ship with beads on the end of toothpicks. He called these toothpick beads “mayflowers”.

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Finally, he used his math skills by forming lines and shapes to build the boat.

This project was designed for older kids, but I modified it to fit the boys’ age and ability level. Jake needed extra help, so Joe and I both assisted him…although Joe was frustrated that Jake kept trying to use the stapler.

“Jake! You can only use the things in front of you!”

Such a stickler for the rules…at least for this project.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Math Is Everywhere

Math was a struggle for me in school.

I did ok in Geometry. I took Algebra because it was required. I memorized and studied enough to pass the tests. I never took Calculus or any of the higher level courses…because I didn’t have to.

When I went to college, a general math course was a requirement. The class was in one of those huge auditoriums with at least 70 other students. I passed the class, barely…by studying for hours and memorizing without really ‘getting it’.

When it was over, I breathed a huge sigh of relief that I’d never have to take another math class EVER again.

Then we decided to homeschool and the prospect of teaching math…terrified me.

I tried to quell my fears by telling myself that Ray was good at math and he could handle the more difficult concepts. Or, that we could hire a tutor when it got too difficult.

All I’d have to do was teach them the basics.

But then I realized that I was copping out. If I’m not excited about or interested in math, how could I expect the boys to be? I don’t want to push my negative feelings about math on to their little shoulders.

I also realized that I’d be missing a golden opportunity…for myself.

By working and learning alongside the boys, I would get another chance to learn to love, or at least not loathe math.

After researching different curricula and talking with my homeschool mentor, we took the plunge and ordered the Alpha level of Math-U-See.

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What do I like about this curriculum?

The approach.

There is something for every learning style. There are videos for audio and visual learners and manipulatives and worksheets for hands-on learners.

The concepts are taught step-by-step: introduce, review, practice and master.

You don’t move on to the next concept until the student can teach it, demonstrating that they fully understand the logic behind it.

The mantra.

Build it. Write it. Say it. Teach it.

Joe loves being the teacher, so this may be perfect for him.

He loves telling people how to play a game-explaining the rules, demonstrating the play, praising the ‘student’ when they play the right way and repeating the rules when they don’t. Amazingly, he doesn’t get frustrated or hostile when he is teaching a new game to someone.

He loves showing me a new bug he found, telling me about where he found it, what it was doing and what it was eating.

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When I introduced our math lesson today, his eyes lit up when I told him he would be teaching Daddy what he learned. It made him more enthusiastic about the lesson.

The videos.

The set came with an instructor’s manual and a dvd along with the student workbook and test booklet.

The videos are wonderful. To prepare for the first lesson, I read the corresponding chapter in the instructor’s manual and watched the video for Lesson One. It was about 15 minutes long.

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The manipulatives.

The blocks that come with the set are a lot like legos. There are ‘units’, fives, tens…all the way to 100’s.

This morning, when we watched the video for Lesson One: Place Value, both boys immediately wanted to use the manipulatives to follow along. They were having so much fun!

Jake: Look Mom, two tens!

Joe: Let me do it by myself Mom. I’ll show you.

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We’ll spend time working on understanding place value over the next week or more. Joe will progress to Lesson 2 only when he understands and can teach Ray, Jake or me the concept.

Jake will progress only when he can teach Ray, Joe or me the concept. Each will work at his own pace.

And we’ll practice the concepts we learn everywhere we go.