Category Archives: Education

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


When I looked out the window this morning, my first thought was that the swales and pond weren’t doing their job.


Water ran in a small river from the back of our property out to the road. I had flashbacks to the time before we put the swales in and a moat would surround our house whenever it rained.

The chickens squawked and Pecky was crowed angrily, at least it seemed that way to me.


I couldn’t blame them. I’d be unhappy if my home was filled with water too.


Ray and I moved them to higher ground and tried our best to appease them with extra food and kitchen scraps.

The older gals were even more flooded but at least they were able to climb up into the coop to stay dry.

All the leghorns have is a tarp.


After we got them situated and soothed their ruffled and wet feathers, I went out to see what was going on with the swales.

Why weren’t they working the way they should? What had gone wrong?

Nothing. Absolutely nothing had gone wrong. In the wee hours it had started to rain, and by the time we woke up, it had rained over 4 inches.

Our swales were full and our chickens were victims of a good drenching.

The North swale surged into the South swale, just as it should.


North swale

The South swale was full and streamed into the pond, also full.



Then, the water had nowhere to go but out to the road.

Hence, the river.


Poor Blue didn’t have a tarp. It never dawned on her tiny chicken brain to take cover under a tree or in the little house we have for her in the garden. She just stood eating amaranth and clucking.


Joe splashed and played in the water, excited by the creek meandering to our road and the giant puddles in the yard.


He pointed out a colony of ants frantically climbing blades of grass in a desperate attempt to get to dry land. Curious, Joe and I did some googling to learn more about these strange (ant)ics.

Apparently, it’s a survival instinct. The worker ants work together to form a raft or a bridge to get the rest of the colony and queen to safety.


Our planned lessons for the day were put aside to learn all about floods, storms and other weather events as well as strange ant behaviour.

So we spent a long time looking through weather books and reading about all kinds of storms.

Raining, pouring down
Water swirling ’round
All the hens are soaked
But none of them have croaked

Agile in the Classroom

Agile is a project management methodology used primarily for software development but can be applied to education…and life.

The manifesto is short and sweet.

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan

Both parts are important and valued, but the ideas on the left take precedence over the ideas on the right.

In using agile for software development, the focus is on short phases, frequent reassessment and adaptation if needed.

These principles adapt perfectly to education and the learning process.

We learn math in a series of short phases. We don’t expect students to do complex math problems immediately after learning to count. We take it a step at a time, reassessing and adapting to learning styles and adding complexity with each step.

The same is true of language and reading. We start by learning the alphabet and move on to letter sounds. We add to each step, constantly reviewing, adapting to changes and reinforcing what has already been learned.

We gain confidence and ability through small successes and we learn to move quickly and adapt as needed.

We learn to be agile.

This is how we are designing our classroom.

Our mantra is learn, practice, apply, teach.


Each notecard will be a small step toward a bigger goal.

Joe has mastered letters and letter sounds. He’s able to sound out most words so our focus is on sight words.

Jake knows his letters and can distinguish between most upper and lowercase so we are practicing tracing and identifying the difference between uppercase and lowercase.

Once we talk about the contents of each notecard, it moves to the “practice” column and then to “apply” with then teaching as the final step.

I have a box of notecards in priority order, but will also be able to “switch it up” based on their interests and remove and replace those they are not ready for.

Interested in ants today? Let’s ditch the book on bridges I’d planned on and learn all about ants. I’ll grab a blank notecard, jot down the change and remove the bridge card for another day.

This system will also allow me to look back and see what we’ve learned about and to show me that we are making progress.







The Brooklyn Bridge: A Lesson in Suspension

Since May, the boys and I have been working our way through the 50 States using a great outline I pilfered from an awesome new friend.

At the start of every week, we get a magnet of the state we are going to study and a card with a few state facts. The materials for the day are left in a mailbox I bought at GoodWill, and the boys take turns checking it every morning.

This week, we are studying Vermont.

We fix food, do different activities and check out library books that pertain to each state.

The other day, we learned how maple syrup was made and how to identify the state tree of Vermont: the sugar maple.


Last week, we were studying New York.

We studied the Statue of Liberty and did an experiment using salt, vinegar and a penny to answer the question: Why is the Statue of Liberty green?

We made a poster with the basics: state capitol, bird, flower, tree, nickname and a drawing of something the state is famous for to add to our wall of states we’ve already studied.



One morning, the boys found straws, clothespins, popsicle sticks and coloring sheet of the Brooklyn Bridge in the mailbox.

We watched a few YouTube videos to learn more: What kind of bridge is it? How long did it take to build? What was it used for?


Then, I asked them if they thought they could build their very own suspension bridge. Using the materials left in the mailbox, as well as anything else they could find around the house, they got started.

Joe brought empty toilet paper rolls and elastic string to the table.


Jake found some styrofoam and golf tees from our craft box to use.


They made several types of bridges.


Joe was excited to finally settle on his suspension bridge design using a popsicle stick, straws, golf tees and elastic string.


He “suspended” it from the wall using tape and put one of his hot wheels cars on it to demonstrate how it worked.


Then he made a tunnel using clothespins, string and a straw, so we talked a little bit about the Holland Tunnel. Joe was impressed that it went under water.


They’ve both learned more about bridges and know now that there are different types and ways to build them.


This project is fun and the boys love seeing what’s in the mailbox each morning.

Sometimes they wake me up, waving what they found and asking me what we are doing for the day.

Sometimes they aren’t too interested or excited about the activity of the day.

But, when I forget to put something in the mailbox, they are disappointed…and that makes me feel like I’m doing things right.




The Black Swallowtail: A Life Cycle Lesson

A few weeks ago we found what we thought was a monarch butterfly caterpillar.

Joe put it in his bug house and a few days later it made a chrysalis.


We watched and watched and soon it started to turn a dark greenish gray.


We came home from a trip to the zoo to find it had hatched! But it wasn’t a monarch butterfly. It was a Black Swallowtail.

Joe named it “Beautiful”.



We opened the bug house and let the sunshine dry its wings. The boys watched it for a long time while we talked about the lifecycle of a butterfly.

And then, just like that, Beautiful flew away. She fluttered over the garden and landed in the herb spiral before taking off for the pasture.


We came inside to look at more pictures of Black Swallowtails and to read and color a booklet on the lifecycle of a butterfly.


Since then, Joe has been searching for other caterpillars to see what they turn into.

We’ve successfully captured a moth caterpillar and watched the lifecycle: caterpillar, cocoon, moth.

We’ve talked about how a caterpillar comes from an egg the butterfly lays and that butterflies hatch from a chrysalis, while a moth hatches from a cocoon.

We’ve counted the steps it takes and how long each phase is and Joe has read an easy reader about the lifecycle aloud.

He’s moved on to other interests now, but it was so cool to be able to combine a math, science and reading lesson and relate them all to something that interested him and Jake.





Kindergarten on the Homestead

We’ve transitioned Joe from ‘pre-school’ to Kindergarten this year. His curiosity has grown from ‘what’s’ to ‘why’s’ and he is eager to solve problems, try new things, explore and experiment.

He doesn’t need an organized curriculum to follow.

He doesn’t need a to-do list to check off.

He doesn’t need a schedule.

All he needs is his own curiosity and desire to learn, learn and learn some more.


These are all things that I need to stay focused.

Tools I need to feel like I’m on track with their education.

Validation I need to feel like I’m ‘doing it the ‘right way’.

But…what is the right way? The right way for my boys? I’m learning that it is different for each of them. That they each have their own way of learning, discovering and playing–every child does.


They aren’t clones of each other–no one child is the same.

Sure, they both like to play superheroes but one of them wants to be Batman and the other wants to be Flash.

One of them wants to solve puzzles and the other wants to build with Legos.

One of them wants to figure out how a robot works and the other wants to understand what the purpose of a robot is.

I’ve created a space, a room for the boys to go to learn.

When I told them that this was our schoolroom where we learn, I realized I was falling back into ‘school at home’ rather than ‘home school’.

That may seem like semantics, but there is a difference. We don’t just learn at school, we learn everywhere


Schooling at home is not what our original vision was. What originally attracted us to homeschooling was the ability to teach to each child’s learning style. We, or rather I, started to worry and fret that my kid would fall behind.

What if they don’t learn to read by the end of Kindergarten?

What if they fall behind their peers?

What if…?

I frantically searched for a curriculum that would follow when they should learn what concept or subject.

We need worksheets so they can learn addition.

We need Bob Books so they can learn how to read.

We need, need, need so they don’t fall behind.


My husband talked me down off the ledge. He has worries too, but he knows in his heart that we are doing the right thing for our kids.

I called a friend who is also homeschooling and she shared her fears and worries and I learned that even the most confident parent has doubts about their decision to homeschool.

I know we’ll make mistakes, worry from time to time (or constantly) and we’ll have freakouts.

But in my heart of hearts, I’ll always know that you can’t stop a kid from learning and that our biggest job with schooling of any kind, is to foster and encourage that drive and love of learning.


Where do we learn boys?
Do we need one place to go?
We learn everywhere!



We have sorely neglected our kitchen garden.

We’ve let volunteers and weeds go wild. Borage, tomatoes and lamb’s quarters threaten to choke out peppers, carrots, broccoli and brussels sprouts.


The kids go out almost daily and cut away at the infiltrators and I try to pull thistles out by the root when I think of it. But, like fighting the Japanese beetles, it feels a bit futile.


Just like every year, I start to feel forlorn about failing to get all the projects we wanted and planned to do done.

  • We didn’t plan well enough to avoid the Japanese beetle takeover.
  • We didn’t pull and/or transplant enough volunteers to prevent the kitchen garden from turning into a jungle.
  • We didn’t take the time to learn more about pruning trees.

And then, just like every year, I look back at the projects we did manage to finish.

We planted 65+ trees.


We added posts and wires to the vineyard so the kiwi and grapes could continue their upward climb.


We built a new, bigger run for the 16 chickens we added to our homestead.


We transplanted sea berries and blackberries from the fedge to the vineyard.

wp-1470066922112.jpg wp-1470066922121.jpg

We built a squash arch.


We built an herb spiral.


We discovered we had a rooster.


We fought Japanese beetles…and lost.


But, at least we tried and got a few…thousands.


After thinking of all the projects we did complete and all the goals we did meet, I feel kind of like a superhero, a rockstar…a successful homesteader.

Feeling blue and sad
All the failed plans we had
Until I stop and review
All the things we did do


The sound of the mower droned on.

Grass clippings whirled through the air.

White-feathered birds scuttled around the pen squawking.

Pecky crowed.

“Head count!”

Only 15?

Pecky crowed.

I counted again, then a third time but no more hens appeared.

I opened the hatch slowly and stepped in. I was careful to don my garden boots this time to avoid the inevitable toe pecking.

Pecky’s ladies twittered around my legs, hoping for scraps.

Pecky stood apart from the rest. A stoic, sad look in his eyes.

Something was wrong.


I started counting again, knowing I’d have to lift the little blue houses to do a thorough check.

Then I found her.

A sad, little bundle of bedraggled muddy feathers. She was huddled under one of the blue totes we are using as temporary hen houses. A few of the meaner hens were plucking feathers out of her tail.

Her head was bare and raw…no feathers remained.

We’d noticed some scabbing on her head the day before and had treated it with Blu-Kote. It seemed to help a little bit, but not enough to stop the bullying.


I pulled her out of the pen and let her roam around, alone and free from the aggression that filled every corner of the pen.


Why is this happening? What possible reason could these normally sweet docile hens have to turn on each other?

The victim could be sick.

Chickens are vicious. Like other animals, they can sense weakness among the flock…and weakness they cannot abide.

Or, maybe they are bored and picking on the poor dear for sport. Maybe they are molting and cranky and taking it out on each other.

But, perhaps the most logical and likely reason for this brutality is nutrition.

The pullets have become hens and all are laying eggs…rather thin-shelled eggs.

We still have them on the chick starter feed so it is time to switch them to layer feed, which is higher in protein. We may even need to throw some feather fixer feed in with it.

Chickens are a selfish lot. They aren’t caring or nurturing creatures. There are no kind old hens willing to tend to the sick until they recover from whatever malady afflicts them.

No, chickens are not tender-hearted or compassionate.

While we may view this brutality as unkind, a, possibly evil, instinct tells them to eradicate the weak.

For them, it’s survival of the fittest.

A poor little hen
Bullied by cranky ladies
Head raw, red and blue

Next Year

Next year in the garden
Everything will grow
All the plants I’ve started
Every seed I sow

The carrots will be plenty
The tomatoes will not blight
The borage won’t take over
The dill won’t win the fight

I’ll fight off every thistle
I’ll pick off every pest
No cabbage will be ravaged
The beans will be the best

Next year on the homestead
I’ll regroup and I’ll seek
To learn from all these lessons
To fertilize each week

But this year I’m so thankful
For everything that’s grown
From lettuce, herbs and berries
To sweet smiles from my own


Male Call

My husband, while out feeding the chickens, heard the crow of a rooster.

It did not come from the farm across the road. It came from our own dear flock.

Pecky has finally declared himself. He’s staked his claim. He’s found his calling.

With the confirmation of my gut feeling, I was able to finally figure out what breed of bird we have on our hands.

A Blue Cochin.

Cochins come in many colors. The hatchery we ordered from reports that  50% of cochins will hatch blue while the other 50% will be a black, white or black/white combo.

Our own Pecky Greenleg was blue and is now bluish/gray with dark gray specks.



Cochins also have big fuzzy feathers…a lot of them.

Feathers on their feet and legs.

Feathers jutting out the sides of their bodies.

Feathers sprouting from their heads.


Even though their feathers are blue, black, white or speckled, the skin beneath is yellow so the eggs will be light brown…just like our dear Red Star’s eggs.

Pecky has always been much calmer than the others, which is in line with the standard personalities of all cochins. They make good pets, they are great for the garden and considered one of the most friendly chicken breeds.

They’re quiet and calm.

Unless of course, you mess with one of their ladies.

Then you get a loud ‘growl’ and a dirty look.


The roosters can get as heavy as 11 pounds. The standard chicken is 4-6 pounds.

Now that we know he’s a ‘he’, we are taking steps to stop the bantams from pecking hands and toes when we feed them or get too close. If we handle Pecky and he starts to be calm and friendly around us, the ladies will follow his lead.

With time their angry, hostile and defensive pecking will turn into nips of affection…we hope.

Pecky Greenleg you’re a boy!
You will bring us so much joy
We will play and we will chat
The other hens will all like that

When you like us, you will see
Just how happy you could be
Let’s start now and get to know
The ways that friends like us can grow