Category Archives: For the Kids

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.


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.


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


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.


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


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


On your mark…

Get set…



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.



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.


Tender Shoots

Slowly and with little steps
They grow each passing day
Their tender limbs reach to the sun
They blossom in new ways

We gently tend those little seeds
And help them plant their roots
We strengthen them with soft blown winds
Those gentle little shoots

When it’s time to take them out
And plant them on their own
We worry what will happen
When they’re out there all alone

As the season stretches out
Their fruit grows on the vine
We water them and with a smile
We know they’ll be just fine

Mischief Makers: The Top Shelf Elves

This season we had so much fun
We hope you liked it too
Next year we will all be back
To laugh and play with you

Be good and kind throughout the year
From far off we’ll be watching
A quick goodbye, a fond farewell
Now Santa’s sled is launching!

Until next season Joe and Jake!
Nim, Lil, Glitter and Barrel

P.S. We Won!!!


Mischief Makers: The Eve of Christmas Eve

North Pole

Santa towered above a sea of elves giving The Eve of Christmas Eve Pep Talk.

“Mischief Makers, this is your final night on assignment. Tomorrow night will mark the end of another season.”

Loud cheers and whoops filled the air as the elves danced around each other merrily.

“The Top Shelf Elf Trophy has already been decided,” Santa called out over the hubbub. “The winning team will be announced on Christmas morning. Have fun and give your charges a fond farewell!”

Nim and Lil stayed at the North Pole longer than usual to chat with their friends about which team had won the trophy.

“My bet is on Squirt and Cosmo. Remember how they built a ball pit for their kids?”

“Nah, I bet Sprinkles and SugarGems win it. They built a life-size gingerbread house.”

“I can tell you who it’s not going to be,” said the Grumpy Old Elf as he jerked his head toward Nim and Lil.


“Hey, I heard that!.” Nim crossed his arms and glared at the Grump. 

“Well it won’t be you,” he said. “Not after your reindeer went berserk.”

“Now you lis-“.

“Ignore him Nim, lets go.” Lil took Nim by the arm and pulled him over to the launch pad. It was a quiet flight back.

When they landed on the window sill, Lil touched Nim on the arm. 

“Are you ok?”

“Yes,” said Nim. “I just wish the Grumpy Old Elf would have kept his mouth shut.”

“At least Glitter didn’t hear him.”

Nim shook his head and laughed. “Even if we don’t get the trophy, I don’t regret anything that happened this season.”

“Not even the paper airplane incident?”

“Not even that.” Nim smiled.

Agreeing not to tell Glitter about the Grumpy Old Elf, the elves went in to help give the boys one last surprise…and to have one last fun night together.

“Nim! Lil! Look at this!” Glitter was in the living room looking down at a race track.


At the elves puzzled looks, Glitter pointed a hoof at a note on the floor. 

Nim, Lil, Glitter and Barrel,

We’ve had so much fun finding you every morning this year! Our favorite was when you took all those elfies and made ornaments out of them, and even though Mom was pretty upset about the snowstorm…we loved it!

Since you’ve worked so hard and given us so much, we wanted to give you the night off. Can you test out these new cars for us? 

Thank you for another great December!

Your friends,
Joe and Jake

“Well,” said Nim.

“Wow,” said Lil.


“Isn’t it wonderful?” said Glitter. “Our boys are so sweet, so thoughtful and so, so good!”

Nim and Lil looked at each other and smiled.

“This note is worth ten Top Shelf Elf trophies,” said Lil.

“Come on…let’s play!!!”



Mischief Makers: The Evil Sparkle

Nim and Lil had spent all day in the “snow globes” glaring at Glitter with a mixture of annoyance, awe and admiration.

She had gotten the better of them. And while they could enthusiastically acknowledge her accomplishment, they could not let her get away with it.

“I am sorry for tying you up, stuffing you in bottles and turning you into elfin snowglobes.”

“That’s ok Glitter,” said Nim in a falsely cheerful voice as he squeezed his way out of the bottle.


“And I’m sorry I stuffed cotton balls in after you.”

“Every snow globe needs some snow, right Nim?” Lil dusted cotton fluff off her shoulder.

Both elves were smiling, but the impish glints in their eyes made Glitter nervous. Very nervous.

“Really Glitter,” said Nim as if reading her thoughts. “We are not mad.”

“You’re not?”

“We know that you were just trying to help us keep the Top Shelf Elf title,” said Lil.

“Oh I’m so glad you aren’t angry,” Glitter shuffled her hooves.

“That’s why we aren’t going to be too hard on you when we get back,” said Nim.

Nim and Lil linked arms and floated out the window leaving Glitter to watch them with apprehension. 

The game was on.


“Glitter, we’re baaa-aaack!” Nim plopped on the table with a wrapped package under his arm.

“And we have a surprise for you,” Lil said landing lightly next to Nim.


“You were gone for a lon–what are you wearing Nim?”

“This? This is my new superhero costume.”

“And this,” said Lil. “Is my new Santa costume.”

“We are going to set the stage for an escapade!” Nim flicked his cape over his shoulder.

“I am going to play Santa, on the run from a band of vicious villains intent on holding me for ransom.” Lil held up her Santa hat.

“And I am going to play the courageous superhero who bravely saves Santa from the band of bandits.”

Glitter started to smile, but then noticed something shiny and green in Nim’s arms. She gulped. 

“And you Glitter, are going to play the evil mastermind behind the crime.” Nim smiled and narrowed his eyes.

“In short,” said Lil with a smirk. “You are going to play the bad guy.”

“Play? But you know I don’t like–ermph!”

Nim and Lil pulled green goggles over Glitter’s head and shiny green boots over her hooves.



“You are the Evil Sparkle, a rogue reindeer cast out from the North Pole for crimes against Christmas,” said Nim.

Lil giggled. “And so our story begins….

On Christmas Eve, the minute before Santa was to start his journey, a dastardly deer  snuck stealthily into Santa’s workshop.

‘I am here to kidnap you!’ said the Evil Sparkle.

‘Ho, ho, No you’re not!’

Suddenly, SuperElf, a brave hero and champion of all elves, tumbled down the chimney and found the Evil Sparkle tying tinsel around Santa’s hands and feet!




SuperElf is victorious! Santa thanks the brave hero, hops in his sleigh and with a ‘Ho, ho ho!’ glides into the night to deliver presents to all the good little boys and girls.

Glitter, hanging upside down by her back legs, was outraged.


“How dare you! What if I have a flashback to the torture I experienced at Barrel’s paws?”

Nim and Lil stopped laughing and looked down at her in amusement.

“Oh Glitter, that won’t work on us.”


Mischief Makers: All Tied Up

Usually, the boys were fairly well behaved. Sure they got into the odd fight here and there, but for the most part…they got along.

That’s why the day’s events were so astounding. Never had the Mischief Makers ever seen the boys behave so badly.

“Wow,” said Lil.

“Whoa,” said Nim.

“Yikes,” said Glitter.

What started out as a minor disagreement over whose turn it was to open the advent calendar, quickly turned into an all out fight.


“Jake almost hit me with that toy car,” said Nim.

“And what about Joe and that pool noodle?” said Lil.

“At least he didn’t use a stick,” said Glitter.

Even though they dreaded it, Nim and Lil knew it was their duty to report any bad behavior to Santa.

“We’d better go Nim. We shouldn’t keep Santa waiting.”

“I suppose you’re right.”

“This is their first incident of really naughty behavior,” said Glitter.  

Glitter was right. Did they really have to report this to Santa?

Lil sighed. “If it were only a brotherly spat, we’d overlook it.”

Nim rubbed his eyes. “Unfortunately, cars were thrown. You know what that means Glitter.”

Glitter cast her eyes to the floor and shook her head back and forth.

Chapter 8,  Section 5b

Statute 3.3 Minor disagreements between siblings are to be reported at the Mischief Maker’s discretion; however, any disagreement involving the launching of toy cars must be reported to Santa.

“Maybe we can make an exception just this once,” said Glitter with a little desperation in her voice. “Afterall, we haven’t been very good this year.”

Nim and Lil were flabbergasted that Glitter would even suggest ignoring a rule in the book.


We? Lil and I have barely caused trouble!” 

“Ok, ok. I haven’t been the best behaved this year,” said Glitter. “But…the Top Shelf Elf award…”.

“If we don’t report to Santa, we’re not doing our job. And that’s an even bigger risk to the award,” said Nim.

Lil nodded and both elves started to fly to the window.

“But…,” Glitter said. “If you can’t get back to the North Pole to give your report, you can’t get in trouble.”

“What in the world would stop us from flying back?” Nim asked as he turned to face Glitter.



Glitter tackled Nim and Lil to the ground and galloped around them with dental floss in her mouth, tying them securely.


“I’m sorry, but I can’t let you report to Santa.”

“Glitter!” The two elves struggled against the minty floss as Glitter stuffed them into empty 2 liter bottles.

“It’s for the good of the team,” Glitter wrote a note to the boys while Nim and Lil glared at her.

“Santa is going to wonder where we are Glitter.” Nim hoped that Glitter would be afraid to disappoint Santa. Again.

“Oh don’t worry about that,” she said. “I’ll just tell him you were all tied up.”

I had to stop Nim and Lil from telling Santa you were fighting with each other and not listening again. Try to listen and get along better because I don’t think the floss will hold them for long.


Mischief Makers: Zig Zag Zip

Lil and Nim whirled around the living room with Christmas garland streaming behind them. 

“We did it Lil!”

“I never should have doubted you Nim!”

“Will you two knock it off already.” Glitter smiled and shook her head. “Just because you got away with the mess you made yesterday, doesn’t mean you can do it again today.”

“Oh Glitter,” Lil laughed. “Where’s your Christmas spirit?”

“Right where it belongs,” said Glitter pointing to her glittery heart charm.

“Now what do we do?” asked Nim coasting down to the floor.


“Something clean,” said Glitter. “The boys took full blame for your little stunt and they are in big trouble with The Parents.”

The birthday breakfast bribe had worked. The boys were not going to tell anyone else that they saw Nim move. The Parents, however, were not amused.

“It was very nice of the boys to take the blame for the giant snowstorm.” Lil looked down guiltily.

“And to clean it up,” said Glitter.

Nim shifted uncomfortably wondering if that last 5lb bag of flour he dumped on the floor was really necessary. “We have to make their day extra special!”

“And extra clean,” said Glitter.

“Zip lines!”

“Candy canes!”


“Windex?” Lil and Nim looked at Glitter.


“It was worth a try,” she mumbled as she trotted away.

Lil flew to the tree to find a couple of candy canes in the branches while Nim gathered up all of the garland, string and dental floss he could find.

They spent the next hour or more zig-zagging zip lines all over the living room and kitchen.

“Well?” asked Nim once they were done.

Looks great!” said Glitter.

“It does?” said Lil with shock.

“Yes, clean lines and not a speck of dust on the floor!”

Rolling their eyes and hiding their grins, Nim and Lil grabbed a candy cane and tested their lines.








Mischief Makers: Birthday Bribes

“You both have to tell Santa what happened.”

Nim groaned and put his head in his hands.

“But it was an accident,” said Lil.

“It doesn’t matter,” said Glitter. “There are no accidents when it comes to Elf Sightings.”

“What’s going to happen to us?” asked Nim. “What will Santa do?”

Glitter pulled out her copy of The Book and hoofed through the pages until she found the section on “Elf Movement”. She sighed and read the section aloud.

Chapter 5, Section 3

Statute 14.3 – All Mischief Makers must cease moving when their charges enter the room. Under no circumstances can they see you move. Violations of this statute may result in termination or reassignment.*

“Then we’re finished,” moaned Nim with his head down.

“Hold on,” said Glitter. “There’s more.”

*Mischief Makers who break this statute may reduce sentencing to a mere fine of 10 gumdrops and 3 bottles of maple syrup by ensuring their charges do not tell anyone what they witnessed.

“But…how are we going to do that?” Nim scratched his head. “They already told The Parents.”

“The Parents are adults,” said Glitter. “Adults never believe anything when it comes to Santa and his elves.”

Nim and Lil stared at each other. How could they possibly convince the boys not to tell anyone else?


“Tomorrow might very well be our last day with the boys,” Lil said sadly.

“Wait,” said Nim. “Tomorrow is December 19th.”

“So?” said Lil.

“Sooo…it’s Joe’s birthday!”

Nim’s face brightened as he rose to his feet. “I know just how we can get them to stay quiet.”

“How?” asked Lil.


Lil tilted her head to the side. “Huh?”

“What does Joe want more than anything else for his birthday?”

Lil shook her head and hunched her shoulders.

“Snow! And we are going to give it to him.”

“What are you going to do?” Glitter gulped.

“The less you know, the better off you are Glitter. If this backfires, we can honestly tell Santa you had nothing to do with it.”

With a jerky nod, Glitter turned and went back to the couch. “I’ll just…take a little nap with Barrel.”

“How on earth are we going to give him snow?” asked Lil. “We aren’t that magical.”

Nim hopped up to the counter and sat on a canister filled to the top with flour.


“Oh no, no Nim. That is WAY too messy.”

“But it will work. We’ll make it snow in the kitchen and leave a note asking them to keep our secret in return for the present.”


“No ‘buts’ Lil. This is the only way.”

“Not that I can hear you or anything,” Glitter called from the living room. “But I think this is a terrible idea and you’ll only end up getting into more trouble.”

Lil sat deep in thought for a long time. “Ok. We’ll do it.”

Nim scribbled a quick note to wish Joe a very happy birthday and pleading with both boys to keep what they saw to themselves.

Lil flew wildly around the kitchen table throwing handfuls of tiny paper triangles, half circles and diamonds in the air along with paper snowflakes.


Glitter peeked over the couch but quickly ducked when she saw Nim flying through the air, dumping flour all over the table and floor.

When they hovered above the kitchen to take in the chaotic blizzard they’d created, Nim and Lil smiled nervously at each other.


“I sure hope this works,” said Lil.

“It has to,” said Nim. “It’s our only hope.”