Category Archives: For the Kids

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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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
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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!!!

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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.

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“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.

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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.

“Rrrrufff!”

“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!!!”

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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.

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“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.

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“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.

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“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!

POW!

ZAP!

BOOM!

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.

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“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.”

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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.

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“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.

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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.

“Ooomph!”

“Eeemph!”

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

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“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.

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