Summer (School) 2014 Plans

It’s summer in Maine!  (Don’t blink or you’ll miss it!)  Our regular daily schedule goes out the window in favor of relaxed summer days, but that doesn’t mean we stop learning.  You can read my post on year-round schooling for the why of summer school for us, in this post I’ll tell you what that looks like this year.

Summer School Plans 2014

I am finding that I can loosen my reigns a little as my kids are becoming more independent learners and honing in on their own special interests.  For my daughter that means plenty of time for playing piano, writing stories, and crafting (crocheting, shuttle tatting, sewing).  For my son that means creative role playing, building (Lego & Lego Robotics, playdough, wood and nails…anything), and finding creatures outside.

Daily (Mostly) Independent Work

Within our relaxed schedule I keep a few required subjects going throughout the summer.

My 12-year-old daughter:

  • Finish Teaching Textbooks Math 6 (less than 20 lessons left!)
  • Daily piano practice (lessons continue in summer)
  • Literature: read daily from a list of quality literature, her free reading is her choice

My eight-year-old son:

  • Read to me (and most days a quick All About Spelling lesson right after)
  • Daily guitar practice (lessons continue in the summer)
  • Writing: He generally dislikes writing but enjoys a joint journal where he and I write back and forth.

Learning Together

The things we learn and do are very flexible during the summer.  It involves lots of reading and taking advantage of opportunities that come our way–nature study when we’re camping at the ocean, visiting a farm on Open Farm Day, attending a Shakespeare play.  I fit these in around summer fun, and chores like mowing the lawn and caring for the garden (which is a yet another learning opportunity).


I mentioned our school year had a bit of a soft ending, and part of that is due to our study of the Romans.  So all of June and the early part of July are finding us still reading and marveling over the Roman Civilization.  I want to hit on a couple more topics and maybe have a little end-of-unit celebration, then close the history books for the remainder of summer.  The kids aren’t complaining a bit: today Julius Caesar was running around the house conquering (then sitting on his throne), and I acted as interviewer of Cleopatra for a video narration by my daughter.

Reading Aloud

We do a lot of reading aloud during the school year for history and science, plus a literary book club.  Over the summer we’ll still read aloud together, with a theme of silly and sweet.  Roald Dahl’s BFG and The Witches along with the Ramona books will take care of the silly.  Then for sweet we’ll be reading Winnie the Pooh (which I keep hearing it is perfect for slightly older kids like mine), and perhaps Paddington Bear. I can’t tell you how much I love sharing stories with my children.

We also participate in our library’s summer reading program.  The requirements are general and easily met by our regular reading, but my favorite parts are the special events like a puppet show and Mad Science show.  I’ve also printed up the fun, free resources from Traveling Through The Pages Summer Reading Program.  I like the requirements from different genres so I’m going to use this as a family reading program and see if we can complete all the squares and reward ourselves with some sort of prize.

Nature Study

We incorporate nature study regularly, but certainly it is easier during our warmer months.  We camp at the seashore many times during the summer, and no matter how many times we go we always learn more.  I’m trying out a couple new things this summer:

  • In the past we’ve added nature journal pages to binders, but for fun this summer I bought nice hardcover sketchbooks for each of us.
  • I’m not assigning what to draw, just requiring one drawing a week (and I’m including myself in the assignment–it’s good for me!).  It’s more relaxed for me, and allows my children to follow their interests.  My daughter often picks flowers while my son focuses on creatures.

Red Eft

Another part of our summer nature learning is keeping temporary pets.  We’ve done this before with monarch caterpillars and a katydid, but I’m focused on finding (or agreeing to) even more opportunities this summer.  So far we’ve had a garter snake (that I was initially afraid to even touch), an Eastern Newt, and a Golden Ground Beetle.  We learn so much by having them up close to observe, even just for a few days, and it really excites my critter-loving little boy.


We love participating in Sketch Tuesday during the school year, and Barb is organizing a special summer art series on Picasso.  Each Tuesday in July she’ll post an art project assignment based on one of Picasso’s works.  My kids enjoy the slideshows Barb puts together of everyone’s projects, so this will be a fun way to keep art going over the summer.

So those are my relaxed summer learning plans.  Just enough to keep our brains engaged but allow for lots of free time for my kids to pursue interests, and me to get rested up and geared up for next year! 

How much do you plan your summer learning?

2013-2014 Year End Review

We’re having a blurred end to our third homeschool year.  Our required days and annual testing are behind us, we’ve glided into our relaxed summer school schedule, and during it are finishing up a unit on the Romans and plugging away at the last few math lessons.

Note: For the formerly rigid planner in me, allowing the blending of topics between school year and summer is a sign of great personal growth!

This felt like a transitional year.  We were no longer new homeschoolers, but saw homeschooling as our lifestyle.  On the other hand, year #2 had it’s stresses and I knew we needed to make changes.  I shared the difficulties caused by my over-planning and, after much thinking and reading and scribbling, my new plans.

A couple times in the thick of the year I gave a peek into how those changes looked (here and here), but after enjoying rest and relaxation in the beautiful outdoors of Maine (after a brutal winter in Maine) I’m here to share my full review of the last school year.  You’ve been waiting on pins and needles to read this, right?

Asticou Azalea Gardens

Hooray for things that work!

First and foremost, I’ve made great strides in keeping my over-planning in check and remembering that life isn’t about my to-do list–it’s about the people.  Less planning and less computer time in general helped me be a more well-rounded mom, plus me being more content lightens the mood of our home.  Many things rolled along pleasantly:

  • Our eclectic style suits us.   This year was filled with more reading and learning together, less me putting on a show.  We read loads of great books, together and independently, for literature, history, science, and just plain enjoyment.
  • We continue a small book club with another family.  With just two families it is easy to agree on book choices and we can be very flexible for scheduling.  We wait until everyone is done reading and meet to discuss the book.  Sometimes we watch a movie or have snacks–it’s really up to us what comes to mind!
  • Many curriculum choices worked well: Latin For Children and Song School Latin from Classical Academic Press, Teaching Textbooks, and WriteShop. (Links will take you to my reviews on The Curriculum Choice.)
  • We had a great year of ancient history using Story of the World as a spine with extra literature selections from the SOTW activity book and All Through The Ages.  We focused on Charlotte Mason style narration with select hands-on projects (a few period crafts, simple costumes for making Greek myth videos, and my favorite–food).  I found our history studies this year simpler and overall very enjoyable.
  • We continue our financial and scheduling commitment to music lessons for the value of beautiful music and hard work.
  • We enjoyed several special projects through a relaxed science fair and literature fair, and quite a few field trips.  Two notes on field trips: I’ve realized we have to schedule them ourselves if we want them to happen, and not to be afraid to try a place that might be unusual for field trips.  We called a wind farm and they were happy to give us a tour.
  • A huge hit in our daily schedule is tea time, a treat for mind and body after focused morning work.  The benefits are numerous: it motivates my children to work hard to be ready for tea time, it is a spot of joy and togetherness that we look forward to, and it is the perfect time to fit in the “extras” of art, music, poetry, and hymns.
  • Another scheduling choice worked: rotating science and history.  We used to study a historical time period and science topic at the same time, aiming for two days per week on each.  But due to extracurricular activities or spontaneous family fun, those subjects planned for the afternoon didn’t happen daily.  Focusing on one at a time helped our studies feel more cohesive, so when I would pick up a history read aloud it would be more fresh in their memory.  Plus the changeover between focus topics was refreshing!  CM note: The science of nature study is continuous, like our squirrel or moon study.

Bar Island, Maine

And there’s always room for improvement…

There were areas of my plan that needed mid-year changes, and instead of being frustrated I embraced it as the beauty of being an independent homeschooler: I can change what isn’t working.

Needs improvement: I wanted to incorporate Project Based Learning for my middle school daughter, but in typical micro-manager fashion I started out overzealous. I set up a binder with plans for scheduling the projects and requiring paperwork and everything.  Very Good: When I relaxed my daughter did better than I could have planned.  (I’m not saying oversight is bad, and with some students more structure may be necessary.)  She learned skills independently, used her time wisely, and persevered through difficulties.  It’s humbling to see that it wasn’t any great skill on my part, but simply providing her the time and making sure time-wasting activities are not allowed.

Needs improvement: While the weekly checklist a great tool for my middle school daughter, I also tried to add one with my eight-year-old son.  That was silly.  Satisfactory: I gave up on the list and relied on telling him what he needed to do next.  My daughter likes the big picture and the flexibility to do things on different days.  My son just wants to know: what do I need to do right now before I can build with Lego Robotics?  I need to take smaller steps towards independence and keep his personality in mind.  We’ll try a daily list next year.

Needs improvement: Afternoon quiet time is a good thing for my introverted personality, but it fell by the wayside due to busy afternoons.  The other problem as my kids are getting older is that after a day of focused and structured schoolwork they weren’t ready for more structure and quiet.  My son wants to build with Legos, experiment with paper airplanes, wrestle with his dad, or dress up as a spy and sneak around.  My daughter wants the freedom to play piano, type a story, or work on crafts.  Satisfactory: The my-kids-are-older-but-I-still-need-time-alone plan is this: make quiet time for myself by going into my room and shutting the door.  The kids are old enough, so we just need to work on what is a valid interruption (I’m bleeding!) and what can wait (Where’s my mini Nerf gun?).

Needs Improvement:  We changed our morning schedule (again).  Here’s the background: since infancy my daughter has been a late riser (and needs even more sleep in adolescence) and my son an early bird.  I spent too many months forcing my later riser to be ready before she was truly awake while my early riser was hungry waiting for breakfast and losing a couple hours of his most alert time before schoolwork.  Very Good:  I had an a-ha moment: we’re homeschoolers with flexibility, why am I trying to make them start at the same time??  So now my son and I get up early, and (after my coffee) we eat breakfast together and start his work early.  Meanwhile my daughter can wake naturally and enjoy her morning routine, then get rolling on her day.  We come together at tea time, then move into subjects we do together.  My daughter finishes up her independent work after that, while my son enjoys free time.  There’s less herding and hassling, and both children are working at their prime focused time.  Why didn’t I think of this sooner?


The glass is half full…

Before I mention items that I didn’t accomplish as well as I’d hoped, let me say that my mindset has great effect on my overall review of the year.  My mantra: don’t focus on what we didn’t do, celebrate all we did!

  • Maybe we didn’t break out art supplies every week, but we did enjoy both unstructured use of art materials and working on art lessons together, along with museum trips.
  • I did not regularly incorporate copywork and dictation, but we did enjoy two Shakespeare plays.
  • We didn’t memorize hymns, scripture, and poetry like I wanted, but we read and shared a love of all of the above regularly.   In addition, I had purchased a set of hymnals for my daughter, and after thumbing through them playing her favorites, she can recite a surprising number of them.  I’m delighted that these beautiful songs filled with scriptural truth are feeding her soul.  (Another area where less oversight from me accomplished great things…I’m seeing a theme here.)

I encourage you to reflect fully on your school year, but when you feel like making lists of things you didn’t do remember to make a list of all you accomplished and enjoyed!

Brain Breaks Boost Learning and Build Relationships

I remember early reading lessons with my son.  At the beginning of the lesson he was completely capable, but the longer it went on the harder it became for him to focus or remember things he knew.  He would slump over onto me, yawn and look around the room, and our lessons would become like a slog through thigh-high snow.

Most days, in task-master mode, I’d force him to buckle down so we could finish, promising him a break as soon as we were done.  One day in desperation I told him to get up and do a few jumping jacks and it helped him refocus.  After that I used the same tactic occasionally, but my personality usually just focused on getting the lesson DONE.  I understood his need to be active but felt we should finish the lesson first, then go take a real “break.”

 Brain Breaks

This post contains an affiliate link to a product that we regularly use and love (and need!) in our homeschool.

Enter a Valuable Teaching Tool: Brain Breaks

Then Heather at Cultivated Lives wrote about Brain Breaks, short bursts of controlled movements to be used during intense mental effort.  She’s a mom of boys who’s in the trenches with me trying to get these active little guys to focus.  Add in that she’s a self-proclaimed science nerd and I jumped at the chance to obtain a free review copy her book, Ultimate Guide to Brain Breaks.  I devoured it in an afternoon and with great excitement prepared the printable Brain Break cards for our first week of school this year.

We used Brain Breaks our very first day and countless times over the course of this year.  It’s not just my I’d-rather-build-a-robot-than-practice-reading son who benefits, but also my musical daughter who wishes all math curriculum would cease to exist.

There have been so many times over the course of this year that I’ve seen one of my children who is frustrated and even in tears grab a Brain Break card and within a couple minutes be laughing and ready to try again.  Not only do they help refocus children who are not working at their best, but they change the whole mood of the moment.

I call for Brain Breaks when I recognize a lack of focus or negative emotions, and often my kids ask for a Brain Break because they can recognize the signs in themselves.  Come to think of it, that’s actually a life skill and will help them be more productive even when they are older.

Brain Breaks can Break a Negative Pattern

I’m not exaggerating when I say Brain Breaks have helped us have overall far more pleasant days.  Here is an all-too-typical pattern before:

I drag my son, who is flopping like wet spaghetti, through his one-on-one reading lesson.  We finally finish and I send him off for a short break.  By now I’m feeling a bit edgy.  I check in with his sister, who made simple calculation errors in her math lesson because she wasn’t focused on math but was really thinking about the story she’s been writing.  I get upset that it isn’t her best work, so soon she’s teary.  Pretty soon I join the unhappy club and the mood of the whole house takes a nosedive.  In typical type-A fashion I bulldoze through our next task.  We check things off but the joy is lost.

These days I call for a Brain Break.  I join in with the kids, because when they aren’t focused or working well I can get frustrated, too.  A few minutes later we’re back on track, smiling and reconnected, breaking what used to be a vicious cycle for us.  Brain Breaks not only help get their more focused work done, but they also build our family relationships in the process!

Do you really need the book to implement the idea of Brain Breaks?

If you’re like me you do!

  1. First of all Heather details the scientific facts.  She shows the wisdom in taking breaks for movement when necessary.  I tend to value checking things off my list above all and steamroll over the little people that get in my way.  Realizing how much the Brain Breaks boost learning helped me prioritize them over plowing through the lesson.  So even if it feels like taking a break is counter-productive I know more learning occurs if I implement them.
  2. Second of all the printable cards make it easy and provide a variety of ideas.  When you need a Brain Break your brain is mush, so that isn’t the time to think of a fun or original way to move!  That was one of the problems with my old system of “Hey, jump up and do a few jumping jacks.”  It got boring and didn’t re-inject the fun into our learning.  Besides providing a variety of ideas to prevent boredom, the movements are specifically chosen to stimulate the brain for learning, from blood-pumping whole body movement to imaginative dramatizations.

Using Brain Break Cards

How We Use Brain Breaks in Our Home

I keep two small glass jars with the Brain Breaks cards.  We grab a card from the “Go” jar (green ribbon) and after it’s used place it in the “Done” jar (red ribbon).  That way we cycle through all the cards before repeating.  The jars and a few bean bags (helpful for some of the Brain Breaks) sit near an open space in our house, ready to save the day!

This week we’ve been doing our yearly Standardized Testing, and what a difference Brain Breaks have made.  During long exams I allow Brain Breaks and they’ve kept us laughing even while filling in bubbles!

Want to Try Brain Breaks in Your Homeschool?

Click on over to grab your copy of Heather’s Ultimate Guide to Brain Breaks today!

The Ultimate Guide to Brain Breaks

Making Pysanky(ish) Eggs With Kids

Making Pysanky Eggs With Children

Like most children, mine love the yearly tradition of dying Easter eggs.  Since being inspired a couple years ago by the beautiful Pysanky eggs made by Babushka in the book Rechenka’s Eggs we wanted to step up our decorating methods.  Luckily I found methods that are child-friendly and don’t require special equipment.

We’ve used two different techniques: one is a bit easier and suited to younger children, and the other is more precise, takes longer, and is better suited to older children (or moms!) who enjoy the more detail-oriented process.

I’ll explain the steps for the more difficult process…stay tuned to the end for how to simplify for younger children.

A Child-Friendly Pysanky Egg Using Melted Wax

This technique uses melted wax as a dye resist, much like traditional Pysanky.

1.  Melt wax to use as a resist for the dye.  I used a tea light wax melter to melt another tea light with the wick and metal case removed.

Tools for Applying Melted Wax to Egg

2.  After the wax melts use a tool to apply wax to the egg.  We made our own tools by sticking a sewing pin into a pencil eraser.  Applying the wax this way is a slow process requiring frequent dipping of the tool into the wax.  Starting with a plain egg, wherever you add wax will remain white.

3.  Dye the egg, taking care to start with lighter colors.  In this case my daughter started with yellow.

Layers of Wax and Dye

4.  Add more wax before dying again.  This time the wax will protect the lighter dye from being covered over with darker colors.  You can repeat the process of applying wax then dying a few times, moving from lighter to darker colors.

5. When finished remove the wax.  It’s a tricky process involving an open flame, so I did this part for my children.  I warmed the egg over the flame, being careful not to burn myself or make a burnt spot on the egg, then wiped with a paper towel.

Removing the Wax

At the end you have a beautiful egg with layers of color and pattern, reminiscent of the beautiful Pysanky eggs!

Pysanky-style egg

Simplified Version using a Wax Crayon

This technique is perfect for younger children because it is not much more complicated than dipping in one color and does not involve hot wax.  Simply use a white wax crayon (they come with many egg dye kits) to draw patterns on the egg.  The wax crayon will protect areas from accepting dye just like the melted wax.

Be sure your child presses down carefully with the crayon to apply a thick layer of wax.  Obviously you can’t get the fine details with the crayon, but it still allows for creativity and layers of color.

Removing the wax is easier: just wipe down the egg with a paper towel.

was crayon Easter eggs

In addition to being very proud of our finished eggs, I appreciate how these techniques encourage my children to slow down and focus on the process.  Each year we look forward to a relaxing afternoon during the Easter season making just a few eggs, instead of dying a dozen without particular attention to an individual egg.

An (Almost) Spring Homeschool Journal

We’ve made it to the first day of spring–at least according to the calendar.  In Maine we’re accustomed to waiting a little longer for true spring, but this year it seems especially hard.  Possibly because everything outside is still covered in snow.

winter wonderland

It has been a cold, blustery, icy, snowy winter.  I know, that’s a lot of adjectives.  This winter is worthy of many words.  Yet I trust that spring is coming.  After all, we enjoyed Maine Maple Sunday, a spring ritual.

maple sunday

And the goldfinches are losing their dull winter color for vibrant yellow.  What happy little birds!  It’s worth all the seed I buy to see the first spots of bright yellow–the first sign of spring color outside my window.


Despite having to hibernate too often, we’re living a full and engaging life.  Lately my children seem to grow before my very eyes, and I’m trying to soak them in and enjoy them.  Many days I fail and go to bed frustrated with the day or myself, but each day is a new beginning.

Here’s a smattering of what we’ve been up to:


We’ve treasured wonderful read alouds together.  Our favorites this year have been Heidi and The Secret Garden.  I’ve also been reading more books myself (much better to get lost in a book than lose two hours online).  I savored Pride and Prejudice and now I’m delighting in James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small series.  Sometimes I giggle out loud when I’m reading and have to read a section to whoever is nearby.  I’d allowed my personal reading to fall by the wayside far too long.  It’s back on my priority list because I enjoy it and I’m modeling something I want my children to do: read what is lovely and nurture your intellect even when it isn’t a school requirement.


Something about me being more relaxed actually has us accomplishing more.  Does that make any sense?  There seems to be more time for beautiful things like art.  A weekly favorite is Sketch Tuesday from Harmony Fine Arts.  Barb gives a topic, we sketch something related to that topic, and then she makes a slideshow of everyone’s drawings. We usually watch our slideshow during Tea Time.

tea time

We’ve also enjoyed the free art videos by posted on the Rainbow Resources blog and made a trip to a fine art museum.  Our highlight was seeing a painting by Renoir.  We couldn’t help but stand close and think how he had stood in front of that very same painting putting on the finishing touches.



You must break up the winter doldrums with a little fun.  We celebrated our third annual 100th Day of School.  This year I kept it a surprise and the kids were delighted on a Monday morning to see this:

100th day of school

We also celebrated Dr. Seuss’ birthday by reading old favorites and some still new to us.  We topped it off by reading Bartholomew and the Oobleck and making oobleck.  Messy but oh-so-fun!

seuss and oobleck

Busy Hands

My son has been engaged in building with Lego robotics.  I’m so thankful my budding engineer and technology fanatic has a daddy who understands and enjoys working with him.

My daughter crochets like crazy! It’s the first craft she’s taken up that I know nothing about.  She and I learned to knit together, but it didn’t spark her interest like crochet.  I’m thrilled with her independence.  My mom and my friend Tina (thank you, ladies!) are available for occasional consult, but otherwise she is using books and online videos.  I use Pinterest and browser bookmarks of reliable websites with embedded videos as a safe way for her to browse and find instructional videos and patterns.

Homeschool Mom Inspiration

Have you visited Sarah at Amongst Lovely Things?  Her series on Teaching from a State of Rest shares great thoughts (as does her blog in general) on cultivating the souls of your entire family and enjoying your homeschool life.  I’m also working through the resources on her Listen Up! page where she links to audio lectures and videos.  Those are turning my cold winter-time dog walks into a mini homeschool convention!  My favorites so far are: Teaching Boys and Other Kids Who Would Rather Be Building Forts All Day, Incorporating Liturgies in the Classroom (absolute favorite), and Memorization and the Soul.

Basically I’m finally REALLY understanding that the most important thing about homeschooling isn’t my organized schedule, my fancy unit planning, what curriculum I choose or what test scores my kids achieve.  The people are the priority.  That includes these little people entrusted to my care to raise to adulthood, and me, too!

I am relieved to be nearing the end of March far more content than last spring.  I continue keeping strong limits on my time in front of my computer, and that helps me be happier, more engaged in relationships around me, and maybe even have a tidier house.  Not that you’re hanging on my every word, but that explains the infrequent posting!  I still enjoy writing when I have something to say and the mental space to write in complete sentences.  Thanks for taking your time to visit.

I’m linking up at these places, where you can find other homeschool bloggers sharing their activities and inspiration:

Recent Homeschool Reviews

You know I write reviews for The Curriculum Choice, right?  I forget to pop in here and update when I have a new review up over there.  My most recent review is about one of the hits for our family this year, and I wanted to let you know about it so you can check it out. Have you ever heard of Scratch, a terrific and FREE way to introduce your children to computer programming?

Scratch Review

While I’m at it, here are a few others I’ve done this year:

By the way, while you’re over at The Curriculum Choice make sure you subscribe!  It is one of my favorite blogs to read (and was even before I was one of the contributors).  I adore my fellow authors at TCC: sweet women like Trisha of Hodgepodge, Barb of Harmony Fine Arts, and Cindy of Our Journey Westward.  Reading their review posts is like sitting down to coffee with an experienced homeschool mom and having her  share a favorite product that she uses in her home.

Care to keep up to date on the products we’ve tried and resources we’ve fallen in love with? 

  • Check out my Reviews and Resources page on the blog, where I keep links to all my reviews published here and on The Curriculum Choice as well as the extra special resources that have helped me in my homeschooling endeavors.
  • You can also find those and all my reviews  in one place on My Homeschool Reviews Pinterest Board.

How I Teach Homeschool Fine Arts

Homeschool Fine Arts

This is the final installment in the “How I Teach” series, where I’ve been sharing how I approach each subject area.  It’s time for the finishing touches: fine arts.

What do I try to cover in fine arts?

This is where I bring in the beauty, all that is lovely in classical music and art, theater and dance.  I’m interested in two things: appreciation of beauty through experience and education, and also opportunities to produce beauty.

Why are fine arts necessary?

Why bother with fine arts?  Aren’t they just frosting?  Well, one of my favorite homeschool authors says it better than I can:

Great paintings, like great music, are part of our common culture.  They are part of the core that educated people enjoy and share and through which we all gain deeper understanding of human possibilities in this world…What we want is for the children to use their minds in a kind of thinking that they don’t experience while practicing subtraction or learning the past tense of verbs…Study more than the tyrants and wars of the past.  Enjoy the best of civilization.  Enjoy music and art.”  Ruth Beechick in You Can Teach Your Child Successfully

How Do I Teach Homeschool Fine Arts?

I was initially nervous trying to cover fine arts because of my limited knowledge, but I’ve found great joy in learning alongside my children using simple techniques and a myriad of available resources.

*This post contains affiliate links to products I use and enjoy in our home.

  • Both my children take private music lessons that include music theory.  This one requires the highest financial sacrifice and time commitment, but also has the largest life-long benefit.  My children both have developed a love for their instrument and enjoy playing for others, both informally in our home and at recitals and church.
  • My eleven-year-old daughter recently joined the adult choir at our church, which is not only providing a lot of music educations, but a lasting relationship with the choir director, the delightful members of the choir, and the lovely songs they sing.
  • This is our second year utilizing Harmony Fine Arts, an art and music appreciation curriculum created by Barb, a homeschool mom who just graduated her third child.  Her materials have been instrumental in our fine arts education: she provides a fabulous framework to help me know what to introduce, leads me to wonderful resources (like The Story of the Orchestra), and provides instruction in methods that are simple and enriching, like picture study.  And here’s a great tip I learned from her: discounted calendars are an inexpensive way to obtain large full-color prints by famous artists.  I just picked up a Monet calendar for $3 at an art museum!
  • Another homeschool-mom-created curriculum that I love using is SQUILT by Mary from Homegrown Learners. The Super Quiet Uninterrupted Listening Technique helps your children form a personal relationship with great classical music, and Mary provides the background information to allow you to have educated discussions with your children about what they hear.
  • Two other easy to use resources are Maestro Classics CDs (I bought Peter and the Wolf for Christmas), and listening to Classics for Kids, an excellent radio show (you can listen online or as a podcast) that teaches children about composers and pieces of music.
  • We go to experience fine arts when possible.  We’ve enjoyed wonderful opportunities: Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, a production of The Nutcracker with full orchestra, the musical Annie, an on-stage radio theater presentation of A Christmas Carol, art museums, etc.  This can also become expensive so I watch for discounted tickets.  I also use quality DVD recordings, like we did for CATS, to bring the productions to us.
  • To produce art I use resources like Storybook Art, keep supplies on hand and allow my children free use of them, and use ideas from my Art and Artist Study Pinterest board for learning about great artists  and producing our own art.  We also enjoy participating in Sketch Tuesday at Harmony Fine Arts.  Email your sketches on that week’s theme, and then enjoy a slideshow of everyone’s drawings.
  • We’ve begun studying hymns using the book Then Sings my Soul: 150 of the World’s Greatest Hymn Stories.  It’s simple: I read the story of the hymn from the book and find a YouTube video with the words displayed on the screen.  We listen regularly and try to sing along until we’ve learned it.

I hope this in-depth look into how I teach each of the subjects has been helpful.  I love learning alongside my children and finding the methods that work for all of us to enjoy the journey of education.

The “How I Teach” Series:

How I Teach History Using an Eclectic Lifestyle of Learning

homeschool history

Remember when I said that before I started homeschooling I was excited to share my love of science with my children?  Well…I didn’t have the same enthusiasm for history.  It was never my favorite subject in school–it seemed just lists of dates and names that I could not remember.

The History of Our Homeschool History Studies

Our first attempt at history was studying the Revolutionary War using a free Homeschool Share unit.  We read wonderful stories of the people and events, watched dramatizations of the action, and made period food and crafts.  No one had ever told me history was so interesting!

We continued immersing ourselves in historical time periods over the next two years.  It was still fascinating, but I found the need to simplify this year.  I was planning too much, creating an overwhelming workload for myself and listing more work than we could ever complete.  It was taking away the joy of our learning, and kept us from moving on and learning new information because I was waiting to complete all the things I had planned!

So this year, it’s a less-is-more approach.  I’ve made great strides in taming my tendency to plan too much.  It’s not to say we’re less interested or even that we’re learning less, but I’m planning less, we’re focused more on reading and narrating, with hands-on activities directed by my children with less work from me.

Not only is this more relaxing and joyful for me, but we’re moving through the periods at a reasonable speed, staying in tune with prime interest and learning and allowing them to see the connections between time periods!

Homeschooling History Take Two: Relaxed, Eclectic

I’m using Story of the World as our spine along with the corresponding activity guide.  So far we haven’t used many of the activity suggestions, but I use the book lists for extra reading and usually one of the maps for each civilization.  Using a spine text has simplified my planning.  The other must-have resource for me is All Through The Ages, a guide full of recommended living books to use in studying history.

Here’s our simple plan for history studies:

    • We read a chapter in Story of the World for a basic understanding of events.
    • We read living literature to give us a deeper understanding.  And read…and read some more!
    • We watch videos for fun and educational value.  This can be anything from the hilarious Horrible Histories to documentaries on Netflix.
    • My children narrate what they have gleaned from our reading.  (More details on our narration in just a minute.)
  3. If time and ideas permit WE MAKE AND DO.  (I’ll talk more about how and what…just keep reading!)

A Note on Narrating

Narrating is simply retelling what the child has learned in their own words.  It’s a simple yet powerful Charlotte Mason technique.  The difference this year is how often I’m having my children narrate and how I’ve simplified the implementation.  We’re narrating nearly all of our history reading, so it is happening at least a couple times a week.   Recording them is simple: my daughter writes or types her own (we edit together when she’s done) and my son draws a picture then gives me an oral narration while I act as his scribe.  No searching for themed notebook pages or fussy to cut minibooks.  Just plain printer or notebook paper, filled with ideas bursting from their minds!

Our Hands-On History Learning

Our simplified plan doesn’t mean no hands-on learning opportunities.  I’m just more careful about which ones and how much it requires of me.  I’m not combing the internet and trying to orchestrate every hands-on learning opportunity I see.  I keep a tight reign on what activities I plan, keeping in mind what can be learned or reinforced by it, and how much time and effort it requires, both from me and my children.

What has worked well so far is a two pronged approach that facilitates hands-on learning without bringing back my overworked feelings:

  1. For each civilization one of the books I choose is one with activities: games, crafts, recipes, etc.  For instance, we used the book Ancient Egyptians and Their Neighbors when studying Ancient Egypt.  I can choose hands-on ideas, or my daughter (who loves making things) can choose independent projects.
  2. I allow my children’s ideas, and what intrigues them from the information, be my guide.  For example, it is common for my children to role-play our history studies.  One day they decided, on their own, to act out one of the Greek myths.  Now I’m happy to help them make simple Greek costumes from a white sheet (from the book Spend the Day in Ancient Greece).  I am confident a little effort on my part will enhance their reenacting, and this will in turn help them remember the stories even better.

That’s the how-to of our history studies.  There’s one more installment in the “How I Teach” series.  Join me next time when I put on the finishing touches: fine arts!

The “How I Teach” Series:

How I Teach Science Using an Eclectic Lifestyle of Learning

homeschool science

When I decided to homeschool I was excited to share my love of science with my kids.  Like other subjects, I tackle it in lots of ways.  We used a formal curriculum in the past, but it felt restrictive.  That’s not to say I won’t use a formal curriculum again, especially in the later years, but this year we’re on our own.

My overall theory of science education is based in part on Ruth Beechick’s writings.  I try to remove myself from the role of “answer giver,” which tends to stifle their curiosity.  How do I make sure my kids are learning about the world of science?  Easy: it’s all around us and they’re always asking questions!

Let me share specifics about nature study, since that’s a large component of our science studies, and then how we work in other fields of science quite naturally.

Nature Study

Nature study is a terrific area for homeschool science exploration because the specimens you need are right outside your door!  It’s a classic part of a Charlotte Mason education and can start your children on a lifelong love of spending time in and observing nature.

Our nature studies are a combination of being open to opportunities and intentional about introducing topics.

Sometimes nature study finds you.  This requires providing time in nature and showing my kids I’m willing to put my plans on hold to pursue what they find interesting.  In other words, I have to be ready to stop and smell the roses…then look up why flowers have a scent!

When nature topics don’t naturally find us, being intentional about introducing topics can increase my children’s interest in nature.  Regularly incorporating nature study is easier with help from Barb at The Handbook of Nature Study blog.  She provides ideas, printables, helpful links, and a sense of community in studying nature.   Follow her blog and before long you’ll have a nature table and be heading out looking for lichen or drawing dandelions.

Our study of birds is a good example of how studying nature can fosters more interest.  We began learning the names of our backyard birds, then did a bird unit study.  Now each February we participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count, we continue to learn about new birds we see, find topics we want to research further (like murmuration), and my kids consider themselves birdwatchers.

Nature study is a valued and diverse part of our science education.  Here are some other things we’ve done this year:

  • Studies the moon and its phases
  • Took a trip with Diver Ed for an up-close look at ocean life
  • Learned about Squirrels (inspired by our frequent backyard visitor)
  • Visited a bird sanctuary for a presentation on owls, then of course we dissected owl pellets (best science project ever!)
  • Right now we’re studying weather predicting using the book The Kids’ Book of Weather Forecasting (One of my educational Christmas gifts to my children.)

Other Science Learning

Other than nature study what do we do?  Again, I focus on being open and intentional!

Lots of science topics come up naturally.  Just think about these questions from my children: Why does my skin form a scab?  Why do racing bikes have thin tires? Why does the salt keep ice off the roads?  There you have biology, physics, and chemistry!  I try to find answers to their natural questions.

A note to other moms like me who plan TOO much:  it also doesn’t require a full blown unit study when your child asks how a compass works.  Grab a book, watch some YouTube videos and make a start!

Other than pursuing interest-led topics, I work to be intentional about introducing scientific information and skills.  My goal is to expose them to the fascinating science all around them and show them how to learn more!  Books, videos, and hands-on learning round out our science education.

Science Books

We books we own or borrow from the library for reading aloud, as a reference, or just to leave sitting around to encourage looking through.  The books can be filled with pictures, in-depth information, and sometimes even hands-on learning ideas.  Right now I’m considering adding The Story of Science (here is a review by a fellow Curriculum Choice author) so we can read about science discoveries that coordinate with our history studies.

Science Videos

We often watch science videos during our “Learning Lunch,” or with my husband on the weekends.  Here are some of our favorites:

  • Beakman: This is a humorous general science show available on Netflix right now.  There are even ideas for projects: my kids still remember the camera obscura we built from a cardboard box!
  • Bill Nye: My kids don’t like him quite as much as Beakman, but it is a good show where each episode centers around a theme.
  • Science Friday: In these short videos on YouTube they speak to experts in a particular field of science, so it’s neat to see the variety.
  • Magic School Bus: These are wonderful for younger kids, sadly we’re beginning to outgrow them!
  • How It’s Made from the Science Channel is also on Netflix.  It’s fun to see what’s behind everyday items from guitars to cars.
  • Mythbusters:  There can be adult topics so I make sure to watch with my children, but I find it loaded with good information and a demonstration of the scientific technique.  My son will often experiment on his own after watching the show.

Science Equipment and Supplies

I aim to hone their ability to collect, observe and experiment by having scientific tools and supplies in our home.  They provide a lot of opportunities for hands-on learning.  We add to our materials over time, keep our eye out for used items, and use them as gift ideas!

These are favorites in our home that get regular use:

  • Magnifiers and microscopes: from a jeweler’s loupe and pocket microscope (both around $5) to a full size microscope and stereo microscope (purchased used) we enjoy getting an up close look at little things, like snowflakes.
  • Snap Circuits: a super hands-on electrical circuit learning toy.
  • Models and specimens: a mini skeleton (“Mr. Bones”) and human body with organs (“Mr. Gooey”), insects in acrylic, and our own collection of natural items
  • Science kits: These help with specific interests.  We’ve enjoyed dissecting owl pellets and testing for bacteria this year.  We’re looking forward to working through some new kits my son received for Christmas.

So that’s the not-so-succinct summary of our science learning.  Join me next time for how I teach history!

The “How I Teach” Series:

How I Teach Math Using an Eclectic Lifestyle of Learning

homeschool math

It’s time to talk numbers in the “How I Teach” series.  Don’t worry, this shouldn’t take me quite as long as yesterday’s post on how I teach language arts!  My approach to teaching homeschool math is quite simple, but still eclectic.  The primary instruction comes in the form of a formal curriculum, but I round it out with what most people call “living math.”

Our Math Curriculum: Teaching Textbooks

We switched to Teaching Textbooks in our second year, and though no curriculum is perfect I’m very pleased.  My eleven year old daughter works independently on Math 6, but I have her show me any questions she got wrong so I can spot problem areas.  Not only does Teaching Textbooks save me having to grade math problems, but it gives my daughter immediate feedback on incorrect answers.  My eight year old son is working through Math 3 (the earliest level available).  Because his understanding of mathematical concepts is ahead of his reading skills I find it more efficient to sit and work through the lessons with him.  With him I also usually break it up and do the lecture and practice one day, the problems the next.

Memorize Math Facts

I understand the importance of having the basic math facts solidly memorized.  I mean, who can learn higher level operations if they have to think about what the answer to 6+7 or 3×8 is?  I also, however, detest working with my children with flashcards. is a free website providing timed work on math facts.  It frees me up to work on other things, able to rest comfortably that when my children receive a mastery score from Xtramath they will have their facts firmly in memory.

Living Math

So what is living math?  I would describe it as working with numbers in connection with real life.  I’ll list some of the general ways we play with numbers, and you can visit my Homeschool Math Pinterest board for specific ideas.

  • Life of Fred: My kids love the hilarious story component of the Fred books.  We’ve used some of the Elementary books and my daughter is working through Life Of Fred Fractions.  Though designed as a curriculum we use them as a supplement.
  • Bedtime Math: This is a super easy way to incorporate a little math problem solving.  The theory is that we read stories to kids before bed, why not work math problems, too?  Every day on the Bedtime Math website you’ll find a story with related math questions at three different age levels.  I usually do the problems with my kids during our “learning lunch.”
  • Hands-On Math: We might play store or practice Tally Marks.  Whatever the concept we try to work with it with our hands.  And it doesn’t have to be a game or something orchestrated just to teach the concept:  try making things!  There are so many options here: baking, sewing, building with wood… It’s real life math manipulatives, and they’re motivated by the end product.
  • Reading about Math: That’s right, my love affair with learning through books continues with math!  You’ll find great titles to get you started from Cindy West of Our Journey Westward for elementary and even middle school students!

 That’s my homeschool math instruction in a nutshell. Come back tomorrow for the scoop on SCIENCE!

The “How I Teach” Series:

Hi, I'm Heidi and I homeschool my two sweet kids. I want them to know that learning is an exciting lifelong adventure! We love great books, unit studies, notebooking, lapbooking, and hands-on learning.


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