July in Pictures

After tying up the loose ends of last year, I’ve been more relaxed than ever about intentional learning this summer.  My one big focus has been reading aloud together, and we’re devouring books and building memories.  Here’s a little peek into our summer through pictures: a mix of relaxation, enjoying the special activities of summer, and learning through it all.

We like to visit lighthouses and try to add new ones to our list when possible.  This year we visited Portland Head Light, the oldest Maine Lighthouse (commissioned by George Washington!).

Portland Head Light

The growing season is short, but we’re enjoying the garden’s bounty.  These delicious raspberries are the reward for dutifully picking Japanese Beetles every day.

fresh raspberries

We’re using our new kayaks to explore Maine’s lakes, ponds, and streams.  What fun family adventures we’ve had in them, not to mention amazing nature study!


My animal-loving son adores finding “temporary pets” now that I’ve relaxed and learned to say YES.  We keep them a short time, learn a lot about them, then let them go.  This little guy, a gray tree frog, was on our deck one rainy night:

Gray Tree Frog

We sailed the ocean blue thanks to generous friends, and saw seals and harbor porpoises!


Camping on the coast is a summer tradition.  My son is the great critter-finder.

camping on coast

Just to be real, this is what the house looks like when we return from our lovely camping trips on the coast:

post-camping laundry

Shakespeare Under the Stars!  A highlight of the summer, at least for the homeschool mom in me–and how perfect that this year’s performance was Julius Caesar (we just finished studying the Romans).

Shakespeare Under the Stars

The one shadow over the summer has been fighting cancer in our furry family member.  I know she’s “just a dog” but we love her so very much, and thankfully her prognosis is pretty good right now.

Fighting Cancer

The days pass so quickly! I’d love to write more about the temporary pets, or how we’ve been enjoying Shakespeare, but between doing all these things and pulling together next year’s plans (which I hope to post in a day or two) there just isn’t time.

Happy August!

Linking up here:


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!

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:

A Homeschooler’s Christmas

A Homeschooler's Christmas

As homeschoolers we often seem to live a life that’s a bit different from much of society.   Christmas is no exception to the things that can look different in a homeschooler’s home.  Want a peak into our holiday?

Well, some differences are pretty darn easy for our kids to handle, like taking the month of December off from regular schoolwork (even though summer school helps that happen).  During the Christmas season we continued reading, music lessons with daily practice, and turned lots of things like Christmas cards and cooking into math and writing lessons.  Homeschoolers have an annoying habit of turning everything into a lesson!  We cooked and crafted, shopped and wrapped, visited and played, decorated and delighted in the season.

Christmas Collage 2013

Other differences may make being a homeschooler a little less desirable for my children.  I wondered what my children would think of their presents this year.  We’ve always tried to keep Christmas spending reasonable, but this year we planned on shrinking the to-buy list even further.  Remember, another side effect of homeschooling is that the bulk of my time is spent educating my children versus earning an income.  Besides that, I feel our kids have so much already, and our house is full of all our necessary things, our school things, and the things we love.

Our gift choices were carefully made, with my husband and I working hard to find presents that lead to our children’s time being well spent, not frittered away on mindless entertainment.  When it came down to it they would each open a few presents, and then I had one box for both of them of things for our schoolwork.  Just so you don’t think I’m the meanest mom in the world, I didn’t wrap up their math curriculum or grammar worksheets; these were for extras that they enjoy.

I wanted a creative way to give it to them and prepare them for the contents.  While folding laundry a couple rhyming lines popped into my head, and the beginning of a poem was born.  I jotted down words over the next couple days.  The poem cracked up my kids on Christmas morning, so here it is for your personal enjoyment:

Ode to Homeschooled Children

Homeschooled kids are a sad, sorry bunch,

And not just because they have leftovers for lunch.

Can you imagine a more horrible plight

than living with your teachers day and night?

While regular kids get vacations from school

To spend their days in the sun at the pool,

Watching TV, and playing video games,

Homeschooled kids are still working their brains.

These poor kids just can’t catch a break,

Even on the vacations they take!

When on a family trip they embark

They aren’t headed to an amusement park…

No, historical villages are what’s in store.

And that’s not all–I tell you, there’s more!

For Christmas most kids get the latest in toys,

Gadgets and gizmos and toys that make noise.

But what’s under a homeschooler’s Christmas tree?

Things to build knowledge and spark creativity!

So here’s to the kids educated at home,

To them I dedicate this little poem.

The box was packed with fine arts and science materials:

  • Peter and the Wolf from Maestro Classics (a classic story written for Orchestra and Narrator by Sergei Prokofiev)
  • Then Sings My Soul (a book that shares the stories behind famous hymns)
  • The Kid’s Book of Weather Forecasting (with instructions to build a weather station and make predictions)
  • The Hand Book from Klutz (complete with a hand model that should intrigue my two musicians)

The bonus of all this: they enjoyed unwrapping the box, and presenting the items this way reinforces the special gift that education is.  Not to mention it will give us some fun new things to add in when we jump back into full time school after a long break.  Maybe it will prevent the winter doldrums in the cold, dark days of January and February!

Are you interested in the other gifts that passed our “time well spent” test?

Educational gifts 11 year old girl

Favorites for my eleven year old daughter:

  • Klutz Lettering and Cartooning for Kids books because she enjoys adding artistic flourishes and cartoons to illustrate her notebook pages for school
  • Sculpey in gold and silver because she makes accessories for her Victorian dollhouse with this clay that hardens after baking

educational gifts 8 year old boy

My eight year old son received several well-loved items.

  • He enjoyed a unit we did on owls that included field trip and pellet dissection, so he was delighted to receive a realistic Great Horned Owl stuffed animal and The Book of North American Owls.
  • He has an ongoing fascination with military history, so an Eyewitness World War II book provides hours of page-flipping fascination.
  • His stocking was filled with scientific gadgets: a prism, a jeweler’s loupe (great nature study tool!), a pocket microscope, and his favorite, an infrared temperature gun.  He’s been checking the temperature of EVERYTHING with this tool, and even experimenting with lights on and off, heat from friction, drafty doors, and on and on.

The best part is how our extended family is on the same page at this point!  My kids received wonderful educational gifts like a subscription to Cricket magazine, multiple science kits (Smithsonian’s Glow in the Dark Volcano, Potato Chip Science and Pop Bottle Science) and even our very own Lego Robotics kit!

Lego Robotics

The good news is that my kids both deemed this “the best Christmas ever.” 

Now we settle into the post-Christmas winter season as a homeschooling family.  We have new things to build our knowledge and spark creativity during cold winter days.  Maine has been challenged by the effects of an ice storm all week, and another storm and more frigid temperatures are on the way.

Maine Ice Storm

But that’s okay, we’ll be tucked inside by the fire, learning and living together!

Thank you to these wonderful hostesses. Be sure to hop over and see how other homeschoolers spend their Christmas holiday.

How Letting Go Has Led to a Better Lifestyle and More Learning

Letting Go in Homeschooling

It’s about time I gave an update on how our homeschool year is going!  Last spring I was feeling overworked and a tad burnt out.  I wasn’t thinking of quitting, but I also wasn’t willing to go forward as is.  I was always planning, online researching or writing, making lists I could never complete…basically trying to squeeze too much out of every day, sleeping less and wearing myself out mentally and emotionally.

I spent most of the summer reading and thinking, writing down my thoughts, praying, talking to my husband and just being with my family.  We read and camped and had fun.  I felt my tightened nerves loosen up.  How silly that I’d gotten so wound up that I lost sight of my purpose.  We brought our kids home for a better lifestyle–not a stressed out mama.

I read books by Ruth Beechick and Sally Clarkson.  I made plans, but not too many.  I wrote goals about what really mattered.  My plans were much more focused on overall development and education and far less on what specific topics we would cover.

Probably the biggest change was my mindset.  It’s not about planning the perfect day, unit or year, or how much I check off my list.  It’s about our relationships with each other and our relationship with learning.  I’ve endeavored to keep this simple checklist at the forefront:

  • Are we relating well to each other?
  • Did we learn and spend our time well today?

So, whether we’re working at curriculum or focused studies I’ve prepared, taking a field trip to experience the real world, or enjoying a hike to soak in nature’s beauty–it’s all good.  At the end of the day I don’t stress over what we didn’t get done, I just smile over what we did.

I find my relaxation has opened the door to several benefits:

Homeschool Field Trips

  1. We’ve enjoyed more real world learning through field trips, which had been one of the positives of homeschooling I was excited about when we started.  We’ve visited a wind power facility, went out with Diver Ed, toured our state governor’s mansion, and got up close and personal with a Barred Owl.
  2. My husband feels welcome to step in and run with ideas he has for the kids–which has led to some incredible computer programing instruction.
  3. I see my kids both taking more initiative in learning.  From writing stories to setting up paper airplane experiments, they’re exploring and creating more on their own.
  4. We have stored up some tremendous family memories spending time together doing everything from hiking new trails to taking off a school morning to go out for breakfast.

Better Homeschool Lifestyle

What has my life as a homeschool mom been like?  I’ve spent less time planning and been on my computer a lot less.  I’ve read more and kept our home a bit tidier.  I’ve realized I don’t need to be looking online for the perfect activity to go with our Egypt study…I need to look my son in the eyes when he’s telling me about his Lego creation.  I don’t need to be choosing the perfect wording for a blog post…I need to be choosing ways to connect with my adolescent daughter.

I’m content in what feels like a homeschool sweet spot.  Adjustments will be necessary as my children grow and change, but I’m hoping I can stay focused on not becoming the unhappy, overworked homeschool mom.  Just in case I need a reminder of what really matters, I’m saving inspiring posts on my pep-talk pinterest board.

How do you regain focus when you find you’re busy all day but not focused on what matters?

Thank you to the wonderful hostesses with fun link-ups on Fridays–click over to see what other homeschoolers are doing.

Trying a Trio of Pinterest Projects

Pinterest is a very helpful tool and has replaced my browser’s bookmarks as a way to save projects for later.  The photos make it so much easier to scan through my links.  We thought it would be fun to have a little Pinterest Challenge at iHomeschool Network to encourage us to complete some of those pretty pins.

Here are three projects I gave a whirl:  one complete success, one that required a little tweaking to be successful, and then one that hasn’t succeeded fully–but I’m not giving up!

Pinterest Challenge 1: Shell Coat

Project #1: An utterly delicious ice cream topping.

Have you ever ordered a chocolate dip cone at an ice cream shop or used homemade shell topping from the grocery store?  Well, Family Fun hasan easy recipe for a homemade version that is not only scrumptious, but easy and made with items I keep on hand.  Homeschoolers can point out the science, too: how our coconut oil is liquid at high temperatures but solid when cool, so mixing that with chocolate helps give us that thin coat that hardens on contact with ice cream.

Pinterest Project 2 Bow and Arrow

Project #2: Mini Bow and Arrow Craft

My son has been wanting to make this miniature bow and arrow for months, so this challenge prompted us to give it a try.  Following the directions exactly our first attempt was fun but needed some tweaks to really work well.

Bow and Arrow First Attempt

We didn’t get a great bend in our popsicle stick–it was hard to hold the tension on the curve of the wet stick while tying floss.  Also the floss was not durable–it stretched over time (losing even more of the bend in our stick) and began fraying with use.  Maybe I buy cheap floss?  The coating also made their fingers sticky and scented.

I remembered another pin I have for making bracelets from popsicle sticks, so I used the directions there.  You soak the sticks, put them inside a glass to form the arch, and allow them to dry there.

Bow and Arrow Technique

This gave us a beautiful bow that kept its shape (even now, a couple weeks later).  My second tweak was to skip the fraying floss and use a stronger string.  In our case I used craft thread.  This made a more durable bow and led to quite a bit of fun with target practice and experimenting for the kids.

Pinterest Project Pizza Box Solar Oven

Project #3: Pizza Box Solar Oven

I’ve been wanting to try a solar oven forever!  I used instructions from Home Science Tools; they even have a PDF with recipes to try.  I followed the instructions as closely as I could.  I built up quite a bit of heat (175 degrees was the highest) and my potato was hot, but not fully cooked.

I see a couple reasons for my failure:

  1. I chose a tricky food for my first try, I think–a baked potato.  Unlike hot dogs or s’mores that many solar oven recipes prepare, you need some serious heat over a long period of time to bake a potato.  But hey, I’m never one to take the easy way out.
  2. I had a couple small openings behind the glass pan that allowed heat to escape.  Plan: Block any place air can exit!
  3. I had three potatoes, which created a lot of thermal mass for a small oven to heat.  This site has wonderful information about the science and history behind solar ovens.  I’ll try with one potato next time.
  4. I didn’t have enough time–I started around noon and then didn’t check on it the last hour so it ended up being in full shade when I checked at 5 o’clock.  I lost valuable cooking time! Next time I’ll start earlier and remember to check frequently.

Like I said, I’m not giving up yet!  In fact, I love that this didn’t work the first try.  It gives me a chance to model for my kids “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”  They were very skeptical so now I’m determined to show them that we can bake a potato using power from the sun!

If you’re looking for more ideas for your homeschool or fun with your kids, visit my Pinterest boards. Do you like using Pinterest to organize ideas?  And do you often get a chance to go back and actually do those wonderful activities?

Pop over to iHomeschool Network to visit other bloggers who tried out some of the projects sitting on their Pinterest boards.

iHN Pinterest Flips and Flops

Successful Start to Summer Schooling

Summer school is fully underway, hooray!  I’ve made my notes to just leave June alone next year, and plan on a July start of more structured learning.  That way I don’t feel “late” or “behind.”

We’ve been using the weekly checklists I made for the kids since early June and earlier this month started working away at our summer curriculum plans.  I purposefully didn’t plan a lot of formal schoolwork, but tried leaving us open for relaxed learning.  As a die-hard planner I wondered if this would work or if learning wouldn’t happen if I didn’t have it all written in my lists.  The good news is we’ve learned a lot without me planning and directing everything!  (Shocker, I know.)

Nature Study

Two new-to-us insects from nature found us this week:

Luna Moth Specimen

My father-in-law brought this magnificent luna moth specimen to us.  He shared a lot of information with us, and I later found this  YouTube video of the luna moth life cycle that has wonderful footage of the moth and equally wonderful explanations of all the things that make it so interesting!  We realized how lucky we were to see one, since they are nocturnal and adults only live one week.  By the way, the adult luna moth doesn’t eat–at all.  It comes out of the cocoon just to reproduce and die.

Maple Leaf Galls

Another day I was mowing and noticed these wart-like growths on some maple leaves.  I envisioned a crawly little insect or worm hatching out, so we put a few leaves in the bug catcher for observation…nothing happened.  After a Google search I discovered they were galls formed by a mite that overwinters in the bark of the tree.  The leaf produces the little pouch-like galls that surround the mite, which continues to live, feed, and breed within the gall.  Luckily it isn’t likely to damage the trees.  Insects are fascinating!


We attended a Mad Science presentation sponsored by our library called “Dig Into Science: Journey to the Center of the Earth.”  It was an interactive, action-packed hour where we all learned a little something.

Reading Aloud

We have been completely entranced by the Chronicles of Narnia.  I’m reading the books aloud (starting with The Magician’s Nephew) and after we finish each one we’re listening to the radio dramatization from Focus on the Family (which is superb, by the way).  I really wanted to read the series, but was a bit worried after all of us disliked The Hobbit.  I wondered if we were fantasy-challenged but we all love this story.

Educational Television Viewing

My daughter has always enjoyed the “Dear America” books, and we stumbled across Dear America videos on Netflix.  There are 12 half-hour episodes: nine are historical fiction stories from American history, three are the “Royal Diaries” versions that tell of a famous princess.  I highly recommend them!  They’re perfect for relaxed summer learning and have led to great discussions and role-playing the characters and time periods in their free time.

And a side note: I’ve talked about learning to loosen up on my themes and let go of my constant attempts to keep topics neatly grouped together.  The old me would have written down this great resource and tried to use each video at its appropriate time in our history studies.  The I’m-still-learning-to-let-go me not only let my children go ahead and watch Cleopatra (even though we’ll be studying her next school year) but I didn’t even require they watch the videos in order chronologically.  How’s that for progress?

We are enjoying our new favorite science show, Mythbusters (many episodes also available on Netflix).  My son loves the show and it really inspires him to experiment.  For instance, on one show they were testing vehicles in tornado-force winds.  The rest of the afternoon my son built Lego vehicles and tested them in wind.  We played around with fans and a blow dryer to get the strongest wind.  (And when I heard the leaf blower of the lawn company working down the street the crazy homeschool mom in me was tempted to ask to borrow it.)

Mythbusters Inspired Science

My favorite part of the show is how they model that everything doesn’t always work perfectly on your first try–often something fails and you have to try and try again!


I shared our wire sculpting based on the book Norman the Doorman.  Trying out a completely new art medium was great fun for all of us.

I have another homeschool experiment–if less planning can still mean a lot of learning, will this work in the area of art, too?  Our art supplies are conveniently located in a big hutch near our kitchen, but neither of my children tends to get them out unless I’m directing a specific art project.  I tried a little experiment one hot afternoon and got out the watercolor paints, telling them to paint whatever they wanted.

Patriotic Art Projects

It worked wonderfully!  This isn’t to say that I don’t want to do art projects with instructions for learning skills, but I think I’ve overlooked the importance of also giving them time to just create on their own.

And All The Other Things That Summer Brings!

Early July Photo Collage

We hiked to a waterfall in Acadia National Park, walking on the historic carriage roads part of the way.  Our summer goal is 10 new adventures, meaning a hike or visit to a lighthouse we’ve not seen before.  This is number three checked off!  I feel good about that progress.  And speaking of progress, we’re beginning to see some produce from our gardens.  Not enough to make jam or anything, but some raspberries made a delicious snack!

Have you been working on summer goals, either educational or just for fun?

Thank you to the wonderful hostesses with wrap-up link-ups. Be sure to join the fun and see what other homeschoolers are up to!

10 Unexpected Benefits to Homeschooling

Unexpected Benefits to Homeschooling

Before I started actually homeschooling I had dreamy visions of how it would go.  I shared now slightly humorous visions and the reality of homeschooling.  So if it isn’t the perfect scenario I envisioned, why do I still homeschool?  Because the good outweighs the bad by a ton.

The basic benefits I hoped for when researching homeschooling have held true: lots of family time together and a tailored education for both my children.  But there are even more benefits than I had anticipated.  It’s not to say that I hadn’t thought of some of these, but the degree of delightfulness had been unexpected.

#1. I hadn’t realized the full impact of not only lots of time together but all this shared learning.

I was hoping homeschooling would strengthen our family bonds, but it has had an unbelievable affect on our family culture.  We’re always reminding each other of funny stories or using quotes from books we’ve read together.  So many more of our memories are shared memories.  I especially see this having a great impact on the relationship between my kids since we read aloud and study many subjects together.  Being a boyish boy and girly girl three years apart, learning together gives them helpful things in common:  often they spend free time reenacting a wagon train, a story about Cleopatra, or something else we’ve been studying.

#2. I know what my kids have been learning.

When my daughter was in school I got the report of the day by looking over her papers or whatever she happened to remember to tell me (which was often more about the social aspects).  But as their homeschool teacher I know what they’ve been studying.  I can tie prior knowledge into something else we’re doing.  When we’re at a lighthouse and the man starts talking about the remains of a fort that was once occupied by the British I can tie that in to things we’ve studied!

#3. The flexibility is amazing!

Okay, I did look forward to the flexibility of homeschooling before we started, but the number of ways in which it benefits us surprised me.  My early riser does his best focused schoolwork early, so we can schedule his work accordingly.  If it’s hot we get outside early in the day, not take recess at 12:30 even if it’s 80 degrees then.  We can hike on a nice Thursday and finish schoolwork on a rainy Saturday.  We can go places when they aren’t as busy.  If any or all of us is just having one of those tough days we can take a break and reboot.  The kids have more time with their Dad (who works irregular hours) and even their grandparents.  We just can be flexible (and often still learning!) while we’re sick and not worry about how soon I can send them back to school.

#4. My kids are being better prepared for taking care of themselves and a home.

My kids are learning and doing more household chores because they are home a lot.  (That isn’t to say that my home is cleaner than before homeschooling because, well, we’re home a lot and make a lot of messes!)  But instead of rushing off in the morning and returning in the evening to see a stocked fridge and laundered clothes in a tidy house, they are there all day.  They run to the store with me, we fold clothes together while reading, and we all participate in household chores.  They are seeing the responsibilities of adults and learning to do them right alongside me.

#5. There’s less pressure to keep up with a culture that, quite honestly, has its priorities messed up.

My kids don’t beg to watch the latest television show or video game.  There is less “got to have it” pressure because they aren’t trying to fit in with peer groups that they have to relate to for hours each day.  Other than this being helpful for our pocketbook, I find it lets the real purpose of the day shine: LEARNING!  Working at home the real focus is what we’re studying, not the social pressures of the class or distractions from all the other stuff that goes with a group of same age kids in a room with one teacher.  We don’t have to sign up for every extracurricular activity and be running on all our evenings and weekends.  I don’t have to spend money on the lists of requested items from the school, or become a fundraiser or peddler of goods to raise funds for field trips.  I don’t drop my kids off to then volunteer my time photocopying or keeping order in the lunchroom.

#6 We’re learning to dare to be different.

I still remember the first few months of telling people we were  going to homeschool.  The good news is, it’s easier after two years.  We’ve all learned to be more comfortable being different and that can be a very good thing.  Very often the right thing isn’t the popular thing, so this is a life skill that will help my kids make good choices down the road.

#7. We have more time to focus on the seasons and holidays.

This one may seem less serious, but it’s no less enjoyable!  We structure our school year so we can focus on Christmas for all of December.  We celebrate family rituals that bond us together and help us remember the reason for the season.  Other than Christmas we also can appreciate the flow of the seasons from the cozy days of winter reading by the fire, to the first time we feel real warmth from the sun in spring.  We can continuing our learning while still enjoying Maine’s short but glorious summer.  Fall is my favorite season, and I am happy each year that we enjoy all the crisp beauty together, instead of jumping back in to running around and spending hours apart from each other.

#8. My life is enriched beyond measure as I learn alongside them.

I was one of those students who knew what I needed to do to get good grades, but couldn’t wait to be done college so I could stop all this studying (especially when I knew I would forget things right after the test).  I am so very lucky that I get to learn all the good things I missed and I feel I’ve discovered my love of learning.  I love enjoying wonderful books that I missed along the way and getting a chance to reread old favorites.  But then there’s nature study, and realizing how much wonder I was simply walking by on a daily basis.  Meeting the great masters of art and music and appreciating the beauty of what they created is a new joy for me.  I’ve become engrossed in our history studies, even though it was one of my least favorite subjects in school (because I couldn’t remember names and dates).

#9. I am there for deep conversations.

You can’t always plan heart-to-hearts.  Being together a lot means I’m there when the mood strikes or the topic arises that leads to a weighty discussion.  Topics that get us talking come up during Bible reading, watching the news, studying history, reading great books…or sometimes just making lunch or walking around the neighborhood.  Having an abundance of time together and interacting together much of that time often puts me in the right place at the right time to connect with my children on important issues.

#10. I’m growing as a person.

I’ve shared about the lessons I’m learning through homeschooling.  Being together and working together all the time is like sandpaper on all our rough edges.  I’m hoping it’s like a rock tumbler and we’ll all come out more beautiful in the end.

 Hop over to iHomeschool network to read more unexpected benefits to homeschooling. Every Tuesday for the next 10 weeks I’ll be participating with the other bloggers of iHN in a blog hop of top ten lists.

10in10 2013

This blog hop series was inspired by Angie of Many Little Blessings where you’re welcome to link up, too!


2012-2013 End of Year Homeschool Review

Somehow the whole month of June just flew by.  It was filled with end-of-school-year celebrations in all our groups and activities…

End of Year Celebrations

the start of fun summer activities like hiking and camping…

Beginning of Summer Fun

not to mention work like gardening and lawn mowing!

Beginning of Summer Work

Note to self: Forget about schoolwork for June.  Although I allow for a week off and we head out on a camping trip after the drudgery of standardized testing, both last summer and this summer we needed more time before starting our summer school schedule.  I did start weekly summer schedules but as far as me sitting down with them working on curriculum or more formal studies, it would be better just to wait for July.

Part of it is because I need to give myself more time to reorganize and ruminate on the successes and failures of the last year.  I’ve been thinking so hard my brain hurts, and have so much to say I’ll have to break it up into several posts.  So we’ll consider this my first installment: the hits and misses from my 2012-2013 school year plan.  In order to be somewhat brief I’ll refrain from going into detail on how I plan to change the things that needed tweaking or didn’t work.  You’ll have to stay tuned for my new ideas for next year.

What Worked Well This Year

Core Curriculum

  • Writeshop Junior D worked well for my daughter.  (You can read my full review of Writeshop on Curriculum Choice.)
  • Math:  My original plan for my daughter failed early, but our switch to Teaching Textbooks was a hit.  For my son lots of playing with math (coin recognition, tally marks, even/odd), working through Life of Fred  and an old series of books called “I Love Math” taught basic concepts and we had fun with numbers!
  • Funnix helped me teach my son how to read.  We finished the last lesson in May and now he’s ready for all the fun beginning reading books at our library.  He’s proud of his success and so am I!  (Here’s my full review of Funnix on Curriculum Choice.)
  • Copywork and Dictation: My ten year old started with copywork from our history curriculum, but towards the end of the year we moved into dictation using selections to address specific areas.  I had read about dictation but didn’t fully realize the gold mine of a technique it can be, encompassing skills for writing, grammar, spelling and handwriting.


  • Music lessons: My daughter’s piano lessons are money well spent.  They give her a wonderful life skill and have also led to forming a bond with a terrific teacher.  (I’m hoping we can find the same experience for my son with guitar.)
  • Fine Arts: I added Harmony Fine Arts Grade 1 Overview Year Plans and it made it so easy to accomplish classical music and art appreciation.  Secondly, we use the SQUILT technique from Mary of Homegrown Learners to get to know one piece of music at a time. These two resources from fellow homeschool moms help in my weak areas, so the kids and I are learning together.
  • Nature Study: Using ideas from Barb at the Handbook of Nature Study blog (and topics that find us) is another highlight of our schoolwork.  We did group some of our nature topics into themes and completed detailed studies of trees and birds.
  • Unit Studies:  Due to my tendency to over-plan and over-complicate, it’s best for me to reserve unit studies for special topics or periods of time.  The themed learning sure can be fun, though!  This year we enjoyed studies of the U.S. Government and Elections, the Science of Snow, and the Iditarod.

What Didn’t Work This Year

All About Spelling: So many people are huge fans of All About Spelling. I admire the program and can understand all the rave reviews, but it just doesn’t fit us.  I still struggled to move through AAS quickly enough to catch up with where my daughter was in her spelling ability.  Since it requires 15-20 minutes of one-on-one instruction each day it was too much of a time investment for a single subject that isn’t a struggle for my daughter.

What Needed Some Tweaking This Year


I started with a Time Travelers Early 19th Century unit from Homeschool in the Woods, planning to finish by Christmas.  Long story short, we got so engrossed we spent the whole year on the 1800s.  What worked well was literature-based learning, but two issues put history on the “needs tweaking” list:

  • The Time Travelers packs have incredible printables, but those printables required lots of printing and precise cutting and pasting, the beautiful artwork was often too detailed for coloring, and many minibooks had pre-printed text to place inside.  In short, they were time-intensive with little room for my kids to make it their own and record what they had learned.
  • Not that it isn’t fun to get lost in a time period, but this lasted too long.  I think it was due to my aforementioned tendency to over-complicate things, working on those elaborate printables, and choosing time-consuming hands-on projects.  In the end our relaxed learning while listening intently to Little House books was what my kids remember.


I still like Real Science Odyssey, but I strayed pretty far from RSO in the second half of the year.  I have a science background and my son has an incredible interest in science and asks questions on a daily basis.  Contrary to my natural personality, we actually need less structure in science.


I love our flexible weekly schedules.  What needed tweaking was our outside engagements.  By midyear I felt over-scheduled so I cut a couple things out.  I have learned to be cautious of signing up for outside activities that place demands on my patience for teaching and planning.  Our first year we had a science class where I could sit and chat with other moms while my kids had a great class with a super-excited scientist.  Those types of events are better than something I have to help run, which leaves me drained instead of energized.

So that’s the first installment of my review of last year.  I still want to share more of my general thoughts as I find myself sharpening my ideas of home education.   Do you spend a lot of time reviewing how your year went?  Do you get your techniques “figured out” or are you constantly adjusting?

Thank you to the wonderful hostesses with fun wrap-up link-ups. Be sure to join the fun and see what other homeschoolers are up to!

Celebrating Accomplishments and Planning Ahead

Our goal each year is to complete our standardized tests during the week before Memorial Day, so after Memorial Day we can slip into our relaxed summer school schedule and feel like the last school year is behind us and we’re working ahead on the next year (not finishing the last).  We focus on learning together in the summer so the kids worked extra hard to finish their individual subjects: the biggest goals for each were Teaching Textbooks 5 for my daughter and Funnix reading instruction for my son.  I was proud of their focus so when my son said we should have a party I said, “Of course!”

Celebrating Homeschool Accomplishments

That evening we held an impromptu party to celebrate.  I blew up the one lone balloon I could find, my daughter used strips of tissue paper to make things festive, and they both made posters.  I don’t know if you can see clearly in the photo, but my son’s says “I love reading.”  Does anything else warm a homeschool mom’s heart more than that?  For dessert I whipped up brownies-a-la-mode.

I realized a side benefit to agreeing to the party–they excitedly cleaned up the house so it would look nice for the party.  I think I see frequent “parties” in my future!

Other Homeschool Happenings This Week

We’ve been working on a Civil War Unit Study that I am trying to wrap up before testing week.  I’m trying to make the type-A list maker in me relax if we don’t and allow it to flow over into summer.  There is just too much to learn and discuss!

We were visited by two new-to-us birds this week.  We adore our backyard birds, who are really more like friends.  I’ll need to make new field guide cards like I posted about in our backyard birds nature study post.  I can’t tell you the excitement when we meet a new “friend.”  Everything stops and we grab field guides, cameras and binoculars.

Red-Winged Blackbird

First was a red-winged blackbird.  We’ve already learned his call because he keeps sitting on the tree right behind our deck and singing away!  I read that the males return from migration first and sing  to defend their territory, so perhaps that was his goal.

I am curious if we continue to see him because according to my book they nest near shallow water and other than a couple small wet areas in our neighborhood we aren’t really near water.  My boy liked the fact that this bird likes to show off his bright wing bars (called epaulets) because it reminded him of generals.

White-Throated Sparrow

Our next friend was the white-throated sparrow.  I was fascinated by the two different color variations, white-striped and tan-striped, which I initially thought were two different species.  The field guide says white-striped adults tend to mate with tan-striped adults but scientists don’t know why.  Isn’t that fascinating?  I love showing my kids how there are still things to be discovered and understood in the world!

Things I’m Working On

Planning!  I love it but wish it was all I could do for a few weeks.  Once I start dreaming and scheming about next year it’s hard to focus on anything else.  I’m narrowing down the major subjects, have papers scattered about me at all times with notes, ideas and figures.

One of my biggest struggles with planning is to plan a reasonable amount.  I am never short on ideas and I am intrigued by nearly all subjects, so I tend to over-plan and then feel “behind” when we can’t get it all done.  That isn’t just in homeschool but tends to happen in my life in general.

My goal is to simplify so we’re focused on the subjects and learning methods that leave us entirely enriched but also happy and relaxed.  Can I plan more reasonably now, with two years of experience?  Do any of you struggle with over-planning?

Thank you to the wonderful hostesses with fun link-ups on Fridays. Be sure to join the fun and see what other homeschoolers are up to!

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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