10 Fun Ways We’ve Learned and Played Lately

It’s been a while since I posted one of these updates.  🙂 Here’s a bit of what we’ve been up to lately.

1. Fiona has been doing lots of writing and copy work.  She loves writing and fills up page after page of dollar store handwriting and spelling workbooks.

2.  Rhia is learning to play the electric guitar.  She is already a wonderful acoustic guitar player and is now excited to get an electric guitar and learn that.  She’s been practicing on a guitar that Gabe (Toria’s fiance) has lent her.  I got her an amp for solstice and she is hoping to be able to buy the guitar by her (18th!) birthday at the end of the month.  She is not just a great guitar player but also a great song writer.  With her love of music and the connection she already has with small bands in around the country, I’m pretty sure her future will be in music in one way or another.

3.  And she’s still busy with photography… Speaking of Rhia’s music connections, she took some photos for a small Mankato area band last month and she’s done some concert photography for some bands at Minneapolis and Sioux Falls concerts.  I’m pretty sure photography will be in her future, too.  Here’s her photography page on Facebook.  she’d be thrilled if you liked it!

4.  Alex has been enjoying the snow.  It’s been bitterly cold, but any time it’s above zero he’s pretty happy to be making snow forts, building snow zombies and so on.

5.  Fiona learned to play happy birthday on the lap harp.  She and Alex also learned a bunch of other songs.

❤️

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6.  Alex has been learning to cook more meals and treats.  His latest accomplishments are 2 minute microwave GF bread (which he made about 30 batches for family in the last month) and scrambled eggs.  He also helps me cook a lot, so he’s become a great sous chef for things like taquitos.

My fabulous sous chef for Mexican night. #cookingwithkids #taquitos

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7.  Victoria and Gabe have been in their house for a month.  They got their first utility bill today!  Luckily the house is so small and they’re so frugal that it was a fraction of what ours is.  They come over for dinner just about every night but they are settling in well and finally have reliable heat (a big thing when it’s been 20 below zero!).

8.  We’ve been doing lots of visits to the Washington Pavilion science and art center.  I took advantage of a holiday special and renewed our membership, which Alex told me he really missed.  We try to visit every time we’re in Sioux Falls, which is often since Rhia’s BF lives there and it’s also where I do my bulk grocery shopping.

#sciencefun #scienceforkids #realworldmath #homeschooling

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They have great science presentations and Alex and Fiona got to take part in one about physics.

And last time we headed over to the art center and the kids got to do some pretty cool spin art projects.  The only thing better than messy art is messy art you don’t have to set up yourself.  😉

9.  Jack is crazy about Hamilton and it’s led to all kinds of history education.  He knows all of the songs by heart and is really excited that the show is coming to Minnesota in 2018.  I’ve come to the conclusion that I could effortlessly teach him his entire high school curricula if I could find musicals for every subject.  😉

10. We’ve been doing tons of learning with Cuisenaire Rods and other hands-on math tools.

Alex and I even tried doing long division with Cuisenaire Roads, which is really tricky to wrap your brain around!

I also published another book (affiliate link: Acorn Foraging: Acorn Foraging: Everything You Need to Know to Harvest One of Autumn’s Best Wild Edible Foods, with Recipes, Photographs and Step-By-Step InstructionsEverything You Need to Know to Harvest One of Autumn’s Best Wild Edible Foods, with Recipes, Photographs and Step-By-Step Instructions) and we’ve been reading lots of books, playing with friends, going to movies (since Daryl and Rhia work for a local non-profit movie theater, our family can go at any hour and put on whatever movies we like, which makes for some pretty fun late-night excursions!), playing music, watching shows and the usual mayhem.

Now, I’ve promised a little girl that we’d do crafts so I should sign off.  I hope everything is wonderful in your corner of the world!

 

 

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Fresh Homeschool Starts

2018 homeschool fresh startHappy New Year!

I am honestly so excited about 2018, as I’m thinking that after the epic awfulness of 2017 there’s nowhere to go but up!  🙂  I feel as if a light is being turned on again, or I’m making it turn on.  Things will turn around.  I just know it.

I’m not going to bother talking about the bad going on right now (see a previous entry if you want a taste of what has me up at 4:35 a.m. talking to you instead of sleeping!).  Enough with the bad.  It’ll go on whether I acknowledge it or not.  So let’s look at the good.

Fiona is in such a hurry to get to more homeschooling.  It makes me smile the way she nags me for more homeschool.

She has been playing like crazy with letter cubes, math manipulatives and pen and paper lately.  She happily made up words with letter dice yesterday, bringing me four cubes at a time for me to help her form words from them.  Her reading and spelling are coming along so fast now. I have promised her that we will get to lots of everyday homeschooling on Tuesday after the holiday.  We had a forced (by me) school break with everything else going on.  🙂

Santa gave Alex a 3-month Gamefly subscription for Christmas and as a result I have seen him far less than usual!  He and Jack have had so much fun playing together though, and it’s the dead of winter when it’s hard for him to get out and do as much as he’d like to.  It’s currently -20 F (no, that doesn’t factor in the wind chill and yes, it is really that cold) so he can’t even play in his beloved snow until it gets a bit less life-threatening out there — though this weather is good for the occasional quick outdoor science experiment like freezing bubbles and vaporizing hot water to make instant clouds.

cold weather homeschool science freezing bubblesJack, Alex and Fiona have all been having a ball with library books right now, too.  Toria has a weekly appointment in a city an hour away that turns out to have a fabulous library, so we go and stock up every couple of weeks.  The little ones love it and even Jack has discovered some beloved new book series.  I love the way he’ll say he has no interest in a book and then read the entire thing before we get home that day!

I have made all sorts of resolutions for this new year on every front there is — housekeeping, homeschooling, work, personal, health…  We’ll see how well they all work out but I am really excited about trying, which is a nice change.

Magic and Mayhem -- fresh homeschool startsI’ve been homeschooling for over 15 years now, with one child already completely done and one about to finish (Rhia will graduate in the spring!).  I don’t want to shortchange the younger kids with waning enthusiasm for it all, but it is hard to juggle the needs of so many different ages and stages — especially with Victoria’s scary health issues and now the issues with her new (old) house and all that it’s bringing into our lives (burst pipes and dead furnaces in 20 below weather anybody?).

But I’ve renewed our memberships to the science museum and the zoo, I’ve made up daily plans and I just have this faith that has been missing since the train wreck that was 2017 begun.  Hope, optimism, all that jazz.

I’m ready to blast through a hundred lesson plans, art projects, history games, math challenges and educational obstacles and make some magic again.

Happy 2018, all!  May it be a fantastic one for all of us.

 

(P.S.  Trying something new and linking up with Homeschool Highlights.)

Homeschooling Through Construction Mayhem

There’s been a little more mayhem than usual in our homeschool the past few weeks.  We’re having extensive home repairs done on all four floors of our house (main floor, second floor, attic and basement).

This is what our back porch looked like last week after they ripped out the floor, walls, insulation and ceiling.

porch

To say it’s been hectic is an understatement.

While it will be so worth it in the end, it’s been pretty exhausting — especially since we had just one day notice that they’d be starting on the renovations since we set it all up early last summer!

The construction crew knows we homeschool (of course) and I’m pretty sure they think that involves nothing at all (!) since we’re not doing anything remotely traditional while they’re here.  After all, they’re ripping up floors, walls, counters, windows, you name it, and it’s not like we could just pile into the kitchen to do science experiments and lapbooks all day or read quietly through the hammering and drilling!

Nonetheless, we’ve still managed to learn and play through the chaos.

Here are ten ways we’ve learned and played during the construction.

1. Alex and I have been playing Timeline on the new living room floor.  We have three sets of this fantastic little history card game (Discoveries, Inventions and Historical Events) and love them all.  The other kids have been joining in some of the games too (Rhia even played a few rounds with her college friend one night!).  Not only is it great for putting historical events in perspective to each other, but it’s led to all kinds of great conversations on everything from pulsars to Darwin and Lincoln (they were born the same day of the same year, as you may know).

2. We’ve been reading lots of library books.  Winter is always the time to hit up the library extra often and it’s a good place to escape to when the chaos is too loud, too.

3. The boys have been playing Dragonbox for algebra.  It’s been a while since the kids played it so I loaded it up on Jack and Alex’s Kindles and had them do a little every day.  I’m planning on getting the higher level one (Dragonbox 12+) for Jack once he finishes the original version, too.  The nice thing about educational apps is that kids can just hole up in a room somewhere or just take them in the car with them and use them anywhere.

4.  Fiona, Alex and I have been playing Wildcraft. It’s a wonderful game that I finally broke down and bought last year after coveting it for years.  I love that it’s cooperative and that it teaches so much about helpful plants.  All players work together to get to the top of a mountain and gather huckleberries for a pie for grandma.  Along the way, they run into various maladies (sunburn, insect bite, hunger, sprained ankle, etc.) and they see if they have any of the plants that can help the ailment (jewelweed, field mint, plantain, echinacea, etc.).  If they don’t, one of their teammates can help them if they have a cooperation card, or they can use cooperation cards to pull the player who’s farthest behind up to their space.  It’s a bit like a nature studies “Candy Land” — except everybody works together and it teaches you.  🙂  It’s also just plain pretty!  Fiona especially loves the game and asks to play it constantly.

wild-craft

5. Daryl has been taking the kids hiking and longboarding at the nearby state park.  The weather has been strangely warm for February for Minnesota (we had rain last week!) so they’ve been taking advantage of it to get some much-needed fresh air, sunshine and exercise — and of course, some nature studies!

6. I’ve been teaching the older kids about Kindle publishing.  Now that I’ve published my first Kindle book, it doesn’t seem so overwhelming and I’ve realized what a great tool it could be for the kids to share some of their knowledge and passions.  I told Toria that I would love to see her publish a “Hard Core Nature Studies” book because she has taught herself so much cool stuff about hands-on projects for serious science and nature lovers (like how to whiten bones), for instance.

Shameless plug…. Speaking of my book, it’s free to read if you subscribe to Kindle Unlimited.  Otherwise, it’s $2.99.  There are 52 nature study projects, broken down so there is one a week for all four seasons.  Most of the projects are ones that we’ve done many times in our own homeschool over the years, including lots of our favorites.

naturestudiescover

7. Alex is on a spelling kick.  With all of my kids, spelling was one of the last things to kick in naturally — well after they were reading very well.  Alex was no different, and it was to the point where I cringed when I saw his spelling even though we did play spelling games, talk about spelling rules and activities like that.  As with all of the kids, though, it did finally click and he found his own way to learn to love it and excel at it.

In his case, his spelling suddenly skyrocketed because of two things — texting friends and spelling everything he says to me.  He now communicates half the time by spelling his questions and sentences to me.  It drives the other kids a little crazy, but he jumped a good 2 grade levels in spelling the past month just through these two habits.

(It should also be noted that the two friends that my 9 year-old boy texts the most often are a 9 year-old girl who lives a block away and a middle-aged world-traveled lawyer from Beverly Hills who lives next door to us.  The neighbor has become a close friend to our whole family since she moved in last spring, and it makes me smile that Alex texts her regularly to check in on things.  🙂  I love that homeschooling means that “socialization” occurs with all ages and all types of people, instead of kids growing up segregated into grade-level groups of like-minded peers.  I also love that it often means that kids have no concern about gender or age when choosing friends.)

8. I’ve put on lots of educational TV.  I love having You-Tube, Netflix and Hulu because it means there’s always something entertaining and educational to occupy the kids when things get hectic.  The younger kids particularly like Maths Mansion, which we watch on You-Tube.  It’s the weirdest children’s show I’ve ever seen but it’s oddly hilarious and even the big kids watch it because it’s just so bizarre. It’s a very surreal British show that I read about a while back on another homeschool blog.  It features a villain who traps children in a spooky house and makes them do math to escape and a nice (but ridiculous) guy who teaches the kids the math concepts.  The villain also accosts random real life people on the streets to ask them strange math questions.  🙂  It’s really odd but we like it!  It covers some pretty advanced math for a children’s show, too, and gives the kids problems to solve at the end of each show.  They’ve also been watching Myth Busters, National Geographic documentaries and various other programs.

9. We’ve been dragging out various books in spare moments to learn American history, algebra, science and more.  One of the nice things about having a massive library amassed from thrift stores and the occasional Scholastic book splurge is that we have wonderful books to teach about everything from how gravity works to rocks and minerals.  Today, I grabbed a Scholastic book about “everything you need to know about American history for homework” and we read through the section on the French and Indian war.  Alex figured out how many years ago it started and we read through the causes and results (pretty monumental).  Earlier in the day, I read a picture book with Fiona and Alex about how gravity works (and then added to it since it didn’t do much of a job of explaining it).  A couple of days ago, I went through a college-level “algebra for dummies” book with Jack upstairs when they were tearing up the living room.  These books give us small doses of pretty rigorous information and discussions that we often continue later.

10. Of course, the kids are learning all about construction, electricity, plumbing and renovation work.  I can’t possibly name all the things the kids have learned from the workers and the work they’ve done the past couple of weeks.  When the foreman found out we had an older type of wiring called knob and tube wiring in the attic, he explained how electricity passed through it as opposed to modern systems and what the risks were.

Knob and tube wiring gets its name from the ceramic knobs used to hold wires in place and ceramic tubes that act as protective casings for wires running through wall studs or floor joists. Instead of the three wires found in modern electrical installations, knob and tube wiring has only two — a black (hot) wire and a white (neutral) wire. This means there is no ground wire in the system for excess charge or in the event of a short.

The kids have also watched how counters are replaced, how all kinds of power tools are used, how various kinds of flooring are laid, how a frame is built for a bathtub and shower, and tons more.  Toria talked to the foreman about how many boxes of flooring they’d need for her to do our hallway later on, figuring out square footage for the hallway and factoring in how many square feet are in each box (and figuring the cost).  They’ve learned about plumbing lines, material costs, housing codes and oodles more.

And yes, it’s going to be so worth it when it’s over. Here’s a picture of Fiona practicing drawing and writing on our living room floor last summer.  We had pulled up the big area rug thinking they were going to start on the renovations soon (the original completion date was supposed to be in August!), so we were looking at this floor for about 7 months!

Here’s a picture of Fiona meditating on our new living room floor last week.

fififloor

It’s a happy sort of chaos, then, and one we are grateful for!

This was just another example of how well homeschooling can work so well around life.

We have homeschooled through getting snowed in while visiting other cities, making trips to take care of my ailing grandmother, vacations, new babies, Toria’s cancer, Daryl’s hip replacement and all kinds of other challenges.  I am so grateful that with homeschooling, school can so easily fit around life, instead of life having to fit around school.

But boy will I be glad when the construction is finished.  🙂

~ ~ ~

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10 Ways We’ve Learned and Played Lately

We’re 2 weeks into 2017 and hanging in there.  I had a birthday a week ago and Rhia has a birthday next week.  She’s turning 17 (how did that happen?) and I won’t tell you what age I turned.  😉

birthdayselfie

(Yes, our kitchen ceiling is completely covered with the children’s art!)

We had some more sadness, as my grandmother died right before the new year.  She was 93 and impatient to move on to her next adventure, but that doesn’t make it easier.  I am very glad that we made so many trips to Ohio for the kids to really get to know her, especially this year (3 trips in 6 months).

That doesn’t mean homeschooling was happening, though.  Or magical moments.  Here’s a bit of what we’ve been up to lately.

  1. Daryl has been doing “Teach Your Monster to Read” with Fiona just about every day.  She is beginning to get the hang of how phonics and words work, and she enjoys it.
  2. I got out an old science kit that I found at a thrift store years back, dusted it off, and started doing science experiments with Alex.  It contains a hand-held scope and lots of gadgets and chemicals.  We did things like examined different cloths under the scope, compared types of salt under magnification (black lava salt just looks dirty!) and did some simple experiments.  We’re going to try to finally start putting it to regular use.
  3. Daryl is acting in a winter play.  He has the lead in a community theater production in Worthington.  It’s a comedy and he plays a detective.  Rhia goes with him to rehearsals and all of the kids help him run his lines.
  4. Toria is working on getting our family Etsy store running.  She has some beautiful glass fox pendants that I got her for her birthday as a start to her own business (I purchased a large assortment wholesale for her to sell).  We are planning to sell a variety of things out of a family store.  Rhia creates elaborate zentangle-like artwork that she’d like to list and I have been creating magical homeschool sort of printables (such as colorful cards of hands-on ways to do all different subjects).  It has been a fun learning experience for all of us so far. Toria is taking pictures this week and then we should be able to finish creating the storefront.
  5. Rhia has been writing songs.  She is very talented on the guitar and writes amazing songs.  She wrote one last week that is quite feminist, and wrote another for a friend who needed cheering up.  She also has been learning how to cover other songs on the guitar.  Daryl and I heard a song I really liked during “Listen to Your Folks” on campus radio last week (Painting Houses) and she and Daryl learned to play it and performed it for me.
  6. I wrote a Kindle book.  I decided that it was time to start writing about the things that I am passionate about again, and that I finally needed to learn how to write Kindle books and give it a try.  There’s a steep learning curve but I got my first book written.  It is part of a series I’d like to write under the umbrella of “A Magical Homeschool.”  This one is A Magical Homeschool:  Nature Studies (52 Wonderful ways to use nature studies for science, math, art and more).  I am working on the cover today.
  7. Rhia is learning Spanish.  She has started doing Duolingo and has progressed quite far already.  Toria has been using Duolingo to master German for years, and Daryl does the free language app daily in German, French, Spanish, Norwegian and Swedish.
  8. Jack has been running D&D games for Alex.  This role playing game involves creating a world, drawing out maps, storytelling and running the game to create the adventure as the players go along.  Players roll dice to determine the outcome of decisions, battles, etc. and use miniatures to represent the players and the world.
  9. Alex, Fiona and I played a US states geography board game.  It involves drawing cards of states that you need to travel to and then answering questions about the states to move across the board and try to reach your state.  Once you visit all four of the states you’ve drawn (driving across the country in your car token), you win. A friend lent it to us and Alex really enjoys it.  Fiona doesn’t have to answer the questions.  We just let her roll the dice and travel across the country, and she is still picking up geography from the states she “visits.”
  10. Daryl and the kids have been shooting winter footage for a movie.  Daryl has a friend making a movie down south and she needs to incorporate footage of winter memories for the characters, who are supposed to be in Montana.  They have been shooting footage of snowy scenes and of the kids running in the snow and so on.  Daryl, Toria, Jack and Rhia have all shot footage, and Alex and Rhia have been in some of the scenes.

Of course, we’re doing all the usual homeschool stuff too — reading books, playing games, texting, blogging, using educational apps and shows, nature studies, cooking, chores, math pages and so on.

And now, I’m off to work on that cover and pretend I’m going to get housework done.

Okay, really try to at least get a little housework done….

Have a magical week!

Back From Nebraska Again

We’re back from a short week at the fabulous home of Tiffany and company again.  Most of us went this time (me, Fiona, Alex, Toria and her boyfriend Gabe this time!), leaving Daryl home with Jack and Rhia.

We only went for 5 days and bunked in different spots around the house, but we had a fabulous time.

It is so fun to have kids so well matched.

When we visited for the very first time (10 years ago!), I was pregnant with Alex.  Tiffany had Jessie and Jack, and I had Victoria, Annalee (who now goes by Rhia) and Jack.  Her daughter was right smack in the middle of the ages of my daughters, and our Jacks were just about the same age (her Jack has Downs Syndrome and is a year older, but they were really wonderfully matched).

Tiffany and Jack, 2009

Tiffany and Jack, 2009

Our kids were stair-steps in ages, but Tiffany lost baby Jacob the year before I had baby Alex, and that was such a terrible loss.  It left a gap in our families, in every way.

When I got pregnant with Fiona years later, she was very much an “oops!” baby, and then a year later, a wonderful “oops!” miracle happened for Tiffany too– Millie.  She was born a year after Fiona and we were back in stair-step.  🙂

Jessica and Fiona, 2011

Jessica and Fiona, 2011

Millie, 2012

Millie, 2012

Now, after all of these years of friendship, our kids are still so well matched up:

Victoria (18)

Jessie (17)

Rhiannon (16)

Jack (theirs) (14)

Jack (ours) (13)

(Jacob would be 10)

Alex (9)

Fiona (5)

Millie (4)

Their Jack and our Alex are now good friends too, and happily play Minecraft and bounce on the trampoline and have all kinds of wonderful fun.

It is surreal and special to see these two new little girls of ours, starting their homeschool adventures in our bonded families.  They have really grown up with each other as family, which means so much to me.  My kids couldn’t ask for better homeschool cousins, so to speak.

It’s a pretty magical homeschool.

Now if we could just get back to more science lessons….

(Excuse the absence of any current photos!  My devices were all dead and I always happily abandon them all when I get there.  I planned on swiping photos from someone else’s Facebook or Instagram to blog, and there are none to swipe!)

 

 

The Month of Winds and Magic

camping

Daryl always told me that September is the month of winds and magic.  I think he read it in a book, years ago.  He’s always been a voracious reader.  I have always loved that saying, and it helps me embrace September and not view it the way I did when I was a kid (back to school sadness, the end of summer’s fun and the reminder that winter is not far off).

September is the month of our anniversary, Daryl’s birthday, and a whole lot of putting things up.  We tend to be extreme homesteaders this time of year, even though we don’t live on anything like a farm.  We’re knee deep in wild elderberries, apples, pears, garden harvests, homemade salsa and a whole lot of homemade liquor (hard apple cider, hard pear cider, eldberberry cordial, elderberry wine, cherry wine…).  I suppose that will help me put up with winter better.  😉

It is always nice this time of year that the world gets quieter and the back-to-school season means that the zoos, museums and parks clear out again.  Homeschoolers know that this time of year, it’s like we have our own personal playgrounds as the other kids go back to school.  And I swear, there’s a change in the air the first day that happens.  The summer heat just blows away and everything feels different.  You’d never think that just turning a calendar page would make such a striking change, but somehow it does.

We’ve been doing a lot to make the most of the last of summer.  Toria and her boyfriend Gabe have been camping twice.  Most of our family took part in Civil War Days (that deserves a post of its own!).  The kids have been skateboarding, bike riding and playing outside.  Half of us also took off to Nebraska to hang out with the Bakers and had a blast playing at their house.

jandv

This month I’ll also be (hopefully) starting a new job.  Most of you (I write that as if more than two people even read this anymore!) know that examiner has gone to all-entertainment and my columns are now gone.  I’m moving most of my relevant articles to new sites (holler if you want links to any) and I applied for a new online writing gig.  I have been accepted and have passed all of the tests.  Hopefully I’ll be writing soon but it will not be homeschool related.  I’ll just have to yap about that here and on A Magical Homeschool to share that stuff.  🙂

I’m still working on easing us back into some sort of homeschooling schedule.  We’ll do that gradually as we ease out of outside opportunities.

In the meantime, here’s to winds and magic.

(Photos by Toria Bayer, stolen from her Instagram — since I haven’t uploaded any of mine forever.)

 

 

Pre-reading Fun

Fiona has asked me to help her learn to read and since she’ll be turning 5 in the fall, I know that it will all start clicking for her in the next year or so.  We don’t use a formal reading curriculum to teach the kids to read.  With all of the older four, we just did lots of reading readiness in the form of reading together, playing letter games, having fun with phonics, doing early writing, and so on.

I found a fish puppet in the broom closet the other day as I was trying to reorganize.  Of course, there was a fish puppet in our broom closet!  🙂  I had also picked up a bag of assorted decks of kids’ games at a thrift store that week, and there happened to be a deck of letter cards in there.  Voila!  A pre-reading game came together!

I posted a pic online and on the Magical Homeschool page, if you want to peek.

Today's reading practice. Fiona has asked me to do more all day. I just made a game of feeding letter cards to a fish puppet I found to help him spell words. We also are spelling words with the cards and she wanted to write the words.

Today’s reading practice. Fiona has asked me to do more all day. I just made a game of feeding letter cards to a fish puppet I found to help him spell words. We also are spelling words with the cards and she wanted to write the words.

I explained:

Here’s how we play games to help learn reading. This particular one involved a puppet I happened to find in a closet as I was cleaning. I had some letter flash cards so I made a game with Fiona where the fish puppet would ask in a silly voice for her to feed him things that started with each letter. She’d have to find the letter and then he’d gobble it. Then we moved on to spelling words for him, such as HI. She ran and got her colored pencils and paper and wanted to copy the words, so she wrote simple words such as HI, MOON and CAT that we “fed” to the fish. We also used the cards to change words, such as changing MOON to SOON by moving one letter.

I was going to post more, but my noisy crowd (well, those who aren’t off at the ocean) just got back from pageant rehearsal and mayhem has once again ensued.

I have promised Fiona that we will continue to do some sort of reading fun together just about every day.  I’ll keep updating here with a peek at what we do.