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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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New Book!

My Kindle book went live on Amazon this morning!

You can find it here: A Magical Homeschool: Nature Studies (52 Wonderful Ways to Use Nature Studies in Every Season to Teach Science, Math, Art and More) (affiliate link).

This is utterly terrifying new territory, but very exciting nonetheless.  🙂

It’s broken down into four seasons, with 13 activities for each season (enough for one every week of the year).  They are designed to work with multiple ages, so families can do the activities together.

Examples of the activities include:

Spring:

  • Test your garden soil pH with vinegar.
  • Make homemade playdough and dye it with a variety of natural materials to make all different colors.
  • Use an empty Valentines Day chocolate box to start a rock collection.

Summer:

  • Count cricket chirps to tell the temperature (with information about how crickets make the chirps and why they speed up when it’s warm).
  • Use a magnet to find micrometeorites at the beach.
  • Use ants for nature studies (draw a chalk maze to see if they’ll run it to avoid the chalk lines, watch how they’ll follow an invisible path on a piece of paper if you turn it after they start walking a line on it, test out various natural repellents, etc.).

Autumn:

  • Use glycerine to preserve a branch of colorful fall leaves.
  • Use apples for a variety of science and nature (and homemaking) projects.
  • Do an amped up scavenger hunt with all the kids (past the usual find something blue kind of stuff, find something Native Americans used for food or medicine, find an insect that’s an omnivore and one that’s an herbivore, etc.)

Winter:

  • Carve avocado pit pendants.
  • Measure the volume of snow when it’s frozen versus melted (and extensions from there).
  • Make a tabletop observation garden from root vegetables.

It’s $2.99 in the Kindle store, or free if you subscribe to Kindle Unlimited.  It should be free sometime soon and I’ll post and let you know when that happens.

 

A Typical Thursday in May

A typical Thursday

I’ve talked plenty over the years about how we don’t have a typical day for our homeschool.  The only thing predictable about our schedule is its unpredictability.  🙂  That said, I’ve also talked about how we homeschool through the seasons, making the most of what type of learning each part of the year is suited for.

There are so many reasons to homeschool by the season.  It keeps things fresh and new for everybody (parents included).  It allows you to seize opportunities.  It encourages diversity in your homeschooling.  And it incorporates rhythms into your homeschool, which are really comforting and satisfying for kids and adults alike.

Fall for us involves lots of work in the gardens and foraging, putting things up and processing.  It teaches life skills with a heavy focus on nature study and economics.  We’re outside as much as we’re inside, and we relish the beauty of the season.

Winter is a time for holidays and putting aside traditional schoolwork, then for diving into lots of books and projects once the holidays are over.  It’s a time for snuggling up in blankets and watching fun educational shows, gathering for great read-alouds, doing lots of art and science, practicing handwriting and playing games as a family.  It’s also a time for lots of baking and making use of all the goodies we put up in the fall, and getting snowed in and catching up on all the things we kept meaning to get to the rest of the year.

And then it goes with spring and summer, and so on, and every month is a little bit different.  June will see the frenzy of pageant rehearsals for Daryl and the three younger kids, as they practice for the play every week night.  July will see the magic of performances every weekend, with thousands of people coming to take part in that magic after dusk by the banks of Plum Creek.  And on and on.

Yesterday was a typical Thursday in May for us, then.  We spent a lot of the day puttering in the garden.  Fiona helped me plant more potatoes and water the gardens.  The boys did math on the homeschool computer and had Nerf battles outside.  Alex read a Garfield book. Fiona drew lots of pictures. Daryl took some of the kids out to forage wild asparagus, and brought back over a pound (it’ll start popping like crazy in the next few days).  He also went to Worthington to shop and run errands with Toria and Fiona.  The younger kids watched some TV and the older kids spent some time on their computers.

It was warm enough that there was no excuse to say no when the kids asked if we could go to the lake in the late afternoon.  All 7 of us climbed into the van and drove to Lake Talcot, about 15 minutes away.

The younger kids waded and splashed.  Rhia took pictures and read a book.  Toria chased a tadpole with the little ones, read, hiked and looked for fossils, arrowheads and shark teeth.  She found a gorgeous piece of petrified wood that made her father jealous.  Jack waded in the lake, careful not to get his cast wet on his broken arm, and then went on a hike with me.  We talked about stinging nettles and adrenaline and lightning.  I read a catalog of unusual bushes, trees and vines that produce edible fruits and nuts and watched the kids play.  Alex ran, splashed, climbed and explored.  Fiona collected rocks and caught a toad.

On the way home, we checked on lots of flowering trees and shrubs that we’ll be watching for their fruits to come.  There are wild plums, gooseberries and more.  We’ve learned how to find them and when to start checking them for fruits to beat the birds and other foragers (don’t worry, we leave plenty) while still allowing them enough time to ripen.  At home, Daryl started a pot of rice and went to check on a few other asparagus patches to bring me home enough for dinner.  I made a simple rice casserole for the kids who don’t like asparagus and mushrooms, and cooked up the wild asparagus with mushrooms, butter and garlic for the rest of us.

Friends stopped by later in the evening and we were all out in the dark street, laughing and greeting them.  I fed them leftovers and we chatted while the kids played for an hour.  Then some of the kids and I watched a couple of shows on Hulu (The Goldbergs with just about everybody, and then Blacklist for me and Toria).

Today, Rhia is off at garage sales with her boyfriend and Toria is at an art conference with Daryl.  We’ve been gardening again and playing outside.  We cut bouquets of lilacs that we brought into the house.  I had Alex do a couple of worksheets of spelling/handwriting.  The boys did math on the computer and Fiona drew me a darling picture.

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The day is young and I don’t know what else we’ll do.  I have to work in some math with Alex and go over the driver’s ed book with Toria.  I’m hoping to have the kids watch an episode of Maths Mansion and maybe start on one of the Crash Courses for history or science.  We’ll read lots of books.  We’ll probably go walking.  We’ll talk a lot.  Daryl bought a spelling card game he wants to play with us when he gets back.

This is typical for us in May.  Or this May, anyway.  Sometimes we’re in Florida or Nebraska too.  It’s always different, yet there is a familiarity in this.  It’s the perfect “schedule” for us.  🙂

 

10 Things We’ve Been Up To Lately

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I’ve gone and disappeared for too long again!  I really want to get back to writing and connecting here regularly.  I have to figure out a way to make it work again!

I have a massive to-do poster on my bedroom door right now, with quadrants for the house (we have a huge remodeling project starting this month), the kids, school, work and miscellaneous.  I think I’ll add blogging to the list even though it isn’t a “must” — simply because it hangs over me like one and I do feel so much better when I am keeping track of our little life here.  🙂

So in an effort to quickly catch up in a tiny way, here are 10 random things we’ve been up to lately!

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  1. We all went to the Maple Syrup sugarbush boil-off at a local nature camp, as always.  There was a huge breakfast buffet with a free-will donation, and Daryl once again worked one of the tables selling maple syrup and teaching people how to tap maple trees.  (If you want to know how to tap maple trees, check here, and learn about tapping black walnut trees here.)
  2. Toria is currently in Oregon, visiting friends.
  3. The youngest three kids, Daryl and I went looking for morels at a nearby nature area today.  We figured it was too early (it is) but we wanted to check.  One good rain and they should pop!
  4. Fiona, Alex and I went to Tiffany’s for a getaway.  They had the flu and we came back the very next day.  It was a very long drive for a very short trip!
  5. We made easy gluten free playdough.  Easy recipe: 2 cups baking soda, 1 cup corn starch, 1 1/4 cups cold water. Stir over medium heat until thick, turn onto a surface until cool enough to handle (covered with a damp cloth so it doesn’t dry out), divide into balls and color. I may add a touch of oil next time, but it’s a very nice dough. Keep it in the fridge to last longer (in a baggie).
  6. Toria now has a longboard and has been riding it quite a bit.
  7. Alex was bit by the neighbor’s dog, which caused the neighbor to feel understandably bad for him and ask what sorts of things he liked.  I said he liked anything, even rocks, but that he is particularly fond of Snap Circuits since he loves science and building kits so much.  She surprised him a few days later with this massive motion exploration kit.  He literally jumped up and down and shrieked quite a bit, and has spent many hours building movable creations (ones suggested in the kit and ones he’s created himself with it).  He recovered quite well, incidentally.
  8. We have been doing lots of work on the yard and gardens now that spring is here.  It’s so nice to be around green and dirt again!
  9. The younger kids have been doing online educational games for some homeschool fun.  Fiona and Daddy play on Teach Your Monster to Read and the boys play on Prodigy for math, both of which are free.
  10. We’ve been playing lots of board games, card games, dart games and other real-life games, too.  We got an electronic dart board at a thrift store and we’ve all had a blast playing it, but it’s also been good for math.  We play 301 most of the time and you have to end up exactly on 0 to win, which means that the kids frequently have to figure out which combinations of doubles and triples would help win (like triple 17 if you’re down to 51 and have only one toss left, for instance).

Unfortunately, the flu has also invaded (we brought it home from Tiffany’s), so I have to go back to snuggling a little four year old who is not fond of being sick.  She announced today that she doesn’t remember ever being sick before and she is quite over it!  I’m dosing her up with elderberry syrup to kick it fast.

I swear I’ll be back soon!

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Yesterday and Today, In Pictures

Boy, if these photos don’t show what our homeschool is like, I don’t know what does.

Yesterday, we went hiking at Red Rock Dells, a park about 20 minutes from us.

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It was so much fun.  It was nature study, history, science, PE and more.  And it’s just beautiful and good for the soul.

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Today, Daryl took Toria and Alex and some homeschooling friends two hours away to take part in a movie shoot.

As extras.  In a zombie movie.  🙂

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Isn’t my boy darling?!

This is the movie they’re shooting.

Daryl just called to check in.  They didn’t wrap up shooting until after seven so they’ll be back late.  They’re excited about going back tomorrow and Saturday, even though it involves an awful lot of sitting around (they’re bringing iPod chargers and more books tomorrow!).

They’re learning lots about the movie business and I have no idea what else (can I somehow make this count for social studies?), but what an experience!

And in contrast, this is what Jack and I were doing while they were filming….

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He stayed home and helped me with Fiona (no zombies under five allowed).  He’s not sure if he wants to have anything to do with this zombie business, though he’s signed up so he can take part if he chooses to.

And we had a pretty fun time on our own.

It’s an odd life, but a fun one!  🙂

An animated chart of 42 North American butterflies

Wow!  This is wonderful.  Tabletop Whale has made this incredible animated chart of 42 North American butterflies.

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Head over for the full size version, which is fabulous (and also available as a poster).

The artist says:

I checked out six butterfly field guides from the library and picked out some of the species I thought were the most unique and beautiful.

Check out the rest of the site as well.  It’s packed with beautiful, educational infographics on any subject you can think of.

He sells all of them as posters.  Wouldn’t they be wonderful to decorate your homeschool with?

At This Moment…

I thought it was about time for a check-in!

It’s a dreary Wednesday here, the third rainy day we’ve had in a row.  The cold and wet has actually been rather nice, since it was so hot and dry for so long.

I haven’t had to water the garden.

There’s no need for air conditioning.

I can cook without making the kitchen unbearably hot.

We can cozy up inside.

It’s kind of nice, as long as it eventually gets back to a bit of summer before fall hits!

Daryl and Victoria are out gathering elderberries during the break from the rain.

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I’ve spent the last 3 days drying three trays-full that Rhia (our Rhiannon Lee no longer goes by Anna or Annalee, but Rhia these days) gathered for us Sunday.  She climbed down into a very deep ditch near our rural UU church to gather them, and a hummingbird mistook her bright pink hair for a flower and kept whirring alongside her!  🙂

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I have one quart jar and one pint all safely filled with dried elderberries that we’ll use for the best anti-flu remedy in the world, elderberry syrup. (Daryl has info on how to find elderberries and harvest them in his foraging column, if you want to get some in your neck of the woods, but honestly the easiest time to find them is when they’re in flower and you see them all over — this is what that stand looked like six weeks ago and how we knew to send Rhia down there this week!.)

Jack is taking a break from the story-writing that has consumed his past week in order to watch Fiona for a few minutes.  I love how he’s thrown himself into this book, and how he comes to Daryl for help in correcting the capitalization and punctuation to make it perfect.

This is his second draft of this book, since he worked on it for three days straight and then accidentally deleted the entire first draft and replaced it with the word “barbarian.”  He was trying to look up the spelling and somehow not only copied over his whole manuscript but closed the program in panic, leaving us unable to save him by undoing it.

It’s going to be a very long time before he sees the humor in that!  Poor kid.  🙂

On the bright side, he now does admit that I was right when I told him the second draft would be even better.  Even though it’s so much frustrating extra work, I promised him that second drafts are almost always better.  Luckily, he concurs and he’s once again happy with his book.

Alex is copying a page of sight words I wrote out for him in his homeschool journal.  I’m rewarding him with two chocolate caramel cups.  I’m okay with that.  🙂  Writing doesn’t come easily for him so I’m going to stock up on some fun ways to help make it easier, as I’m sure he doesn’t want to do copywork every day for the next months even for chocolate.

Here are some of my favorite ways to make writing come easier:

Victoria and Daryl took part in an acting workshop last night.  They went to Mankato and she spent some time with a friend of hers first.  They learned how to do convincing slaps, punches and foot stomps, for one thing, and they’ve had fun teaching Fiona and Alex how to do the same.  Fiona doesn’t quite get it, and keeps actually punching people in the stomach.  😉

Victoria also has a new job that she’ll start soon.  I can’t say too much about it, but it’s a government job and she’ll be picked up in one of those shiny black government SUVs every day that she works (which will be for about a week each month, during the day). She’s very excited and will start training soon.

We have our first monarch chrysalis in a habitat on the piano, with two more caterpillars happily munching on milkweed leaves to “J” soon.  It’s exciting to raise butterflies again after a couple of summers off.  (Here are some pictures of the process from one of our earlier years.)

Otherwise, things are going well. Alex has a new best friend who lives a block over that he spends most hours of sunlight playing with. They are pretty much always at each other’s houses — either she’s playing with our kids in our yard, or he’s over at her house.

cassandraHe also has a best friend at church who he is happy to get to see again (our church doesn’t have service in the summertime, which I guess is an old UU tradition).

jocelynHe’s been doing a lot of reading and bike riding, too, along with lots of the usual building and playing and watching science documentaries.  Toria and Rhia have both been spending lots of time with friends who live in nearby towns, and lots of time reading and studying.  All three “big” kids are doing math online through sites like Khan Academy, and Toria is also still learning German on Duolingo.  Rhia has been reading poems to Fiona (particularly Edgar Allen Poe).  Everybody reads to Fiona and takes turns watching her, playing with her, drawing with her and keeping her happy.  I love how the older kids dote on her, and how she is such a reflection of every one of them!

We’ll officially start homeschooling next week.  You know we are never “school at home” types, but we’ll start doing more projects and unit studies.  I’m once again committing to doing country studies every week.  I know I won’t get to anywhere near all the countries I want to, but it’s fun to plan.  😉  I’ve also made a list of 60+ different topics I’d like to cover with the kids this year, and that’s before asking them to add theirs!

And while typing this, Daryl and Toria came home with a bucket full of elderberries to process, Alex finished his copywork and wants me to check it, and the sun came out.  I went outside and it felt absolutely marvelous on my skin.  I guess I can deal without rain for a while after all!

I’m going to grab a towel to put down on a lawn chair, dole out some chocolate cups, and invite my kiddos to play outside with me.

What’s new in your homeschool?