Five Things That Are Making Us Happy Right Now

 

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I’m trying once again to get back to regular blogging after so many false starts, so I thought I’d just dive in with a quick post for anybody who’s still out there.

Here are 5 things making us happy right now, thanks to the convenience of Instagram.  🙂

1.  Our rescue kitten, Oscar.  Long time readers know that we’ve found homes for many feral kittens and cats over the years but we decided we were down to a manageable enough number of pets again (3 cats) that we could adopt one ourselves.

Oscar and Fiona 💕

A post shared by Alicia Bayer (@magicandmayhem) on

2.  Silly car games on car rides.  This one that Rhia made up to occupy Fiona and Alex had us all in stitches.

3.  Easy nature studies projects.  We grew grass in CD cases a couple of weeks ago and have also been doing all kinds of other seasonal nature study activities.  (Obligatory affiliate link to my nature studies book if you want lots of other simple nature study ideas arranged by season.)

4.  Foraging as a family.  As always, we’re gathering loads of wild edible foods so far this season.  It always makes me smile to think that this all started as a fun summer homeschool project and it’s evolved into something that provides hundreds of pounds of free, healthy food for our family (and two books!).  So far this year, we’ve gathered over 60 pounds of wild asparagus and various quantities of morel mushrooms, lambsquarters, pheasant back mushrooms, nettles, ramps, violets, wild onions, and more.

5.  Membership to the science museum.  We’ve been getting lots of use out of our annual membership, even though it’s an hour and a half away in Sioux Falls.  We do much of our shopping in Sioux Falls and Rhia’s boyfriend lives there, so we have lots of excuses to go lately.  I always try to combine educational benefits and fun for the kids in our travels even to nearby cities, so we tend to go as a family and make an adventure of the day.

There is a lot of other stuff going on (mostly good, some less so) and I hope to start catching up on all of it.

What are you and your kiddos up to this month?

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A Week’s Worth of Fun Math Projects!

a week's worth of fun mathOne of my resolutions this year was to do some sort of fun math activity with the kids each day. I don’t care if it takes just a few minutes or what level it’s at, just as long as math play becomes a regular and enjoyable part of each day.

So far, we’ve been doing well. We’ve been playing with Cuisenaire rods, darts, dice, cards, silly word problems, made flower factors and so on.

Here are my plans for this week, in whatever order they work out. Since we have such snow and cold in Minnesota right now, I figured I would work that into some of the fun.

  1. Get a box of sugar cubes and divide them among the kids. Give them small things to measure in sugar cube units and show them how to figure out the items’ area by lining up sugar cubes along the length and width and multiplying the numbers, then have them fill in the area with sugar cubes and see if they get the same answer. Then have tea with sugar cubes.
  2. Tint some water with food coloring and fill various containers with it. Have the kids guess which containers hold more, and then measure. Compare tall, skinny, wide and oddly shaped containers. Then let the kids play at mixing the colors in the containers.
  3. Have each child guess the temperature outside and go see who’s closest. Subtract that temperature from the temperature inside to see how much warmer it is inside. Also check the temperature on the back porch, in the basement and in the refrigerator and freezer, and see how close they are to inside and outside temperatures.
  4. Sing 100 bottles of beer on the wall, the math version. Instead of taking one down, take turns singing out how many are taken down each time, and then as a group sing the answer. For instance, “95 bottles of beer on the wall, 95 bottles of beer… take 9 down, pass them around… 86 bottles of beer on the wall.” Feel free to switch out the traditional beer of the song for juice, milk, water or whatever your family chooses, of course!
  5. Give each child 25 chocolate chips. Ask them to figure out how many times 7 goes into 25 with the chips, with lines of 7 to show the answer. Eat the remainders. Then do it with 4’s, then 6’s, then 5’s and so on.
  6. Fill a measuring cup with one cup of snow, then bring it inside and let it melt. Make guesses on how much water it will melt into.  See who gets closest and subtract the difference, and talk about why snow takes up more volume than water.
  7. Play War, but make black cards positive and red cards negative.

If you have fun math ideas to share, please add them in the comments!

50 Ways to Use a Pumpkin for Homeschooling

50 educational ways to use pumpkinsI should be doing a million things and need to drive part of the family to Mankato soon, but I miss this space and you all (or you one person perhaps at this point!) so I thought I would bop in here for a quick post.

Yes, only I would decide to post 50 ways to use a pumpkin for homeschooling off the top of my head for a quick post!  LOL  Some people play video games to get their minds off things and have fun.  I write.  🙂

So here goes….  All kinds of crazy ways to learn with that pumpkin before it goes in the compost pile or pie.

  1. Measure the circumference
  2. Guess its weight
  3. Roast the seeds and experiment with different seasonings
  4. Do a rubbing of its skin
  5. Find a recipe for stuffed pumpkins and bake dinner in it
  6. Draw it
  7. See if it floats in water
  8. Use a mallet and golf tees to poke a pattern of holes (immensely satisfying if not terrible educational)
  9. Write a haiku about it
  10. Print out these pumpkin life cycle printables
  11. Roast it and bake with it
  12. Leave it outside and see how it changes over time
  13. Finger paint on it, clean and repeat
  14. Plant some of its seeds
  15. Figure out its capacity (how much it holds)
  16. Think of an alternate way to figure out its capacity
  17. Compare its weight to other foods
  18. Bake two different pie recipes for pumpkin pie and see which one is better
  19. Write out pumpkin on a paper and see how many other words you can make with the letters (pump, kin, pin…)
  20. Write a short story about a pumpkin
  21. Use the seeds for math manipulatives
  22. Use the seeds for a collage
  23. Look up how to say pumpkin in another language
  24. Read books or stories about pumpkins
  25. Write letters on clean pumpkin seeds and use them to spell words
  26. Look up the history of jack-o-lanterns
  27. Look up the nutritional information for pumpkins
  28. Watch videos of pumpkin trebuchet launchers
  29. Or instead of launching pumpkins, use mini pumpkins to make small pumpkin catapults
  30. Build your own (or a small scale one for smaller objects)
  31. Make a list of as many words as possible to describe a pumpkin
  32. Estimate how many seeds a pumpkin will have and then see how close everybody got
  33. Read these pumpkin riddles and try to make up your own
  34. Write a song about pumpkins
  35. Make construction paper jack-o-lanterns with all kinds of faces
  36. Write the word pumpkin in your fanciest handwriting
  37. Think of 10 ways to use pumpkins besides for carving or baking
  38. Give a short report on the history of pumpkins and/or jack-o-lanterns
  39. Predict and observe what the inside of a jack-o-lantern looks like before and after having a candle in it for several hours
  40. Take artistic photographs of pumpkins
  41. Write or tell a funny short story about what it was really like for Cinderella to ride a pumpkin coach to the ball
  42. Put pumpkin seeds outside near a window and watch to see what kind of wildlife eats them
  43. Use pushpins and rubber bands to make a geoboard on a pumpkin
  44. Challenge the kids to think up other things you could make jack-o-lanterns out of besides pumpkins
  45. Ask the kids to describe a pumpkin using all 5 senses
  46. Invent a pumpkin spice drink or dessert together
  47. Use a small pumpkin as a ball for playing catch outside
  48. Use a small pumpkin as a planter and plant seeds in it
  49. Write a pumpkin acrostic poem (write the letters PUMPKIN down the side of the page and each line starts with the corresponding letter)
  50. After Halloween, cut your jack-o-lantern into one-inch pieces and put pieces in all different environments and record how they change (freezer, fridge, outside, in a plastic bag, uncovered at room temperature, in vinegar…)

Got more?  Leave them in the comments!  Happy Halloween!

Homeschooling with Kindle Unlimited

If you’re a subscriber to Kindle Unlimited, you can read my books, Elderberries: The Beginner’s Guide to Foraging, Preserving and Using Elderberries for Health Remedies, Recipes, Drinks and More (with over 60 recipes for health remedies, desserts, jellies, wines, liqueurs and more), and A Magical Homeschool: Nature Studies (52 Wonderful Ways to Use Nature Studies in Every Season to Teach Science, Math, Art and More) for free!

Homeschooling with Kindle Unlimited

I’m enrolled in KDP on Amazon, which means these books are only available through Amazon and if you subscribe to Kindle Unlimited you can read them (and over a million other titles) for free.

We’ve been subscribed to KU for a few months and I’ve found a lot of great books for myself and the kids.  I started a Facebook group, Homeschooling with Kindle Unlimited to share good homeschooling books available through KU if you’re looking for new titles, too.

Homeschooling with Kindle Unlimited

I have found and shared lots of great books on the Facebook page so far, from Harry Potter to classic literature to math and science joke books to secular Charlotte Mason homeschool books to books about Vikings and parts of speech and woodworking projects…

Authors subscribed to the KDP program get paid a tiny payment per page read when their books are read through Kindle Unlimited, so if you are enrolled in KU this is a great free way to support your favorite authors too.  🙂

You can find out more about Kindle Unlimited here, and also sign up for a free 30 day trial (which is what we initially did to see if it was a good fit and then we decided to keep it).

Please leave comments about good books you know of in the program or subjects you’re interested in!

(This page contains affiliate links)

 

An Epic Nature Study Fail

As I posted earlier in the week, we’re house sitting at Tiffany’s house in Nebraska this week.

Tiffany’s house is fabulous.  It’s roomy and relaxing, with lots of white.  This week, it also has lots of something else.

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Ants.  Not tiny little back yard ants, but impressively large, black ants who march along as if they are on very serious business.

Tiffany is a rather live-and-let-live kind of person.  She lets insects pretty much do what they want, and they pretty much leave her alone.  So she warned me that they had suddenly appeared last week and said that I could do what I wanted about them once they left but that she was just letting them be.

Well.

I was not fond of the ants.  They had the unfortunate habit of appearing on my arms or legs as I was cooking in the kitchen, which did not leave me feeling calm and peaceful.  They also intruded on my cooking area, which I did not take kindly to as I do a lot of cooking and do not like sharing the space with giant interloping insects.

Live and let live, though…

So I did what any homeschooling mama would do.  I googled for key words like “kids science make humane bug catcher” and such and came up with this.

So we made a bug catcher!  Brilliant, huh?

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Um, no……

First off, these ants are huge.  We’re pretty sure they’re carpenter ants because they are not the dainty little ants we’re used to seeing.  So when you put the straw next to them, you have to put it right next to them and you feel like you’re trying to squeeze a hippo into a pair of panty hose.

Second of all, even though there is gauze wrapped around the straw you suck through, it is extremely unnerving to try to suck up a large ant.  Your brain will try very hard to stop you.  It is also extremely hard to convince your 9 year old son to suck up a large ant, even if he is usually pretty fearless about weird, gross and otherwise bizarre challenges.

But poor Alex finally acquiesced and attempted to suck up the first subject.

Nothing.

Turns out that big ants are heavy, and you have to put the straw practically on top of them.  Okay….

So he did that, and voila!  An ant got sucked right in…. halfway through the straw, and he was busily running back out of it.  This resulted in me shouting, “You have to suck more!” and Alex giving a mighty suck and then a very annoyed face.

“It tastes awful!  It’s like lemon, but awful!” he scowled.

I assured him that was impossible and it was probably just an odor that had been in the straw or jar.  Nonetheless, he refused to suck up another ant.

I recruited Toria next, who was not too keen on the idea despite her usual gung-ho attitude about anything nature related.  Still, she gave it a go — And promptly gasped, gagged and started looking for places to spit.

She announced that she’d just got a mouthful of the worst taste she’d ever tasted.

A google search confirmed our suspicions, that ants release formic acid (the same chemical that stings when they bite you) when they believe they are under attack, like if you try to suck them through a straw into a mayonnaise jar.

Yep, both of my poor kids had basically huffed ant toxin.

We ended up with one very annoyed ant whom we released outside, and a house full of absolutely safe ants remaining, because none of us are about to use that contraption again.

Still, they’re almost all gone today.  Live and let live does work pretty well if you have the patience (and get good at flicking them to the ground with an index card).

The bug catcher project site is full of videos of kids who successfully made one of these things.  I guess we just got unlucky.

I’m pretty sure our days of making bug catchers are over, though.  Don’t say we didn’t warn you!

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.  🙂

~ ~ ~

(This post contains affiliate links.  Purchases made through these links earn us a small commission at no extra cost to you.  If you do, thanks!)

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.