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.


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 Fun Ways to Learn Today

It’s been a while since I posted one of these so I thought it would be fun to do another.  Here are some fun ways to work in all sorts of subjects with a bit of fun…

  1. Spit ball geography: Get a big world map and play a different game with it every day this week.  For today, try launching spit balls at countries that other people call out!  Here’s how to make spitballs, or you could also use a dart gun.
  2. Balloon challenges: There are all different variations to try with this one.  Blow up a balloon and bop it with family members as you take turns calling out math problems.  Kids have to answer before they bop it back up in the air, and everybody works as a team to try to keep it from hitting the ground.  Or take turns calling out items in a group (for instance, elements from the periodic table, states, words that start with M….).
  3. Sistine Chapel Art: Lots of folks have done this classic art idea.  Tape coloring pages of the Sistine Chapel on the underside of your table and let the kids color them on their backs as Michaelangelo did.  Here are coloring pages to print out if they want to use those (or they can create their own masterpieces) and here’s information on how Michaelangelo created the Sistine Chapel.
  4. Lego homeschooling: Here is a compilation of all sorts of Lego lesson plans, from Lego chemical reactions (complete with printables) from MIT to a Lego balloon-powered car to plans for building the Nile River from Legos to a subscription to the free Lego Magazine and more.
  5. DIY flash cards: Give the kids index cards and art supplies to make some really fun flashcards to teach any math facts they have trouble remembering.
  6. Famous person Who Am I: Gather the kids and put a sign on each one’s back with a famous person written on it.  Have them go around the room asking questions to figure out who they are.  You can use historic figures, artists, authors, you name it.  You can also use elements for older kids (Am I a gas?  Am I poisonous?).
  7. Make an educational video: Challenge the kids to give a 2 minute report on any subject they want to research and record it as a video.  If they like, they can use fun editing apps to add text and music.  If they get excited about the project, you can even start a family blog with a new video every week.
  8. Use window markers to do math problems: Enough said.  🙂
  9. Photography Challenges: Let the kids use a digital camera and agree on some fun challenges such as taking a picture of something for each letter of the alphabet, 3 kinds of clouds, each state of matter, etc.
  10. Do the purple cabbage pH experiment: This is one of our all time favorite science experiments.  Even I have fun mixing and matching to make the cabbage water turn colors (and even turn it back!).

Anna is off in Arizona visiting one of her best friends, so I have one less child to occupy and educate for the week.  Now I’m off to find some Lego fun to play with Jack, and then I have a small girl who’d like to “eed yots of books!,” a boy who’d like to play a phonics game, a teen who wants to do some poetry exercises and a house that could use several hundred hours of cleaning (let’s be honest, it’ll be lucky to get one!).   🙂

Five Good Reads (and one bad joke)

Happy Thursday!  We woke today to find some of that pretty white stuff all over.  I’m not sure I’m ready for winter but at least it waited until after September.

On the agenda today:

  • Have Victoria take her online CAT.
  • Do algebra with Victoria.
  • Start poetry lessons with Anna.
  • Have the boys do math on Dreambox.
  • Play in the snow.
  • Watch the crash courses on world history and biology with the three “big” kids.  We love these!
  • Read aloud to lots of children from lots of things.
  • Clean, do laundry, cook, repeat.
  • Find time to write at least one or two articles.
  • Throw educational things at Anna.
  • Make gluten free cupcakes with the kids and decorate them with ridiculous amounts of colorful sprinkles.  Those who know me know that I’m generally a health food tyrant, so this is big.  🙂

Here’s five interesting things I thought I’d pass on from elsewhere….

  1. Arts education (specifically painting) dramatically improved kids’ performances in math and reading. I really wish we could all just embrace art for the many fabulous things art does for kids (emotional outlet, creativity, beauty, expression, fun…) but if it takes math scores to convince administrators that children should be allowed to create then I’ll still take it.  Click here for the article on Yahoo.
  2. Looking for great high school biology courses? I love this post on LaPaz Home Learning about biology! Cell and Molecular Biology for high school. I am intimidated by the sounds of it but would love to try it with my girls.  I’m also floored by this full biology curriculum by Quarks and Quirks but I know it’s out of my league for doing on my own.  🙂
  3. I shared a bunch of cool links recently on A Magical Homeschool on Facebook. Check the page for pictures and info about solar flares, the winners for the best micro pictures of the years (amazing stuff), make your own bubble pages and more.
  4. I’ve started a series on gifted children on my national AP column. So far there is Attachment parenting your gifted child and How to know if your child is gifted — and why it matters.  If you’re up for some more great reads on gifted kids, Is it a Cheetah? is a wonderful article about how GT kids can appear in the wrong settings (such as schools that don’t support them) and this is a wonderful article about gifted teens and existential dread.  If you have a gifted teen and have not read up on that subject, I highly recommend it before your world goes several shakes of upside down.  I also recently started a yahoo list for parents of gifted teens.  If you’re in that boat and want an invite, let me know.
  5. Lastly, here’s a roundup of a few of my recent homeschooling articles: Minnesota makes free online learning illegal and then Minnesota reverses decision on free education ban and for some fun social studies projects, check out Fabulous projects to get kids hooked on social studies (Star Trek history lessons and such!) and 10 Signs you’re doing something right as a homeschooler. There’s also Coursera offers hundreds of the world’s best college courses free and Free 52-week Western history video course offered online for some pretty fabulous freebies.

I started this entry this morning. Since then, I’ve had my computer crash, did algebra, made lunch, started laundry and a few dozen other things, and now I’m finally finishing it. At least it’s still Thursday!

And okay, that’s way more than five reads, but it’s sort of grouped into five categories!  😉

As promised, though, one really bad joke to finish off…

    A farmer wants to know how many sheep he has in his field, so he asks his border collie to count them.

    The dog runs into the field, counts them and runs back to the farmer.

    The farmer says, “How many?”

    The dog says, “40.”

    The farmer is surprised and says, “How can there be 40 – I only bought 38!”  

    The dog says, “I rounded them up.”


    Sick School (on learning anyway)

    Various members of our family are currently sick as dogs. Or sicker, actually, since Layla is perfectly fine.  I’m still battling it and it’s a proud moment that I’m even blogging at the computer right now.  I’m off to the couch again presently (after making food for Toria, who’s also still recovering from surgery).

    We’re getting a lot accomplished despite our maladies, though.  Alex and I did speech practice on the couch.  I wrote out words for Jack to copy for handwriting and spelling practice.  And so on.

    So my plans for the next day or two, sick or not, from the couch or not, are as follows…

    • Assemble a list of inspirational people for each child to read about or research. They can decide how they’d like to start logging them, but I’d like to start doing character study as a part of our homeschooling.  There are just too many amazing people in the world whom we all should know about.  🙂
    • Find great quotes for Jack to copy for handwriting, spelling and character study (classic Charlotte Mason teaching there).
    • Do some readers’ theater scripts on things like how bills are made into laws from the couches.
    • Strew lots of books, fiction and not.
    • Do poetry exercises with Anna on the couch each day. (Here’s my series of free lessons if you want to join in.)
    • Have the kids do math apps on my iPod.
    • Watch “Forks Over Knives” as assigned by a great homeschooling mom we know (whose partner was given a prescription to watch it by her surgery after heart surgery!).
    • Rest, read, draw, talk, cuddle, laugh.

    If you’re sick or on bedrest or that sort of thing, I have other ideas on how to homeschool anyway here.

    Now I’m off to take care of Toria and perhaps sneak a bit of danish that made its way into the house.  I promise to chase it with something healthy.  😉

    Last Week, Next Week…


    Egads, we’ve been busy! Here’s how last week looked for us…

    MondayJack turned 9, Victoria graduated from archery class. We had a small birthday party, I baked a gluten free chocolate cake and made a special meal, Victoria had horse class and we all watched her archery tournament (she came in second in the class!).


    TuesdayVictoria turned 14. We had a small birthday party and I made a special-order cake (brown sugar cake with lemon curd filling and cream cheese frosting with a hint of grape juice from local vineyard grapes we gathered, pressed and canned ourselves in 2009 — best cake I’ve ever eaten if I do say so myself!).  I also made a special-order meal.

    WednesdayVictoria had surgery. We had to bring her in to the hospital at 6 a.m. and she needed an IV (which they could not get in and finally gave up on until after she was unconscious, poor girl) and a breathing tube.  The surgery took longer than expected but went well.  She emerged with a lot of stitches going down her jawline from her ear and a drainage tube that she had to keep for two days (and remove herself).  Recovery has been intense, scary and painful, though the worst seems to finally be past.


    ThursdayAlex turned 5. I made a gluten free white cake with dairy free white frosting and his special meal. We drove to Marshall (an hour each way) and went shopping, played at a park and shot off foam rockets.


    FridayWe drove 3 hours to the Minneapolis area to check into a hotel.  Friends took in Layla (our new pooch) for the stay.

    SaturdayDaryl taught a historic telegraph presentation at a wonderful Civil War living history site known as The Landing.  We had a great time riding horse drawn trollies, exploring the site, talking to fabulous reenactors and playing.  Victoria’s friend Carmela met us there to come back home with us for a week.  We withstood torrential rains that ended the event early and drove 3 hours home.


    SundayWe drove an hour each way to Hanksa and  New Ulm (a wonderful German area).  We climbed to the top of the Herman the German statue and learned about Varus, the Romans, Herman and German-Roman history.  We played at the park, we gathered caterpillars, the girls found four and five leaf clovers and we had ice cream treats on the way home.

    Today — I’m looking out my upstairs window at Victoria and Carmela dancing in the street.  They’ve also been lighting unknown things on fire.  😉  Smoke bombs perhaps?  Daryl was out talking with them as they did it and I couldn’t see what the fun was.  Victoria has her horse class but I’m pretty sure they won’t let her ride because of her surgical ordeal.  Today is the last day and she’s been really looking forward to it, so I hope they work something out.  Who knows what other adventures we’ll work into the day!

    This week — We’re going to Sioux Falls tomorrow (for the zoo and/or science museum).  Wednesday we’re hoping to visit the Petroglyphs.  Thursday Victoria gets her stitches out and we’ll probably go to a local state park and perhaps bring the girls’ bikes.  Friday, the kids will be attending the Science and Nature conference at SMSU.  Saturday, Daryl, Jack, Anna and Victoria will have photos taken for the new year of the Laura Ingalls Wilder pageant (roles to be blogged later!) and then we’ll drive up to Mankato to drop Carmela off with her folks.

    Right now I have a sleeping baby in my lap and I have to go find out if I really killed the washing machine last night.  I seem to have overloaded it and it was trying to run away!  😉  It smelled slightly of smoke so I’m worried I killed a belt.  Fingers crossed!  Then I really should make some mix and match quick bread and read to the boys and find some outside fun and clean the kitchen and figure out laundry and set up some homeschooling and post 10 ways to make the day magical and catch up on my columns…

    Perhaps I’ll holding the sleeping baby a little bit longer...


    Today's Assignment

    I emailed this to Victoria and Anna this morning…

    Today’s assignment (due by Thursday midnight):

    1. Go to this web site on genetics.
    2. Look around and learn a lot.  Play games and interact with it.
    3. Write me a paper about genetics with a minimum of 500 words (you can cut and paste it here to get a word count).  It can be a paper on basic genetics or something specific that you learned on the site.  Spell check it and use correct punctuation, grammar and capitalization.

    I will send it back to you with suggestions for improving it, if needed.  You’ll have Friday to improve it and fix errors and send it back.

    Satisfactory papers will be rewarded with chocolate.

    Love you.


    Five Fun Ways to Homeschool This Week

    It’s been forever since I’ve done one of these posts so I thought I’d throw out some fun alternative HS ideas for the week…

    1. Play a homeschool version of Balderdash. Write up a list of vocabulary words and make up some fake and real definitions.  Challenge the kids to name the right definition for each word.
    2. Start a micro-journal. Give the kids a blank sketch book and ask them to draw a picture of at least one tiny thing viewed under the microscope each day (with labels and a bit of info).  Alternately, have them draw the pictures on index cards and keep them in a recipe box.  Have other members of the family try to guess what various micro-drawings are.
    3. Set up a math obstacle course in the back yard.
    4. Head to a local nature center and play. Most have free admission and air conditioning, and there’s generally all sorts of fun actitivities to involve the kids.
    5. Make a map dart board. Spread a US or world map over a large cork board and hang on the wall.  Take turns calling off locations and then tossing darts to see who can land their darts closest.  For younger kids, try doing this with spitballs.  😉

    And with that, I’m off to catch up on 1800 hours of TV shows that my sweetie taped for me while I was off playing in Nebraska!


    Life Here Lately

    Life has been busy here lately! Here’s a bit of how we’ve been learning and playing…

    • Playing element bingo (Anna won the prize — wacky glasses!)
    • Visiting the railroad museum
    • Getting Victoria back from visiting friends in the Cities
    • Experimenting with our new telegraph machine
    • Gardening
    • Hanging out with fun friends
    • Finishing testing for the year
    • Doing tons of art
    • Learning about currents, conductors, etc.
    • Finding four leaf clovers
    • Losing teeth
    • Taking pictures
    • Reading “Mr. Popper’s Penguins”
    • Bike riding, swimming, scootering and climbing trees
    • Rehearsing for the play and the Irish dance scenes
    • Memorizing elements
    • Baking bread
    • Planting flowers
    • Calling friends
    • Watching campfires
    • Bird watching
    • Playing with LEGOs
    • Playing Wii
    • Going to the lake
    • Playing educational apps
    • Reading

    We’ve started Friendly Chemistry and did the first experiment and activity today.  It was great fun.  We had 6 white substances (all edible) and the girls had to determine what they were by using their senses and then by seeing how they each reacted with water, vinegar and iodine.

    Do you know how to tell the difference between baking soda, corn starch and baking powder with nothing but vinegar and iodine?  I didn’t!  I don’t know if I should admit that, but one of the nice things about homeschooling is that I get to learn things along with the kids that my schools didn’t teach me the first time around!

    I’ve also finally begun writing my Magical Childhood book, and have 98 pages done so far.  I’m quite happy and keep pushing myself even on the days I really don’t feel like writing.

    This next week will be busy with our CSA starting up, play practice continuing each weeknight, our chemistry classes continuing and some baking and cooking.  I’ve been moving towards cooking most of our staples myself (or helping the kids do it).

    Foods to make on this week’s list (involving a child in each one, if possible):

    1. Sandwich bread
    2. Whole wheat buns
    3. Rhubarb iced tea
    4. Rhubarb jelly
    5. Apple jelly
    6. Mix and match quick bread
    7. Mayonnaise
    8. Mix and match granola bars
    9. Ranch dressing
    10. Grape juice kefir (with grape juice from grapes we picked and canned ourselves!)

    I was brought up so far from this life and these skills that I love knowing how to do them now — and being able to teach them to my kids.  It also saves buckets of money, especially since we make organic goodies in most cases.

    We’ll also be making most of our supper elements from scratch (refried black beans from dried beans, homemade alfredo sauce, etc.) and I was going to try homemade tortillas again but it turns out I have some in the fridge to use this week so I get a week off before I attempt those again.  🙂

    Do you make any of your own food staples?  If you have any favorite recipes or tips, please share them!


    On the Agenda: Plan, Party, Fight, Play, Plant, ID, Clean

    On my agenda for the next week:

    1. Plan Jack, Alex and Victoria’s birthdays (Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday), throw one party, host one soiree, make three cakes, buy presents, survive.
    2. Take the kids to see the CSI director, who’s in our little town again, and perhaps fight with him again.  Last time, he told me I shouldn’t bring children.  Pfft.  In the first place, he doesn’t know my children.  In the second place, I would consider it nearly criminal to have a CSI director come and talk for free to a room full of people, give inside secrets, explain how special effects are done, and NOT bring my children.  In the third place, my kids loved it.  Okay, Anna fell asleep, but Victoria loved it.  🙂
    3. Have the kids try and play some educational games.  BTW, here’s ten educational apps that are free right now.  I also want to try this math game.  Oh yeah, and I want to print out this chemistry card game from the fabulous Ellen McHenry site.
    4. Plant some flowers to cook with. Here’s a list of 10 edible flowers I posted yesterday.  I’m planning on writing up a page of recipes for each flower and trying as many as possible this summer.
    5. Do some wildflower ID’ing with this wonderful Minnesota wildflower site.
    6. Magically clean my house. A lot.

    In other news…

    I am just too sick and overwhelmed right now to do anything this ambitious right now, but this homeschool mom blogged some great rock and mineral projects for younger kids.

    I wrote up articles on Homeschooling through the seasons, 40 Ways to calm a fussy baby, and Homeschool 101: Where can I find standards and skills lists for every grade, among others.

    And the morning/afternoon/evening sickness is still… making life interesting.   I am mystified as to how I can get sick this often and still have a belly this big.

    Okay, the continous supply of chocolate truffles might have something to do with it.  😉



    Off to Florida

    We’re leaving tomorrow for Florida. It will be me, two family friends and my four kids, packed in our minivan.  It should be a wonderful trip but I imagine there will be more than a few moments that will age me a few years.

    I’m going to desperately miss Daryl, and I so wish he could come.  His legs cause him considerable pain and that long in the van would be torture, but at the last minute on Monday he decided he was game to come along anyway.  He’s never seen the ocean, much less Florida or the South, so we were really excited at the thought of sharing that with him.  It would  mean taking two vehicles though and the others we’re traveling with absolutely don’t want to do that, so it’s not to be.  Maybe someday…

    We have a pretty laid back trip planned — no Disney, only one day at the Harry Potter park for the girls with our friends, and most of our time spent at the beach, parks and Val’s parents’ home.  I just want to find some shells, get some vitamin D, see some cool stuff and experience the ocean as much as possible.  I miss it so much in landlocked Minnesota!

    Okay, and I hope to sneak in educational opportunities left and right too. 😉

    See you soon!