Homeschool Posts

Thursday, December 31, 2009

As We Say Good-Bye to 2009...

...whew! It's been an eventful year! What wild or wonderful things have happened to your family this year?

Our year in review:
  • We began the year in northwest Missouri
  • I am asked to participate in the TOS Homeschool Crew's 2nd year
  • Hubby accepts a job at a University in Maryland
  • Emma is born
  • My grandmother (in Maryland) has a stroke and is moved to a nursing home
  • Emma and I fly to Maryland to visit with my grandmother
  • A mad dash to de-clutter our kid infested house to put it on the market by June
  • A car trip from Missouri to Maryland with the 4 kids (with a stop with friends in St. Louis)
  • The van's transmission goes 40 minutes from our final destination
  • We spend thousands of dollars getting our 10-year-old van working again and capable of passing Maryland inspection
  • We live with hubby's dear parents for 2 months (Yes, they are still talking to us, in fact they sat for the kids last night!)
  • We rent a house
  • Soccer gets rained out all except for 5 sessions, we miss one of those due to an injury, one due to illness, and one due to the amazing disappearing shin guards
  • Grandma passes away unexpectedly
  • Our money-pit van dies on the way to church and we give it to the mechanic as scrap to pay for the diagnostic bill
  • We are able to spend both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with family!
  • We are (hopefully) buying a new (to us) van today
  • At the end of the year, our house is still not sold, but we are hopeful it will be soon
It seemed like more when we were living it! Happy New Year, everyone!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

An Impromptu Lesson in Free Market Economics

“It’s no fair! David is mean!”

Each of the children received a roll of Mentos and some other treats in each of their stockings from Santa.

Mary has eaten all of her “mints.”

David has not.

Mom: “What’s no fair?”

Mary: “David won’t share his mints!”

You see what she’s angling for? She wants a redistribution of the wealth. Because she has eaten all her wealth, she wants some of David’s wealth (think American automakers with taxpayer dollars).

Mom: “David doesn’t have to share his mints if he doesn’t want to. It’s not his fault you ate all your mints.”

Mary: “It’s no fair! I told him he could have some of my PEZ!”

Now, David doesn’t want the PEZ, it is not a desirable commodity because he already has his own PEZ.

Mom: “David doesn’t want your PEZ, what do you have that he wants that you can make a trade for? See, Peter and David are making a deal, you can make a deal.”

The boys are in the living room talking. Peter is allowing David to have some of his extra large paper to make maps and I hear promises of “mints” and “chocolate” coming out of David (more on this later).

Mom: “David got upset yesterday when you wouldn’t let him play your new guitar, maybe you could let him strum it some?”

So, Mary goes to David and offers him the use of her guitar. In exchange, he offers to let her help him design Lego towers as models for the book he’s working on…hmmm, not quite what I had in mind, but if she’s happy…and she is beaming with joy because David has just announced that “Mary is nice!”

As I’m explaining the situation to dear Hubby, David proceeds to correct me: no, he didn’t actually offer Peter mints or chocolates, he said he definitely couldn’t have any mints or chocolates, but he could have anything else. Peter didn’t ask for anything. Turns out Peter was making more of a charitable contribution than a fair trade, as he actually did not receive anything in exchange for his paper. Not really the lesson I was going for. But Mom learned a lesson: if there are any deals being made between the 9-year-old and his younger sibs, the 9-year-old will make out like a bandit. Maybe he has a future in politics?

Tuesday’s Toolbox

Tuesday's Toolbox button

Try tucking your family album into your toolbox this week. The beginning of a new year is the perfect time to share family memories, and I haven’t met a child yet who didn’t love to hear all about his own personal history: the story of the day he was born, his first words, how he dialed 911 when he was 9-months-old and his naive mama let him play with the phone in his playpen while she was taking a shower.

But beyond that, he’ll want to know about your history, Daddy’s history, the Grands history…do you see where I’m going with this? In addition to building a robust oral tradition in your family (something we could all use more of) and helping your children to become great story-tellers in their own right (what better way to learn language arts than by using the language through the creation of stories), you’ll be exploring history together. Suddenly talking about WWII doesn’t seem so distant when Great-Grandpa was flying in bombers during the war---you’ve given your child a connection to the past and have made him realize it’s a part of him.

Do you have a way to use a common tool for uncommon learning? To participate in the meme, please sign MckLinky with your post for Tuesday's Toolbox, and feel free to use a previous post if you like. Be sure to link back to this post so your readers can check out other ideas.

This post has also been linked to Work's for Me Wednesday.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Squandered Memories?

When hubby and I were young and didn’t have kiddos, I thought photos were over-rated, that they somehow cheapened or damaged the authenticity of our experiences. Everybody’s angling for the perfect pose. Even the candids are not so candid, if you know what I mean. Wouldn’t it be great if you could just live the experience and remember it forever in your head, unadulterated by anything that comes afterwards?

But you can’t really, can you? The other day hubby was saying that in his mind Mary is always 5, David is always 9, Peter is always 4 and the baby is, well always the baby. In other words, they are always exactly as they are right now. There’s a timelessness, as if nobody was ever younger than they are right now. Oh, yes, there are memories of first steps and late night feedings and riding bikes for the first time, but these memories seem like dim shadows compared to the here and now. Photographs can be a way to relive some of those moments. True, it’s not really the same as that actual moment in time, but it is a way of bringing back some clarity and of being able to share the moment with someone.

I spend a fair amount of time each year trying to capture the children in their many moods through images to share with their grandparents, creating scrapbooks and photo albums. I don’t spend much time sharing those images with our children. I’ve put together exactly one photo album for ourselves---David’s baby album! The rest of our photos languish in various boxes, on cds and on the computer. Every once in a while one of those old photos pops up in a moving box and I stop to share it with everyone and we remember…I realize now that not having those pictures in a format that allows us to “visit” with them is a mistake. But not a mistake that can’t be fixed (at least I still have the pictures). So, my first resolution for the new year: to organize those photos into albums. Maybe I’ll start with our wedding photos?

Me? Noooo, Not Me!


We did receive a Wii for Christmas.

My fitness age is not 58!

I am a killer batter, I hit every ball out of the park…my baseball skill is seconded only to my tennis prowess. You will not catch me tripping over my size 10s trying to decide whether this volley warrants a backhand.

I did not neglect to take a single picture of anybody or anything on Christmas or Christmas Eve. I would never decide to rely on my less than stellar memory to see those moments in my mind when I have the perfect opportunity to capture them all on digital media (insurance!) and share it with the world…I’m definitely not that selfish or ill-prepared to deal with crazy little people ripping through packages at the rate of 5 a minute and trying to run upstairs to check on the stuffing because I’m definitely not crazy enough to think I can cook upstairs and watch presents downstairs at the same time.

I did not forget to put the homemade cranberry sauce on the table until after everyone had already filled their plates. There is not an inherited family trait where all the women forget to put the cranberry sauce on the table until the last minute every year.

And we definitely did have a wonderful Christmas Day, beginning with a lovely Mass and a whole day spent with treasured family.

Tidings of good will and peace to all, happy 4th day of Christmas!

Now head over to MckMama’s blog and read all about what others are not doing.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Men’s Monday Meme

This is Midwest Mama’s husband: Midwest Papa, I suppose, except that we live on the East Coast now. (Contest for a new blogger name, MM?)

Tim has put out a call for men’s views on their favorite and least favorite things about the holiday season. Here are mine.

FAVORITES: Visiting with family, especially this year. We’re within easy driving distance of both sets of grandparents, for the first time since the kids were born. This Christmas was especially family-rich, with visits with my folks on the 24th and 26th, and a visit from my wife’s family on the 25th. In 13 years of living 800, then 1200 miles from the grandparents, we never had it so good.

LEAST FAVORITES: Snow. It’s actually worse where we came from in the midwest, but it’s pretty bad here, with 18+ inches on the ground up until a few days ago. It was fun for the kids, but with some still too little to endure it for long, we did not stay out enough to have a really great time.

Mundane answers, I know, but they’re true.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

We are truly blessed with the company of our loving family as we remember the birth of our Savior. May your hearts be filled with joy and your new year be bright. God Bless.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Teach in Brilliant Color!

OK, I admit it, I tend to be a tightwad when it comes to school supplies, buying the cheapest off-brand available. But I'm learning my lesson. Cheapo watercolors aren't as brilliant and don't last as long. No-name crayons are a pale imitation of Crayola. Store pencils? Don't even bother using the eraser unless you want pink smears across your paper. But dry erase markers...they're all the same, right?

I've always been satisfied with my plain Jane black (sometimes red or blue). I had no idea how many colors EXPO dry-erase markers come in! Brilliant colors, worthy of any artbox---it's going to be hard to keep the kiddos from commandeering these and I'm already seeing some cool possibilities...don't be surprised if dry-erase markers appear in the next Tuesday's Toolbox. This 16 pack retails for around $20, not bad at all, just a little over $1 per marker

And you've got to have something to wipe your board off---I admit the tissues and paper towels I've used are more than a little wasteful. But won't a cloth get dirty real fast and spend all it's time in a pile laundry? This EXPO wiping cloth is no wimp, it's a whopping 13" x 14"! We'll see how long we can use it before it takes it's first trip to the washer. Retails for around $5.

And finally, a solution to my amazing disappearing caps, yes! The EXPO "Click" comes in both fine-point and fat chisel-tip. Super easy to use and no cap to lose! Get a 3-pack of chisel-tips for about $6 or a 3-pack of fine tips for about $5.

All of the markers are low-odor, so no chemical induced headaches.

Now that I've got these EXPO products into my sweaty little hands, let's put them to the test...Do they really last longer than the el cheapo dry-erase products I normally buy? And do the colors maintain their brilliance? And how well do their tips resist the squashing tendency of a 4-year-old? Stay tuned to find out.

I received a free sample pack from EXPO including the EXPO Microfiber Dry-Erase Cleaning Cloth, EXPO 16 Pack of Low-Odor Chisel Dry Erase Markers, EXPO 3-pack of Low-Odor Retractable Chisel-Tip Dry Erase Markers, and EXPO 6-pack of Low-Odor Retractable Fine-Point Dry Erase Markers.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Out of this world...

...Oreo Truffles! Yes! It seems like everybody on the web has tried these but me, so, in honor of the holiday, I decided to give it a try. I used Cool Mint Oreos and Ghiradelli 60% Cacao. All I can say is Wow! Now if I were a little better at dipping chocolates...I just need more practice. I think a new holiday tradition has been born! I used this recipe.

And here are a few tips:
  • Refrigerate your filling before rolling it into balls.
  • After you roll the balls, refrigerate or freeze until firm before dipping.
  • When you melt your chocolate, make sure it is completely "loose," my first batch the chocolate was melted but not loose enough and it coated too thickly (not a totally bad thing, but you'll use tons more chocolate that way).

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Who Controls the Remote?

Those of you who know me pretty well know that we don't watch TV around here. Nope, we are too refined for regular broadcast television or even cable with all its commercials, scantily clad babes, inappropriate language, kids dissin' their parents and so on...we are much too enlightened and cultured to allow that tackiness to infiltrate the fine impressionable minds of our precious kiddos. With the aid of our VCR/DVD combo we are able to watch timeless classics such as Gamera vs. Monster X. Oh yes, and let us not forget King Kong vs. Godzilla.

What is the tackiest thing your husband ever watched with your kiddos?

Monday, December 21, 2009

Tuesday’s Toolbox

Tuesday's Toolbox button

Last week's tool was a tad on the pricey side, but you can’t get much simpler than this week’s tool: a piece of paper. So grab some paper (it doesn’t have to be plain, some scraps from present wrapping will do) and try some of these ideas.


Symmetry- Draw or copy several shapes on to a piece of paper, some symmetrical and some not. Have your child cut each shape out. Check symmetry by folding each shape in half.

Fractions, division and multiplication- Have your child take a piece of paper and fold it in half, creasing it, then open it and show her how she has divided it into 2 halves. Have her refold, then fold it in half again and show your child how she has now been divided it into quarters. And so on. Demonstrate how each time she folds it she’s multiplying by 2. How many times can she fold the paper in half?

Forms- You may want to use cardstock for this one. Create forms (start with a cube) by figuring out together how to draw the faces of the form so they will fit together after cutting it out and folding it (there are actually plenty of templates for doing this online-but measuring it out and designing it with your child will be an exercise in abstract reasoning and logic).


Aerodynamics and engineering(or making paper airplanes)-Fold some paper airplanes. See if you can determine what characteristics will give them the best lift, distance, etc. Experiment with different folds, different types of paper and test your airplanes. Here’s an online resource to help you out.


Origami- You can use special paper for this, but there’s no reason you can’t try it with plain paper, just cut it into squares. Origami Club is an awesome site with diagrams and animations to show you how to fold hundreds of figures.

Collage- Create a picture by tearing bits of paper in different colors and gluing them onto a base sheet. You can investigate texture and interesting color effects.

Social Studies-

Paper dolls- These can be a great hands-on addition to any history or country study. While there are some free paper dolls available online, you can also create your own. Or use a plain doll and have your child make her own clothes for it based on what you are studying. I’ve found that the easiest way to do this is to tape the doll to a window and then put a piece of paper over it (you’ll be able to see the doll through the paper). Then your child will be able to draw the outfit by tracing the doll’s body. Be sure to draw tabs.

Do you have a way to use a common tool for uncommon learning? To participate in the meme, please sign MckLinky with your post for Tuesday's Toolbox. Be sure to link back to this post so your readers can check out other ideas. And if you’re just joining us, you can find last week’s Toolbox here.

I WAS Dreaming of a Homemade Christmas...

but it looks like that dream will be on hold until next year. The reality of time, lack of transportation and disorganization won out. We will be giving a couple of homemade gifts and everything else is very scaled back. So I am going to start planning for next year NOW while the idea is fresh in my mind and will be collecting ideas. Maybe I'll even post some of them here.

The Grass is Always Greener on the Other Side

I'm a little homesick...never thought I would hear myself saying that about our home for 5 years in Missouri. When we moved there in 2004 for a job (in academia you go where they want ya, praying that somebody wants ya), over 1200 miles from our parents, hubby said it was temporary, we would eventually move back east. We had already lived in the Atlanta, GA area for 8 years, so it may not seem like a big deal...but Mary had just been born and moving further away from her grandparents didn't seem like such a hot idea. We were craving more involvement with family, kwim (living apart from extended family is very different when you are on your own and don't have kiddos). Then came Peter and then we were expecting Emma and, well, it was looking like Missouri was our home for keeps. And we were finally content and happy with that.

But the Lord wants us to stretch ourselves. Out of the blue, hubby was offered a position with a University in Maryland---his dream job. The future looked very bright indeed. And then came the move to live with family, leaving behind friends and neighbors. And the house that won't sell. And another move to a rental. It's disheartening to live in a house that belongs to someone else when you own a lovely house in another state and it sits there empty. It's hard to put down roots when you know that something is temporary. And it's funny how the dream gets tarnished by the mundane, practical things, isn't it?

And this Christmas, though we will be with family for the holiday, something we have not always had, I will miss my old home in Missouri. It's a symbol of peace and contentment that I had a short time ago in my life. Some day we'll have that here, I've just got more growing to do.

It is NOT 4 Days Before Christmas

I do not still have to do all my grocery shopping for Christmas dinner---our van did not break down last week leaving us with inadequate transportation for our family of 6 and it did not just snow 18" over the weekend, and totally did not ruin my proposed schedule for getting the shopping done..
I did not just put up the Christmas tree last night---and it is not still surrounded by moving boxes.
I do not still have to buy wrapping paper.
I do not have to wait on any gifts coming form Amazon this week (and I did not sign up for the free Prime trial to purchase a few gifts that I put off until the very last minute to get).

I did not let my kiddos play in the before mentioned snow in their sneakers (and Mary did not lose the same shoe 3 times in snowdrifts yesterday) and their snow boots have not inexplicably disappeared in the black hole of moving boxes.
And my foyer is definitely not draped in towels, drying snow pants and shoes.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Enjoying the Snow from the Inside

Since we were pretty much housebound for the day and a lot of our living space downstairs in this split-foyer house is taken up by boxes (yep, still got the boxes, the garage is FULL of empty boxes, too), I decided to make the boxes work for us for a change.

Welcome to our Medieval Fortress!

snow 001

It’s complete with tunnels…

snow 002

a throne room…

snow 005

and other little rooms.

snow 003

Way cool in the dark with flashlights

Make the most of what you have.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Let It (STOP) Snow(ing)

To give you an idea of how much snow this is,

that yellow thing in the background is the top

of our Little Tykes plastic picnic table.

snow 007

There was a time when I dreamed of a white Christmas.

snow 008 That was before I had 3 kiddos who like to play in the stuff…

my dreams now are a little more of the “having a mudroom” variety.

4-year-old Peter’s first words on going outside: “Let’s build a snow Tokyo and be snow Godzillas and knock it down.”

Can you guess what they’ve been watching lately?

Friday, December 18, 2009

Review: Maestro Classics


As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew, I received one copy of Maestro Classics’ The Tortoise and the Hare for review purposes. I received no other compensation.

Bringing classical music to children through classic children’s literature---this is the idea behind Maestro Classics. The Tortoise and the Hare begins with a 20 minute updated retelling of that well-known tale, followed by an “intermission” of sorts containing a very short (under 3 minutes) explanation of the origins of the story, a 2-minute little ditty from the story (The Pretzel Vendor of Paris Song), and a short talk about the music in the story and how it helps to “tell” the story. The next track repeats the story with the intent that listeners will have a new appreciation after learning more about it.

The story is narrated Yadu in an upbeat style, with a slooow deep voice for the tortoise and an energetic, cocky voice for the hare. While it does follow the basic plot, this is not Aesop (though they give the original version in the explanation afterwards) or any of the other older versions you may have read, but a more updated version using more “hip” language. The instrumental accompaniment is provided by the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Stephen Simon. The piece was written specifically for the story.

Production quality is good, though I found a variance in volume from one track to the next. The story is one 20 minute track, so if you have to stop in the middle, you’ll want to leave it paused. The CD comes in a cardboard case that folds up and contains a little book insert that has some activities and the lyrics to the The Pretzel Vendor. Overall, it’s a nice, well thought-out package. It seems like a good way to introduce young children to music appreciation…but what did the kiddos think?

We listened to the story and then the educational tracks during lunch. David, Mary, and Peter were a little bored with the story, though, perhaps that was because they’ve heard so many variations of it already. They weren’t very interested in the explanation tracks, either, but I attribute this to a loss of interest after already listening for 20 minutes---although the kiddos have long attention spans, they are not big on audio books (there are a few exceptions, like The Chronicles of Narnia and the Jungle Book, but these would be classified as adventure stories).

Next time, I’ll play half the story, have an intermission and listen to the explanation tracks, then listen to the rest of the story---a little tricky since the story is a single track, but it could be done. The music is well done and I’d love to hear one of the other stories available. Maestro Classics has also produced versions of:

  • Peter & the Wolf
  • The Story of Swan Lake
  • Mike Mulligan & His Steam Shovel
  • The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
  • Casey at the Bat
  • Juanita the Spanish Lobster (available in Spanish)

Each Maestro Classics CD sells for $16.98.

They currently have a special: Buy 3 cds for $45 (enter code: MAESTRO45)

For more reviews of this product, please visit:


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Review: Mathletics


As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew, I received a 6-week subscription to Mathletics for two of my children in exchange for writing an honest review of my family’s experience with the program. I received no other compensation.

Mathletics is an online subscription-based math program. The curriculum for each level is divided up into several units, each consisting of several problem sets. Units are completed with a test. Students collect “gold bars” by completing each problem set. A graphic in the lower right-hand corner of the screen shows how many gold bars have been collected and how many there are total for that level.

Each problem set has a question mark to click for an explanation of the problem and how to do it. Explanations are generally step-by-step, with graphics to illustrate, but no audio file, so they must be read.

Each time a student completes an activity (or problem set), there’s an animated victory screen and they receive points based on the percentage of correct answers and credits for completing the activity. Credits can be used to buy accessories, cool hairstyles and more to customize the student’s avatar. Points go towards earning virtual certificates. Students can also compete against other students around the world in “races” to test their speed in math fact recall.


As the parent, you will have a parent center to oversee all of your “students.” This account gives you access to your children’s progress (you can see at a glance which units have been completed and the percentage of accuracy). You can also “assign” particular problem sets (up to four) for the next time and print out workbook pages, though the workbooks are a bit limited at this time (these are mostly available for the upper levels).

I used Mathletics with Mary (kindergarten) and David (4th grade). Mary breezed through the kindergarten level material in a week. The only thing holding her back was her reading skills. She can read, but not confidently at the level at which the instructions were written and, since there was no audio file to explain things to her, she found this a little frustrating (the use of names in charts that are hard to sound out, like “Juan”, also frustrated her), so Mom sat with her and explained what was wanted. This is fine, but keeps Mom from doing one-on-one work with another child and there’s something disconcerting about doing “one-on-one” work with your child in front of a computer screen.

Once she had completed the kindergarten level, I moved her to the next level. The topics that overlapped the previous level were no problem, but then it came time to do some topics she was not yet familiar with. I found the “help” given to explain these to be grossly inadequate at times. For example, the help for telling time to the half hour basically tells you if you are setting the time to 8:30, you should put the big hand on the 6 and the small hand between the 8 and 9---there’s is absolutely no explanation given as to why this represents 8:30 or why the 6 represents 30 minutes or anything. There’s no explanation as to why you can’t just put the small hand on the 8, either (and you will get it wrong if you put it on the 8).

David worked on the 3rd grade level, as I wanted to use it primarily for review with him (we’re working on shoring up the math knowledge he already has this year). David had no problem reading the instructions or doing the work. The explanations were not really necessary in his case as the material was familiar to him. He particularly enjoyed the “problem-solving” activities (a extra set of activities that are not actually part of the units but give valuable practice in reasoning).

Neither child was interested in competing against other students in real time. My kiddos love to compete against each other, but are not at all crazy about trying to measure up against someone else. They both do better when they are trying to improve their own times.

I found the parent center to be helpful for getting a very general idea of what my children were doing with the program, but found it lacking in terms of getting a firm handle on what exactly their weaknesses and strengths are. Sometimes it is helpful to know exactly what problem they got wrong so you can judge if it’s a concept they are having trouble with, a careless error, one particular math fact they haven’t mastered, etc. You can see the name of the problem set from the parent center, but you can’t even see an example of the type of problem it consists of. I got in the habit of having the kiddos print their test results to a pdf when they finished (after each problem set or test is completed, “victory” page shows thumbnails of all the problems completed and you have the option to print) so I would have a more complete record of where they were at. I do like the option of assigning particular problem sets, as David in particular will avoid doing topics he thinks are too hard.

Overall, the program has some good points, but I wouldn’t rely on it as a complete curriculum, more of a supplement.

Mathletics subscription rates (10 day money back guarantee):

  • $59/child 1 year subscription
  • If you know the Human Calculator's Favorite number (answer is '9') you can purchase a subscription for $49.95 per child per year.

To read other reviews of this product by homeschoolers, go to:


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Works For Me: Book Tabs


Here’s a little tip that works for me--- whenever there is a part of a book I refer to often, whether it be a recipe, a tip or just an inspirational passage, I like to mark it with one of those clear stick on tabs (the kind you can slip a label into). Here you can see the tabs I’ve added to my Tightwad Gazette. Also handy for marking holiday recipes! Post-its and flags work, but they tend to come off and get bent up. The tabs serve as a permanent place holder for me, and if one of the kiddos helpfully closes the book when I’m not looking, it’s easy to find my page again.


Looking for great Homeschooling tips? Be sure to check out the first edition of my new Tuesdays' Toolbox meme, and see how common everyday tools can be used for uncommon learning!
Now head over to We Are THAT Family for more Works for Me ideas.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Tuesday’s Toolbox

Tuesday's Toolbox button

Today’s tool for learning: a camera! Yes, we use our camera to capture our achievements and feats of learning, and even recording the steps of an experiment, but have you thought about using the camera itself for learning?

Some projects we have used our cameras for (and a few we plan to do some day):


  • Studying light and dark, shadow, texture, and composition. All of these can be done inside using everyday objects or outside on a walk or series of walks.
  • Learn about the different ways an artist creates the illusion of perspective and demonstrate through photography
  • Experiment with different lighting effects to change the mood of a photograph

snowflakes dark inside snowflakes dark outside


  • Nature study-capturing images of different plant and animal species for later research/study (can be more convenient than a sketchbook, especially for littles)
  • Take a photograph to record the location where a specimen was found that you are taking with you
  • Study vision and how the eye works by creating optical illusions
  • Study permanence and how it causes the illusion of movement in film by creating a stop motion film

Language Arts and Critical Thinking

  • Create a photo journal
  • Write a story using only photographs (think comic book style)
  • Take mystery pics and exchange photos---who can identify the most objects, who came up with the real stumper

mystery6I’m sure you can think of more, but this will get you started thinking.

While a film camera can be used for most of these, I think you’ll find using a digital camera much more rewarding, particularly for things like stop motion animation , nature study and art study. Your little learners will get immediate feedback, can see what is working and what isn’t, can take as many shots as they need, and they won’t break the bank with film processing. If you’re nervous about letting them use your camera, consider investing in a real, used camera for their use. The cheap, clunky kids’ camera tend to disappoint with inferior pictures. A decent point-and-shoot, used digital can be had for around $50 (I’d spend more than that in film and processing in a month with my kiddos).

Here’s a bonus: I’ve got some awesome 100% free resources for you to add to your toolbox:

The Museum of Vision has three free curriculum guides: Eye Openers: Exploring Optical Illusions, Art and Vision: Seeing in 3-D®, and Animal Eyes. These are all very good.

Cindy Downes has a free to homeschoolers unit study on Digital Photography (this is for grades 7-12, but could be easily modified for younger children).

Check out the current Tuesday's Toolbox.

What tools have you been using from your toolbox lately? To participate in the meme, please sign MckLinky with your post for Tuesday's Toolbox. Be sure to link back to this post so your readers can check out other ideas.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Another False Start

So, we get the kiddos all bundled up and ready to go to church and then on to Grandma's house for the day, pull out of the driveway then about 2 minutes down the road the transmission goes---no drive gears at all, only reverse or park. This would be the same 10 year old van that took thousands of dollars to make road worthy (and capable of passing Maryland inspection) a few short months ago.

I am thankful that it happened so close to home so we were able to walk home (in the rain, but we all had our hooded coats on!) and not on the highway or somewhere else where we would have been stranded or could have had a serious accident.

I am thankful we have another car for dear hubby to drive to work. It will not hold our family of 6, but we can get around that in the meantime.

Please pray with me for an affordable repair on the car or, failing that, a really killer deal on a used car.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Best Laid Plans?

A few days ago I decided to try to do a “formal,” frame-able group portrait of the kiddos to give to the grands for Christmas. So, one sunny morning I had them all change into their Sunday best, opened all the window shades in my bedroom to let the light stream in and set up the bed as a backdrop. Everybody got on the bed. And then the fun started.


portraits 006

portraits 013

I got plenty of pictures, just not quite the look I was going for. And my nice smooth elegant looking backdrop very quickly turned into an unmade bed. The baby also decided that she didn’t like her dress and that she was hungry. Oh, and the other kiddos decided it was more fun to poke and squeeze each other and make funny faces.

So much for my plans. Later on, after everybody was back in their play clothes and feeling more themselves, I took some individual portraits.

emma peter smile portraits 007 portraits 009 I think I’m going to make a collage.

And I learned something. Things go much better if I don’t insist on them going MY way. A little humility will get you far. This is true in anything and a lesson I hope to pass on to my children.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Review: Tektoma---Game Tutorials for Kids

As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew, I received a free 3 month subscription to Tektoma's tutorial website for kids in exchange for reviewing it on my blog. I received no other compensation. My review reflects my family's personal experience with this product.

OK, our family is a bunch of computer geeks. Not solid, knowledgeable, save the bacon when your motherboard fries geeks, just geeky enough to have a "healthy" interest in how computers work and to spend a bunch of time making ours work. So when we got the opportunity to try out a site devoted to teaching your kids how to make games using GameMaker software, my 9-year-old was all over it. And still is.

Tektoma provides a series of videos that will show your children (ages 7-17) step-by-step how to create their own 2-D video games using the free to download GameMaker software by YoYo Games. The free version of this software apparently lacks some of the capabilities of the paid version, but is sufficient for the completing the Tektoma tutorials (and it's definitely not crippleware).

In addition to several short tutorials covering specific topics, there are 5 complete game tutorials:
  • How to Make a Racing Game
  • How to Make an Arcade Game
  • How to Make a Memory Game
  • How to Make a Platform Game
  • How to Make a Fantasy Adventure Game (RPG)
These tutorials are about 1 to 2-1/2 hours in length, divided neatly up into shorter, organized segments, making it easy to pick up where you left off. While the video time may only be a couple of hours, the time actually spent building the game could be much greater depending upon how much you decide to "make it yours." All told, there are a little over 10 hours of video tutorials on the site. There are also options to share games on the site that you have created or play games created by others.

The videos are nicely done, with a voice explaining the next step and the video displaying exactly what you will see on your screen, with highlights to show you where exactly to look. It is a bit awkward to watch the videos on the computer screen, pause, switch to the GameMaker software, do that step and then switch back to the video, but after a while my 9-year-old got the hang of it.

9-year-old David has had no trouble at all creating a couple of games using the subscription. The graphics quality of the games is not what we have come to expect in the year 2009 (it's more like the games we were playing in the early 90's), but that has more to do with GameMaker and fancy graphics can easily take your attention away from the immediate lesson at hand, mainly the nuts and bolts of creating the game. Tektoma will not teach your child to write code, GameMaker was designed so that you can create games without knowing how to write code.

So, if it doesn't teach code what good is it? Tektoma has value in the area of critical thinking and giving your child a background in understanding about how a computer program works through object programming. If your ultimate goal is computer programming, though, this is just a first step, but it's a solid first step. Think of it as a course in understanding the very basics of object programming, including:
  • what's an object, what's a sprite?
  • thinking out routines for those objects (thinking logically)
  • with immediate feedback (the computer plays out exactly what you tell it to do, mistakes and all)
  • learning about different object attributes (some objects are solid and can't be passed through while others are background, some move, how they move, etc.)
And when they've finished making their game, they can export it as an .exe file and email to the Grandparents. Or Dad at work.

While I like the service, the site is a little hard to navigate. You might expect, for instance, that your profile page would show you when your subscription expires, maybe even with a little reminder to renew? Not so, though it does show when you signed up, so keep track of how many months you've paid for. But this is fairly minor and does not affect your child's ability to use the tutorials.

Tektoma is available for a monthly subscription of $14.95/month or $140/year, but you can sign up for a free 14 day trial to try it out.

For reviews by other homeschoolers, visit the TOS Homeschool Crew Blog:

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Today I Give Thanks For

  1. My darling, rambunctious children
  2. My darling, generous husband for taking me out to dinner last night
  3. My precious in-laws for sitting for my darling, rambunctious children so my darling, generous husband could take me out to dinner
  4. Sesame chicken and pan-fried dumplings and perfectly steamed rice
  5. My darling babe asleep in my arms as I type this one-handed
  6. Having at least one hand with which to type
  7. Snow
  8. That snow melts in this part of the country (not so for us where we lived this time last year)
  9. That our Lord has provided all this bountiful goodness, Amen!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A Crock Pot Christmas!

Worried about fitting a turkey, dressing and sweet potatoes in your oven at the same time for Christmas dinner? Wondering how to baste that turkey with the Littles running around on their annual Christmas high? Or maybe you have bad luck with meat thermometers...I sure do (maybe it's because I'm so hot-blooded) or want more free time to spend with your guests? How about a Crock Pot Christmas?

Here's what's on our menu:
  • Cranberry Roast Pork (recipe follows)
  • 2 pans of homemade stuffing (one with mushrooms and walnuts, one without)---this can be made ahead, refrigerated and baked for about 30 minutes before serving
  • homemade cranberry sauce
  • mashed potatoes
  • steamed veggies
  • dessert---this will all be made during the week before---cookies, chocolate muffins, chocolate oatmeal pie and ?
  • coffee, tea, iced tea, and water
We'll also have some snacks to hold the kiddos over till dinner, like a homemade cheese ball and crackers and raw veggies for dipping. I think you'll agree that this is a high class meal, but notice the make ahead quality of most of the dishes---I will not be sweatin' in the kitchen while everyone else has fun.

Cranberry Pork Roast (from Mable Hoffman's Crockery Cooking 1995)
1 (3-4 lb.) boneless or loin pork roast
salt and pepper to taste
1 c ground or finely chopped cranberries (my blender does a fabulous job)
1/4 c honey
1 tsp. freshly grated orange peel
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
1/8 freshly grated nutmeg

Sprinkle roast with salt and pepper. Place in a slow cooker. In a small bowl, combine remaining ingredients; pour over roast. Cover and cook on LOW 8-10 hours or until roast is tender. Slice and serve hot.

Notes: The original recipe puts this at 6-8 servings...that's 1/2 lb of meat per person! You could serve many more especially with all your sides (my dressing is a meal in itself!). The last time I made this I did not have grated orange peel or the nutmeg...I skipped them and it came out fabulous anyway! Experiment with the seasoning. It also works well with pork chops. And lastly...this makes an incredible gravy!
  • When the roast is done, take it out and put it under a foil tent to stay hot.
  • Raise your crock temp to HIGH.
  • In a small bowl, mix a couple of heaping tbs. of cornstarch with an equal amount of water (or used liquid from the pot).
  • Carefully whisk the cornstarch mixture into the liquid in the crock.
  • Heat and stir occasionally until it thickens, about 10 mins. (If it's not as thick as you like, repeat).
Have a wonderful holiday, but in the meantime, be sure to check out this week's WFMW at We are THAT Family for more great works for me ideas.

You might also like:
Oven Roasted Veggies
Creamy, Cheesy Potato Casserole and Sour-Cream Biscuits
Easy Caramel Chocolate Chip Dreams

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

For Us Hard-Workin' Mamas (and Daddies)

You know you want chocolate deliciousness in 5 minutes! Make sure you share it, though (the recipe as prepared will add about 1000 calories to your waistline). You can cut the oil to 1 T (better, use 1 T. melted butter---it's better for you) and used 1 T of chips (3 is really too much, believe it or not). Now, go get the recipe for 5 Minute Chocolate Mug Cake at Daisy's Place.
I am soooo going to make this again!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Introducing Tuesday's Toolbox for Learning

Beginning next week, I'm adding a new weekly feature to my blog called Tuesday's Toolbox for Learning. Each week will feature something you probably already have in your home and how it can become a Tool for Learning, whether you homeschool or not.

And just for fun, I've decided to make it a weekly meme, because I know that you've all got plenty of ideas and I'd love to read about them! If you'd like to participate, grab my button and include it in your post next Tuesday. Link back to my post on that day and sign the McLinky you'll find there. Your post can be as simple or complex as you like whether it be a suggestion or a picture tutorial or...why don't you surprise me:-)
Here's the code:

What WILL They Think Up Next?

NotMyChildMondaySIDEBAR180x180 My 4-year-old so did NOT draw a picture of a guy pottying (leaving nothing to the imagination).

I definitely did NOT laugh out loud (I’m way more mature than that), while his Daddy explained that this was inappropriate and that we would have to throw it away.

I did NOT glue-stick a very opaque piece of orange paper over the offensive artwork so that we could save the picture on the back side.

I did NOT make a full serving of oatmeal with brown sugar and raisins for this same child only to have him take 2 bites and announce “All my throats are full!”

The kiddos are NOT dive-bombing Mary’s wooden dollhouse with Lego fighter jets, nor are they using the interior of the dollhouse as a flying obstacle course.

Oh, and my oldest most assuredly did NOT just yell “Don’t SPIT on me!”

So, how’s YOUR morning?

Now head on over to MckMama’s NOT Me Monday blog carnival and find out what others are NOT doing today.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Our First Snow

Funny how we just made these paper snowflakes yesterday...

...and today we have real snow!

Our first snow in Maryland.

Friday, December 4, 2009

My Rock

About 16 years ago I met my husband. We were both DJs at the university radio station. I had the graveyard shift and he had the (more sensible) shift just before it. One night I came in, running late, all in a tizzy because I didn’t have my playlists ready. I was a wreck with too many other unimportant things going through my mind. Chris didn’t say anything, he just put his hand on my shoulder and I felt this peace envelope me…he was my rock then and he still is. And yes, he does do dishes. And change diapers. And read bedtime stories. And carry the baby even when he's in his academic regalia.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

13 I'm Thankful for Today

  1. My dear husband (he even does dishes!)
  2. Peace and Quiet (this moment...everybody's quietly doing their own thing and nobody's fighting!)
  3. Piles of laundry (I'll get some exercise carrying it up and down the stairs)
  4. Food in my pantry (after my midnight run to the store last night)
  5. My four children (see number 2)
  6. Paper towels ("There are oceans of pee next to the potty again, Mommy!")
  7. Spray sanitizer (see number 6)
  8. That it's possible to buy reams of paper by the case ("Can I draw another dragon book, Mommy?")
  9. The dishwasher!
  10. That it's not raining again!
  11. The DVD player (my 5-year-old can practice her ballet all she wants)
  12. That we have so much stuff we can afford to give some on it away
  13. That we can spend the holidays with family this year

Raising Individuals

Homeschooling is cool! Where else could a 9-year-old boy spend his time writing an adventure novel, learning to play the harmonica, and creating (from the ground up) an imaginary world inspired by the Lord of the Rings, complete with maps, phonetically spelled countries, and all different races of beings (and write a book all about it!), all while teaching himself how to create spreadsheets and learning about object-oriented game programing?

And a 5-year-old girl play fairies and dragons with her 4-year-old brother, just before doing her ballet instruction video (she takes classes, too), working on her "book" about Little House on the Prairie and practicing cursive writing?

There's a whole lot of learnin' go on...but will they know how to stand in line and stay with the herd?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Dreaming of a homemade Christmas


I recently finished reading Little House on the Prairie to my 5-year-old daughter. There’s something strangely liberating about the thought of traveling across country in a covered wagon with the barest necessities, not bothering to move any furniture, figuring Pa will just make it all when you get there (Oh, how I wish we coulda done that!). And there’s something awe-inspiring about two little girls being thrilled to receive their own shiny new tin cups from Santa. Nowadays it seems we’re caught up in acquiring that new state-of-the-art gadget or a hulking-plastic-something-or-other.

In an effort to shake off the acquisition bug (something my kiddos have in spades) and to appreciate the simpler things in life (a financial necessity for us these days), we’re putting the emphasis on homemade this year. There was a time when all the gifts we gave were homemade, but as our household grew…ahem, I found I had less and less of that precious time on my hands. My homemade stuff tended to be elaborate and time-intensive, from homemade Candied Orange Peel to hand-knitted socks. But, alas, my hands ache and the kiddos clamber for constant attention…what to do? Include the kiddos in the making, of course!


Way back in the 70’s my thrifty Grandma used to wrap all the Christmas gifts in the “Funnies.” That can be a real mess, as the ink rubs off and turns everything black, not to mention the somewhat less innocent nature of the comics in the new millennium, so here’s an idea: Check with your local newspaper office and see if they have newsprint end-rolls available. These are the ends of the huge rolls they use which are too small for a newspaper run, but big enough for your kiddos to decorate and use as wrapping paper. Decorate with crayons, markers, rubber stamps, sponge stamps (and paint), handprints, stickers, let your imagination run wild.

For Foodies:

It’s a little time-consuming and the kiddos might eat all your labors, but you really can’t beat making Candied Orange Peel for tightwadiness, it uses something you would normally throw away (orange peels, you can use grapefruit peel, too), and there’s no waste (you can boil down the syrup and use it on your pancakes). The recipe I use comes from the Tightwad Gazette, but there are others that don’t call for the corn syrup if you’re allergic to corn or don’t happen to have any. I peel the oranges as we use them, putting the peels into a plastic bag in the fridge to keep them from drying out…they should keep for a few days that way until you are ready to make your candy.

Take your candied orange peel and make Chocolate-Dipped Orange Peel Cookies. These are fabulous! I stumbled onto this recipe last year and made them for hubby to take to work…rave reviews! And yes, we do use real butter around here, it’s healthier and tastes better than margarine…some things are worth the extra money.

For the Grandparents:

One year I did a 8” x 8” scrapbook of the kiddos with the year in review for each set of grandparents, that was a real hit. I haven’t stumbled onto the perfect gift this year yet, but here are some ideas I’m mulling over in my OCD brain:

  • A single, framed scrapbook page of the kiddos
  • A group portrait of the kiddos in some sort of unexpected location or pose (framed, of course)
  • A video Christmas greeting (this is something I should have done when we lived 1200 miles away:-)
  • A coupon book with a coupon for each month for a different activity to do with the kids or to a special dinner at our house
  • A Christmas table runner with kiddo hand prints in fabric paint
  • A photo tote bag
  • Hand-bound books made by the kiddos

For the Man:

I used to make ties for my hubby. Here’s a free pattern from Burdastyle. They’re not that difficult sew (even though it’s on the bias) and only take about a yard of fabric. In fact, you could totally hand-sew a tie (how would that be for a one-of-a-kind gift?). A plain fabric with decorate stitching (machine or hand) could be quite striking.

I’ve also made linen handkerchiefs (who can afford to buy those?), but it is more than a little time-consuming to sew all those narrow hems. You could even just buy plain white cotton handkerchiefs and cross-stitch or embroider his monogram for that personal touch. Or get the kiddos in on the act and have them “graffiti” them with fabric pens.

For the Hostess:

Recently my Mom and her friend came to visit us and Mom wondered what the special occasion was when I put the cloth napkins on the table. We use cloth napkins every day! Paper napkins are pathetic in comparison in terms of absorption (how many paper napkins does it take to clean up a milk spill?) and I really hate buying something my kiddos wipe their mouth on once and then throw away. My cloth napkins are homemade of a medium cotton homespuny plaid that washes beautifully. I don’t iron them (they don’t need it if I take them out of the dryer right away), they don’t stain (or maybe you just can’t see the stains because of their color?), they were super easy to make, and you can choose fancy or plain fabric.

  • Buy a medium-weight 100% cotton woven fabric (not shirting weight, but not heavy upholstery weight, either). You want the type that will make a nice fringe if you unravel it.
  • Wash it to remove the sizing (they’ll be more absorbent the more times you wash them). Do not use fabric softener!
  • Cut approximately 18” squares. You can make them bigger than that if you want. If it’s a plaid, follow the lines, and always follow the same lines so the napkins will be identical. If it’s a solid or print, “pull a thread” and cut along that thread so they will be totally straight.
  • Do a multiple step zigzag on your machine about 1/4” to 1/2” in from the edge all the way around each napkin. You want to have a narrow margin at the edge where there is no stitching, this will be your fringe.
  • Pull the cross threads from the raw edge up to the zigzag. The zigzag will keep it from fraying further. Note: The first few washings may loosen a few threads where your zigzag was not totally straight, but after that they should be just fine. These will last for YEARS!

Ok, so now I’m going to turn it over to y’all, please leave a comment with your homemade Christmas ideas.

For other unique gift-giving ideas, head on over to this week’s edition of Works-For-Me-Wednesday at We are THAT Family.