Tuesday, December 28, 2010

More FREE Homeschool Resources!

Prek-3 Activity Books from St. Aiden's Homeschool - please note, this website is based in South Africa.  So far the activity books that I've printed are more than 30 pages long. 


Foreign language resources - we use the free downloadable version.  However, you can also choose the deluxe version for access to more lists and resources.  There are over 70 languages to choose from.

This is meant as an adult education resource, but I have found it to be useful with several of my middle school and high school students in need of reading comprehension assistance.  I have only used the reading and vocabulary sections but would imagine the other parts are decent as well. 

Friday, December 24, 2010

Happy Holidays!

Whatever holiday you celebrate at this time of year, we hope you are having a wonderful time with family and friends.  Same goes for those of you who choose not to celebrate any holidays.

With that said, what are some of the ways you make your holidays special?  This year, JP and I are away from family for the first time ever on Christmas.  It has been rough and things haven't worked out quite the way I had hoped.  I thought we would create all sorts of new traditions but we haven't...we haven't really done anything festive or holiday related.  Nada.  We would love some suggestions from you on how to make next year more festive and special.  How do you celebrate?

Friday, December 17, 2010

Free Homeschool Fun!

The boy and I are both sick.  Not fun.  But, we thought we would share some FREE and FUN ideas for homeschool lessons!  

From the website:  "In this global game of hide-and-seek, students search to uncover the secret locations of ten "mystery" sites hiding around the Earth. To guide the investigation, they track changes in day length at the mystery sites and at their hometown, and use other "clues" along the way. As they take this inspiring journey, students unlock the essential questions behind the reasons for seasons and the dramatic changes in day length that result."  

We have done this class in the past and it is a fantastic way to learn about geography, science, use math skills, and much, much more!  This would be fantastic for a homeschool co-op class, assigning one or two locations to each child or to groups of kids.  If you do it with just your family, I would recommend dividing the locations among your children if you have more than one.  We are just a mom and one child and doing all 10 locations was really hard!  This year, we will do half of the locations.

Be sure to check out the rest of the website and other projects throughout the year.


This is a great way to introduce typing to younger kids.  My son learned to type using this program and I am now using it with one of my tutoring students.  The only drawback is that each level or stage really needs to be done multiple times before the typing skills become natural.  Be sure to turn on the speakers for lots of fun sounds and some instructions.


There are loads of educational games at this website!  Some are academic, others are just plain fun!


Have an art lover in your family?  The Met's Explore and Learn section has many fun activities online!  In addition to the online activities, there are several printable guides - some assume that you will visit the museum, others are stand alone.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Gobble Gobble Day in the USA!

Well, today is Thanksgiving here in the United States of America and one of our great traditions is the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, held in New York City and broadcast on television across the country.  One of the key mascots of the parade has long been Snoopy from the Peanuts comic strip.  I adore Snoopy!

Until this year, I had never considered actually *going* to the parade! But, we live just about half an hour from the parade route now, so why not go?  SO MUCH FUN!  Next year we'll head out earlier so we can get a better view...we could see the major balloons and tip tops of some floats.  We could also hear the bands but it would have been nice to see everything!

After the parade we walked through Central Park. It was such a wonderful day!

We had to be up bright and early in order to even have a chance at getting close to the parade route! The parade began at 9am.  We were up and out the door at 6:45 and at our spot by 7:45!

Big crowd! And, it got even more packed! Over time, people got fed up with standing and many people left, allowing us to move in closer (but not much).  It was still packed though!

Hope you had a great Thanksgiving too!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan

Michael Pollan

JP and I both have food allergies.  Thus, we tend to obsess a little over food - where does it come from, how is it processed, is nutritious, and so on.  So I was very excited a couple of years ago to pick up The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan.  But, I got about halfway through the book and had to put it down.  It was getting a bit too heavy and gross.  A couple of my other mom friends and I had been trying to read it together and maybe only one of us got all of the way through it....but, we all seem to have changed our habits, at least a little, as a result of whatever portions we did read.

Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan

THEN....I was walking through a big-box book store and spotted a purple book with fun, bright fruit on the cover.  It was The Omnivore's Dilemma - the YOUNG reader version!  WooHoo!!!!  I bought it and read it in just a couple of days.  I then set it aside with all of the homeschooling materials JP wasn't quite ready for and sort of forgot about it.

Two weeks ago, I pulled the book back out and JP and I began to go through it.  At first we went through a few chapters together but eventually JP wanted to read on his own, so he could read it FASTER because it was so INTERESTING!  He often forgot what page he was supposed to read to and went far beyond (which is fine by me!).  But, I didn't stop with just the book...

Omnivore's Dilemma - Young Readers Edition

To make the information in Omnivore's Dilemma have a more direct relationship to our eating lives, I created a few activities for JP.  These could be stand alone projects, but tied to the book, they seem to really have a greater impact.  I encourage you to read this book with your kids (JP is 12, just for reference) and use it as a jumping off point to discuss your eating habits, grocery habits, what's at the local store and more.

Our projects and how they fit into different academic subjects:
Investigate ingredients - Subject: Health and Nutrition
Go through the kitchen cupboards, fridge, and freezer and create a list of everything containing a corn ingredient (Pollan provides a list of chemical names that are actually corn ingredients).  Did you think there would be more or less on your list?  How do you think your list might compare to your neighbor's or a friend's?

Where does food come from? - Subject: Social Studies (Geography and map skills)
Head to the grocery store with pencil and paper (a clipboard is a good idea too!).  Make three columns on your paper:  MY STATE, MY COUNTRY, OTHER COUNTRIES.  In the produce department, go through several items (we decided to check 20 items) and write the name of the item in the column where it comes from.  For "MY COUNTRY," write the name of the item and the state/province of origin.  For "OTHER COUNTRIES," write the name of the item and the country of origin.  Do the same for eggs, beef, chicken, and anything else that strikes your fancy.  ...but, be careful of major producers who are national companies that may be getting produce from many different areas.  We avoided big-name companies and packaged produce like bagged lettuce and bagged salads.  We stuck with basic fruits and vegetables, eggs, beef from a small farm, and chicken from a small farm.  We also compared free-range eggs with conventional eggs.

More about where food comes from - Subject: Social Studies (Geography and map skills)
Print out a map of your country with the states/provinces marked.  On the map, label YOUR state.  Write the items from the "MY COUNTRY" column of your grocery store list on the map with each item in the state of origin.  Do the same for the "OTHER COUNTRIES" items on a map of the world.  We also found it useful to draw a straight line from each origin to our city.  It gave us a good visual sense of the path these foods had to travel in order to get to us.

How far does food travel? - Subjects: Social Studies (Geography and map skills) and Math
Look up the distance each item had to travel to get to you.  For those that did not list a specific city, we used either a major city in the state or country, or the capital city.  Then, arrange your list by distance.  What had to travel the farthest to get to you?  What was closest to you?  How do you think these things had to travel (air, train, truck, rail)?  How long do you think it took to get to you and what does that do the the nutritional value of the food?

The book itself fits into literature/reading, social studies, health and nutrition, and even science.

We also watched a number of movies based on food, food-related ecology, and nutrition.  Our favorites are "Food, Inc." (but this one can get a little gross....) and "What's on Your Plate?"  The second was especially appealing because it is from the point of view of two girls about JP's age - 12 years old or so.

What's On Your Plate?

There are a number of other projects you could tie in with Omnivore's Dilemma, but these were the ones that seemed to be the most meaningful for us.  Hope they are able to provide your family with some fun and learning!

Love this post? Follow the links below to learn more about how our family homeschools:
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Sunday, November 7, 2010

Blog tweak day...what colors do you see?

So, I love the way my blog looks on MY computer monitor.  But, I was looking at it on someone else's computer and it looked A-W-F-U-L!  On my monitor it is nice pale shades of tan and a touch of brown.  On her computer?  Eww...it was...gasp...baby poop green, mustard yellow, and brown...

So, what do YOU see?  What colors?  Are they OK, or offensive?  Thoughts????

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Well, it has been far too long!

Hey there!  How are ya?  Thanks for dropping by!  You may have noticed that it has been a couple of months since our last post.  Don't despair!  We haven't forgotten about you and our little blog! 

These past few months have been full of crazy ups and downs, twists and turns.  Feels like things are finally settling a bit and we should be back up and running soon! 

Thanks for hanging in there with us...

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Planting the seeds to homeschooling....

I found out recently that a good friend is going to homeschool two of her children.  I also found out that one of her other kids has a lot in common with my own son despite a 6 year age difference!  We got to talking about our boys, homeschooling, and so much more.  And, my friend asked me, "So, what made you decide to homeschool?"  Hmmm...that is a BIG question.  And, to answer, I have to go back to when I was a child myself, in fourth grade and wanting to know what made mushrooms grow.

Mushrooms?  Yes, mushrooms!  Imagine a huge backyard with gigantic redwood trees, undergrowth of ferns and moss, bushes and plants everywhere and tons of shade.  Imagine a yard with all kinds of great hiding spots among the plants and under branches, and behind little hills.  Imagine a yard filled with magic!  That's what I grew up with.  And it did seem magical.  There was always something new to look at or a new game to play.  We spent HOURS outside in our yard.  We had a big hill that we could ride our bikes down.  We had little trails winding through the bushes.  We had a blast!  And, we had mushrooms - lots of them!  We had all kinds of them but the best were the ones that had flat tops that would grow to several inches in diameter.

I was fascinated by the mushrooms.  They looked funny.  They smelled funny.  They felt funny.  (No, I never tasted them....)  In 4th grade I was fully becoming a science nerd.  I loved science and my teacher was by far the BEST science teacher in my entire school career!  But, I wanted to know what made these mushrooms grow.  I disected them.  I read about them.  I sketched and studied them.  But, nothing really gave me the information I was looking for.  So, I asked my teacher.

Boy, was that a let down!  The response?  "We don't have time to discuss mushrooms.  We have more important projects to take care of."  What?  Really?  I hadn't interrupted class to ask my question.  I hadn't said that I wanted to know about mushrooms instead of our other projects.  I wanted to learn about mushrooms in addition to whatever we were already studying.  It was like an intellectual slap in the face to my 4th grade self.  At that moment, I remember thinking very clearly, "I wish I could learn at home! I'd get a lot more done and know so much more stuff!"  At the time I had never heard of homeschooling but the seed was planted...

To be continued tomorrow with having my son, his early elementary years in public school and the transition to homeschooling...  I never did go back to studying mushrooms.  I know a bit more about them than I did in fourth grade, but not much...

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Thinking about homeschooling this fall...

Summer should be about relaxing, chilling out by the pool, fun and games.  But, as any homeschooling parent knows, it is also a time to start thinking about the fall and homeschool curriculum and planning!  This year, however, I am at a bit of a loss...my son is on the cusp of...I don't know what.  Yes, he's nearly 12 and that means lots of physical changes, but he also seems to be on the verge of something huge intellectually.  I see it, right there, just brewing under the surface.  But, what is it?  How to tap into it?  How to help him bring it out?  I'm at a loss.

I've been looking at homeschooling materials, curriculums, plans, and on and on but have yet to find anything that I think will truly tap into my son's desires, needs, and potentials.  Everything seems to be either just oh so easy - read: boring.  Or, so far above and beyond that I worry about his ability to really *get it* or about the possibility of burn-out.

Part of me wants to let go and let JP find his own way via unschooling (or, child-led learning).  He has concrete enough interests that I know he will learn more than I can possibly imagine.  But...I am not that courageous.  I don't doubt my son's ability to learn and pursue his passions, but I doubt my own ability to help him in those pursuits.  How do I help an 11 year old boy who is interested in nuclear energy?  In how atomic bombs work?  In all things warfare related (though he is a peace-lover)?  In computer everything?  I just don't know...

Sure, there is conventional wisdom like, "Go to the library!" or "You can find some great videos at..." or "Take him on field trips..."  Guess what?  None of that has been completely satisfying for him so far.  I could sign him up for classes but who has the money for that?  Not me...  I could send him to camps.  But again, with what money?

Right now I am feeling rather lost.  So, what is the plan for fall?  I have absolutely no idea...we'll figure it out when we get there...

Friday, June 25, 2010

Our workspace...

Seriously, this is my workspace...kind of hard to imagine how non-Lego based crafting gets done, eh?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Travelin' Thursday...

Whew! Time is ticking!  JP and I leave for our cross-country adventure in only 34 days!  Can you believe that???  I can't!  I feel like we still have so much to do in order to prepare.  Everything from continuing to sort, purge, pack to planning logistics, to getting important papers together to....EVERYTHING!

Excuse me while I take a moment to have a stress-relieving scream....

Much better now that the screaming is done with.  Now, down to business!  Or....blog writing in order to prolong the inevitable packing, planning, purging, sorting...

The last *major* move I made was in October, 2002 and it was from Portland, Oregon to Northern California.  It was a fast, scary move that I felt I had no choice but to make.  I was escaping an abusive relationship and trying to save the emotional and mental health of myself and my child.  It was tough!  I couldn't have done it without my sister and my brother-in-law.  At the time, I felt broken emotionally, mentally, financially.  I was physically drained from stress and worry.  I asked my sister and her husband to help, and they did.  In 24 hours they were in Portland, got a moving truck, got it packed, and helped me finish up some last minute details.  I left so many things behind!  So many things!  I had no choice.  I had to grab the things that were most important to me, the essentials for getting by, and that was it.  I had to leave most of the things that I merely liked but wanted to keep.  I left books.  I left dishes and pots and pans.  I left a few pieces of furniture.  I left tons of JP's toys.  I left so much stuff.  BUT, I also left with my self and my child intact.  I left with a foundation to build on.  

I never want to make *that* kind of move again.  Never.

So, in 34 days, what kind of move do I *want* to make?  I want to make a move that is filled with fun, adventure, and excitement!  I want this to be a move where, although we will have many uncertainties, it will be fun to experience the road ahead.  Thankfully, this time, if we leave things behind, I know they will be safe.  If we leave things behind, we can come back for them later, and we can know that my mom will keep our things for us.  

In 34 days, we will be off to see 13 states over the course of about 17 days.  We will stop in cities, towns, and other locations of historic significance.  We will stop in places that are one of a kind - places we may never have visited otherwise.  And, with JP being on the cusp of 12 years old, we are doing it at the perfect time!  JP is already an excellent traveler, having been up and down the Pacific Coast by car numerous times, and having flown to Mexico City and back.  He loves looking out the window and seeing the changing scenery.  He loves thinking about (and discussing) what the area would have been like a few hundred years ago.  He loves seeing historic sites and envisioning what it would have been like to live there.  JP even loves the drudgery of travel - he loves going for miles with nothing really to see except more of the same stuff he saw for the last four hours.  He loves taking turns choosing what to listen to on the radio or cd player.  He loves stopping at rest stops and comparing how each one is different from the others - "Mom! This one has Doritos!  The last one only had M and M's in the vending machine! And, do you remember the first rest stop today that had NO vending machines and a broken toilet?"  Seriously, my kid *LIKES* rest stops...weird...

I wish I could be as laid back and relaxed about this adventure as my boy.  But, I can't.  I have to do all of the planning.  I have to worry about how much this trip will cost.  I have to worry about having cell phone service if we have a problem.  I have to worry about where we will stay each night.  I have to worry about....everything.  So, I'm trying to focus less on the big picture and more on breaking things down step by step...but, that picture is BIG and hard to ignore.  This is a HUGE move.  This is our entire lives changing dramatically for at least the next two years while I go to graduate school in another state...on another coast...where we know one person...one person that we haven't seen or spoken to regularly since were kids and saw each other during annual vacations.

This is huge.

How are we going to do it?  How can we not do it?  This is huge...huge in a positive way.  Huge in a reshaping our futures for success and living out our dreams kind of way.  I mean, isn't that what living in the United States of America should be all about?  Just because it is 2010 and our economy has all but fallen apart and times ahead are so uncertain for so many of us doesn't mean anyone should give up the fabled "American Dream."  If anything, those of us that have felt bogged down should say, "I HAVE A DREAM AND I AM GOING TO MAKE IT A REALITY!  I CAN AND I WILL!"  Stay tuned as JP and I make our dreams become realities!  

As always, I would love to hear from anyone that has made a cross-country move by car.  Advice?  Thanks for reading!

Love, M and J

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


BREAKING NEWS!  Our art has been published online by the literacy magazine, Literacy Head!!!  Literacy Head aims to teach literacy through art.  They contacted me a few weeks ago about including this piece with the word "zigzag" and it was just published!

The piece featured:

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Response to "The Loneliness of Genius"

Do you have a child that is considered "gifted" or that you suspect falls into that category?   I do.  My nearly 12 year old son, JP, falls into that category.  Ever since he began to speak and develop his personal interests, others have noticed.  At three and four years old, my adult friends were calling him "the little professor" because he was already obsessed with physics, numbers, and words in ways that other young children aren't.  In 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grades, he had horrible problems fitting in at school.  On the playground, he was becoming the weird kid that the others avoid.  When they wanted to play soccer or basketball, JP wanted to talk about astrophysics and alternate universe theories.  He just didn't fit in and it was beginning to turn into a serious problem.  So, I finally decided to start homeschooling him!  I figured that by homeschooling, we could move at JP's pace (in most subjects he was far ahead and bored in school), and we could meet other quirky kids just like him.  And, I was totally right!  JP is infinitely happier, still thinking constantly about physics, numbers, and words, and he is just blossoming into a wonderful young man!

So, it was with great interest that I read an article called "The Loneliness of Genius" by Rod Dreher.  I recall feeling just like the kids that Rod describes and I saw these same things in my son before we began to homeschool

Here is my response to that article:

This sounds sooooo much like my son.  My son was assessed as "gifted" in early elementary school and this article is such a perfect description of what my son and I deal with.  He is just shy of 12 years old and struggles with basic math facts yet can figure out complex physics problems intuitively and correctly.  He talks about all kinds of scientific "stuff" that I can barely comprehend and is basically teaching himself.  He also intuitively composes beautiful poetry and hilarious short stories.  He writes fantastic, complex music with his keyboard but has no formal training other than several lessons from his 18 year old cousin.

He has extremely few friends his own age but *many* friends who are either several years younger or adults.  So many of the adults in his life have been fantastic at helping to guide my son.  He gravitates towards adults while most kids his age shy away from them.  He counts *my* friends as his own friends. 

The best advice that I have for any other parent with a kid like this is to consider homeschooling.  And, if for some reason you can't homeschool, consider an alternative school situation of some sort or have a trusted friend or family member help you manage homeschooling.  If I can homeschool as a single, working mother, then you can find a way to homeschool or give your child an alternative education as well.  Surround your child with positive adult role models that understand how special these kids are.  Give them as much access to sound educational materials as possible but also give them opportunities to have fun within the parameters of their interests - golf and archery are both exciting and fun for my son but in large part because they involve physics and math.  ALL of my son's "fun" and "recreational" interests involve science, language, or math in a very intense way.  On the surface it may look like his just playing with Lego's but in his mind, I know he is seeing 3-D objects and problems and trying to work out solutions.  But, to him this is FUN. 

It is very easy to cause these kids to burn out or to become self-defeating perfectionists.  Recognize that they have their own needs that are very different from what we are lead to believe children need and then go with it.  As a parent, I had to figure out on my own that it is ok for my son to be "different."  He doesn't need to adjust.  He doesn't need to fit in.  He doesn't need to "man up" as a former friend once told me.  He needs to be emotionally and intellectually supported.  As a kid, I was told more than once that I didn't "need to know" about this or that topic because it simply wasn't what the teacher wanted me to learn.  I was always intellectually hungry but because of the way the traditional school system is set up, I only had time and energy to learn what the school system wanted to teach me.  I took honors and college prep classes because it was the only way to feel challenged (and even then, not really...).  But, by the time I graduated from high school, I was burnt out on studying.  I hated school and was bored.  I don't want that for my son.  Instead of asking him to meet me where *I* am, I strive to meet him where *HE* is intellectually and emotionally.  This has been the biggest key to our success as a homeschooling family with a gifted child.  He still has to do his chores.  He still has to follow my rules.  He still has to do actual school work.  But, beyond that, he is free to be himself and not what some institution or group of others thinks he should be.

When I first told my son's 4th grade teacher that we would be homeschooling after the winter break, the teacher was delighted.  He thought it was just what JP needed emotionally and intellectually.  He felt that to continue public school (or even private school) would just break JP down and that it would lead to disastrous consequences.  JP's childhood may be moving along a path of carefree joy, but he is heading towards a fantastically wonderful adulthood!  Getting there hasn't been without struggles, and I am sure there will be more ahead, but recognizing that the path won't be easy, and finding alternative solutions, like homeschooling, have helped tremendously along the way.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Moving Prep - Trying Not to be Overwhelmed...

Wow!  We have less than a month and a half left before we move!  I can hardly believe it!  I am excited but nervous too!!!!  JP is getting more and more excited with each passing day as well, but I don't sense any nervousness on his part.

We have already sold or donated a lot of stuff but have tons more to get rid of.  Then, we have to figure out what to pack now and what to pack right before we go.  And, what to pack in our trailer vs. what to pack in the car for easy access.  And, should we ship anything?  Should we leave some stuff at my mom's house until we know if we'll stay in New York long term?  Not to mention a few legal items to take care of before we go (nothing major...just some paperworky type of stuff).  And, medical check ups for both of us, and for the dog.  And, and, and...

I have set aside one box that will absolutely go in the car with us.  It will have a few trip essentials since we are driving cross-country from California, north to Washington, and then east to New York.  In that box, I already have:
* rolls of toilet paper
* packages of disposable toilet seat covers
* first aid and allergy kits
* French Press for my morning coffee
* two picnic plates and picnic silverware
* two bath towels and washclothes
* travel pillows

But, there are so many more things to consider!

And, during our travels, I plan to have a box of our main Etsy (M and J Designs) inventory as well as our secondary Etsy shop (Marbles and Jam) inventory in the car with us as well so our shop will stay open as we travel!  Did you know that most McDonald's locations now have free Wi-Fi and that on July 1st most Starbucks locations will begin to offer the same?  So, I will still be checking in on our Etsy and Zazzle shops, our Facebook fan page, Twitter, email, and this blog...

If you travel long distances by car, or have gone cross-country in the United States, what are your tried and true tips?  The more tips, the better!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

We call them.....poop cookies!

OK, in all fairness, these cookies are really just a basic refrigerator cookie of the chocolate-oatmeal variety.  But, my sister and I jokingly refer to them as "poop cookies" because, well, they aren't pretty!  In fact, despite tasting oooooooh so good, these suckers are downright ugly!  But, did I mention that they taste SO GOOD!?!?!?

This is one of those recipes that I've been in love with since childhood but I could never find the scrap of paper that I had it written down on.  So, last year, in a fit of organization and frenzy, I scanned, typed, and copied all of my recipes to my computer (heaven forbid I have a crash as they aren't backed up yet! Eep....note to self: back up hard drive and all files!).

This is *MY* variation of the classic No Bake Oatmeal Cookie.  Please check out the notes at the end of the recipe...  This makes a big batch as I doubled the original recipe and we like to make our cookies HUGE!


2 sticks (1 cup) margarine
1 Cup cocoa powder
3 1/2 Cups granulated sugar
2 Cups rice milk
5 Cups oatmeal
1 Cup ground flax meal
1 Cup sunflower seed butter
1 Tbsp vanilla

In a very large pot, combine margarine, cocoa powder, sugar, and rice milk.  Stir over medium heat until the margarine has melted and your ingredients have mixed together.  You should see little bubbles forming at the edge but do NOT boil.

Remove from the heat.  Add oatmeal, flax, sunflower seed butter, and vanilla.  Stir until well combined and sticking together.

Drop by rounded spoonful onto wax paper on baking sheets.  Make the spoonfuls as big or small as you like.  Cool and store in the refrigerator.

I can't tell you how long these last because we usually have eaten the entire batch in under three days! 

Now, go lick the bowl and spoons clean!  YUMMY!

**When adding the oatmeal and flax, keep an eye on the consistency as you stir.  If it is appearing dry, stop adding these ingredients.  If it still is super wet and not sticking together, add a bit more at a time until it sticks together in a lump on your spoon.

**Due to allergies we use a dairy and soy-protein free margarine.  This is also why we use rice milk.  Feel free to use regular butter and regular milk or soy.  We also have a peanut allergy, but the original recipe calls for peanut butter.

**Want to add a little kick?  Try adding a tablespoon of instant espresso powder!!!

**Instead of vanilla, consider adding some mint extract!

**If you aren't allergic to nuts, you could substitute the flax or a *small* amount of oatmeal with finely chopped nuts.

**If you like raisins, they might make an interesting addition.  Personally, however, I can't stand raisins.  Funny that I'm willing to eat a cookie that we refer to as poop but I won't eat something that looks like a booger....hmmm.....


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Monday, June 14, 2010

2009 - 2010 Year in Homeschooling Roundup

Well, the 2009-2010 school year is coming to an end for us.  For those that don't know, we are a homeschooling family.  By age JP is in the 6th grade but his work ranges from 6th up to 8th or 9th, depending on the subject.  This was an interesting year for us as we decided to try a charter school program.  Financially it was a great decision but in terms of some of the curriculum choices, it left a bit to be desired.  But, I'm not going to blog about the charter.  Instead, this is a curriculum roundup and I will be talking about what materials we used, what we liked, and what we didn't like so much.

Of course, we covered all of the basic subjects: Language Arts, Social Studies, Science, and Math.  But, JP also was able to take some golf lessons and he got his first taste of archery.  JP also got his first taste of German. We went on a few science adventures and field trips, and soaked up so much from just living and paying attention to the world around us!
What subject shall we tackle first?  Language Arts?  Well, alrighty then!  Let's get started...

For Language Arts, we continued working on a writing program that involved both impromptu writing assignments (Mom:  I think you should write a short story today.  JP: Ok...) and formal assignments.

WRITING: We have been working out of a series of workbooks designed for 3rd graders, but we skipped several parts and I added information along the way to make the work more challenging and bring it up to a 6th grade level.  The workbooks are called "Just Write" and are published by EPS (Educator Publishing Service).  When JP left public school, writing was a HUGE problem.  The program imposed by JP's former public school had made writing difficult by imposing rigid rules about how to write paragraphs.  JP was afraid to write *more* because he thought he couldn't due to the rules.  We had to break down all the silly rules that the school insisted on and start from scratch.  That was two and a half years ago but we are still dealing with some of the aftermath.  The Just Write books are relaxed and easy going.  Again, these are meant for 3rd graders, but with some careful manipulation, probing questions and discussion, and analyzing the workbook lessons in comparison to our regular reading materials, these books were a perfect fit for JP's needs.  We also did many of the workbook lessons orally and JP wrote the longer exercises on the computer word processor.

GRAMMAR - Honestly, Easy Grammar is about the driest curriculum I have ever seen.  So, why use?  Because it is effective!  The workbook starts with prepositions and prepositional phrases and once those are mastered the rest becomes pretty easy.  We did the bulk of the work orally and when JP had obviously mastered a segment, we skipped the rest of the lesson and moved on.  Almost every lesson incorporates previous lessons as well so there is no real need for review.  The program builds on itself from lesson to lesson.  The series starts off with early elementary school and goes through 6th grade.  The final book is, according to the local homeschooling store owner, a 7th/8th grade level.

SOCIAL STUDIES:  For social studies, we take a very eclectic approach.  We decided to start over with history and start from the earliest historical times and work our way forwards.  For modern current events, we listened to lots of NPR, read the newspaper, and watched video of events such as President Obama's Message for America's Students.  The spine for our history curriculum is an amazing book from National Geographic called The Visual History of the World.  This book is HUGE and in full color.  Every page has a timeline and many photos, charts, and graphs.  It is densely packed with information.  After every small segment, I looked for a video on one of the educational channels on television, or on Netflix, to reinforce the information we had just read.  We both are enjoying this book and it is so thick that we will easily go another two years before finishing it!

SCIENCE:  Science was a struggle this year.  A major struggle.  The charter program we used wouldn't allow us to have our preferred curriculum.  We wanted to use Noeo Science but, while most of the materials are secular, a few minor pieces were too sectarian for public school funds to be used for their purchase.  Even without those parts, however, we still couldn't get this curriculum.  Next year, I plan to buy it with my own money.  Not doing so this year was a big mistake.  When we first began homeschooling, we used Noeo's Chemistry I curriculum and it was FANTASTIC!  I highly recommend Noeo to both homeschoolers and to non-homeschoolers who want something extra or different.  Next year we will try Physics II.  Noeo kits are a complete curriculum with everything from the teacher's guide to texts to experiment materials.  Most of the other materials you need for experiments, however, are things you will find around your home. 

So, what did we do in place of Noeo? We played quite a bit of this game: The Way Things Work.  It has three levels of play, with the first involving simply answering questions and the other two involve doing experiments.  We also tried a variety of experiment booklets but found that most were lacking and only about half of the experiments worked.  However, JP took golf lessons this spring, and guess what?  There is a LOT of physics in golf!  A LOT!  So, we looked up physics and golf and read many articles on the topic.  JP also watched several videos from many sources on all manner of scientific topics.  His favorite?  The tv show Mythbusters!

MATH: This year for math, we took a departure from traditional curriculums.  Our approach to math this year involved two different curriculums that seem to compliment each other well.  We used Life of Fred: Fractions and Key To workbooks.  Why two curriculums?  Well, Life of Fred didn't give JP enough practice problems and Key To was a bit boring on it's own.  The two go together quite nicely.

Life of Fred is a fun series of books!  They follow a specific sequence, beginning with fractions.  In this series, you will meet Fred.  Fred is a five year old professor of math at Kittens University.  Silly, right?  But that is the key!  That is the hook that will get your kid into this math curriculum.  The series follows Fred in a narrative fashion as he works his way through various problems in life - like how to buy a bike and how to divide ingredients among various pizzas.  The books are like one huge word problem but they are *FUN* while being educational.  JP and I both enjoyed Life of Fred: Fractions and in the fall will begin the Decimals text.

The Key To workbooks are quite different.  They also start with fractions and then move to decimals.  However, you could easily start with a different math concept, if you so choose.  The workbooks are set up as a series of four booklets per most topics.  JP just finished the fractions workbooks but had started on the decimals selection after he hit a point of fractions burnout.  He ended up going back and forth between the two and then realized, on his own, that decimals and fractions are really representations of the same thing.

Next year, we will finish up Just Write-book 3.  We will continue on with the next level of Easy Grammar, Life of Fred, and Key To.  In addition, we will continue on with Visual History of the World.  But, I am at a loss as to where to go next with writing.  We have tried a variety of writing programs, including the widely acclaimed Writing Strands, but so far we haven't found anything else that works for us.  Any thoughts?  Beyond those things, we will continue to explore JP's personal interests - golf, archery, German, and drawing.  Since we will be on the east coast, we also anticipate much learning about history and science by exploring the areas around us.  You can't get much more up close and personal with history than visits to Boston, Philadelphia, Washington DC, Salem, and so many more important locations in the history of the United States!  And, all of the museums that will be at our fingertips?!?!?!  I can't wait for the adventures to come!