Archive for January, 2013

January 31, 2013

Little Builders

Note: This column was printed in the Barrow Journal on January 30, 2013.

Last October I took my boys to a birthday party, and the birthday boy received a Lego kit.  While we were there, my six-year-old sat next to the boy who built the car, helping him find the pieces. Later, when we got home, my six-year-old said, “You know, I think I could do that.” 

That was music to my ears. This is a boy who as a toddler was content to watch me build with blocks and rarely took the risk to build his own tower.  Later I figured it out it’s partly because he’s a visual learner and likes to watch several times before he feels comfortable doing something on his own.

At the time of the birthday party, we only had Duplo blocks at home, which are the big Legos, and no Lego kits. But we did have a BYGGA construction set from IKEA, which has tools, wooden blocks, shapes, and wheels that you can make a plane, helicopter or motorcycle out of. Like Legos, the instructions are numbered illustrations, so my son could follow them without having to read anything.

The BYGGA set is not as complicated or stable as Legos, but my son had never tried to use it without my help. After the party, he pulled it out and constructed a vehicle with minimal help from me.

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you what Santa brought my son for Christmas, huh? Yes, a really cool Lego kit that he could build a plane, boat or helicopter with.

I don’t know why adults think that children don’t have long attention spans. I would have given up as soon as I poured those hundreds of tiny Legos on the table. But my son spent two days building the airplane, and again, he needed minimal help from his dad or me.

Last week, my son decided to pull the airplane apart and build the helicopter. Again, he spent a full day and part of another on it, and my husband was starting to get frustrated with him because it looked like his neck and shoulders were hurting, but my six-year-old wanted to persevere.

The next morning, my three-year-old asked his brother to make him a plane out of the BYGGA set, so he could “fly” around the house too.  My six-year-old was glad to do it, and then they spent the morning “flying” together.

Even though the BYGGA and Lego kits are beyond my three-year-old’s ability right now, I have always thought of him as my “little builder.” He is clearly hands-on, fearless, and he goes right to it whenever he sees anything he can stack. He even stacked the after dinner coffee cups left on the tables at my in-laws anniversary celebration.

We have several sets of blocks, and my three-year-old will stack them up, or he’ll make walls. I gave him a set of small Legos for Christmas, and he likes to cover the base with one layer of colorful Legos.

I have a small bag of geometric shapes, and he’ll pull those out and make interesting patterns on the floor, or maybe he’ll make a flower – something he saw his brother do. He’s good at puzzles, sorting and making patterns. Once he took a set of cards and lined them up on the floor, three to a row.

I’m thrilled to be home with my children and watch their unique abilities unfold. I’m grateful that they have the time and materials to express themselves and develop skills through hands-on work.


For some more information about how to get your children started building, be sure to see these previous posts:

If you’d like to read some articles about the benefits of block building for children, go here:

What kinds of things do your children like to build?

January 28, 2013

Inspire Kids: International Space Station Tour

This video requires no introduction. How cool is this? My six-year-old loved it.  I heard a resounding “OOOOoooo….Ahhh….” as she entered the cupola and looked down at earth.

This was filmed in November 2012.

(If you subscribe to my blog by e-mail, you may have to view this post on the Internet to see the video.)

pink columbines This is a new series I’ve started under the tag “Inspire Kids.”  If my six-year-old loves it, then maybe your children will too!

January 24, 2013

Hard Labor Creek State Park

Note: This column was printed in the Barrow Journal on January 23, 2013.

If you want to take advantage of the warm spells we get during the winter in Georgia, one place I recommend going is Hard Labor Creek State Park. We visited there for the first time this past fall (early November) when the leaves were gold and just falling from the trees, and we wondered why we had never gone to this beautiful park before.

It’s located about 30 miles south of Winder in Morgan and Walton counties, and at 5,804 acres, it’s one of the largest state parks in Georgia. It boasts an 18-hole golf course as well as two lakes, camping, cottage rentals, swimming, horse trails, hiking trails and much more.

The park has a rich history.  Before the establishment of the park, the land was made up of corn and cotton fields, and due to poor land-use practices, it was not very productive.  During the Great Depression, President Roosevelt created the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a part of his New Deal program. The purpose of CCC was to create recreational areas while also teaching young men new skills and trades.

Between 1934 -1939, there were two CCC camps at Hard Labor Creek, and they together with the U.S. Forestry service built the park. You can still see many of their original structures and landscapes today, including Lake Rutledge.  They also cultivated over 850,000 trees!

My favorite outdoor activity is hiking, and the day we were there, I was determined to walk at least a moderate trail, so I coaxed my family onto the 1-mile Brantley Trail that took us on a tour of some of the beautiful trees that the CCC planted.

Now the trees are mature, and according to a leaflet we found at the beginning of the path, we walked under a canopy of loblolly pines and sweetgum trees, and we also spied white oak, river birch, hickories, red maples, and blackjack oak.

We skedaddled past this tree.

Here you can see how the area is still recovering from the farming.  In the late 1800s, “the upland forest in this area of the piedmont was almost completely stripped for timber and agricultural lands.”  However, it was too steep to farm along the streams, so there you’ll find taller, larger hardwoods.  If you look at “the upslope trees,” you see they are smaller, and there’s more pines and sweetgum.

When we were there this fall, hiking with a six-year-old and three-year-old still required a great deal of patience.  My three-year-old graced us with his first temper tantrum in the middle of the forest, and I couldn’t help but wonder if a child screams in a forest and no one is around to hear it… Ah, well, unfortunately, we were there, and yes, it was quite loud.  But it passed as all things do, and we had a pleasant walk. We also strolled over to the lake, and it offered some beautiful scenery.

If you’re interested in learning more about the history of the Civilian Conservation Corps and Hard Labor Creek State Park, you might join one of several Historic Wagon Ride Tours offered in February, or perhaps you’d prefer Fireside Stories told by a retired park ranger who, according to the park’s website, has a passion for CCC history.  Go to for more information on these and other events at the park.

Where’s your favorite outdoor recreation area?

January 23, 2013

Worthy Reads


*NOTE GEORGIA HOMESCHOOLERS: New bills affecting homeschooling in Georgia – Atlanta Homeschooling Examiner

How home schooling threatens monopoly education – USA Today

Homeschooling — Another Name for Helicopter Parenting? – Huffpost Students

The Microcosm of Homeschooling – Huffpost Teen

A Home-Schooling Pioneer Looks to the Future –

The Messy Side of Interest-Led Learning – Interest-Led Learning

Learning to use the time you have – Project-Based Homeschooling

Homeschool Reflection: I’m Ambivalent – Patheos


Online courses need human element to educate – CNN Schools of Thought

Raising and Educating Boys

Guns don’t kill people – our sons do – USA Today – Very provocative column, and I have to agree with it.

Boys, Bullying & Guns – Blogging ‘Bout Boys

January 21, 2013

Inspire Kids: Shape-shifting dinosaurs

I found this informative Ted Talk, and I thought my six-year-old would enjoy it because like many children, he’s very interested in dinosaurs. He did like it.

I watched it with him, and I explained to him what the word “ego” means, and I also pointed to the charts as the paleontologist was talking since my son can’t read yet.  I also told him that’s it’s a great example of something very important to remember:

We have to keep asking questions. Keep researching. We can’t assume that we have all the answers.

(If you subscribe to my blog by e-mail, you may have to view this post on the Internet to see the video.)

pink columbines

 This is a new series I’ve started under the tag “Inspire Kids.”  If my six-year-old loves it, then maybe your children will too!

January 17, 2013

Winter Habits

Note: This column was printed in the Barrow Journal on January 16, 2013.

When we walk through the woods this time of year, most of the animals and insects are burrowed under the ground or huddled together in whatever holes they can find. My son’s favorite animal, the snake, will find a place to burrow underground and sleep through the cold weather. Rabbits and deer don’t hibernate. They’ll be on the lookout all season for any leaves, barks or twigs they can find to eat.

Frogs don’t hibernate either, but they go into a dormant state where they sleep most of the time. They may wake up on warmer days and go out for a bite to eat. They have a chemical in their bloodstream that’s kind of like antifreeze, which is how they can survive the freezes.

The black bears in Georgia are probably sleeping now, and the females may have their babies in the den this winter. The cubs will stay with mama for a year before she urges them to fend for themselves in early spring or summer of next year.

Did you know that this is the time of year that Right Whales migrate from New England to the coasts of Georgia and Florida, and the females will give birth here anytime between December and March?

The squirrels huddle together in their nests on cold days. We can see the squirrel’s nests high up in the trees now that the leaves have fallen. Their nests are big and messy, and they have spent the warmer months collecting acorns and other food for the winter. Sometimes they like to bury their food in my garden beds, but they forget about it, and I have to pull the tiny beginnings of trees from the soil in spring.

Many birds are migrating south this time of year, and fortunately for us, Georgia is a winter home for many of them. I’ve spied more hawks sitting on electrical wires along our roads, and my son made a peanut butter/bagel bird feeder in his winter mini-camp that will feed a variety of them. My favorite feathered friend, the northern cardinal, is a year-round resident of Georgia. It’s especially beautiful in the winter when its red feathers brighten up the brown landscape.

In my house, I have one little boy who refuses to wear coats in the winter, so he prefers to play indoors. The other one (who refuses to wear shorts in the summer) is happy to wrap up and take a hike during his camp.  But they’re both finding more time to pull out the art supplies and fill one of the walls in our kitchen, a.k.a “the art gallery,” with their masterpieces.

I have a husband who is back at work after a winter break and burrowed in front of his computer screen.

I may not be an animal that hibernates or goes dormant during the cold months, but I sure wish I could.  Usually I crave time spent outside, but lately I’ve been happy to wear my sweats around the house and not get any exercise at all. If it weren’t for the demands of my children, I would curl up on the sofa with a good book all day.

I’ve been spending less time on social media, less time reading the news, and generally wanting to get away from my usual habit of doing too much. It’s a good season for that, so I’m just going with it.

Today the weather got a little warmer, and I talked my children into going for a walk with me. I pulled the three-year-old in our wagon, and my six-year-old walked beside me, playing make-believe as a he held onto a toy frog.  Both of my boys kept pointing to things as we walked. Two geese flying over our heads, decorative yard art, litter, and a patch of dirt on the road were all topics of conversation.

I love living in Georgia because I can depend on warm spells in winter that will stir me into action. But on the colder days, I’ll have to drag myself out of bed and hope that the enthusiasm of these boys will be enough to rouse this sleepy mama.

January 15, 2013

House Cleaning with Children

Never miss an opportunity to let your children help with the housework, especially if they volunteer….

And remember, it’s not how well they get the job done….

Praise the effort. Praise yourself for raising self-sufficient children!

And for goodness sake, have fun!

January 10, 2013

Building the Titanic: Project-based Homeschooling

Note: This column was printed in the Barrow Journal on Wednesday, January 9, 2013. 

One night my family was watching a documentary about a sunken ship when my son asked me about another “big, fancy ship that sunk.” I had mentioned the Titanic to him a few months ago because 2012 was the 100th anniversary of that tragedy.  He wasn’t interested in it then, but he seemed interested in it now.

“Do you want to learn about the Titanic?” I asked. He nodded vigorously. “Okay,” I said, “We’ll make it a project.”

What that was going to look like, I wasn’t sure, but at the time I was reading Lori Pickert’s new book Project-based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners, and I wanted to follow the advice she gave in that book.

We found a documentary on Netflix, looked at photos online, and we took a trip to the library.  We both learned a lot about the Titanic.

On another day shortly after this my son was working with modeling clay, and when he wasn’t sure what to make, I suggested that he sculpt a Titanic.  He loved the idea, so he looked at some pictures of the ship and went right to work.  He needed minimal help from me, and it looked great until….

He decided he wanted to try to add the wires that drape over the top of the Titanic to his clay ship.  I knew that would be hard to do with clay, but I took Pickert’s advice and didn’t discourage him.  Instead (only when he was stumped as to how to do it), I suggested he try to make some poles out of clay, and then we could try to pierce the tops of the poles with a needle. After the clay dried, we could try to thread some black string through those holes.

Unfortunately, the dried clay crumbled when we were trying to thread the string the next day, and my son had a complete meltdown.  Oh great, I thought, this is going swell.  No matter what I said or did, he was inconsolable.  I had no idea what to do.

I tried to tell him that whenever someone is making or creating something, they might have problems and have to figure out another way to do it.  He didn’t buy it, but he finally calmed down.

That night, by shear coincidence, we watched another documentary in which some researchers were trying to figure out if the ancient Egyptians had traveled by sea.  Could the boats in their drawings handle the rough seas?  They attempted to build a replica and try it out.  Fortunately for me, the first time they put it in the water, it sank.

“See?!” I said to my son. After some problem solving and trying new things, the researchers got their boat to work.  A light bulb turned on in my son’s head.  Then my husband suggested that my son try to make a Titanic out of cardboard.  My son lit up.  He thought that paper towel tubes would be perfect for the smoke stacks.

The next day, we spent five hours making a Titanic with empty frozen pizza boxes, popsicle sticks, paper towel tubes and a hot glue gun.

Yes, I had to do a lot of the work.  But because of Pickert’s book, I never made a suggestion until my son was at a total loss and looked to me for an answer.  He had his own ideas, and I listened to each one.  When possible, I asked him questions instead of telling him flatly that his idea wouldn’t work.

Frankly, without him voicing his thoughts first, I doubt I would have been able to come up with the basic construction anyway.  I am not an engineer!  By listening to him and taking my time, I figured out what to do when he got stumped. And surprisingly, he did do quite a bit of the design and construction.

This was his work, and I was his servant for the day. When he finally glued the paper towel tubes on the top for the smoke stacks, he had a boat he could be proud of, and I was proud of him.

He did a lot of thinking that day, problem solving, and he began to understand that setbacks are inevitable. I’m also proud of myself.

Let’s face it: it’s not easy letting children take the lead.  It wasn’t easy trying to understand this process when my son was crying and inconsolable.  But I understand now that he has to learn these lessons, and there’s no better way than letting him learn with a project that’s his own. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have cared about doing it well, and he may have given up completely.

the final product


Thank you for reading my blog! If you liked this post, I hope you’ll come back because in the next few weeks I’ll be posting (it’s posted!) an interview with Lori Pickert about project-based homeschooling specifically for younger children. Also see my page Project-based Homeschooling to find more posts about our adventures using this technique to homeschool.

January 7, 2013

Worthy Reads


7 Reasons to Homeschool Through High School –

Using YouTube for homeschooling – Simple Homeschool – I LOVE YouTube for homeschooling, but I didn’t know you could sign up for YouTube for Schools, which offers more controls over what you can view as stated in this post.  Yay!

Education: Keep it in the family – The Economist

The Itchy Sweater – Creekside Learning – This blogger is writing about her daughter’s difficulty wearing clothes and how she learned that she had Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD).

A Homeschooling Guide To Doing Chemistry – science 2.0

Double income potential for college grads: Homeschoolers lead the ranks – Phoenix Homeschooling

Books featuring homeschoolers – Avant Parenting

Stealth educational choice? – Educating Ourselves : Deseret News

Sorting out the truth and myth in home schooling – The Oregonian


Why Daydreaming Isn’t a Waste of Time – Mindshift

Beyond Strategy and Winning, How Games Teach Kids Empathy – Mindshift

What’s a teacher to do? – The Innovator Educator – “As Papert predicted in 1980, the time has come when some of our students have figured out they don’t need to come to school to learn. They see what is happening in the class as disconnected to what is happening in their world and the carrot of passing the test is no longer enough.”

How to Turn Your Classroom into an Idea Factory – Mindshift

Educating Boys

‘Girls’ better behaviour results in higher grades than boys’ – Education – – This is an irritating article. Boys are no less well-behaved than girls. They (and some girls) have different needs, including the need for a better learning environment where they can move and do more hands-on activities! This article is from Scotland, but the expert quoted happens to be from a local university.

Please add your Worthy Reads to the comments section.

January 3, 2013

Homeschooling for Safety Reasons

Note: This column was printed in the Barrow Journal on January 2, 2013.

It troubles me to see a surge of interest in homeschooling after the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary.  I love homeschooling my family, and I have to admit that after the tragedy, I was glad my children weren’t attending school that following Monday. But is this a reason to homeschool?  Not if it’s the only reason you have for homeschooling.

While only 4% of U.S. children are homeschooled, this is a fast-growing movement. Of course, I am an advocate of homeschooling. I love to talk to people who are thinking about it for their own family.  At the same time, I don’t think everybody has to do it. It should depend on your child’s needs and also the needs and desires of the parents.

People should understand that homeschooling isn’t just “school at home.”  Homeschooling is a lifestyle. Your whole family is in it together, and you are going to be together all the time. If you have extended family or extra resources to help, that’s great, but it’s still a lot of togetherness. Even for the most patient parents, it can be tough.

Friends and family have commented that I have a lot of patience, and I often chuckle and think to myself that they don’t really know me. I suppose I am more patient than some, but I’m also introverted, and I like a lot of time to myself. I try to balance my love of my children and this lifestyle with my needs, but that’s not always possible. I accept that.

I like to tell people that yes, you can homeschool, if you want to, but there’s nothing wrong with not wanting to. The only thing that is wrong is not being heavily involved in your child’s education.  Someone once told me that she was going to supplement homeschool with public school. I wish more parents took that attitude.

Statistics are proving that homeschoolers tend to outscore traditionally schooled children on standardized tests, and most agree that the concern about socialization is unfounded.  But as I read about how more families are choosing homeschooling, I can’t help but wonder if we’ll see more problems arise with it.  It seems inevitable that as any population grows more challenges will arise within it. I hope I’m wrong.

I read about a family whose mother pulled her children out of school and told a homeschooling friend she didn’t need any advice…she knew exactly what she was going to do. Well, the children were back in school before the year was out. Apparently she was determined that her kids would learn A, B and C by a certain time, much like they were supposed to learn it in school.

Guess what?  Kids all learn differently, and they each have their own time frame.  Most homeschoolers recognize this, and this is why they are homeschooling in the first place.  The biggest benefit of homeschooling is being able to tailor your child’s education to fit his needs and interests. I don’t understand homeschoolers who don’t take advantage of this. This is why I call homeschooling a lifestyle too.

While I do have what I call “school time” with my boys in the mornings, I don’t stress lessons, and I rarely use worksheets. Instead, I have tried to cultivate an atmosphere where all questions are valued and learning is just part of our lives. My son asks to watch nature documentaries, and we watch together as a family. We have conversations, go on field trips, take community classes and make time for playing, creating and exploring.

When I’m trying to teach something specific, I have learned that I might have to try various resources before I find one that works for my son. I have done much research on various homeschooling methods, and my work has only just started.

I don’t blame parents who want to homeschool after the recent tragic events, but I hope they will consider all the variables when they pull their children out of school. Tragic events happen everywhere – not just in schools – but, yes, you do have more control and flexibility while homeschooling.  You get to spend quality time with your children, and you get to make sure they have the kind of childhood you want them to.

Homeschooling can be the best thing that ever happened to you, but if you go into it with a fixed idea on what it should look like for your family, you may be in for a rude awakening. Think about it. Maybe try it. Above all, be flexible.

What do you think about all the interest in homeschooling after the recent tragedy? Do you think it’s a good idea for parents to consider homeschooling for this reason? Or maybe for other reasons?


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