July 14, 2014

New Mindful Homeschooling Series

homeschoollifemag.com-1 copy

I’m happy to share with you a new blog series that I’m going to be writing on the home / school / life blog. It’s called “Mindful Homeschooling,” and I’m hoping that these short posts will encourage, inspire and give you a quiet peaceful moment on your homeschooling journey.

I’ll let you know when I publish new posts in this series. You can find the first one on the home / school / life blog today. Click here.

July 14, 2014

Days 1-10 #100homeeddays

On Twitter someone started a hashtag and invited anyone to join, documenting 100 days of homeschooling. It can be a photo of anything we did throughout the day. I’ve been wanting to join, and I finally did. I know I can’t do 100 consecutive days, but I’ll do it as frequently as I can. I thought I’d put a round up of my photos here on my blog every once in a while. That way, those of you who aren’t on Twitter can see what 100 days of homeschooling may look like!

July 9, 2014

Nature Watch: Pickerel Frog

Guess what we found in our yard the other night? We are pretty sure this is a pickerel frog. At first my son thought this was a leopard frog, and we learned that pickerels and leopards are often confused with each other. If we could have seen some bright yellow under the hind legs, we would be able to say without a doubt that it’s the pickerel. If we ever spot it again, we’ll try to find out.

This was exciting for us because we see toads in our yard quite often, but not frogs. My four-year-old spotted it. He’s very good at that.

You can learn more about the pickerel and hear the sound it makes on the Savannah River Ecology Lab website.

July 7, 2014

Project-based Homeschooling: Long-term Clay Interest

I’ve already written a detailed column about my seven-year-old’s recent participation in pottery classes and his growing interest there, but I wanted to create a post that showcases some of his work with clay over the long-term and how it has slowly culminated to the point where I knew he would love those clay classes!

He’s been working with clay since he was four. A year or two ago, he watched some videos about pottery and clay, and he made this little car following a tutorial.

And he made a tree of his own design.

His Titanic was part of a long project, and my column became one of my first and most popular PBH articles.

Remember when he made this penguin?

I never showed you his space shuttle.

Or his sauropod.

His Mayflower. He also made the Mayflower out of cardboard, and we read a book about it, so this was a little bit longer project.

His hummingbird. He also painted it, but I haven’t got a picture of that.

Earlier this year we enrolled him in a homeschool pottery class where he learned how to use the pottery wheel…

…and sculpting techniques such as “pinch pots” and “slip and score,” and then he used those techniques at home…

…to make some sculptures such as this frog. Later he painted it green, and it’s really cute.

And he made a bird sitting in a nest.

And a dinosaur.

We also let him take a week-long pottery summer camp, which was about Asian pottery and Raku methods…

The big pieces on the left and all the pieces in the front row are from his Asian pottery camp. (The big black one is a lantern shaped like a house. Though it looks black in the photo, it actually has some very cool, iridescent colors in it.) Also there are two sushi plates and the plate with different compartments are from his Asian pottery camp. Everything else he made in the homeschool pottery class. And he’s anxious to take more classes!

As I mentioned in my column, we’ve also taken him to some pottery sales, and he’s had a chance to speak to local potters and see their kilns. We plan to continue letting him take classes as long as he wants to (and as long as we can afford it), but this will probably happen over a long time. I look forward to seeing where he takes this!

And I guess I need to get more shelves. :-o

June 29, 2014

Just a few magazine updates

HSL-SU14This is an exciting week for me because the second issue of home / school / life  magazine will come out! That’s the Summer 2014 issue, and I think it will be just as good as the first one, if not better. I have written a few pieces for it, although the one I heart the most is the feature about homeschooling through a financial crisis. Deciding to homeschool can be a real strain on a family’s financial life because it usually means that one parent isn’t working. (I’ve written about the financial strain in my own house, and that post is still current.) The families that I interviewed, however, reveal a different story. They have each kept homeschooling a priority despite financial troubles. It gave me much to think about, and I hope that it helps you, if you’re dealing with a similar situation.

On July 1st I’ll also be sending out home / school / life’s free monthly newsletter. This has been a lot of fun for me to work on because I’ve been able to connect more with other homeschoolers who share their homeschooling tips, Student Spotlight photos, and favorite recipes. I’m also excited because we’re going to start giving away a free digital subscription to home / school / life magazine in our newsletter every other month to one of our newsletter subscribers. (Current magazine subscribers will receive an extra year for free.) If you haven’t signed up for this, you have nothing to lose, so why don’t you?! Sign up here.

Now that the summer issue is almost out, I’m going to be brainstorming for ideas on how to utilize the magazine’s social media some more. Our blog has been quiet because we’re all so busy working on the magazine, but we have plans to change that too.  I’m excited to try my hand at writing some meditations for homeschooling parents because inspiring people makes me happy. And I can always use the boost too! When I start posting those, I’ll be sure to let you know.

Oh, and FYI, home / school / life is also looking for a Tech Columnist who can keep homeschoolers up-to-date on all things tech. If you or anyone you know is interested, see the full job description.

As for Mama of Letters, I have plenty of ideas I would like to write about. It’s just a matter of finding the time to write it! I’m working on our end-of-year review, which entails a big slideshow. It’s fun, but it’s a lot of work. (I rarely put family photos into any kind of memory book or slideshow, so I’m making myself do this!) Since the magazine issue is wrapping up, I should be able to find some time in the next couple of weeks.

All is good, though. I love working for the magazine. I love spending leisurely summer days with my kids. I’m busy in a good way. I hope your summer is going well too. Please write me a note, if you’re willing. I love connecting with you.

June 26, 2014

Nature Watch: False Potato Beetle

I think this is a false potato beetle (Leptinotarsa juncta) thanks to this post on Rob’s plants. Scroll down a bit and you’ll see a photo of its larvae that he found in his garden.

June 23, 2014

Nature Watch: Polyphemus Moth & caterpillar

This is a beautiful Polyphemus moth that my seven-year-old found recently in our yard. It’s pretty rare to find a moth like this, so we were thrilled. It was sitting on the ground and almost got trampled by our dogs, so  we carefully picked it up and placed it into a container that we keep on our front porch for similar nature discoveries. We thought it was dying because it seemed weak and could not fly. It stayed that way for a long time, but the next day it flew away, so we think it may have just emerged from its cocoon and was gaining strength. We were happy to have given it a safe home for the night.

By coincidence, last September we had found a Polyphemus caterpillar, so this is why we knew what it was. They like to crawl way down into the leaf litter and spin their cocoon. If you see one late in the fall like we did, it will probably stay in its cocoon over the winter and emerge in the spring! Did you know that adult moths do not eat? They don’t even have a mouth! Their one mission is to find a mate and carry on life. They only live for about four days.

After my son found the Polyphemus moth, he has been interested in moths, and he studied drawings of them that we found in our nature center’s newsletter. He says he thinks they are even cooler than butterflies, and he may want to study snakes and moths when he grows up. He sketched one in his sketchbook too! I’m wondering if this might turn into a new project?

Note: We are lovers of nature, and I have accumulated many photographs of little discoveries we have made in our yard and on our hikes, so I thought I would dust some of those off and share them with you. Some of the wildlife may be unidentified, but I like to try to learn about what we find, so I’ll do my best to share what I learn with you. I hope you’ll share your knowledge about these discoveries with me too.

I’m happy to make this a new addition to my blog because I am no longer able to do some of things I used to do such as Worthy Reads and Inspire KidsSince beginning my work with the magazine, my time is more limited. (Truthfully, I need to shift the efforts I put into those categories to the magazine. I will share interesting stuff I find on the magazine’s social media and newsletter now.)  The newspaper has also cut my columns down to only two per month, so you’ll see less columns, but I still plan to journal about our homeschooling journey here. Thank you for reading!

June 20, 2014

Project-based Homeschooling: My seven-year-old and his pottery

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on June 18, 2014.

My seven-year-old loves to build things. Mostly, he uses cardboard because we don’t have access to many other materials, but he also loves using clay. For the past three years, I’ve kept air-dry modeling clay on hand because it’s cheap and the boys love it. (I like it ten times better than Playdoh.) The seven-year-old takes his clay building very seriously, and he’s sculpted some pretty cool stuff.

When I found out a homeschooling class was being offered at Good Dirt Clay Studio in Athens, I jumped on it, and to say that my son loved it doesn’t do it justice. He even opted to go there instead of his homeschool science class at the nature center, which has always been a top priority with him.

I wasn’t sure how he’d feel in the big studio with all the different people coming and going, but after one class, his eyes were beaming, and I could tell he was in heaven. I loved how the class taught him some sculpting techniques as well as taught him how to use a potter’s wheel. All the pieces were glazed and fired too, so he got to learn about the whole process. The teacher also made the students spend the last 30 minutes cleaning up after themselves – that’s always an excellent lesson.

He ended up outperforming the older kids in the class by making many more pots than they did. I don’t know if this was because they were talking too much, or they were going for perfection or what. My son’s pots aren’t perfect, but they are all beautiful and useable – they have almost replaced the plastic kid’s ware that we usually use.

I love how my son wanted to use the air-dry clay at home after the class, and he used the techniques he learned from his teacher. In the past, he has gotten frustrated when small pieces fell off his sculptures, or they would easily break. Now he instructs me on how to make a pinch pot and how to “slip and score,” and his work doesn’t fall apart as easily.

rhino made in class

dinosaur made at home using same techniques

I don’t know how long he’ll continue to enjoy making pottery, but his father and I want to support all his interests. Learning any skill is a good thing in my book. The pottery classes aren’t cheap, but they aren’t so expensive that we can’t swing a class here and there.

We also thought he would have fun going to some pottery sales and meeting the potters who sell out of their homes. We are lucky to live in an area rich with this type of craftsperson. About twice a year, they collaborate and have open houses to sell their work.

Last weekend we went to Geoff Pickett’s open house, and we were delighted when he gave us a tour of his studio, kilns, and my son even got to see his potter’s wheel and asked him a question about how he made a vase.

From there, we went to one other sale, and we ran into our son’s pottery teacher. She thrilled him by complimenting him in front of other potters. She said how quickly he learned how to center the clay on the wheel, which is one of the hardest things to get right.

I’m struck by how kind and generous these artists are, and it’s clearly a good community to belong to. I don’t know if my son will continue to learn about pottery, but I’m happy that he’s happy, and I only see good things coming out of the experience.

June 18, 2014

Project-based Homeschooling: Mama’s Sketchbook Habit

The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls. ~ Pablo Picasso

Over a year ago, I bought a little sketchbook while I was browsing an art store with my boys. I knew that I wanted to use it myself, but I justified the purchase by allowing it to be another homeschooling tool that I was just going to keep on hand for when the moment was right.

A couple of weeks ago, I was proofreading the Art Start column for the summer issue of home / school / life magazine. (Did I mention I recruited Amy Hood because she’s awesome at explaining this art stuff in a completely stress-less way?) Her column is about starting a sketchbook habit, and it came to me at just the right time.

My little sketchbook that I bought a year earlier was still empty. So were the big, beautiful sketchbooks that were given to my boys for gifts a year or more ago. As soon as I read her column, I knew it was time to change that.

The most important reason besides me wanting a new hobby is that my four-year-old loves to draw. He draws and draws and draws. And paints. (I wrote about that in Project-based Homeschooling Preschool: My four-year-old’s projects.) I’ve got several stacks of paper with his artwork on it, and I don’t know what to do with it all, but I’m not throwing it away. I’m encouraging him to do more. And if I am going to help him draw, then I need to learn about it too. (Remember in project-based homeschooling, parents should model the actions they want their children to take.) While my seven-year-old prefers other mediums, I knew a sketchbook habit might be fun for him too.

But I knew that I couldn’t expect my boys to just start a sketchbook habit. They don’t do things simply because I tell them to. That never works! I knew that I had to get past my insecurities about drawing and just do it for myself. Then, maybe then, they would follow. But if they didn’t, that would be okay too.

I am not an artist, and frankly, I don’t want to be. I can draw well enough to enjoy drawing, but I want to do this so that I have something just for myself. Just for fun. With no pressure.

My passions are writing and photography, but after working at those for so long, they aren’t as fun anymore. I want to remember how to be creative and simply have fun. When I do that, then I start to have more fun with my passions. Does that make sense? I need something that gets me away from my computer too.

I was very happy to see that when I pulled out my sketchbook, my seven-year-old was interested in what I was doing. I told him about that beautiful sketchbook I had been saving for him. I gave it to him, and he’s been using it. (Unfortunately, it has caused some stressful breakdowns on his part when perfectionism rears its ugly head. Sigh. But I think over time the sketchbook may help him deal with that. At least I hope.) It’s supposed to be fun and just for practice!

lagoon outside our vacation condo by seven-year-old

I decided not to give the four-year-old his nice sketchbook yet. This is because he flies through the paper, and I have my limits. First, I gave him the little sketchbook that came with the pencil set I bought. After that, I bought him another inexpensive sketchbook. I will give him the nicer one when he gets a little older.

apple tree in the rain by four-year-old

I do not exaggerate when I say that I think this new sketchbook habit saved my sanity while we were on vacation. My four-year-old was sick that week, and I was stuck in the condo quite a bit, which was disappointing. But it didn’t seem so bad at all when I pulled out my sketchbook, sat on the back deck and drew the gnarly, big oak dripping with Spanish moss. Or when I took a chair down by the lagoon and tried to draw the snowy egrets and their nest.

If you are looking for a creative outlet, I recommend starting a sketchbook habit, especially if you make it stress-free by not caring if your drawings are good or not. It’s the act of sitting quietly, concentrating on an object, and really seeing it that is relaxing. For me, it’s an act of mindfulness and a respite from my busy life.

 My four-year-old asked me to draw the cecropia moth so that he could paint it, which he did.  He said he also tried to paint a luna moth, but he didn’t like it.

seven-year-old drew our cat

June 14, 2014

Visiting Edisto Island Again

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on June 4, 2014.

About three weeks ago my family was lucky enough to spend a week on beautiful Edisto Island, South Carolina thanks to my aunt who gave us a week in her timeshare. Unfortunately, right before we went, my family was suffering from a virus, and the weather forecast predicted a whole week of thunderstorms.

What could we do but laugh at our situation? This was the very first time we were ever going away on vacation with just the four of us – we decided we’d have to make the best of it. As my husband said, he would rather be sick at the beach than sick at home.

Despite feeling a little poorly, we had a good time and the weather turned out to be beautiful most of the time. Everyone felt well enough to enjoy the beach and other sights.

It has become my great joy in life to discover all the treasures of this earth with my little boys. On our very first walk on the beach that first night we arrived, we found jellyfish, a little squid, beautiful shells and two pairs of horseshoe crabs mating. We watched as the female almost buried herself in the sand, no doubt depositing eggs that were being fertilized.

On other walks on the beach, my son found a large whelk, and in a tidal pool that was almost dried up, he found thousands of fiddler crabs. (Fiddler crabs are tiny and have one long arm and one short.) On the last day when he was out with his dad, they even found a small, dead shark washed up on the beach.

We saw dozens of dolphins breaching the water about 150 yards away from the shore. They seemed to be entertaining the family who were kayaking in the bay. I also took photos of a hermit crab creeping out of its shell onto my son’s hand just before he freaked out and dropped it into the water!

We collected dozens of shells – the picking was tremendous. We found more horseshoe crabs, fiddler crabs, pelicans, and countless other birds I can’t identify.

The beach wasn’t the only place we were able to watch wildlife. Right outside our condo, there was a lagoon surrounded by large, gnarly oaks and palms draped with Spanish moss. On a tiny island inside the lagoon, there were two snowy egret nests, and with binoculars, we could watch the parents feeding the babies. One nest had very young chicks that were gray and wiggly. Another nest had larger offspring whose feathers had already turned white. They practiced stretching their wings, but they still cried for their mother to feed them.

We observed several nests of green herons in the lagoon too. The offspring were big enough to start fending on their own, but they stayed close to mama and practiced hunting in the shallow water near their nests.

We also saw hundreds of turtles, fish, a magnificent blue heron and one small alligator. He remained hidden the first few days we were there, but then almost everyday we watched him from our window as he would glide down the center of the lagoon.

The last time I got to visit the beach was on our visit to Botany Bay Plantation Heritage Preserve and Wildlife Management Area. It’s well worth a visit, and we hope to explore it more in depth someday. What is unique about this place is that it has only been open to the public since 2008, and no one is allowed to take anything from it, including shells. Because of this, we were able to find a beautiful collection of large unspoiled shells on the beach. The remains of dead trees that once grew along the shoreline were fascinating and wonderful to photograph too.

I especially enjoyed walking on the path through the marsh to get to the beach on Botany Bay, and we took a driving tour through the rest of the 3,363 acres, reading about the old plantations and viewing some of the ruins on the site.

We returned home a day early, but despite some little challenges this trip contained, we still collected a lot of good memories from it too. My family’s general health seems to be improving, and you know what they say: there’s no place like home.

Are you taking any trips this summer? Please tell me about it.

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