Posts tagged ‘education’

October 5, 2015

Tennessee Aquarium

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal in September 2015.

My eldest son turned nine-years-old in August, and for his birthday, we let him pick a place he’d like to go. He told us he wanted to go to the aquarium again. We went to the Georgia Aquarium last year for his birthday, and when he was five, we had a membership there, so this time, we thought we should try a new aquarium.

It’s a three-hour drive to the Tennessee Aquarium in beautiful downtown Chattanooga, TN. We had heard good things about that aquarium, and I can tell you, it did not disappoint. It may be a little smaller than the Georgia Aquarium, but the exhibits are beautiful, and I liked viewing birds, butterflies, amphibians and exotic plants alongside the animals that live exclusively in the water.

There are two buildings to tour at the Tennessee Aquarium. One is called the River Journey building, and you begin at the top of the building in the “Appalachian Cove Forest,” and you make your way down from this mountaintop stream and end at the ocean, viewing the wildlife you would see on a journey such as this. It was great fun to view the birds and waterfalls, watch the otters play, and see some incredible amphibians, including a hellbender salamander, the biggest salamander that lives in the U.S.

My favorite exhibit in this building was of Alligator Bayou, and though the alligators were fun to look at, I was more fascinated with getting up close to a snowy white egret and two little ducks who were extremely entertaining to watch. I also love turtles, and while I’ve seen plenty at nearby parks, they usually disappear in the water before I can get close enough to photograph them. At the aquarium, I could have reached out and touched them, if it weren’t for that big pane of glass. My six-year-old told me he loved the ducks and alligator snapping turtle.

My nine-year-old’s favorite part of this building was the River Giants. Some of these fish are as big as small cars, and though they weren’t pretty, they were fascinating. According to the aquarium’s website, this exhibit showcases fish from major rivers throughout the world, but unfortunately, many are endangered. The Giant Pangassius Catfish of Indochina is one such fish. Its population is in the decline because of overfishing. The Lake Sturgeon, which resides in the Mississippi River, is recovering in numbers due to fishing regulations.

The second building is called Ocean Journey, and we lingered at the top of this building for a long time. The roof was made of glass, so the sunlight was bright and welcoming on this replica of a Tropical Cove. Here there were two hyacinth macaws showing off the most brilliant blue feathers I’ve ever seen. The boys loved Stingray Bay, which is the aquarium’s largest touch station. They were able to reach in and touch small sharks and stingrays.

We were all surprised to discover that this aquarium has a butterfly habitat with butterfly species from Asia, Africa and South and Central America. If you need to de-stress, a butterfly garden is a good place to do it!

I am giving you only the tip of the iceberg about this aquarium. There was so much more there that I don’t have space to write about, so you need to go check it out for yourself. We made it back in one day, and though it was a long day, it was all worth it.

The best part is that ticket prices are much more affordable than the Georgia Aquarium, and since it was his birthday, my son got in free (which you can also do at the Georgia Aquarium), but the Tennessee Aquarium also extended some birthday discounts to everyone else in the party. We found $5 parking a short distance west of the aquarium and in front of the Tennessee River, which, by the way, was another sight to see. View the aquarium’s website at

September 30, 2015

How do we achieve our academic goals?

Be sure to hop over to the home/school/life blog and read about how I make and achieve academic goals in our homeschool. Click here for Achieving Homeschool Academic Goals, and I hope you will chime in on how you approach your goals too. (Note that this is about our academic goals or what I require my boys to learn and not my kid’s own goals.)

September 15, 2015

Not Back to School

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on September 9, 2015.

I see a lot of homeschoolers posting pictures on Facebook and labeling them “not back to school” because, you know, their kids aren’t going back to school, and for many, their daily routines stay the same. But September can mean getting back into a routine that summer vacations and a much-needed rest may have (thankfully) disrupted for awhile. Homeschooling moms are excited to crack open new curriculums and resources that they ordered during the summer and start a new year of lessons, classes and get-togethers with other homeschoolers. Some celebrate a “first day” their own way such as going to a park and spreading their books on a picnic table or cooking up a special breakfast for their children.

I don’t celebrate our first day of lessons because it was only in July that we had a small celebration of the end of 2nd grade and pre-Kindergarten for my two boys. We did that by watching a slideshow of photographs from our year, including vacations, field trips, play dates and a good dose of science experiments. The boys are always asking me to see the photos we take, so a yearly slideshow was my solution to that. Even my husband seems to enjoy looking back over our year.

In August we took some time off because that’s birthday month in my house. My eldest son turned nine-years-old, and my youngest turned six. I had an old-fashioned birthday party for my six-year-old at our house with all our friends. They played musical chairs, hot potato, guess how many marbles are in the jar and played a long time, filling the house with noise and good cheer. We took a fun day trip for my nine-year-old’s birthday, but I’ll write about that another time.

After all this celebrating, all I did to mark the first day of 3rd grade and Kindergarten was tell the boys we’d be getting back to our lessons on Monday morning. These formal lessons were completed shortly after lunchtime, so the rest of the day was similar to most days, including watching documentaries, reading books at night, and for my nine-year-old, practicing his piano. They don’t consider any of that “school,” but I do.

This year is exciting for me, though, because it’s the first year my six-year-old is on record as a homeschooler in the state of Georgia. And as a third grader, my older son has a lot more work to do. Considering that we have outside appointments three days a week, I have my work cut out for me this year. Luckily the boys are none the wiser if we do a few lessons on Saturday too.

The hardest part for me is making sure I teach them what I want them to know and also allow time for them to work on their own projects. Kids are more likely to be inspired to learn about something on their own when they have plenty of free time to play, rest, and think for themselves. It’s a hard balance as my son gets older and needs/wants to learn more, but I’m grateful that homeschooling allows for a lot of flexibility with our time.

It’s exciting to watch my boys grow while being free to explore their interests almost any time they want. My oldest boy still loves animals, robotics, making pottery, and now he’s playing the piano, which still surprises me. My younger son loves birds. He has made two posters and a book about feathers. He also loves being with his big brother whether they are playing Minecraft on their tablets or playing with plastic sharks and whales in a big hole they dug and filled with water in the front yard. Mud is always fun.

We are looking forward to another year of homeschooling, and whether you homeschool or not, or have kids or not, I hope your coming year is full of anticipation and good things too.

How have you celebrated your back-to-school or not-back-to-school?

September 8, 2015

Project-based Homeschooling: Birds & Feathers

My six-year-old loves these toy birds, especially the little brown one on top, which he named “Feathers.”

Both of my boys are fascinated by birds, feathers, and they love looking at the iBird app on our iPad. So in a way, this project is for both of them. But, really, it’s my six-year-old’s project. (Note: He just turned six!) He has spent more time looking at that bird app (with me every night before bed), drawing birds, making birds, building nests out of clay, making a feather book, and most of all, playing and coddling his favorite bird toys. It’s been so fun for me to see him develop what is clearly turning out to be a self-driven interest, a “project” of his own, because his older brother, well, he has LOTS of interests. My six-year-old, while he is also interested in most of the things his brother is interested in, and he follows along, and sometimes digs deep into his own work, I am tickled pink to see him develop interests independent of his brother.

The whole family delights in our resident hummingbirds. To read about more adventures we had with real birds this summer, click here.

For a long time, all my six-year-old wanted to do was look at the bird app, and that was okay. But during this past spring and summer, he began making representations of birds and feathers. The other interest of his, which is also an interest his brother doesn’t share, is drawing. So naturally, he began drawing and painting birds and feathers. I admit, I made the suggestion that he draw a bird in his sketchbook, but the six-year-old liked the idea, and over time, he ended up drawing several birds in his sketchbook. He looks at photos of them in the bird app to do this.

He told me he wants this sketchbook to be only drawings of birds. I’m not sure that’ll happen, but it’ll be very neat, if it does.

One day he wanted to make a hummingbird out of paper. As usual, that meant he wanted me to make it, but that’s okay. He directed me as to how to do it, and then he colored it.

I wanted to buy the boys Bird Feathers: A Guide to North American Species for their end-of-the-year present, which I did, and it’s been awesome because we find some interesting feathers in our yard, and this has helped us identify them. But at first, I wasn’t sure my six-year-old would really appreciate the book. I decided to ask him if he would like a bird feather book, but when I asked him, he thought I said, “Do you want to make a bird feather book?” He began jumping up and down and said, “Yes! Yes! Yes! I want to make a feather book!” Ha! Sure enough, a few days later, he sat down to actually do it. He traced a few feathers he found and then colored them. He finished it all in one night. Later, he had me label each page with the name of the bird. This book is such a treasure.

Below are a few other things he’s made regarding feathers and birds. And there’s probably more that I’m missing!

Drawing and painting feathers.

One day he asked me to draw the roadrunner on his library book so that he could paint it.

The next day he wanted me to draw a cardinal so he could paint it.

And then a blue parakeet.

I always encourage him to draw or create things by himself, and since sometimes he does draw and try to create things by himself, I don’t really worry about it when he wants me to do something for him. I think he knows his limits, and when he knows he can’t make something as well as I could, it’s reasonable for him to want help. I think the important thing is that he comes up with the idea by himself, and he directs me. This is what good leaders do, isn’t it? Find the right person for the job and make sure it’s done according to their plan. I feel certain that as he gains better motor skills, he will take over these jobs himself.

But one day my nine-year-old convinced his brother to try to draw something by himself. Of course, little brother has drawn birds by himself in his sketchbook, but on this particular day, he wanted me to draw for him, and I wasn’t available. Big brother inspired little brother to draw some birds in different poses and that made me happy. :)

On the left: My nine-year-old drew his toy cardinal, Red, in different “modes.” He tells me it’s “Red in flight mode. Red in statue mode. Red in relaxed mode. Red in surprise mode.” On the right: My six-year-old was inspired by his brother. These are drawings of his toy bird, named Feathers. “Feathers in squid mode. Feathers in dancing mode. Feathers in stupid mode. Feathers in flying peep mode.” 

He has made two bird posters. One was of his favorite birds, and one was of ducks. (He especially likes ducks.) I printed out photos for him, and he cut them out. I helped him glue the photos on the poster where he wanted them to go, and then he had me write the names of the birds under their pictures. We hung the posters in his room.

His latest work is this wood duck made out of clay. No, he didn’t sculpt it. He insisted that I do the sculpting, but he told me what to do and then he painted it!

That’s the bird project for now. Stay tuned for more.

September 1, 2015

Project-based Homeschooling: Robotics

Over this past year, my eight-year-old (now nine-year-old!) became increasingly interested in robotics. The first robot he learned about was Jibo because my husband was watching videos about this little gadget that might someday be a standard household item. My husband learned about it through all the tech sites and podcasts he listens to, and he showed it to us because he thought it was cool.

Well, my son had never seen a robot before and suddenly he wanted to know more.

We began to watch YouTube videos about all kinds of robots that have been invented and also those that are still being developed. I found it fascinating too. (Did you know there is a hotel in Japan being run entirely by robots?)

My son was already an avid Lego fan. He has sat for six hours at a stretch putting together what looks like to me a complicated and tedious Lego kit. He has been building toys and other cardboard creations for a very long time, and he does indeed seem to have an “engineer’s mind.” (So unlike his mom and dad!) We wanted to support our son’s interest in robotics, so my husband did some research about robotics kits, and we learned about the Mindstorm EV3 kit and some others. But it was expensive, and we weren’t sure just how interested our son was in robotics yet.

Technically, this was my son’s first robot.

To help gauge our son’s interest, we took him to the 2014 Maker Faire in Decatur, GA last October. We knew he’d get to see some robots up close and maybe play with them too. Indeed, there were lots of robots at the fair, and my son was able to try some out. He had a blast.

While we were at the fair, my husband and I took the opportunity to ask some Georgia Tech students what they recommended for young kids interested in robotics. They mentioned the Lego robotics kits and one other one. Since our son was already familiar with Legos, the Mindstorm kit became a good choice for us. Indeed, many of the robots at the fair were made with Legos!

We also learned about hacker spaces and maker groups while we were at the fair and that there are a couple of these places located near us. This is not something we have tried out yet, but it may be another possibility to try someday.

It was around this time that we discovered the series Making Stuff by Nova and hosted by David Pogue. There are four episodes, and we all enjoyed them, but they enamored my eight-year-old, and he has watched them all multiple times. The episode Making Stuff Wilder is his favorite because it’s about bioengineering. I can see where my son’s love of nature and animals crosses with his love of robotics in this field. The first time we watched it, while they were explaining some robot inspired by nature, my son leaned forward in his seat, pointed at the T.V. and said loudly, “I WANT TO DO THAT!”

Ever since, he has said he wants to be an engineer. He also said once that he doesn’t think he wants to be just an engineer. We have let him know that many bio-engineers spend most of their day inside a building with no windows. It’s something to consider. But engineering is a huge field with many possibilities, and as he develops this and other skills, such as pottery and piano, you never know where his interests will intersect or compliment each other. So we feel it’s our duty to support this interest in whatever way we can for however long it lasts.

We wanted to get him the Mindstorm EV3 for Christmas, but since it was an expensive gift, we asked my in-laws and mother, if they might want to contribute instead of giving him a toy. They did. (Thank you!!!) I think it was certainly a gift that will have a longer shelf life than anything else we could have given him. He has been extremely responsible with the robot, taking care to keep the pieces separate from his other Lego kits, and he was also okay with receiving very little else that holiday.

Though I was worried he might lose interest in it over time, he hasn’t. Over the course of the year, he has built every robot whose instructions came with the software, and he has built a few others developed by Lego fans. He has watched YouTube videos to learn about the programming, and he has experimented with making his own programming for the robots. It’s not something he works on everyday or even every week, but he always goes back to it, and we’ve amassed quite a nice collection of photographs of his work.

My son’s latest robot plays a “Which tire is the ball under?” game with you.

It got to a point when I felt he needed more instruction, and we weren’t finding easy tutorials online anymore. I wanted to get him into a robotics class. Well, I searched in vain for weeks, and I couldn’t find anything closer than Atlanta, which is a bit too far for us to travel for a class. Finally one day my husband sat with me one afternoon and we did all kinds of Google searches. That’s when we found Engineering for Kids of Northeast Georgia. At that time, they didn’t have a robotics class, but we decided their STEM Club would be a good a match for our son, and later I was happy to find out they were doing a robotics summer camp (close to us!). So my son recently attended that, and he was happy to have one of his friends in the camp with him too.

So this is where we are so far with his love of robotics. He just turned nine-years-old, and his interest is still strong and doesn’t seem to be going away. We’ll continue to support it any way we can, and I’ll be sure to let you know how it’s going too.

August 27, 2015

Introducing History for Homeschoolers

{Free Online History Classes}

george & shelli-1

George and me

Note: A similar version of this column was published in the Barrow Journal on Wednesday, August 26, 2016.

Some of you know that my husband is a historian and a history professor. He has been teaching history at the college level for over eighteen years. At first, he was very skeptical about online courses, but his fascination with using technology in education slowly led him in that direction.

For three years he taught both online and face-to-face classes, and for one and a half years, he taught hybrid courses. Those are classes that meet both face-to-face and online. After this, he decided to take the plunge and teach only online. At first he wasn’t sure how he would feel about teaching online full-time, but now that he’s been doing it for over three years, we both realize it was a great move, and he doesn’t regret working from home.

Another benefit is that it’s given him time to develop some good online course material that he can use over and over in his classes. He continues to work on this and make it better. His students seem to like his audio lectures too. Thinking back to my college days, I would have appreciated having a recording of my professor’s lecture so that I could listen and stop it to take notes!

I’ve been telling my husband for a few years that he should write a history book for homeschoolers or offer some kind of resource with his knowledge. There are some popular history curriculums for homeschoolers, but none of them are updated with new research, and all of them have their fair share of negative criticism. There is also a lack of good material for the high school level. This isn’t to say that what is available isn’t worthy at all, but I felt my husband could offer another option.

Finally, with my help, he is putting his audio lectures online for free for anyone who wants to brush up on their history. At present has all his U.S. history audio lectures and several of his world history lectures. He will be adding more world history over the next few months, and after all the lectures are available, he will work on adding key words, links to relevant videos and other reputable resources on the web. The idea is to give parents or anyone who is interested in history a starting point in their journey to explore the past.

What a lot of people do not realize is that there is a difference between writers who write about history, but they are not trained historians and then those who are trained historians and write about history. Sometimes journalists or other writers can actually be better writers, bringing history alive for folks like me who don’t have a natural enthusiasm for the subject. This is good and has its place. But when it comes to choosing reliable sources for the best researched and least biased history (of course, all history texts have some bias), you want to turn to the people who have dedicated their lives to studying the subject.

My husband thinks that any book that sparks curiosity in children and gets them asking questions and wanting to learn more has served its purpose. He hopes that his site can offer another step forward for middle or high school students and adults who want to learn more, and as a homeschooling mom, I’m grateful to have his discerning eye when it comes to choosing the right resources – whether online or otherwise – to teach myself and kids about history. This is something I’m going to keep pestering him to work on because I need it myself, and I know if I can use it, other parents will appreciate it too.

Please take a look at, and I hope you find it useful! We welcome any feedback as we add to the site and try to make it the best it can be. And, yes, it will remain free and ad-free.

August 13, 2015

Day Trip to Greenville’s Children’s Museum

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on Wednesday, August 12, 2015.

We are having a short “staycation” of sorts while my husband has some time off from work. In order to make the best of it, we thought we’d explore some places we have never been to before, and since it’s too hot to do anything outside, we searched for indoor locations that might be fun. The first place we headed to was Greenville, South Carolina’s Children’s Museum of the Upstate. The drive took about three hours, but it was beautiful, and we were able to see various small towns along the way, including the quaint Anderson, SC.

Once we got to the Children’s Museum of the Upstate in Greenville, my boys had a blast. The museum is 80,000 square feet with three floors and 18 interactive exhibits. The first one I found that I liked was the air tunnel. After coming in from the heat, that felt good! But my five-year-old’s favorite was called “3-2-1 Blast Off,” which consisted of a series of tubes with air blowing through them, and when he put a ball into it, he could watch the ball whoosh through all the tubes and then come back out through another tube. We had to visit that one twice. He also loved climbing on the multi-story climbing structure in the middle of the building, and he did that all by himself since his brother wasn’t interested.

My eight-year-old says he liked the race car driving simulator and the Reedy River Bend – the water exhibit – the best. He liked being able to move some pipes around in the water exhibit so that he could manipulate where the water flowed. My five-year-old loved putting his hands in the water fountains and waterfalls, turning wheels and even going under the water and coming up inside a big, plastic bubble.

Anyone from my generation could probably appreciate the gigantic Lite-Brite, which they called Light Waves Ahead. Remember that toy where you could make pictures by placing different colored pegs on a light board? My five-year-old sorted all the pegs into different colors and made a pretty cool hexagon.

My boys also enjoyed the music room, which was called Garage Rock. They were able to play music on instruments made out of tools, plastic pipe, pinball machines and other fun materials. We spent so long in our favorite places that we didn’t even try out all the exhibits, such as the construction zone, the grocery store, hospital, or the T.V. studio where children can produce their own show from beginning to end and then watch it.

What we didn’t know when we ventured to Greenville was how beautiful that city is or that it’s such a mecca for the arts. The Children’s Museum is located on the Heritage Green, which also boasts the Greenville County Library, Museum of Art, Little Theatre, Museum and Gallery at Bob Jones University, and the Upcountry History Museum. You can learn more about each of these at

Since the Greenville County Museum of Art was right next to the Children’s Museum, and the admission was free, we popped in there for an hour before it closed. It has the largest collection of Andrew Wyeth’s paintings in the country, and my husband and I loved his work. The boys found paintings they enjoyed too, as well as a stunning sculpture of two hawks fighting over their prey in mid-air. It was so life-like we first thought the birds were real ones that had been stuffed.

Downtown Greenville was big, but not so big that it didn’t have that small-town charm. It was full of restaurants, shops, art galleries, and theatres. There are also attractions for those who love sports and the outdoors. We are planning to go back to Greenville sometime and explore this lovely city further.

Admission to the Children’s museum was $10 for adults and $9 for children ages 1 – 15. The website is

July 27, 2015

Our Summer Homeschooling Plans

My son’s carnivorous plants are thriving, and one plan we have for this summer is to give them a bigger pot!

Someone once told me that summer has a mind of its own, and I believe that. For the past few summers, I’ve learned to go with the flow, and I know that my plans might not come to fruition. That’s happened this year too, but I’m pretty happy about what we’ve accomplished anyway.

I always wonder if we should do some formal lessons in the summer or just have unlimited free time. The thing about not having any schedule is that I’m afraid I might disconnect from my kids, concentrating on projects around the house and work that I’ve been neglecting for a long time. I’ve also noticed that having a little structure just feels right for us. If I keep the boys busy in the morning, they are less likely to mope around and say they are bored in the afternoon when I need them to play by themselves. Or, if I decide to let them have free play time in the morning, one of them might come ask me to do something with them anyway. So, if I feel like I’ve planned to spend the time with them, I don’t get as discombobulated, wondering when to say yes and when to say no. I hope that makes sense!

Of course, we do need days when there is nothing on the schedule, and the boys can do anything they want. We do that plenty of days all year round, so I’m not too worried about making them do too much. Besides, what I consider schoolwork for the boys is not torture, and sometimes, it’s exactly what they want to do. It just helps me to have a plan so I can make sure we’re accomplishing our goals.

Here was my loose idea of what we could work on this summer. Keep in mind that this isn’t a daily list. Some of these items we may do everyday, but others we may only do weekly or even just a day or two in the summer.

  • Math — I’m going to be making math more a priority for my eight-year-old from here on out because he’s pretty much got the reading thing.
  • Readalouds
  • The boy’s projects
  • News and current events
  • Art
  • Catch up on Nature Journals
  • Work on our junior ranger badges
  • Memorize a poem
  • Work on our history timeline
  • Summer camps

So how’s that going? Here you go:

Math — Yes, we’ve worked on math. But I was planning to do more readalouds with math books, and that didn’t happen because it’s hard to get the books from the library! (Other people want the same books I do. Grrr.) However, we did read The History of Counting, and I signed my eight-year-old up for Splash Math’s summer program. I don’t actually recommend that program — I thought it was going to be something else, but it’s just a review. If you need a review, and your kid likes working on the computer, then it might be a good fit. It has fun graphics. I signed up early, so it wasn’t expensive, but as it gets harder, my son really hates it, and it doesn’t offer any explanation of how to do the problems (it only tells you the right answer, if you get it wrong), so I’m considering letting him stop.

Readalouds — Like I said, I was hoping all of our readalouds would be about math, but that didn’t happen. So we’re continuing on in The Complete Tales & Poems of Winnie-the-Pooh, which was one of our best library book sale finds ever. (We got it for $2!) The boys like Winnie much better than the math books anyway. (We also read books of my sons’ choice, usually at bedtime, but I’m not counting that here because it’s not part of my formal homeschool plan.)

The boy’s projects — I started a project calendar, and I’ve been trying to make myself available when the boys might want to make or do something time-intensive, and that is working out fairly well. (I’ll write about this in more detail at some point.) However, their projects these days are less about making something and more about doing: My eight-year-old started taking piano lessons this summer, and he’s practicing at home on his own. The five-year-old is interested in birds, and he mostly wants to look at our bird app, which I do with him at night before bed. I listed all of my boys’ current projects in The Summer Rundown.

News and current events — For a while, I was wondering how to introduce my son to news and current events in a way that would engage him. home/school/life magazine has a great list of resources on its blog, which came from the Summer 2014 issue, but my son seemed too young for most of those. Then I found News-O-Matic, which is an app. My son didn’t like it at first, but I incorporated it into our lessons, and now he voluntarily checks it everyday! I can’t recommend it enough.

Art — Most Fridays (but not all), I have kept up with our art lessons, and I even incorporated some math! One Friday I surprised the boys by turning Art Friday into a field trip to the Georgia Museum of Art.

Catch up on Nature Journals — My eight-year-old used to enjoy this more, but it may be coming to a close. The day we were working on this, my son lost interest pretty fast, so I probably won’t make him continue. After all, we started it when he was four, maybe?!

Work on junior ranger badges — I thought we might make a point to go on some family outings to places that we need to go to make progress on getting the next badges this summer, but with the intense heat and the summer camps keeping us busy, we’re not going to make much headway this summer. That’s okay because it’s just an ongoing project that we do whenever we can. We did, however, earn some Civil War badges this summer. They didn’t require a lot of work, and it was fun too.

Memorize a poem — This is something I’d like to start incorporating into our homeschool on a seasonal basis, but so far, I am lousy at making time for it. The boys and I memorized poems in the spring, but I never did anything with it. I should have videotaped them because they’ve probably forgotten it by now!

Work on our history timeline — I finished making two big timelines this spring, and I need to get more intentional about adding what we learn about history to them. Really, it’s just about setting aside a day to work on this because we have some things in mind to add to it! I think we’ll get to this soon.

Summer CampsTruly, the summer is about summer camps. It’s my number one priority for many reasons, and anything else we can get done is just icing on the cake. I wrote about the camps my sons took in my upcoming column, which will be published soon, and I’ll post it here too.

As you can see, we haven’t been able to do everything. But with lots of play time, gardening, bird-watching, sketching, and other odds and ends, we have had quite a full summer! Soon, I’m going to do an end-of-the-year celebration and let my sons know that they are moving on to 3rd grade and Kindergarten. I have been busy planning some birthday celebrations and next year’s curriculum too….I’ll be sure to update you about that as it happens.

Do you homeschool year-round? What are your favorite summer activities?

July 6, 2015


mama feeding chicks 6.21.15-1

Note: This column appeared in the Barrow Journal on July 1, 2015.

I may call this the spring and summer of birds. My family and I have always enjoyed watching the songbirds in our yard. We love the cardinals, bluebirds, tufted titmice, hummingbirds and chickadees. Every time my boys see a flash of red out the window, they call out, “There’s a male cardinal!”

But this year, birds have become more of a focus, and though I wish I could take credit for it, it has all happened by chance. First, we were lucky that a family of Carolina wrens took up residence in a birdhouse we keep on our back deck. This birdhouse has been sitting empty for several years, and we wondered if it were in a bad spot, or maybe it was too close to the other birdhouse we keep on our front porch. We’ve had bluebirds nest in it consistently, and we know they don’t like to compete with other bluebird families for food.

Though we’ve enjoyed watching the bluebirds on our front porch feeding their babies in the past years, and we could always hear the little chicks screaming for food, we had never before seen the baby birds fledge. This year, to the squeals of delight by my sons, we saw not only a baby bluebird sitting on our front porch rail, we also looked out the window the exact moment when a Carolina wren flew from its birdhouse into the big wide world for the first time.

After all this excitement was over, my eldest son noticed a cardinal building a nest in a bush right outside our living room window. She placed it where we could see it perfectly, and we got very excited.

It took Mama Cardinal about a day to build her nest, and two days later, we could tell there were at least two eggs in it. After that, Mama consistently sat on the nest most of the day, though she seemed to leave for a while in the evenings, probably to find food. She protected the nest through some rough storms too.

About twelve days later, we felt the chicks would hatch soon. We began to see Papa Cardinal hanging out in the trees nearby. Sure enough, they hatched two days later, and then we had the pleasure of watching both Mama and Papa feed the two little chicks, though not quite as frequently as the bluebirds seem to feed their chicks.

Little by little, they grew until we could see they were now looking back at us through the window, and one night, they jumped from the nest into the branches of the bush. There was no sign of them in the morning, so we hope they made it to the safety of the nearby woods.

Not surprisingly, birds have been a theme in my sons’ interests lately. Even before these birds began nesting in our yard, my five-year-old has had a fascination with feathers, and most evenings after dinner, he likes to take a walk with me so that he can look for feathers – you’d be surprised at how many you can find, if you just start looking.

The boys have always loved looking at the bird field guide app, especially when they see an interesting bird they want to identify, and someone gave us The Bird Songs Anthology by Les Beletsky, which features 200 birds and the sounds they make. I have discovered that my eight-year-old has an uncanny memory for bird songs, and whenever we’re outside, he’ll say, “That’s the tufted titmouse!” or “That’s a cardinal!” My ears could never sort and remember all those bird songs, but I have always suspected my son is very auditory, so maybe I shouldn’t be surprised.

The birds have given my family a show this year, so I think I’ll always remember this as the year of the birds. Or maybe it’s the beginning of many years of learning about birds. I can’t wait to find out.

Eventually I’m going to post more photos of the cardinal family, but until I have time for that, you can see a bunch of them on the home/school/life Facebook page.

June 22, 2015

Engineering for Kids

Note: This column appeared in the Barrow Journal on June 17, 2015. 

It’s no secret that the United States has been pushing more STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) in education. Though I’m not sure I agree with all the motives for that, and I certainly don’t want to see cuts in the arts due to it, I’m glad there are more opportunities for kids to learn and explore these areas. Many kids thrive with hands-on learning, so there should be more of that.

My eight-year-old is one of those kids who seems to be on a track for a STEM career. Sure, he could change, but when I was his age, I was already writing poetry. (He’s so not me. Thank goodness.) He likes to build things, and he loves science. He’s crazy about Legos and Minecraft. He enjoys art and has even written stories, but the passion isn’t there. His preferred craft is pottery, which, of course, has a lot to do with using one’s hands and building too.

We have done everything we can to support his interests despite the fact that my husband and I come from a business and liberal arts background. (It’s been a steep learning curve for us.) Last year I looked in vain for classes within driving distance to support my son’s love of robotics. He’s learned a lot at home, but there’s only so much more we can do here.

CO2 powered dragster races

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 click above image to go to video

For these reasons, I jumped for joy when I found Engineering for Kids of Northeast Georgia, a franchise that is serving Barrow, Dawsonville, Forsyth, Gwinnett, Hall and Jackson counties. Engineering for Kids provides programming for kids ages 4 to 14 that introduces STEM education. They go into the schools, offer after-school programs, homeschool programs, camps, birthday parties, you name it.

This past spring, I enrolled my son in their STEM Club Saturdays that was being held once a month next door to INK Musuem in Gainesville. He had a great time making a CO2 powered dragster, a model of a roller coaster, and a bottle rocket.

Building a scale model of a roller coaster and learning about kinetic and potential energy in the process.

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bottle rocket. click above image to see video.

The owner of the franchise, Jeffrey Butler, told me that he was working on securing a facility in Barrow County for his summer camps, and he did. They will be at the Sims Academy of Innovation & Technology this July.

They will have a “Pirate Academy” and “Junior Robotics: Adventure Stories” for ages PreK-2nd grades. At the “Apprentice/Master” Level (3rd-8th grade), they are offering an “Out of This World Space Camp” and a “Robotics: Mission to Mars” camp. They offer discounts, if your child wants to stay for a full day and participate in both camps.

Butler says they plan to offer a year-round Engineering for Kids Club in Winder in the fall. He said they started this last year at the Lanier Technical College Winder-Barrow campus. They will release their 2015/16 schedule of classes in the summer, and they plan to do an Open House/Customer Appreciation event at their Gainesville campus in early August.

If you’d like to learn more about Engineering for Kids, go to For the Northeast Georgia home, see


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