Posts tagged ‘education’

November 16, 2015

Is Homeschooling Hard?

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on November 11, 2015.

While I was running errands in Winder recently, someone asked me if homeschooling is hard. Since I was having a good day, I said, “Not really. Not if you like learning and don’t mind doing some research.” By that I meant that if you don’t mind engaging in the learning yourself, and if you’re willing to search for the right materials and activities, it’s not that hard to teach your kids. But that doesn’t mean that homeschooling isn’t hard sometimes

I’m sure different moms would have different answers to that question, but I don’t believe the challenges I face are any different than what is hard for any parent. Raising kids is difficult no matter how you decide to educate them, and everybody has different opinions on how to do it.

Knowing what is best for any child is always difficult because every child is different. What worked for one of my boys may not work for the other whether I’m teaching him how to read or teaching him how to behave at the dinner table. We have bad days just like everyone else, but they come and go. Children go through phases, present different challenges, and parents get frustrated and impatient all the while searching for the right solution, even if there isn’t one. Fortunately, most struggles are worked out over time.

Just like any parent, the most difficult thing for me is that there aren’t enough hours in the day. On three week days, one or both boys have outside classes and activities that I drive them to, so I do most of our “formal” lessons with them on three other days (including Saturday) from about 9-2pm. I usually prepare and go over my lesson plans the night before.

In the afternoons and evenings, I am “free,” but of course, there are several things I “should” be doing. 1) Cooking a nutritious meal for my family. (This usually turns into “what can I cook in 20 minutes or less?”) 2) Cleaning. (This gets partially done.) 3) Exercising. (Not just for pleasure anymore. During the past few years when I put off exercising, I developed bursitis in my right hip, and exercising helps to relieve the pain.)

4) Writing. (Again, not for pleasure. We need the extra money. I already wrote a column about the difficulties of a family trying to live on one income, and that remains high as one of our challenges.) 5) Take care of all the other things that come up in a family of four. (i.e. enduring endless interruptions in my work.) Clearly, I can’t do all of this in a short afternoon or evening, so a lot doesn’t get done, or I do a sloppy job of doing a little bit of everything.

A lot of people think that homeschoolers aren’t socialized properly, and I’ve learned that those people are quite ignorant of what homeschooling is about. My boys’ social life is not the problem – it’s mine! My boys enjoy long play dates with friends, classes and camps with kids of different ages, and visiting museums where interesting adults talk to them. All the while, I am busy driving them places and missing the time and energy I once had to join groups with common interests such as the photography guild and writing groups.

Don’t get me wrong – I have some wonderful friends who I have met through homeschooling. I enjoy talking to these other moms about homeschooling and motherhood. But I am not just a homeschooling mom, and I miss meeting people who share creative goals.

Equally difficult is meeting moms who don’t homeschool or working moms. They have different schedules, and sometimes they look at me strangely. Either they think I’m crazy or they wonder if I’m judging them for not homeschooling, which couldn’t be further from my mind. Once a couple rolled their eyes when I said I homeschooled. As a homeschooling mom, I am subjected to all kinds of stereotypes, and this can be frustrating, and at times, painful.

But as I said before, most of these are challenges that a lot of parents face, and every parent has endured the “opinions” of other well-meaning parents. So homeschooling usually is not “hard” for me. When I love what I do most of the time, it’s enjoyable, and I accept the sacrifices. I wouldn’t expect everyone to feel this way because just like children, adults are all different too.


November 10, 2015

Homeschooling Kindergarten for the Second Time

I’m so proud of my boy who just turned six-years-old. He is growing — in body, intellect and creativity — by leaps and bounds. He is becoming more independent, and he’s in a constant state of “play.” He plays well with his brother or by himself. He loves playing with his toy animals and dinosaurs, and he spends hours building creatures or vehicles with Legos or Zoob pieces and then lining them up in perfect formation. He fills the house all day with the sound effects of his make-believe creations. He loves playing Minecraft with his brother or any other game on the tablet for that matter. He loves to draw, and he has an eye for color and design. (See photo below.) He still supplies me with all the affection and adoration a mother can need.

Now that I can call him an official kindergartener, I am feeling pretty good about homeschooling kindergarten. Unlike the first time, I have tread these waters before. I know I can relax because Kindergarten is easy-peasy. If you want to see my philosophy on it, read this. Although it’s about preschool, I feel the same way about kindergarten. However, I am doing things a little different with my kindergartener now. He does have more lessons to work on. I’ll explain what we’re doing below.


I spend about one hour doing lessons with my kindergartner after lunch. This is because I’m doing 3rd grade with his older brother in the mornings. This seems to work well for him because in the mornings, all he wants to do is play. There are exceptions when I have an activity or game that I want both my boys to do. He’ll join us sometimes in the mornings for that, and sometimes he likes to watch, although that’s rare. I’m really glad he likes to play by himself because my main goal for a child his age is giving him plenty of free time for unstructured play.

As I explained in Homeschooling 3rd Grade: A New Venture, we have a lot of outside appointments this year, so for my kindergartner, the one-hour lessons tends to be on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays. I don’t worry about making him do more than that.


Language Arts

Although I’m sad to say I don’t make it a daily ritual anymore, my six-year-old listens to many readalouds with his older brother, and in the evenings before bed, we often read books, but for a long time, he was more interested in looking at the bird app. (See Project-based Homeschooling: Birds and Feathers.)

I started Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons with him in September, and we’ve finished over a quarter of the lessons. This is the same reading program I used with my eldest child, and I didn’t know if it would work with my younger one, and up until Lesson 25, it went well. Just this week, however, I feel it’s too challenging for him. I’m going to try either splitting each lesson in two, or switching to some other workbooks. Last year he did really well working in Brainquest’s Star Wars workbooks, so I may go back to those, and give 100 Easy Lessons a rest for awhile. We’ll see. Keeping the lessons lighthearted and not too stressful is important to me.


I am using Singapore‘s Primary Math Textbook 1A with Home Instructor’s Guide (U.S. Edition) for my kindergartner. This may surprise you because I’ve spent so much time writing about Life of Fred, which my older son loves. I tried Singapore after looking over a friend’s copy, and I liked the approach. Since he’s not as good of a listener as his older brother (right now), and he likes doing, Singapore’s short worksheets and games work better for him right now. What is especially helpful is that I can use the games with both boys for review and practice. I sometimes give my nine-year-old the mental math problems from Singapore to practice on too. I will probably use elements from both curriculums interchangeably with boy both boys over time. Again, I don’t worry about rushing through this curriculum. We started it last year, and I do one lesson in the textbook, a worksheet or game at a time, but I’m very thorough about going through everything before we move on. This curriculum definitely takes some time to prepare, especially when it comes to collecting or making materials for the games.

As I mentioned above, last year we used some Star Wars Workbooks, and my six-year-old (then five-year-old) loved those. He still has some of his kindergarten math workbook to finish, so I’m using that on occasion, and I plan to continue to use the Star Wars Workbooks for extra practice, as long as he continues to like them. (Unfortunately, they only make them for up to the 2nd grade.)

Standing under his own creation at Greenville’s Children’s Museum.

Science & Social Studies

If you’ve been reading my blog, you’ll know that science is a favorite subject in this house because my nine-year-old has always been fascinated with all things nature/science/technology. His younger brother follows along and learns so much from him. We watch documentaries, go to museums, read science books, do science experiments, and frankly, I’m not going to worry about doing a formal approach to learning about science or social studies for awhile. (My husband is a history professor. We’ve got history covered.) The wonderful thing about homeschooling is that these subjects can be built into the fabric of our lives. Foster curious minds, and you’ll cover these subjects, especially for a kindergartner.


My kindergartner loves to draw, so I’ve done a few things to help encourage that. Read Project-based Homeschooling: Mama’s Sketchbook Habit, Project-based Homeschooling: Sketching at the Botanical Gardens, and Art Fridays: Homeschool Art Lessons for more information.

November 3, 2015

Homeschooling 3rd Grade: A New Venture

This August, my eldest son turned 9, and I consider him a third grader. Third grade definitely has a different feel to it. For the first time, I’m doing less “child-led” and more “teacher-led” work. (The teacher being me.) Keep in mind that my six-year-old son is now in kindergarten, and I’m doing a little more rigid course work with him too. Not much more than I did with my eldest at that age, but since I have two students, it’s a longer day for me. (I’m going to write about how we still do child-led Project-based Homeschooling in a future post. I will also write a post about Kindergarten for my six-year-old.)

Our Schedule

For the most part, I do lessons with my nine-year-old in the mornings, right after breakfast (around 9am), and we finish about lunch time. I do lessons with my kindergartener right after lunch, and that takes about an hour. During the mornings, my six-year-old plays by himself while I do lessons with his brother, although sometimes I can combine their work, especially if we’re playing a math game, so he might join us in the mornings.

For the first time, we have quite a few weekly appointments which happen on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday mornings. I can squeeze in math on Tuesdays and Thursdays for my nine-year-old, but on Fridays we don’t do any lessons because my son is taking a pottery class, and that takes a lot of driving time and energy. Because of our limited time, I have also started doing school on Saturday mornings. …..I know! I’m becoming a hard-nosed homeschooling mom!

On top of this, my nine-year-old has chosen (this is completely child-led) to take piano lessons, which requires him to practice twice a day. The practice started off about 15 minutes at a time, but as he progresses and the music becomes more complicated, his practice sessions sometimes can take 30-60 minutes each. Since he wants to do it, it’s great, but it definitely takes a big chunk of time in the day.

I was worried about this schedule being too much for my children, which is why I’m writing this post two months into our school year, but so far, it’s gone well. I can’t say that my boys love their formal lessons, but they are getting older and more mature, and they are both able to focus longer than they could in the past. And even though we have a lot of work to do, they still have time to play during the day. If they have a project they want to do, I skip lessons and give them time to do it. This hasn’t happened a lot, and that may be because I’m giving them too much formal structure, but then again, my eldest son’s project seems to be piano now, and my six-year-old still finds time to fill the floor with his coloring pages anyway!

All of this is subject to change, of course. I am always trying to gauge when I need to push them to work harder on their lessons or give them a break to go play or do a project. It’s really something you have to think about when you’re homeschooling. I want them to succeed and learn how to work hard when necessary, but I also don’t want to push them too much. I want our days to be productive yet cheerful. It’s hard to balance everything, and it’s something that I just have to use my intuition on. I’m sure I’m not always on the mark, but I have well-behaved boys (most of the time), so I think that’s a good clue that we’re doing good.

3rd Grade Curriculum

Language Arts

My goal this year was to have my son begin reading silently to himself. My husband helped achieve this goal when he bought our son a bunch of old Looney Tunes comic books for $1 each at some antique stores. My son read all of those, and after that I offered him some wildlife adventure books by one of our favorite T.V. ecologists, Jeff Corwin. They are right at my son’s level, and he’s finished the first one, and now he’s reading the second. I realize that I need to make time for him to read aloud to me so that I can make sure he’s reading fluently, and I haven’t done that enough, but he has been able to tell me about the stories in his books, so I know he’s comprehending them well.

So I’ve moved on from teaching “reading,” and now we’re working on spelling, which is actually something my son mentioned he needed to work on. (I hope next year, we’ll move into writing/grammar, but it’ll depend on where he’s at.) I am using All About Spelling Level 1and I really like it. My son is doing well, though sometimes it has been frustrating for him, and it’s caused some tears. (I don’t think anything I use to teach him this subject is going to be “tear-free” because this isn’t his thing.)  To make it better, I don’t try to complete a step in one day. I try to keep it short. (The curriculum says to go at the child’s pace and make it light-hearted, which is exactly what I’m trying to do.) I also give him a choice between writing the words on paper or spelling them out with the letter tiles.

He also works in these Handwriting Without Tears workbooks because he needs to work more on handwriting. (I don’t like HWT cursive, and I don’t know if I will use it when we get to cursive writing.)

To give him a jumpstart into writing, I occasionally take dictation from him. Last year, he wrote Volume 1 of The Plant Man, which he made up on his own. Not surprisingly, it follows a similar pattern to some super hero shows he watches, but I was proud of him for following through to the end even though it took a few months for me to work in the time to do it with him. While I take dictation, I don’t comment very much on diction, though I might explain how “it sounds better to say it this way” once in a while. My goal is not to teach him how to write, but to instill an enjoyment of making up a story of his own. He has plans to do a series of four books. I don’t know if he’ll want to finish that or not, but I plan to offer my services to take dictation again, which is usually for 30 minutes before lessons begin.

My husband and I also read books to our son. Currently, I’m reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer to him, and he loves it. I also try to do a read aloud in the mornings for both boys, but we don’t always have time. Currently we’re working our way through The Complete Tales and Poems of Winnie the Pooh.


If you read my blog post Achieving Homeschool Academic Goalswhich is over on the home/school/life magazine blog, you’ll know that this year, I have appointed math as my son’s main priority. That just means if our time is limited, I make sure we do math first so that we’re getting to it everyday. I’m also working harder to find games and activities to make math more fun. I began this during the summer, and we did only math games and read books such as The History of Counting and Mathematicians Are People Too(I can’t say my kids love math despite my best efforts, though.)

In September we moved back into our curriculum, and for my nine-year-old, I haven’t found anything more engaging than the Life of Fred series. He really loves those books and says he doesn’t want to do math any other way. So, we started Life of Fred: Dogs again (I had stopped it last year when it got a little beyond his level), and this time, we finished it in less than two months because we’re doing two chapters at a time, at least four days a week. Now we are working through Life of Fred: Edgewood, and I have the next book Life of Fred: Farming on my shelf so we can dig into it as soon as we finish Edgewood. I’m hoping he’ll be able to grasp the material in all these books so that we don’t have to stop.

In addition to this, I give him more math practice by having him play math games and do the mental math sheets as I come to them in his younger brother’s Singapore math curriculum. I also found a little gem, Time Life for Children’s Right In Your Own Backyard: Nature MathIt’s not in print anymore, but it was for sale used on Amazon. Overall, it’s more at my kindergartener’s level, but I’m slowly making my way through the book with both boys and using a game in it to help with addition skills, etc.


As I’ve written countless times before, my son’s main interest is in science, so I have not tried to do a formal curriculum with him. (At some point, I plan to do a systematic study of science, however.) We have taken many Homeschool Science classes at the nature center in the past, and sadly, for the first time, they are conflicting with our other commitments. We did several science experiments last year, but since we’re very busy with outside appointments this year, I’m not putting that on the agenda. We still learn a lot through documentaries, reading science news articles, going on field trips to science museums and nature centers, and my son will be taking a six-week homeschool Chemical Engineering class by Engineering for Kids very soon.

Social Studies

I have not referred to a curriculum to cover social studies because I know my boys learn so much through our daily activities. We visit museums, watch documentaries, and my son is a fan of News-O-Matic, which I include in our lessons, and it is a great tool for learning about current events and people’s jobs. My husband is a history professor, so our conversations are peppered with his knowledge. I also created a big history timeline which we’re utilizing, and you can read about that in How to Make a Big History Timeline for Your Wall. When my son gets a little older, I’m going to have him listen to his dad’s history podcasts. My boys are a step up in their knowledge of geography because we love looking at the globe and using maps, and last year I read them World Book’s Childcraft See The World, which I picked up for a $1 at a library book sale.


I have already written quite a bit about how I do Art Fridays, and you can see this page for information on all our formal art lessons. Currently, my son is in a pottery class on Fridays, and I sketch with my younger son during that time, so I’m not planning any formal art lessons. Going forward, there will be a conflict with our Art Fridays, so they might be temporarily suspended until I can work something else out.


We have finally been working on our Spanish in earnest. We use Mango free through our local library, and we can access it at home, but I’m not sure we’re getting the full package through the library. (If anyone knows about this, please e-mail me.) I’m going to try something new soon, and if I like it, I’ll be sure to tell you about it.


So far, this is what we’re doing for third grade. There’s a lot more to do, but it’s an exciting year! How about you?

October 19, 2015

Fall Migration

A monarch I spied at the botanical garden.

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on October 7, 2015.

The other day my son looked out the window and called out, “There’s a monarch butterfly!” This was exciting because we have never noticed a monarch on our butterfly bush before. At this time of year, we knew this was a monarch who was on its long journey south to Mexico. A couple of days later, we saw another monarch stop by to replenish itself as well.

The monarch is the only known butterfly to migrate like birds. Other butterflies can usually overwinter as larvae (the caterpillar) or the pupae (the chrysalis). It’s amazing that the monarchs know where to go without having ever made the journey before.

In the spring and summer, three to four generations of monarchs make a long journey north from Mexico to the northern U.S. and Canada. After a life cycle from egg (approximately 4 days), to caterpillar (for about 2 weeks), and then chrysalis (10-14 days), the insect transforms into the adult stage, a fully-grown monarch butterfly. The adults live for only 2-6 weeks, and after laying its eggs on the milkweed plant, it will die.

However, the fourth generation of monarch, which we saw in our yard, delays this process and can live six to eight months so that they can make the long migration south. Monarchs who live west of the Rocky Mountains overwinter in Southern California, but the monarchs in the east travel all the way to the Sierra Madre Mountains of Mexico where they roost together in trees. Tens of thousands of monarchs can cluster together on a single tree. Together they are so heavy that they can sometimes break the branches. They stay there until the weather begins to warm up in March, and then they mate, lay their eggs and start the process all over again.

While we humans generally stay put in the fall and winter, carrying on with our daily obligations and activities, it fascinates me to think about the animals whose lives are ruled by the seasons. They make astonishing journeys to continue the circle of life.

Another tiny creature to make a long journey is the ruby-throated hummingbird. We enjoy these tiny birds all summer as they feed from nectar in our hummingbird feeder and plants. They are feisty little birds, zipping through the air and defending their feeders.

A female ruby-throated hummingbird at our feeder. The male has the “ruby” throat.

Ruby-throated hummingbirds breed all over the eastern United States, and those migrating from the far north might spend the winter along the gulf coast or the tip of Florida, but most of them will cross the Gulf of Mexico in a single flight in order to spend the winter in Central America. The shortest distance across is 500 miles, and it can take the hummingbird 18-22 hours to cross. And there are no rest stops! That’s pretty amazing for such a tiny bird.

Many other birds are making their way south now, and many will pass through Georgia on their way farther south. Others will spend winter in Georgia. One of those is the wood duck, which is my six-year-old’s favorite duck. The males have incredible colors on their head. I hear wood ducks are a favorite among duck hunters, and the season for hunting them are various dates in November-January.

I wish I were a bird expert so that I could identify any migrating birds that come through our yard. I find that watching the wildlife for even a few minutes each day is relaxing, and it calms my mind during a busy season of my life. If you’re inclined to learn a little more about migrating monarchs or birds, and how you might help them, see,, or these birding resources on the Georgia Department of Natural Resources website:

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.


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