Posts tagged ‘parenting’

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 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.

July 13, 2015

The Summer Rundown

An Update On Our Homeschool, Projects, and Life

Okay, so I know that life speeds up the older we get, but gah, homeschooling can really make it move! We spend everyday exploring, doing chores, learning, doing chores, working toward our goals, doing chores…you get the picture. I might add that I’m the one doing most of the chores around here. For the boys, you can switch “doing chores” to “playing.” ;)

But life is good. I don’t think a day goes by when I don’t look at my family and my home and think how lucky I am. Sure, we’re always striving for more, but I’m pretty happy with what we’ve got.

Summer fun: We always enjoy going to Snake Day at the nature center in early June.

One of things I don’t have, unfortunately, is time to blog as much as I’d like. I would love to make a separate post for each of my boy’s endeavors and homeschooling lessons, going in depth about what we do. If you read my blog regularly, you’ll know I try to do that when I can. But this summer, it’s just not happening. At least not yet. So I’m going to give you a little rundown about what we’ve been up to, and if I can get to a more detailed post later, I will. I’m writing this list as a way to help me do my record-keeping and know what to focus my writing on these next few weeks, but you definitely don’t have to wait until I find time to write about these things, if you want to know more. Just write me a comment or send me an e-mail. I love corresponding with fellow homeschoolers and offering support and encouragement.

We went blueberry and strawberry picking this summer too!


Our summer schedule – I decided to keep homeschooling during the summer, but we’re not working on all the subjects. Our priority has been math. I am planning to write a post about summer homeschooling, so I’ll go into more detail then.

Summer camps – I love summer camps, and I think they offer homeschooling kids a great way to socialize and focus on some of their main interests. I’ll try to write about the summer camps my kids attended this year at the end of the summer.

Art – I’ve kept up with Art Fridays (most weeks), including a fun field trip to the Georgia Museum of Art. I’m going to try to write about these when I can. Since my focus this summer has been math, Amy Hood’s Art Together issue focusing on art and math was perfect for us, and one day the eight-year-old and I learned about Fibonacci’s sequence, and I helped him build a structure using the sequence as inspiration. That was fun!

Civil War Badge – Both my boys earned a Civil War badge through the Georgia State Parks and Historic Places this summer! It was a lot of fun to learn a little bit about the war before we actually delve into formal history lessons.

Our history timeline – At the end of spring, I finally checked off a long-time goal and that was to make a big history timeline that now hangs in our upstairs hallway. Actually, I made two timelines. This will be something we add to over many years as we discover new facts about history.

Our end of the year review and celebration – I’m planning to do this again at the end of July, and I’m working on our annual slideshow of everything we did during the year. If you want to read about how I handle the end of the year, you can see ­­­­Homeschooling: End of the Year Review and Progress Report.

There’s always more time to go with my kid’s ideas in the summer.


As you know, I make my boys’ projects a priority. Some new interests have been creeping up, and it’s been fun to see them develop. As I get the time, I’ll write more about these:

Birds – I have been seeing the theme of birds pop up in my boys’ interests lately, especially for my five-year-old. He is carrying around some beloved bird toys, and he loves collecting feathers, and every night, instead of reading a book, we’re looking at birds in our bird app, looking at their photos, where they live, and listening to the sounds they make. I definitely want to write about this more when I can, but I have already written about how the real birds gave us a show this summer, and wow, how special is that?! And you can see the photographs I took of a cardinal family rearing their young on my photography blog.

Piano – My eight-year-old started piano lessons this summer! We are so excited about this, and I already wrote a column about that and will be posting it soon.

Robotics – My eight-year-old has been interested in robotics for a while, and he’s learned about them in a few different ways. But this isn’t something he works on everyday. I’m sure I’ll be writing more about the steps he’s taken with this in an upcoming post.

More building projects – I have noticed my son’s general desire to create things with cardboard and craft materials has slowed down, but he did finish another Star Wars ship recently, and he’s got a list of ideas he keeps saying he’ll work on. We’ll see…

The project calendar – In order to help me make sure that I’m giving my boys the time they need to work on their own projects, I developed a project calendar. I’ll explain how I’m doing that at some point.

After learning about food webs on the show Wild Kratts, my boys decided to make one of their own. All I did was print off the photos they wanted from the web.

My five-year-old decided he wanted to make one all by himself without his brother’s help.


You may have already read that home/school/life has a new website, and we’re giving away the summer issue for free to celebrate. If you want to take advantage of that, read this. I’m happy to see the magazine growing, and it’s getting a lot of good feedback, but we still need more subscribers. It’s a lot of work, and the brunt of that work is on editor-in-chief, Amy Sharony, but I feel hopeful the magazine will get to a place where it can afford to hire more writers and bloggers and general help!

I, too, am working on some other projects that I hope will eventually get me to my goal of earning a decent part-time salary working from home. I’m going to be pursuing more freelance opportunities, but gosh, it’s so hard to get everything done while taking care of my boys, homeschooling them, and taking care of the house too. (Obviously, if anyone has any leads for me, I would welcome them.)

Good thing I love what I do! I have worked out a system to get things done, and though everything gets done slowly, it gets done. Hmmm…that might be a good topic for a column or blog post someday too.

Funny thing, even though it’s only mid-July, public school starts here on August 4th, and since my boys are involved in some activities that correspond with the traditional school year, I’m starting to feel like summer is going to be winding down soon. And I feel like it’s barely just begun! Well, August is birthday month for us, though. That’ll slow down the homeschooling at least, and it’ll give me more to write about. Like I said, time is going fast, and my boys are growing fast too!

I hope that whatever you are up to these summer months, you are healthy, safe and having fun. If you have some time, I’d love to hear about what you’re doing in the comments section.

May 22, 2015

Garden Time

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on May 20, 2015.

Every year the boys and I buy seeds and a few plants and plant them with good intentions. My boys also enjoy growing sprouting beans in jars and then transplanting them to the garden. We don’t have the best soil or much sunlight on this wooded lot, but I let the boys plant what they want. Digging in the dirt and caring for the vegetables must have more life lessons than I can count.

My eight-year-old wanted to plant pumpkins again. We put them in big pots in our driveway so they can get the most sunlight possible. My five-year-old is growing squash in our garden, and I planted some tomato and cucumber plants. We are all sharing the strawberries and green beans. We have some herbs left over from last year too.

A new garden is a pretty sight. There’s fresh topsoil and no weeds. The new plants have that fresh garden color – a world of promise in a single leaf. Perennials are blooming throughout my yard, keeping promises planted long ago. At this time of year, it’s easy to muster the energy to go out every evening and water the garden. By August, it’ll be another story, but that’s still far off, and I’m going to enjoy this beautiful spring for as long as it’s here.

My son’s carnivorous plants are looking healthy and growing like crazy, and we were thrilled to see his new sundew plant come to life after buying it in its dormant state late last fall. This sundew has long, spindly leaves with a sticky substance on them that insects will stick to, if they land on it. He also has a pitcher plant and Venus flytrap. I think my son’s carnivorous plants are doing a service for our whole neighborhood considering how many dead insects we find in them.

I wish my whole yard looked as fresh and well kept as our garden, spring flowers, and my son’s carnivorous plants, but that’s not the case. Weeds taunt me from under the azalea bushes, and there’s not enough time or money to fix up our backyard or the bare patches of lawn. I found one of my favorite flowering bushes – the name always eludes me – died this year after producing beautiful flowers for many years. It was the same bush where a cardinal family reared their chicks in one year, and we were able to watch the whole cycle right through our living room window. I’m very sad to see this bush stand bare of leaves.

My bay leaf tree, also, has suffered these past two years after growing so well for many years before this. Is it because I’m too busy to go out and pamper it, or did the winters just get too cold for it? I don’t know.

But I see good things happening too. Every year I manage to do one or two small tasks to add to the “perfect yard” that’s in my imagination but slowly taking form around the house. The lead plant I bought two years ago at the botanical garden is hanging in there, and for the first time this year, it’s blooming. Some irises I divided last year are doing quite well in their new spot, and this year I finally divided some monkey grass and planted it in front of the fence on the other side of the house.

We are in this house for the long haul, so I’m patient about getting the yard just right. We are in the season of our lives when we have other priorities, and trying to keep a perfect yard would be a waste of money and time. Keeping it fairly neat and planting slow-growing but lasting plants seems like the more prudent way to go. Besides, when the boys grow up, I doubt they’ll remember the weeds or the lack of lawn. Instead, they’ll remember the flowers, vegetables and freedom they had to run and dig in the dirt. Perhaps this is the perfect garden after all.

April 1, 2015

Not All Clutter Is Equal

Note: This column appeared in the Barrow Journal on March 25, 2015.

I hear a lot about clutter. It’s a buzzword for stay-at-home moms and probably any parent my age. Kids come with a lot of clutter, and shucks, if you’ve lived in the same place for long enough, you’ll accumulate plenty of clutter with or without kids.

Most of the time, clutter is spoken like a dirty word. “I hate this clutter.” “I can’t get rid of all this clutter.” “What I am going to do with this clutter?” “I’m drowning in clutter!”

I admit, I’ve said all that too. I whittle away at our clutter whenever I get the chance, which isn’t often, but now that the boys are older, it is not as insurmountable of a task as it used to be. I recently went through one of my son’s closets and my own closet. I have a bunch of boxes in the back of my van and ready to donate next time we go into town.

For the past two years before Christmas, I have convinced the boys to pick out whatever they are willing to part with to donate. I tell them that they have to make space for the new toys that are coming. The first year they put together one good-sized box. This year, we had several boxes, and I was proud of them. Despite this, however, we still have clutter everywhere.

But not all clutter is equal, and I have learned to live with a certain amount of clutter, mostly out of necessity. For example, there’s no way I’m going to convince my husband to clean up the clutter on his dresser or bathroom counter. (If I do it, I get fussed at for throwing out some important piece of information.) And since I keep my fare share of clutter, I don’t have a leg to stand on anyway. (But at least I clean mine up sometimes.)

As I said before, kids come with a lot of clutter, and I don’t mind the toys on the living room floor. We clear it out and sweep and mop when we have time, but I don’t try to do that everyday. What is the point when everything will be put right back on the floor the next day? Instead of making them clean everything everyday, I have the kids clean up their dishes and sweep the floor after meals. They also have to make sure the walkways are clear so that no one will trip during the night. In the event that they make an unreasonable mess, they are ordered to clean it right away.

Perhaps the biggest clutter control that I have to deal with is my kid’s projects. My sons are always making something. My five-year-old likes to draw, and stacks of artwork emerge out of nowhere. My eight-year-old likes to make things out of cardboard or paper or any of a number of craft supplies that are spilling out of an old dresser I use to keep this stuff.

Currently our activity room (the former dining room) has a box of paper dinosaurs (origami style) in one corner, and a desk filled with clay artwork, a cardboard ship, mechanical hands made from old cereal boxes and string, and my son’s unfinished Jabba the Hut puppet. There are homemade (and store bought) posters squished between the wall and bookshelf, and my son’s robotics kit sits up on that old dresser along with a globe. On the floor are newspapers spread out with Styrofoam balls and paint because my son is making models of the planets. (His idea.) Add to this all our books and other homeschooling supplies, and you have one cluttered room.

I’m sure this clutter would make most mothers feel insane, and I would be lying if I said it didn’t make me a bit loopy sometimes, but mostly, I don’t mind. When I look at it, I don’t see a mess. I see time well spent. I have chosen, in this era of my life, to make fostering my kid’s imaginations a priority over clutter. I spend a little less time cleaning the house so that I can do more projects with them. I let them decide what to keep and throw away (usually) because I want to show them I care about their work. I have always told them not to do any damage to anyone else’s work, and I abide by that rule too. When I do that, they feel respected, and they do more good work.

The thing is, these boys are going to outgrow these toys and projects quickly. There will come a day when I can clear most of it out, and later a day will come when the boys move out of the house and take more with them. At that time, I can declutter to my heart’s content. And I know I will sorely miss the days that projects were strewn all over the shelves and floors.

December 21, 2014

Gift Ideas for Young Kids

Printmaking with good acrylic paints was fun!

Printmaking with good acrylic paints was fun!

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on December 17, 2014.

I was at the hobby store with my boys last week to buy a birthday present for my son’s friend when a woman stopped us to ask advice on getting a gift for a seven-year-old boy. Her son was twenty-six, so she felt out of touch with the younger generation and thought my eight-year-old and five-year-old could help her. Indeed they could, and my eight-year-old was happy to tell her what he liked.

She was specifically asking about art supplies, so first we told her about air dry modeling clay. My boys love playing with this stuff, and I like it so much better than play-doh. My eight-year-old used to watch YouTube videos to learn how to sculpt small things, and later this led to him taking pottery classes, which he still enjoys. After drying this clay will get brittle, and small parts may break, but that hasn’t been a big deal to my kids. One big box of clay is about $8 and lasts a long time.

I also keep craft supplies on hand such as beads, feathers, popsicle sticks and whatnot because my boys love to build things with them, and for my younger son, he likes to take a hunk of clay and stick those things in it. Makes for an interesting decoration.

My eight-year-old’s favorite toy has been Legos, and over the past two years he has gotten all kinds of kits that he will spend hours putting together. Eventually these get taken apart and the pieces get mixed in with other Legos, but I think that’s okay because then my boys begin to use their imaginations and make creations of their own. I think Legos are awesome and educational, and I wish I owned stock in the company.

My five-year-old still plays with our dinosaurs and other animals almost everyday. I think it depends on the kid, if these plastic animals can hold their attention. We have hundreds of them (at least it feels that way), and my son will line them up on the floor as if they will fight each other, or either he’ll make a zoo by setting up our various blocks as pathways and cages for the animals. My favorite brand is Schleich because of the quality.

Another favorite toy are my boy’s remote control monster trucks. I’m not talking about a cheap one though. You need to spend at least $30 to get a good one, and be sure to buy extra batteries as part of your gift because these things suck battery life quickly. (You may need different kinds of batteries for the controller and the car.) However, these toys get my boys outside, and they build obstacle courses for them. Anything that gets them outside and using their brains and creativity is beneficial in my book.

Both my boys enjoy drawing and painting, but my five-year-old especially loves it. I bought him a sketchbook, and I’ve found that to be a great way to contain the hundreds of pages of drawings he can accumulate.

I’m also a fan of quality art supplies for kids because it makes a difference in the experience, and they are more likely to enjoy painting with good stuff. My eight-year-old even commented to me that he noticed a big difference between our acrylic paints and the Crayola washable ones. I think a great gift would be some good watercolor paper and watercolor pencils or quality paints. Good paintbrushes can offset the frustrations that cheap ones can give you when the bristles fall out while painting. You can also have more control over where you want the paint to go when you are using a nice brush instead of the cheap, bushy ones in kid’s sets.

Of course, some kids aren’t going to do anything with these kinds of gifts if they don’t know how to use them. The best way to get a child to be creative and try new things is to do it yourself – without the expectation that the child join you. That’s right. Children rarely want to do what you tell them to do, but they tend to follow you around and want to do what you are doing. So give yourself a gift of some new art supplies or a building set or even an obstacle course with a monster truck and don’t be surprised if a little person wants to join you.

I could have added many more things to this list that foster creativity. What would you add?!

August 16, 2014

Project-based Homeschooling: Angry Birds – You Never Know

I don’t know much about the Angry Birds game except that it used to be my son’s favorite game when he played on his dad’s Nexus, and when I sat down to watch him play, it seemed absolutely silly. But hey, it’s not for me. It’s for him, and I’m glad he’s having fun. I don’t have a problem with screen time, and while we do enforce some limits (it’s just part of our daily routine), our day’s overall screen time is definitely higher than what most conscientious parents prefer.

It’s really cool, however, when I see his interest in a game turning into a little project. All on his own one day, he made these angry birds and their raft. (Note: He already had access to all the materials he needed, and he knew how to use them, so he didn’t need anything from me.) How cool is that? Now the game doesn’t seem so silly, huh?

Never dismiss, restrict or belittle your child’s interest. Ask questions, nurture it, and it may blossom into something productive and cool! You never know!

July 19, 2014


Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on July 16, 2014.

Last summer flew by, and I hardly had time to stop and think about it. That was probably because it started out with a long emergency trip to Chicago to help my mother-in-law who had been in a car accident. (She’s okay now.) In addition to that, my son was in several summer camps, and while I enjoyed hanging out in town with my younger son, it just felt like the summer went by in a blink.

I’m happy this summer has been a little different. Though it’s been quite busy, and I’ve had work to do, and I’m driving my son to and from camps frequently, I’ve been a little more intentional about taking breaks too.

I’ve scheduled less play dates, I’m reading a good book, and I sit on the front porch sipping iced tea for a few minutes each day. I’ve even started sketching as I’ll explain in a moment. So we’re half way through summer now, and I feel like I’ve had a few chances to pause, look around, and enjoy it.

My seven-year-old attended three summer camps this year. It’s the first time he has been old enough to attend the full-day camps that go from about 9a.m. to 3:30 or 4. Last year he was in half-day camps. All of them have been great experiences for him.

It’s felt strange to be at home without him all day. As homeschoolers, we’re used to having our kids around all the time. It makes the day quieter to have just one boy at home, and it’s nice to give the four-year-old my full attention when he wants it, though he likes to play by himself too.

My seven-year-old’s favorite camps were the pottery camp at Good Dirt Studio in Athens, and the camp at the botanical garden.

Though he liked the camp at the nature center, he doesn’t care to go swimming, and he came home each day quiet and exhausted from not eating enough. I was happy that the folks at the botanical garden seemed to take a little better care of him by making sure he was eating and drinking. (Or maybe my reminders before camp finally got through to him.)

Each day after the botanical garden camp, he was full of energy and gave us a full account of his day, which, as he told me, was full of everything he liked to do, such as wading through streams to catch fish with a net, taking hikes, watching puppet shows, and touring the green houses. He even got to bring home a little plant.

We’ve had a few chances to go on family hikes, and we’ve hiked with just the four-year-old while his older brother was in camp. Because my four-year-old loves drawing so much, I got him a sketchbook and one for myself too. Even though I can’t draw worth a hoot, sitting down by some flowers to sketch them has been quite relaxing. It’s helped me slow down and enjoy the summer.

I have helped my older son create and build numerous things, but I was feeling like I was leaving his younger brother out. I love that our sketchbook habit encourages his interest and gives us something to do together. Though lately he has wanted me to sketch something for him so that he can color it – oh well. That’s good too. It’s his sketchbook, so he gets to choose what goes into it.

Now that camps are over, I’m glad to have half the summer before us to sketch and make things and take day trips. I will continue doing reading lessons with my oldest boy, and I plan to review this past year with him one day over a slideshow and give him a “certificate of completion” for the first grade. We also have birthdays in the August – I have no idea what we’ll do for that, but I know we’ll have fun.

I hope your summer is not too hot, just long enough, and full of relaxing moments.


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