UGA Bug Camp

My eleven-year-old’s insect collection after a week in camp.

Last week my boys went to bug camp, and they had a blast. This camp is facilitated by faculty and grad students at the UGA Entomology department, and it’s offered twice during the summer. They also do a spring break camp, and last week I heard that they may do a fall break camp, if there’s enough interest.

They spent most of the week collecting bugs at various sites around the UGA campus and Athens, identifying them and starting a collection of their own. (I think it was an extra bonus for my homeschooled boys to get to ride in buses and vans.) They always came back to the classroom for lunch and to cool off. Lunch included a movie on Netflix for fun.

A list of all the bugs that the campers caught during their week in camp.

My boys have been taking 1 or 2 day camps each summer since they were five years old (sometimes together and sometimes alone), and I wrote about that in detail in this post. It’s been a great way for them to gather with other school kids their ages as well as learn new things. They usually participated in the camps at the state botanical garden, but this year we decided to do something different. The bug camp was a big hit.

If you live in the area, and your child is into insects or nature, I highly recommend this camp.

Best of all, they got the coolest camp T-shirts ever this year!

Speaking of insects, we are raising black swallowtail caterpillars right now! I’ll be posting updates on my Facebook page, and I’ll eventually write a blog post about it too. Wish us luck!

2nd Grade Homeschool Curriculum Review

My little birder at work.

This is a follow up to my post Our 2nd Grade Homeschool Schedule and Curriculum that I wrote at the beginning of the year. In that post, I wrote about my plans for this year. In this post, I’ll tell you how it all went. You’ll see some of this is a repeat of Nearing the End of 5th Grade because my second grader tags along with his older brother in many subjects.

Reading At the beginning of the year, I said we were going to pick up 100 Easy Lessons again, and we did for awhile, but then my son and I got bored with it. (I still recommend it, but having done it with my elder son, I was ready for something new.) We were reading out of easy readers for awhile, but then a friend of mine loaned me her set of Usborne Very First Reading books. I love these books!  It’s a set of 15 books, and they start off easy, but each one builds on the material from the previous books. I have taken my time with them, letting him read each book several times (once per day), do one puzzle at the back of the book, and I also printed out the available worksheet that they have on their website for each book. We begin each book by going over the sounds it introduces. He’s almost finished with this set, and I’m really pleased with how much he likes them.

We have also been working in the 2nd grade Reading Star Wars workbook. In general I don’t use a lot of workbooks, but both my boys enjoyed these since they are Star Wars fans.

Literature My second grader has listened to many books this year, including Blood on the River: James Town, 1607, The Porcupine YearThe Odyssey, and D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek MythsAll of those he listened to with his brother. He and I have also read several Magic Tree House books together, Stuart Little, and The High-Skies Adventures of Blue Jay the Pirate

Math – We switched to Life of Fred books this year, and no joke, we’ve sped through the first six books already! He loves them and always wants to do math first. Also, they were easy for him because I started him in these books at a later age than his brother, and he had already done a lot of math with his previous curriculum, Singapore. But we like Life of Fred much better. He also raced through the 2nd grade Star Wars Math workbook too. He seems to like math even though he won’t admit that!

History – My youngest son has joined his older brother in learning about history, though I don’t worry as much about what he retains because I know we’ll go over all this stuff again at some point. We’ve covered these topics over the past year and a half: prehistory, Mesopotamia, Ancient Egypt, the Hebrews, Ancient India, Ancient China, and Ancient Greece. Our huge history timeline is filling up with interesting points of history!

Science – This is one subject that I didn’t do anything too formal with this year, but we’ve done a lot of science in the past, so maybe that’s okay. We did watch plenty of science and nature documentaries, raised monarch butterflies, expanded our garden, and continued to learn about birds. My 2nd grader is all about birds. We started making bird journals together too!

Foreign Language – At the beginning of the year, we began Spanish lessons, and mid-year I also started Chinese lessons. It’s been much harder for the 2nd grader and I retain to our foreign language lessons than the 5th grader, so I’ve been trying to think of ideas to help us remember our vocabulary. I will write more detailed posts when I feel like I have more to say about it.

You can read about my search to find the perfect Spanish curriculum in the Winter 2018 issue of home/school/life magazine. We have been using Risas y Sonrisas, and I love it. We’re trying out Better Chinese for Chinese.

Art – We’ve had some fun with art this year, especially before we visited the Art Institute of Chicago in November. Leading up to this trip, I spent a few weeks teaching the boys about the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist artists as well as a few other artists whose works were featured in that museum. During our Biloxi trip, we visited the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art and the Mobile Museum of Art.

For our art history lessons, I have found the artist bios on to be a great starting off point as well as Art With Mati and Dada, other YouTube videos, and, of course, library books. I ordered several Chicago Institute of Art books from our state-wide inter-library loan system.

Music – At the beginning of the year, I told you that my 2nd grader decided to try cello lessons, and I’m happy to report that he’s still taking them and enjoys them! I wrote about his cello practice here. It’s been a great experience, and I’m very proud of how far he’s come with it!

So that’s our 2nd grade curriculum. We’ll continue through the summer and start 3rd grade in September! I can’t believe how fast time is going by.

How is homeschooling going for you?

Homeschooling & Music: Cello

My eight-year-old (who you know as my little birder) took piano lessons for nine months, enjoyed it for awhile, and then decided that the piano wasn’t for him. We had told him we wouldn’t make him continue lessons, if he didn’t like it, and we were true to our word.

However, he was good at it! He understood music — a lot like his older brother. We thought it would be a shame if he were to quit music altogether, so my husband had the idea to take him to the music shop and look at all the instruments.

A nice young man who worked there let my son try every instrument they had. Guitar, strings, horns, woodwinds, you name it! It was very educational for all of us.

My eight-year-old, who was seven at the time, liked a couple of instruments better than others, but he was still undecided when the young man brought out the last instrument: the cello. It was a quarter-size cello, which was just the right size for the (then) seven-year-old. When he sat my son in a chair and showed him how to hold the cello, my son’s face lit up like the sun! We knew we had found his instrument.

We’ve been lucky to find a well-qualified (and awesome) teacher, and he’s been taking lessons since last August. It’s a very difficult instrument to learn, so I’m quite pleased that he has given no indication that he wants to quit. He has made it clear that for him, it’s just a hobby (unlike his brother), which is fine with us. We’re thrilled he’s learning an instrument and that he likes it.

Learning an instrument is so good for children’s brains. Have you heard about some of the research about that? I particularly enjoy this video:

It’s Still Birds

If you’ve been following my blog for some time, you may remember that my eight-year-old has loved birds since he was about four-years-old. Well, we all love birds, but he’s the one that has inspired us to pay more attention to them, and birdwatching has turned into a family project.

If you’d like to see some projects he has done in the past regarding birds, you can read this and this. If you’d like to see a list of some of his favorite storybooks about birds, click here.

I have done various things to encourage his interest. Mostly, since I love birds too, I pay attention to them, and this keeps my son paying attention to them. We used to sketch birds a lot, but he’s lost interest in drawing this past year (sigh). I ask him periodically if there’s something he’d like to do regarding birds, but for the past couple of years, he’s mostly wanted to read a page or two in a bird guide during his lessons.

There are things I’m tempted to do to make a big project out of this, but I’ve realized it’s best to let his interest unfold on its own, especially since my son can be quite stubborn and balk at any of my suggestions. And I know other projects will happen as he gets older and capable of doing more complicated things.

However, recently he asked me to read some other bird books to him — books that are a little more complicated than the descriptive entries of field guides. They explain bird anatomy, how they fly, and their behaviors and habits. I’m very excited about this because I’ve been wanting to read these books to him for so long! But it took him to decide when we should read them. Whenever I suggested them in the past, he wasn’t interested. I think perhaps he wasn’t old enough to understand them.

If you are trying to encourage a budding interest in your child, I suggest you let your child take the lead. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t buy those books or do some research on what your child could do. My husband and I both keep in mind ideas to keep our bird-loving boy happy, and we’re looking into a few things we might be able to do as a family in the future.


Okay, this is a terrible, horrible, no good photo that I took with my phone, but can you see it? There’s the male wood duck in our tree!

One of our “bird highlights” of the year was when the eight-year-old and I were doing lessons one afternoon at his desk, which is positioned in front of a window overlooking our front yard. I was looking out the window when suddenly two ducks flew into the trees! And they weren’t just any ducks — they were a male and female wood duck. My eight-year-old has been wanting to see wood ducks in the wild for a long time! So we were shocked and delighted. We’ve never seen ducks in our yard before and don’t live near a large water source.

Since my photo is terrible, here’s a link to a good photo of a male wood duck, and if you don’t know what they look like, be sure to click here. The male is gorgeous when he’s in his breeding plumage.

I called my eldest son and husband, and we all stood and watched the wood ducks while they stayed in our trees, checking out a cavity for a possible nest site. They stayed at least thirty minutes before the squirrels who were living in that tree cavity ran them off. It was an experience we will never forget!

What long-term interests have your kids had?

A year of meaningful work

Here it is — the end of April — and while our homeschool year won’t officially end until July or August, I begin now to start thinking about what I want to finish, what I’ll carry over to next year, what to work on over the summer, and we start to shift to other meaningful learning opportunities, such as gardening and admiring the spring flowers. I mean, how can we not get outside when the weather is so beautiful? (The photos in this post come from a morning we spent at the botanical garden.)

When I began homeschooling, I wanted to give my children a say in what they were learning, which I thought — and now know for sure — would motivate them to learn. I also wanted the chance to pick subjects I felt was important to teach them, and I wanted to decide when and how they should learn it. After seven years of homeschooling, I’m so pleased with what my boys are accomplishing and who they are becoming. I do think that homeschooling has made all the difference.

Whatever path a parent picks to educate their kids will have its challenges, and nothing is perfect. Sometimes I wish I had more resources so that I could provide additional activities for the boys, but I think we’re doing pretty good with what we’ve got. I’m realizing that any concern I had about homeschooling in the beginning is working itself out in the long run. That’s the thing about homeschooling — it takes the long view. There are no deadlines for anything like there is in traditional school. That makes a big difference for kids.

I will be writing a bit about the boys’ projects in upcoming posts. I said I would stop doing that, but what can I say? I have to share some of it! I’ll try to keep it brief.

I’m starting to realize that homeschooling my boys is one of my projects, and I’m enjoying it more than I ever thought I would. Through their interests, I’ve learned so much, but as I sit down and think about what’s important to teach — I get so much out of that too. I enjoy exploring curriculums as much as actually using them. These may not be subjects that my kids have asked for, but I’m not ramming it down their throats either. We take our time, and I back off, if they dislike something. Over time, I’ve realized this approach has kept the boys from hating “school stuff.” They even seem to like it sometimes.

We are, of course, doing the basics, such as math and grammar and writing. I feel like I’m relearning these subjects, and it’s great. I am enjoying the Life of Fred math books just as much as my boys, and it’s not so much because of the story about Fred, but I enjoy getting a review in math in a way I can understand it! And though I love to write, I’m starting to understand how to teach writing to someone who isn’t a natural at it, and I find that very satisfying.

I’m also so pleased with our progress in world history — this past year and a half we’ve covered prehistory, Mesopotamia, Ancient Egypt, the Hebrews, Ancient India, Ancient China, and we’re going to be finishing up Ancient Greece soon too. We’ve read some fun books and watched interesting documentaries, and just because we’re moving onto another time and place in history doesn’t mean we’ll stop learning about these. As we find more resources, we’ll add them to our list.

This year we began studying two foreign languages! I know I mentioned that we were going to study Spanish, but I also added Chinese about mid-year. I feel like this year has been more about figuring out how to study and teach a language than actually making a lot of progress with it, but in its own way, that is progress, and I’m so excited. Eventually I will write a post about our foreign language study, but I’m happy with it so far, and I am determined to learn it as thoroughly as I hope my boys will learn it.

The challenge is fitting it all into our days. I try to balance lesson time with my son’s work (his piano practice) and our free time too. There are things I have to let go of, such as wanting to read books all morning on the sofa or weekly art lessons. (I’m lucky if I get to one every two months.) There are also subjects I put on hold. I know we’ll get to all of it over the next seven years (only seven years until my eldest graduates! what?!), but sometimes I wish there were more days in the week.

I think I always lament about time more than anything else. But I don’t mean to complain. It’s more of an observation that I have so many things I’d like to do, and it’s impossible to do them all. But that’s good. It forces me to pick what is most important and spend my time doing that. I don’t waste time. (Sometimes I daydream, but that’s not wasted time.) And I hope that as the boys grow up, they will learn to prioritize their work and make time for fun too.

How has your year been going?

PDF Resource: How To Homeschool 1st Grade/The Early Years

How do I teach 1st grade? What are my kids supposed to learn? What resources should I use? How do I plan lessons and schedule my day? How do I meet other homeschoolers? 

The Everyday Homeschooler’s Guide to Teaching the Early Years will answer these questions and more.

This simple guide also shows you how to create an environment that will honor your child’s natural desire to learn, how to foster creativity, give tips on setting priorities, and start you on the path to becoming a family of life-long learners. Recommended for parents of children from 4 to 8-years-old.

Shelli Bond Pabis is senior editor of home/school/life magazine. She’s written hundreds of articles, newspaper columns and blog posts about the homeschooling life, motherhood, how to homeschool, project-based homeschooling, books, curriculum and more. She and her husband, a history professor, homeschool their two boys. Besides the fundamentals, they have learned a tremendous amount about science, engineering, classical music and birds because of their boys’ interests.

48 pages : $4.00 : Click here to purchase

Share on Facebook and Twitter, and you can receive a 25% discount. 

Math Curriculum Review: Life of Fred Elementary Series

If you’re a seasoned homeschooling parent, you probably know that deep sense of satisfaction when you have completed a long curriculum with your child. I had this feeling last year when my eleven-year-old finished the 10th book in the Life of Fred series, which is the end of what the author, Dr. Stanley Schmidt, terms his “Elementary Series.” Also according to his assessment, these ten books cover kindergarten through fourth grade math.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Life of Fred elementary books, they are hardbound books with 19 chapters each, and they tell the story of a funny-looking five-year-old math genius named Fred, who is also a professor at Kittens University. Math lessons are found everywhere in Fred’s life as well as many other lessons on random subjects. It’s a practical and sometimes silly approach to learning math, and it shows kids why math is useful. Many kids love Fred, including my boys, but I’ve met kids who couldn’t get into these stories either. So be sure to try out the free samples before you buy them.

I have read a lot of reviews for the Life of Fred books, and most parents seem to feel that Life of Fred makes a good supplement to their math curriculum. Apparently, some kids love reading these quirky stories so much, they read them by themselves all in just a few months or less. You could certainly do this, but I used them as our main math curriculum, and they worked great for that too.

Part of the reason some people feel that Life of Fred is a supplement and not a main curriculum is that at the end of each chapter, there are only four or five problems for your student to figure out, and usually one or two questions are very easy. (In a few of the books, he also offers a “row of practice.”) Parents and teachers feel that kids need to practice math more, so they need more problems to work on. I only partly agree with that. From kindergarten through the third grade, a few problems were all that my active, young boy could sit still for, so it was perfect for us. Later, I added a little more. Let me explain:

I think that what sets Life of Fred apart is that it shows kids that math can be fun. While homeschooling my eldest son, I found that he responded best to learning about math through these stories and also playing games. In Life of Fred, Fred is often playing math games in his head to pass the time. I think that’s a subtle hint to readers that math games should be part of their daily life too. Math should be fun. So while I didn’t use Life of Fred as a supplement, I did supplement it with plenty of math games. (We love playing Sum Swamp, Math Dice, and math card games.)

It wasn’t until last year that I decided to supplement my son’s math lessons with a Spectrum workbook. By this age, my son was capable of sitting and concentrating for longer amounts of time. In my state, homeschoolers have to take standardized tests every three years, so I wanted to familiarize him with the test format. He also needed more practice with multiplication and division. So we took a break from Life of Fred to work on this. I used Times Tales for teaching the multiplication tables, and that was a big success. Life of Fred instructs the student to stop at certain points and practice the times tables with flash cards before moving on to the next chapter, so it’s clear that Dr. Schmidt does not expect a student to rely solely on his books for all their math practice.

If you are concerned about keeping your child in exact alignment with what the public school kids are learning each year, then you may not want to use Life of Fred as your spine for math. Most of what my son learned in Life of Fred did match up, but Dr. Schmidt has a different approach to teaching math. While my son did learn early algebra and even a little bit of calculus, the books never covered the decimal point. However, that’s coming up. Life of Fred continues with the Intermediate Series and then the Pre-High School Series (including three books on pre-algebra, one on fractions, and another on decimals and percents). (It’s at this level that Dr. Schmidt has also written supplementary practice books, if they are needed.) After this is the High School Series (Beginning Algebra, Advanced Algebra, Geometry and Trigonometry). After the high school series, Dr. Schmidt has several books at the college level too.

This is all to say that Life of Fred can take your student a long way in their math studies. But you need to go slow. I read each chapter with my son, and we don’t try to do more than two or three books per year. We play math games, practice multiplication in various ways, and luckily, my son still doesn’t hate math. Now that we have finished the elementary series, I can see more clearly how this curriculum has benefitted my son and Dr. Schmidt’s strategy for teaching math. And the best part is that there is no prep work for me – we just open the book and begin the next chapter!

Note to fellow secular homeschoolers: The author of this series is religious, and that is apparent in the Life of Fred story. However, religious references are few and very benign. There was nothing that offended me.

Our 2nd Grade Homeschool Schedule and Curriculum


Here I am teaching 2nd grade for the second time to my eight-year-old.

I consider second grade part of those “early elementary” years where children should have more time to play and explore than do sit-down academic work. But my youngest son has a little more structure and academic lessons than his brother did at this age because he has an older brother who is doing more structured, academic work. And I feel there are some lessons, such as history and Spanish, that he can join us for. But he still has a lot of time to play, so it works out well.

As for his schedule, he practices cello for about twenty minutes and, as I mentioned above, sometimes joins his brother and me for lessons in the morning, but otherwise, he gets to play by himself in the mornings. Then I do his main lessons (reading, math etc.) after lunch for about an hour while his older brother practices piano. He sometimes practices cello again after dinner, but this is negotiable. He and his brother have a lot of time to play together in the late afternoons.


Reading — We picked up Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons again, and we’ll be finishing it this year. I still have him work on quite a bit, and after we finish 100 Easy Lessons, I’ll start the Star Wars Reading workbook. He likes these workbooks.

Literature — This is something he joins me and his brother for in the mornings. Right now we’re reading Blood on the River: James Town, 1607, which is a young adult novel about the first permanent English settlement in North America. It’s a great history lesson, and although it is a book for “middle school,” he’s enjoying it as much as his brother. During his one-on-one lesson time with me after lunch, we’ve been reading Stuart Little. In the evenings, I’m reading the Magic Treehouse Books to him, and he won’t let me read anything else! He LOVES them.

Note: See my page Book Reviews to learn about some of the books we’re reading.

Math — I ditched Singapore Math. I still think Singapore is a good curriculum, but I got so tired of having to read ahead and plan the activities and gather the materials when it’s SO EASY to just open up Life of Fred and read the next chapter! And I knew he’d love Life of Fred like his older brother does, so what was I doing not using it? We will be sailing through the first few books because they are quite easy for him, but I think it’s important for him to get the whole story. We are also using the Star Wars Math workbook right now because he wants to do it!

History — This is another subject that he’ll join his brother for in the mornings, but I’ll tell you a secret: I don’t always expect him to listen. Some of our history lessons are a little hard for him to understand, but I can tell he’s getting something out of it because he asks questions. He’s learning about the different cultures of our world, our timeline, and he enjoys the history documentaries we watch. Whatever he absorbs at this point, I’m happy with because we’ll be going over this stuff again in the future. I’ve written about the history books we purchased in Diving into Human History, and I’m recording the progress in our history lessons on this blog. Click here for that or see the main menu.

Science — We watch a lot of science documentaries, and he takes nature and science classes at the nature center and botanical garden. I am also reading several elementary science books to him that we have in our home library, mostly Let’s Read and Find Out Science books and a few Magic School Bus books too. He’ll also join his brother and me when we read The Usbourne Science Encyclopedia, which is a cool book because it has over 180 QR links that I can scan with my phone and then we can watch videos related to the material we’re reading. (In general, we do a lot of science studies in this house. See my science page for links.)

Spanish — This is something that he joins his brother for too, and mostly, he likes it. Although it does require a lot of prep time on my part, the boys are enjoying the games and activities I have found using the Risas y Sonrisas curriculum (one of the reasons why I wanted to stop using Singapore math). I’ll be writing a review on this curriculum soon for home/school/life.

Art — I am not doing formal lessons this year like I did in the past, but we do have fun making art sometimes, and my husband and I take the boys to an art museum once or twice a year. The eight-year-old still enjoys drawing sometimes too. 🙂

Music — The eight-year-old decided he wanted to try the cello! So he’s taking lessons and doing quite well with it. We give him a lot of freedom as to whether or not he wants to practice each day while also making sure he practices enough. Does that make sense? I hope so.

By coincidence, my post “Homeschooling 2nd Grade for the Second Time” is on the home/school/life blog today. In it I talk about how homeschooling for the second time around is both different and similar. I hope you’ll check it out too.

How to Make a Big History Timeline for Your Wall

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We have a hallway upstairs that is rather drab with nothing on the wall, so for quite some time, I was eyeing that hallway with the keen observance that only a homeschool mom can have. Pretty artwork? I couldn’t afford that even if I wanted it. No, it was the perfect spot for a history timeline. This past spring, I finally got around to making that timeline, and once I was finished, I realized I had room for one more!

I’m a very visual person, so this timeline is a huge help for me as I try to grasp history — a subject that I wasn’t particularly interested in as a youth. Now I’m married to a historian and a history professor, so I’m not worried that my boys will not learn about history, but if a timeline helps me, I think it might help them too. It’s also something we can refer back to time and again, and we can see where the stories we’re hearing about the past intersect. They will no longer be separate stories, floating around in “the past,” which could mean yesterday, last year, or hundreds of years ago. With the timeline, we can see that Thales lived much earlier than Sir Isaac Newton, but he lived only approximately 100 years before Pythagoras. It may be hard for young people to grasp the length of time that comes before they’re born, but I trust as my sons mature, ask questions, and study this timeline, they will begin to understand it.

You can see the timelines I made in the photo above. The one on the bottom was my first and most ambitious timeline. My husband was rather dubious when I told him that I wanted a timeline that would illustrate time from the approximately the dawn of civilization to 2000C.E. To say that I’m squishing time into a small space is an understatement.

My plan with these timelines is to add points of history to them as my boys learn about them. I will keep them on the wall for the entirety of the boys’ education five years, so this will be a slow, on-going project. The bottom timeline may fill up to the point where we have no more space left, but that is why I decided to also make a timeline (the top one) from 1700-2000C.E. I imagine that we’ll be concentrating most of our efforts on these years, so I don’t have to squeeze all the major wars and American history into that small space (in red below) on the bottom timeline.

How did I make the timelines? I did it using a little math. First, I measured the wall and determined that I had about 11 feet (or 132 inches) to work with. Then I determined how many years I wanted to illustrate on the timeline. My husband says that there is no way to know exactly when the dawn of civilization occurred, but 3000 or 3500B.C.E. would be sufficient for my purpose. So, I had about 5,000~5,500 years I wanted to get onto the timeline.

There are 100 50-year increments between 3000B.C.E. and 2000C.E. With 132 inches of wall, I used the equation 132 divided by 100 to figure out that I could tick off every 50 years at about 1.3 inches. You can certainly do that, but this is not how I ultimately did it.

From 1000B.C.E. to 2000C.E., I have every 50 years spaced apart by 1.5 inches. From 1000B.C.E. to 3500B.C.E., I began counting the years by hundreds (again, at every 1.5 inch). There are no early records, so dates this far back are all guesswork, and most of our studies will not take us this far back. I marked it clearly on the timeline when I made this change. (See below.) By doing this I had a little more room between years, it was easier to measure, and I was able to get all the way to 3500B.C.E.

For my 1700 – 2000C.E. timeline, I had a generous 2.1 inches to represent every 5 years.

After determining the space I had, I used the following materials:

  • Long roll of white craft paper. I happened to have a Melissa & Doug Easel Paper roll on hand.
  • Tape measure
  • Tape
  • Pencil
  • Something flat with a straight edge, such as a folded piece of paper.
  • Tacky Adhesive, such as this, for mounting on wall. Although you can pin it up any way you like. [UPDATE: We kept our timeline up for 5 years. It served its purpose. However, the tacky adhesive made a mess, and we had to paint the wall. It may be less destructive to pin up with thumb tacks.]

And this is how I made the timeline:

  • I laid the paper out on the floor, and I stretched out about 11.5 feet (more than I needed) of the tape measure in the middle of the paper.
  • I used a little tape to hold down both ends of the measuring tape, and later I simply trimmed each side of the paper, so if the tape messes up the paper when you pull it off, that’s okay.
  • I traced a line on either side of the measuring tape, and then I put a folded piece of paper under the tape measure to use as a straight edge to help me mark off the points where I wanted the numbers to go at every 1.5 inch. (Again, see pictures for illustration.)

Voilà! After it was complete, since it’s so long, the whole family helped take it upstairs and mount it on the wall with the tacky adhesive. It’s heavy, so whatever you use to hang it up will have to be strong. We used a lot of the tacky adhesive in several places along the top and bottom of the paper.

I used a similar method to make the 1700-2000 timeline. You can certainly use this method to make a timeline during any period of history, and it can be as long or as short as you like.

TIP: Use a pencil and don’t press hard. You’ll thank yourself later as you want to rearrange items on the timeline or especially if you make a mistake while writing out all those numbers. (I’m speaking from experience!) As my husband said, “It’s not a piece of art. History is messy.” 

As you can see from my photos, we’ve already started to add a few points of history to our timelines, and we haven’t even done any formal history lessons! It took awhile to get into the habit, but whenever we learn about history through a documentary, book, or even an online article, we make a point to add something to the timeline. My nine-year-old is starting to warm up to history, and I think the timeline is making it fun for him.

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.