I have been keeping a secret for months, and now I’m happy that I can tell you. But first let me keep you in suspense a little longer and tell you about July….

Most significant: It’s hot, and it’s humid, and I’m melting, so please send ice cream. 🙂

Also, we have just got back from a long trip, so we’re taking it easy this week. I had a lot of unpacking, laundry, sorting, cleaning and whatnot to do. Soon I need to turn my attention back to all those homeschooling things that I put away before we left. I still need to finish the progress reports and figure out what we’re going to do during the summer months for lessons and then what to add to that in September for our new year….I have most of that figured out, but I need to check my notes and order some curriculum. We also need to do our annual check-ups at the dentist and doctor and all that.

I feel like I’m always sorting, organizing, cleaning, pondering, planning and making appointments. That’s the life of a homeschool mom, I guess. But I’m very relieved that the major events for our summer are over, and I can use the rest of this season for all that administrative stuff as well as playing and enjoying our garden. We finally added a few new plants to our front garden beds this week.  Hopefully they can withstand the heat.

Edgewater Park on Lake Erie

Okay, let me tell you our secret. It was months in the making, but then it came and went so quickly. My twelve-year-old son was a participant in the 2019 Summer Sonata Program at the Cleveland Institute of Music (CIM). This was a 7-day intensive piano program held in late June. I’m not going to write too much about it, but I will say that it was an amazing week that challenged him, and he loved it. He was finally around other kids who are like him. That is, kids who are talented and work hard at music and love it too. He also got to take classes in Eurhythmics, theory, piano literature, form and composition as well as have one-on-one lessons, duet coaching and master classes. I was so proud of him. It consisted of some very long days, but he kept smiling all the way through it, so that told me all I needed to know.

The week ended with a recital in CIM’s beautiful Mixon Hall when all twenty-two participants performed, and this performance was open to the public. Here’s a photo of him during that recital. It was a wonderful place to perform and learn, and I’m so glad he got to experience this.

Mixon Hall
The twelve-year-old’s recital performance in CIM’s beautiful Mixon Hall.
Another view of Mixon Hall when we first stepped into it. Stunning, isn’t it?

When he was accepted into the program, we had to work our “vacation” around it, if you can call it that. My husband was working remotely while we were in Cleveland and he also took our son to and from CIM everyday. We all supported him in the evenings when he had homework too. But we also enjoyed our one-on-one time with our nine-year-old, and as you might guess, we spent most of our free time birdwatching. And, yes, we put a few more birds on our life lists! That was exciting.

Purple martins nesting at Edgewater Park.

This trip ended up being the “ultimate homeschooling” adventure since we used it as a way to foster the interests of our two boys, which is a major component in project-based homeschooling. For the twelve-year-old, he was going every day to CIM for an intensive music program. For the nine-year-old, we concentrated on birding, visiting the wonderful museums that Cleveland has to offer, and after the music program was over, we extended our trip a few days so that we could go to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, New York. Oh my gosh! What a fantastic place. I will write a separate post about it so that I can include more information about it for you. If you are into birds, you really need to know about this place.

Lake Erie

I should mention that we loved Cleveland. It doesn’t have the best reputation, but we thought it was a beautiful city with a lot to offer. The area around CIM, which is called University Circle, was beautiful with a lot of green spaces. Across the street from CIM was the Cleveland Botanical Garden, and also within walking distance was the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and the Cleveland Art Museum. We visited all of those.

Driving from University Circle to Lake Erie was a treat as we passed multiple mini-international gardens, creating a green belt all the way down Martin Luther King Drive. If we ever go back to Cleveland, we want to walk down that street and see all the gardens at a leisurely pace.

Taken at the Cleveland Botanical Garden. The first photo in this post was also taken at the garden.
Cleveland Art Museum. There was also a contemporary art museum, which I was sad to miss.

There were also other places to visit, but, unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to do everything. But we rented an awesome place through Airbnb — if you ever need to go to Cleveland, ask me about it. I was grateful to have this relaxing space to come home to everyday, and I was glad that the twelve-year-old had a place that felt like home to rest in every evening.

So those are the exciting summer activities that I mentioned in my last post, but they turned out even better than I ever imagined. Stay tuned for more photos from the Cornell Lab in Ithaca, New York.

Please tell me about your summer adventures.

How Did We Do? Our 2018/2019 Homeschool Review

Song Sparrow

At the beginning of each year, I write a post about what curriculum and resources I’m planning to use. At the end of each year, I write a follow-up, letting you know what I changed. Because I always change something.

So this is my follow-up to At Home with the Editors: Shelli’s 6thand 3rdGrade Curriculum, which I published on the home/school/life blog.

6th Grade

  • Writing – I stopped using the Institute for Excellence in Writing’s (IEW) student writing intensive before my son finished it because I felt he got out of it what he needed to, and that was good. I also used part of a textbook I received from a teacher, and it was helpful. Now we’ve moved on to using the Michael Clay Thompson Language Arts Program (MCT) exclusively, which includes grammar and writing, and I think I’ll probably stick with this program from here on out.
  • Grammar – I stopped the IEW Fix it! series (for now), and I’m going to keep using MCT. I’ll be writing more details about this decision for the HSL blog, and I’ll link to that here when it’s published.
  • Extras — In addition to his language arts program, I also had my son work through Cursive Writing Practice: Inspiring Quotes; Note Taking: Lessons to Improve Research Skills and Test Scores; and Study Skills Strategies: Outlining. Except for the cursive, these were things I had not planned on incorporating at the beginning of the year.
  • He recently began working in The Basics of Critical Thinking by the Critical Thinking Co., which will carry over to next year. He likes this book!
  • Reading – My son is an avid reader, and his dad helps him pick out new novels, which I’m thankful for because I can’t do everything. I can’t remember the titles of all his choices, but I can say that he enjoyed the entire Percy Jackson series this year. Before that, he read all the Harry Potter books.
  • Math – This never seems to change. We’ve had a lot of success with the Life of Fred series. (Using this curriculum seems to be quite controversial among secular homeschoolers, which I think is a shame.) Occasionally my son will use Internet resources, if he doesn’t get something, but that’s rare. I especially like Mathantics.com for that. He also worked on math in his test prep book (see below).
  • Music – My son just celebrated four years of taking piano lessons, and he’s more passionate about it every year. His dad is instrumental in helping him get all the resources he needs to achieve his goals. We have discovered that the Great Courses Plus has a lot of courses about music history that appeals to him, so we’ve added time for that.

3rd Grade

  • Reading – My third grader has improved his reading comprehension and has enjoyed several chapter books this year. His most recent favorite book was Goosed! by Bill Wallace.
  • Grammar – He has continued working in the Star Wars 3rd Grade Reading and Writing workbook this year, and I recently decided to begin Level 1 of the MCT curriculum with him. He listened to it while I was reading it to his older brother last year, but this time we’re going slower and using the Practice books too.
  • Math – My younger son loves Life of Fred too. He also completed the Star Wars 3rd Grade Math workbook, and we have used a lot of flashcards to learn the times tables. (I had him watch Time Tales, but that did not help him as much as it helped his older brother, so I guess I would recommend it only if your student is a visual learner.)

Note: Even though there are Star Wars workbooks available for 4thgrade, and we were using them because my son likes them, I think we’ll stop here with those workbooks. Between both boys, I’ve used them for what? Six or seven years? I’m ready to move on, and I think my son will benefit from spending more time on our other curriculum.

  • Birds – Birds has always been a special interest of my youngest son, so we do a lot of bird watching and reading about birds. (We are all bird fanatics now. This is why you will see a lot of bird photographs on my blog.) We put up a birdbath this year, and observing the wildlife it attracts has given us all much joy!
  • Music – My younger son will be celebrating two years of cello lessons later this summer. I’m so impressed with his progress and stick-with-it-ness.

6th and 3rd or what we do together

  • Literature – Although the boys read their own books that they pick themselves, I have continued to read out loud to them this year. We finished reading The Mad Wolf’s Daughter by Diane Magras and then we started Chickadee by Louise Erdrich. Yes, the books I read to them are slow-going because we have a lot of other work to do. We’ve also been reading poetry, books about poetry, and a lovely book titled Finding Wonders: Three Girls Who Changed Science, which is written in poems! See this post for more information on how I’m teaching poetry. I also read history books out loud too. (See below.)
  • Test Prep – This was a testing year for us, so we worked our way through these test prep books (I skipped parts they didn’t need), and I gave the boys the practice tests so that they were aware of what the test would be like. My younger son, especially, had no experience filling in those little bubbles. It’s not something I like doing, but it’s helpful too. We used Test Prep: Grade 6 and Test Prep: Grade 3 by Flash Kids Harcourt Family Learning. I am so grateful that as homeschoolers, my boys don’t have to suffer the stress of too much test-taking or grades, though curiously, now that they understand what a grade is, they get excited to know what their grade is on these tests! lol I am toying with the idea of giving them some practice tests at the end of every year, but we’ll see.
  • Grammar & Writing – In my beginning-of-the-year post, I mentioned that I was reading the MCT Level 1 books to the boys during the summer, and I liked them so much that I was going to try to squeeze in time to finish them all. Well, as you read above, I liked this curriculum so much that I’m completely switching to it!
  • History – We have continued to make slow but good progress on our history lessons. We completed our first unit of U.S. history on the Native Americans, and we also did a unit on Ancient Rome. My son is still watching a Great Course on Ancient Rome. Those courses are really long, so while he watches it, I went ahead and started a new unit on the Islamic World. I haven’t written a blog post about this yet, but the link goes to my husband’s screencast on the Islamic World. I use his screencasts as a guide to what to study. Look at my top menu for links to all our history units. I will continue to add to these posts as we rediscover some of these topics in different ways over the next few years.
  • Science –
    • We did science-related projects this year! See Project-based Homeschooling: Plant Project and Project-based homeschooling: American Elm to learn more about them! I will be writing more about our ongoing birding projects in the future too.
    • The boys also attended two homeschool science courses at our local nature center this year.
    • As far as the formal science lessons:  As I wrote in that beginning-of-the-year post, we did science on Saturday mornings this year. It was the only time I could squeeze it in. But we ended up using an Earth Science For Middle School textbook from CK12.org. (You can also download the teacher’s manual and test and quizzes book to go with this.) I feel it’s so long that we may never finish it, but my 12-year-old really likes it, so we’re sticking with it and will continue to work on it next year. Next year, he’ll be doing science more often, and my third grader will too. He did less science than his older brother this year. Of course, we watched lots of nature and science documentaries, though, and we’re a science loving family in general, so we keep up to date with the latest science discoveries etc.
  • Foreign Languages – Oh how I wanted us to learn both Spanish and Chinese! How cool would that be?! But my boys talked me into letting them just learn Chinese, and I’m fine with that. Curiously, they thought Spanish was boring, but they enjoyed the Chinese lessons. We kept at it four days a week until about a month ago when I pared down our lessons to the very essentials because….it’s spring, we had a lot of appointments, we have a test coming up, we have other things to do, and it’s spring….
  • Music – We had a great year of music lessons and attending a few free concerts at the nearby university.
  • In addition, we have begun watching A Children’s Guide to Folklore and Wonder Tales, a Great Course taught by Prof. Hannah B. Harvey, Ph.D. This is a great supplement to their language arts program.

Well, that’s it in a nutshell. We had a good year, and though we never get to do everything I hope we’ll do, I know we’re making good progress. It’s not over yet either. We still need to take that test, and we have some important educational events and activities happening this summer. We’ll continue to do some “lite homeschooling” through August too. Our 7th grade and 4th grade year will begin in September. (Yikes!)

Another note: Since I have less time to write these focused blog posts, I have begun to write monthly or bimonthly updates. There’s not a lot of “how to” in them, and sometimes I ramble or wax poetic, but I try to give you updates on our homeschool, activities and favorite books/resources. If you’d like to keep up with how we’re doing, please consider following my blog.

And I’d love to hear from you too. What is your homeschool like? What are your favorite resources? If you have any questions, I’m happy to try to answer them. Thanks for reading!


How to Teach Poetry to a Kid Who Hates It

For a couple of years, I have been wanting to squeeze poetry into my sons’ course of study. But how to do this, especially when my eldest son loves to tell me how much he dislikes it. This makes me sad. When I was his age, I was writing poetry!

I understand how poetry isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, though, and some kids may need to grow up before they begin to appreciate it. Sometimes it’s an acquired taste; sometimes not. I thought my musically gifted son would be able to understand poetry in a way I never could. After all, music has a lot in common with poetry. But he doesn’t like it. Not yet. (With the exception of Shel Silverstein.)

I don’t make it a habit to force my kids to do something they really don’t want to do, but then again, there are things I think are important for everyone to learn or become aware of, if not an expert at. I would love for my boys to develop an appreciation for poetry, but even if they don’t, I don’t feel I’d be educating them properly if I didn’t teach them about it. But I waited until the right time and resource came along…

Along it came a couple of years ago when I did a review of grammar programs for home/school/life magazine. I received a complimentary copy of Music of the Hemispheres because it was part of the first level of the Michael Clay Thomas language arts program by Royal Fireworks Press. I was not reviewing that specific book, however, so it sat on my shelf for about a year and then last summer I picked it up after we finished reading through Grammar Island and Sentence Island. It was in the sequence of books for this curriculum, and we loved the first ones, so I thought I would read this one to the boys too. And, wow! I loved it. I mean, Where was this book when I was a kid trying to understand poetry better?  Not only is it a beautiful book and visually appealing, it explains all those tricky elements of poetry in a way that kids can understand. (Okay, iambic pentameter and dactylic, iambic and trochaic tetrameter is still a bit tricky, but it was a good introduction.) It was a beautiful way to explain simile, metaphor, alliteration, onomatopoeia, and it’s not a long book, so it’s perfect for kids. (Tip: If you’re on a tight budget, all you need to buy is the teacher’s manual.)

With this book, I came up with a game plan on how to teach poetry to my kids.

How to teach poetry to a kid who hates it? Here’s what I decided NOT to do:

  • I’m not going to require him to memorize it. While I love the idea of memorizing poetry, why put him through that when he hates it? What would it really achieve, especially when he’s memorizing great musical works by Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Haydn, Scarlatti and many other great composers?
  • I’m not going to make him write poetry. Not even a haiku.
  • I didn’t make him do the exercises in Music of the Hemispheres.

This is what I decided I WOULD DO:

  • Read poetry to him. But….>
    • …just once a week
    • a few poems at a time
    • 30 minutes tops
    • he is fine with that
  • Also, I will read from children’s poetry anthologies or other works that are age appropriate and hopefully more appealing than the esoteric stuff I read in college.
  • Along with reading a few poems, I’ll read a few pages from Music of the Hemispheres. (See above for a review of that.)
    • All I did was make him listen to a few pages, and I occasionally asked questions or expanded on the book with my own knowledge. Again, just once a week.
  • When possible, I will find unique poetry that may interest him more, such as Finding Wonders: Three Girls Who Changed Science,  which was a gift from relatives. (Thank you!!) He actually likes this book, which uses poetry to tell the stories of three important scientists.
  • In lieu of memorizing poetry, I bought three folders with fasteners, and I told both the boys that as we read the poetry, whenever they find a poem they really like, I will photocopy it and put it in their folder. That way, they can slowly accumulate a nice booklet of poems that they like.

Fortunately, my younger son does like poetry. What a pleasant surprise! He has picked several poems to include in his folder. My eldest son? Well, after a full year of reading poetry, he’s picked one. At least there was one! lol

It is my hope that exposing him to poetry in this (hopefully) less painful way will at least make him aware of the art form because as a musician, I think it’s important that he has knowledge of and respect for all the arts. (Everyone should, really!) And as for my younger son, I’m pleasantly surprised that he enjoys it, and I’m glad I’m exposing him to it because otherwise it may have taken him a long time to *find* poetry on his own.

As for the future, I plan to get the next poetics book in the Michael Clay Thomas language arts program, but I’m not sure when. I plan to keep reading poetry once a week to the boys. Since we finished the Oxford Children’s Anthology, we’re working on Finding Wonders now. Yes, it’s a slow way to teach poetry, but it’s perfect for my reluctant poet, a good introduction for my younger son, and over time, a little bit each week builds up to a good dose of poetry.

Do you teach poetry to your kids? What are some of your favorite resources?


Today the weather finally feels like spring. We’ve had other spring-like days this winter, but I think we were too busy to notice. But today it’s Sunday, and we took advantage of this warmer, cloudy day to go bird watching at Ft. Yargo State Park. There were very few people there since the forecast predicted rain, but as I write this, it’s late afternoon, and we haven’t had any rain yet, so our instincts were right. 🙂

We had a very successful bird watching expedition this morning. I believe birds are beginning to migrate back up north, so we were able to add some new species to our “life lists.” This included lesser scaups, a pied-billed grebe, and hooded mergansers. We also saw Canada geese, mallards, and wood ducks. As for songbirds, we saw the ever-present cardinals, Carolina wrens and white-throated sparrows. I also saw a red-bellied woodpecker, though I wasn’t able to identify it until I cropped the photo I took on my computer. In fact, cropping photos helped us identify the pied-billed grebe and hooded mergansers too.

lesser scaups

You may be thinking that my blog is turning into a birding blog, and maybe it is. LOL But as I have written many times, birds are a favorite interest of my youngest son, and my eldest son loves birds too. In fact, I think my eldest son helps keep the interest alive in his younger brother as he’s more adept at identifying the birds and looking them up in the bird app. But now that the nine-year-old is growing more capable, I hear a lot of fussing over who gets to do the “looking up.” (And who gets the binoculars too.) But it’s all good. I love to see them work together and get each other interested in something.


Other than this, we are still in the middle of what I call “piano season.” Along with the state piano competition, my son has other events he’s attending, so he’s been busy preparing for those, and with the temperamental weather, we’ve mostly been inside….another reason why today was so special. We finally got outside for awhile!

One good thing about being stuck at home for awhile is that we get a lot of lessons done. I feel like we’re making very good progress this year, though I have ditched a few things and changed resources on a couple of subjects. But this is the best part of homeschooling — getting to change it when it seems for the best. I will try to write about that in more detail at some point.

signs of spring

We are especially having fun with our subscription to the Great Courses Plus. The boys have even found courses that they are willing to watch on their own free time! (How to Play Chess and Robotics)  We are also watching The Rise of Rome for history and an Intro to Geology for science. I have also discovered that the course How to be a Superstar Student is great for my boys, and it’s introducing them a lot of skills that we’ll be going over again as they get older. It is targeted for high school age students, but the silly parts are probably more funny to kids that are my boys’ age instead. We have also watched a course on mathematics that we’ll slowly continue as my eldest son reaches each concept in his math curriculum. (Most of the courses, however, are college-level, so I am not recommending that homeschoolers with young kids subscribe. What until you get to junior high or high school.)

Do you see me? great blue heron

Also exciting to me is that I have started reading Chickadee by Louise Erdrich, the fourth book in the Birchbark series, out loud to the boys. This series has to be my favorite young adult series that I’ve read so far. I’m not extremely well-read when it comes to young adult novels, but I’ve been adding several titles to my list as I read books to prepare for my rising 7th grader’s literature study next year. I have decided to do a theme-based literature unit on books about “survival.” It’s been a lot of fun to read the books and think about all the ways humans “survive” this world.

Well, now it’s Monday morning, and I am trying to wake myself up after the dreadful time change. I will finish up this post with a few photos from our birding expedition yesterday. And please tell me–how are you doing this early spring? 

Our 6th and 3rd Grade Homeschool Curriculum

This year I needed to save time (as a homeschooling parent I am sure you can relate), so I wrote about our 6th and 3rd grade curriculum on the home/school/life blog only. This is a list of all the resources we’re using right now in the 2018-2019 school year. I may write individual posts on these resources/subjects at a later date, if I can find the time. Please don’t hesitate to ask me questions, if you have any.

I hope you don’t mind making one click to access this post at home/school/life:

At Home with the Editors: Shelli’s 6th and 3rd Grade Curriculum

I also wrote about this year’s homeschool schedule in How to Create a Homeschool Schedule.

And please share your wisdom and favorite resources in the comments section!

How to Create a Homeschool Schedule

The Sassafras tree growing in our yard is turning color. This is one of many trees we’ve identified for our plant project this year. I’ll write more about that at a later date.

I have written a post about our 3rd and 6th grade curriculum for the home/school/life blog, and you can see all my favorite curriculum choices on this page, which I keep updated.

Since I already wrote about our curriculum, I thought I would take the time to share how I schedule our week, though it’s not complicated. You probably use a similar way to schedule your homeschool.

First, I work around our weekly appointments, and then I try to keep to the routine that we established when the boys were very little, which is work in the morning and rest in the afternoon. (Although now that they are older, we also do some work in the early evenings too.)

Morning – academic lessons for eldest son/educational activities for both
Lunch – watch a documentary
After Lunch – piano practice for eldest and academic lessons for youngest
Late Afternoon – rest/T.V./play for boys
After Dinner – instrument practice for both boys (piano and cello)
Showers and rest/T.V.
Books before bed

That is roughly how our daily routine goes, though three afternoons a week we have appointments, and on some evenings, we attend music recitals or concerts at a local university. I should also mention that this schedule is also my schedule and partly my husband’s too. He usually sits with my eldest son as he practices piano, and I sit with my youngest as he practices cello. This habit has benefitted us all, but it makes for a very full day for the parents. 🙂

Fitting in the Academic Subjects

How do I work in all the academic subjects? It’s impossible to do every subject everyday, so the first thing I do each year is make a big list of the subjects we’re going to study. Then I arrange them from the highest priority to the lowest. This year writing, grammar and math are my highest priorities, so we do those subjects first at least three days a week.

Each day is a little different. I usually work one-on-one with my eldest son in the mornings, but, for example, I will schedule a list of lessons that he can do without me on the morning that his brother is preparing for a cello lesson in the afternoon. On days that we have no appointments, I can spend more time on more challenging subjects, or I can spend more time reading history or doing science projects that both boys participate in. If I can’t fit the lower priority lessons into the week, I will just skip them or possibly rotate them in the following week.

For these past six years of homeschooling, I have mostly not worried about finishing a particular curriculum in one year. In general, when we want to take a break, I’ll close the book and then open it again when our break is over. As long as we are making progress and moving along, this strategy has worked, and it’s benefitted my boys to go at their pace.

However, now that my eldest is twelve, and he’s in “middle school,” I have changed my tactics this year, especially with math and grammar. I have a goal to finish our current resources by early spring, so to determine how much we need to do each week, I’ve counted the number of lessons or chapters, and I’ve divided by the number of weeks we have until my self-imposed deadline. We’re going to try to do that many lessons each week. But the deadline is flexible, of course, and I used a rather absurdly early deadline of April 30 to determine how many lessons to do. If we finish by June, that’ll be great too. There isn’t any REAL deadline when you’re homeschooling, but as I said, I like to see us making progress. Part of the reason I’m trying this is because this is a testing year, and I’m hoping we can take the test early. If we can’t, no big deal.

I’m also trying this new “goal setting” because as my son gets older and into high school, he will have to work more independently, and he’ll be working on more challenging assignments, so 1) I want to make sure he’s met the prerequisites for this higher level work, and 2) I want to teach him about setting goals and pacing himself. He’s learning a lot about this by playing the piano and preparing for competitions, but he can see how it will work for his school work too. Or maybe I’m the one that needs a trial run before we get into high school! (Yes, I think that’s it.)

This year I’m finding it helpful to plan our whole week at one time. I usually do this over the weekend. (Last year I planned each day the night before, and that worked okay too.) I made up a little planning chart for myself. I make photocopies of these, and then I discard them at the end of each week. (I have another chart that I use to record what we actually did, and I put these into the boys portfolios.)

Click here to upload my weekly planning chart. (PDF)

I’m happy to share this weekly planning chart with you, but you could easily make one up for yourself too. Each week I first pencil in our regular appointments and any other appointments that may arise. Then I work in our lessons around that. I always use pencil because it’s always bound to change.

I could go into much deeper detail about how I schedule our lessons, but that would make this post too long and confusing. Instead, I invite you to ask me any questions, and I’d be happy to answer in the comments section.

Even if you don’t have any questions, I hope you’re having a happy homeschooling year! I’d love to hear from you, if you have minute.


It’s October, and our year is well on its way. (Even if it does feel like August outside.)

This year I’m putting in the effort to plan our week’s lessons on the weekend, and this has been helpful for me. Writing, grammar, cursive, math, history, science, Spanish, Chinese and more — not necessarily in that order — but we’re getting to all of it. Usually.

We also have a plant project going on that may last all year. We’re learning about trees, especially the ones in our yard, and the plants that grow in the woods. My eldest son got some field guides for his birthday, and he’s making use of them. 🙂

All the photos in this post were taken on a day hike that we took last weekend. We never plan these excursions. We just wake up and decide it’s a good day to go.

My son requested a science curriculum this year, so we’re trying CK-12’s free, online textbook, Earth Science Concepts for Middle School. He likes it so far, but we don’t have time for it everyday, which is frustrating. There’s so much to do!

We started U.S. history, and I found a cool kids book at the library about Cahokia. We are also going to try another library book about the 1680 Pueblo Revolt, which we learned about on our trip out west. That should be interesting! Haven’t found time for Ancient Rome, though. We’ll have to stick to one history subject at a time.

We finished reading The Mad Wolf’s Daughter, which was fun (book review forthcoming on the home/school/life blog), and now we’re reading Freedom Train, a little book I own because I bought it when I assisted the author at a writer’s conference many years ago (before I had children). It’s a good read and will give them insight into racism and social justice.

My eldest son has finally caught the Harry Potter fever, and he’s already on the fifth book, which he reads at night before bed. My younger son is reading pretty well now too. He likes to read comics in his spare time just like his older brother, and I’m currently reading Old Yeller to him, which he remembers, but he wanted to hear it again. It’s one of those classics that never gets old.

Every morning I roll our round table out onto our front porch to do our lessons. It’s a bit of a hassle to move the table, but I don’t mind. It’s beautiful outside in the mornings. We get distracted by the birds, bugs, our dog, and the sunlight (we have to move the table to and fro as the light changes), but all the distractions are worth it. I let them (the boys and dog) take breaks and run around the trees. It makes me happy to be outside, and I hope the boys will remember their mornings spent on the front porch. Pretty soon it’ll be too cool to go outside.

I wrote a post about our curriculum like I do every year, but this time, it’ll be posted only on the home/school/life blog. (I need to save time.) I’ll be sure to link to it from here. I’ve also written about how I schedule our lessons, and I’ll post that here in the near future.

I’ve never seen a tree grow like this in the woods before. Can anyone guess what made it do that? I have no idea!

I’m enjoying our routine, our learning, our nature excursions, the music in the house as well as local recitals we attend. If you saw the Excel spreadsheet that I meticulously work on to plan each day you would probably think I was one of the those uber-organized freaks. Maybe I am? But I have come to this over six years of homeschooling and realize that it’s necessary when you stay home with two kids and take on their entire education. When you think your kids are probably college-bound, and there are three hours of instrument practice between the two of them each day, you’ve got to be organized. You have to plan meticulously to get everything in (almost everything, anyway) and leave a little free time too.

There’s a lot that goes undone. I don’t cook meals from scratch. I don’t scrub my floors or the bathrooms every week. (Though I do clean. And do laundry. Every single day.) I don’t visit friends or family very much. I don’t take days off or ever visit the bookstore by myself just for the fun of it. I don’t get much writing, photography or other pleasures done. But I consider it a time of life where my priorities are elsewhere.

(There are positives to being busy with kids, though. I don’t spend too much time on social media or dwell too long about negative things!)

I don’t think there are any people who truly understand this lifestyle we’re living except maybe other homeschoolers. I say “maybe” because believe it or not, I was criticized once by another homeschool mom. It made me realize that within the homeschooling movement, there are a lot of different opinions about how to homeschool. But most homeschoolers have a live and let live attitude because they get judged a lot. And most of them get it. They take full advantage of this lifestyle and know why it’s worth it. Other people don’t need to understand, and maybe it’s a good thing. If every parent who could manage it understood the benefits of homeschooling, then….well, there would be too many homeschoolers, and the resources would be stretched and there would be parents who were doing it for the wrong reasons. (And that sometimes happens now, unfortunately.)

But I’m off on a trail that I didn’t mean to go down. I just wanted to say that October is here! We have a full year of learning ahead of us. We have good books to read and excursions to take. We have concerts to attend at the local university (we’ve already been to several). We have homeschool science classes to attend at the nature center (yay!). My eldest son will be giving more recitals and attending studio classes and other cool events arranged by his piano teacher. My younger son is making strides on the cello. It’s all so exciting.

Every time I check off the plans completed for a day or week, it feels very satisfying. I wish I could blog more about it, but you’ll have to make do with these occasional long, windy posts that I write here and there and try to edit into something cohesive. If you’d like for me to write about something specific, or you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment or send a private e-mail.

I hope you are having a fulfilling autumn too. I wish you peace and joy and perfect weather. (We’re still waiting for that weather here in Georgia. :/ )

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.

Homeschooling 3rd Grade Language Arts

Some of this comes from my larger post about our 3rd grade schedule and curriculum, but it goes more in depth on how we did language arts this year. I’m going to try to do at least one post each year on math and language arts because I know focusing on one subject can be helpful to some people, and it helps me think about how I want to move ahead in these areas.


My eldest son began to read well when he was eight-years-old. I can’t tell you how happy I am that we are homeschooling. If he were in school, he would have been pressured to read much earlier, and to be honest, I was trying to teach him to read since he was five. He knew the alphabet and all the sounds before he turned two-years-old, so I thought learning to read would be easy for him. I was wrong.

I probably pushed him to read too early, but I didn’t put nearly as much pressure on him as traditional school would have. As I made my way through trying (and failing) to teach him to read and then discovering that voila! he just knew how to read one day, I learned that this is typical of many boys. Of course, it’s not typical of all boys, and it can happen to girls too, but in general, boys can be slower to learn to read. It has to do with how their brains develop.

So I was glad that even though I made a few mistakes, I didn’t make reading torture for him or make him hate reading. By homeschooling, I was able to make our reading lessons short and less stressful, and I spent more time reading to him. I believe if a child is read to often and in a loving way, then he’ll eventually see the beauty of books.

Even though my son is reading on his own now, my goal this year was to read a lot of literature to him. And I did. And I’m happy about this. Briefly, here is some of what we’ve read:

  • At the beginning of the year, we finished The Complete Tales and Poems of Winnie-the-Pooh, which was a big book and took up most of last year!
  • My Father’s Dragon
  • Charlotte’s Web
  • The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
  • The Story of Dr. Doolittle
  • On the Shores of Silver Lake (part of the Little House books)
  • The Long Winter (part of the Little House books)
  • several books about the Lewis and Clark Expedition
  • Only the Names Remain (regarding the Cherokee Indians and Trail of Tears)
  • Alice in Wonderland (We read most of this but didn’t finish it, and that’s my fault. I hated it and just couldn’t swallow anymore.)

Right now I’m reading Little Town on the Prairie and Old Yeller to him.

(Note: My younger son listens along to some of these too, although they’re more at my nine-year-old’s level, so he can get bored. He still loves storybooks, so I read a lot of those to him.)

I know homeschoolers whose reading lists are so much longer than ours, but that’s okay. Neither I nor my boys are the kind of people who want to spend long periods of time reading. We’re too restless. (Maybe I’m a boy in an alternate universe? Come to think of it, I hate shopping too! Okay, I digress…) I still love reading, but I read very slowly, and I think that’s okay.

My goal was to bring back our morning read-a-louds this year, and I did that! Yay!  **Patting myself on the back**

My son doesn’t seek out books to read silently to himself on a regular basis (frankly, there’s not much time in our busy day for it), but he does love to read and re-read the three big volumes of Calvin and Hobbes that we own. They sit on the kitchen table with our newspapers, and he reads them throughout the day. Aside from this, he’s been reading the Battle Bugs series, which he seems to enjoy too, but when he reads those, it’s usually because I set time aside during lesson time and not because he felt like reading on his own.

As for other language arts nitty-gritty:

We finished All About Spelling Level 1! Can’t say my son loved it, but I thought it was a great program, and it showed us both that he can spell, if he thinks about it.

For handwriting, we switched from Handwriting Without Tears to a calligraphy set. My son still loathes writing with a utensil, but it became a little more bearable with a calligraphy pen. I let him pick a sentence of his choice to write in calligraphy. Later in the year, he did less calligraphy, and we went back to writing with a good ‘ol pencil.

This summer, I stumbled on a wonderful app that combines both spelling and handwriting. It’s the 3rd grade 24×7 Digital Teach Me app. With this app, he is learning to spell 3rd grade level words, and he writes with his finger. And he doesn’t seem to mind this! In fact, he likes it! ***Jumping for joy!!*** He seems excited that he’s learning to spell words like “beautiful” and “almost.” The app is quite sophisticated and requires him to write the letters correctly in order to get it marked as a right answer. I can’t tell you how happy I am to have found this app! (My younger son uses the 1st grade version.)

Finally, I went over some grammar and parts of speech with my son this year with a test prep book and some posters I have because I knew these would be part of the test he had to take. I can’t imagine a worse way to foster a love of writing (unless a child likes it) than teaching kids the parts of speech at this age, and for the life of me, I don’t know why he needs to know this right now. (I am more in line with Patricia Zaballos’ method of teaching writing.) I really hated having to teach it, and I hated having to test him. (But grateful we are homeschooling considering the ridiculous testing they do in schools these days!) Anyway, we got through it, and I’m going to be doing some research on materials to teach this stuff in a more palatable way.

So, please tell me, what are your favorite resources for teaching language arts and parts of speech and all that fun stuff? (That is, fun for us English majors.)

Homeschooling 3rd Grade Math

Some of this comes from my larger post about our 3rd grade schedule and curriculum, but it goes more in depth on how we did math this year. I’m going to try to do at least one post each year on math and language arts because I know focusing on one subject can be helpful to some people, and it helps me think about how I want to move ahead in these areas.


I am happy about how far we’ve come in math this year, but if you read my post over on the home/school/life blog, you’ll know it was my academic priority. In previous years, I was concentrating on helping my son learn how to read, and of course, that’s still important to keep up with, but this year, I wanted to ramp up on math.

I have tried various resources for math. With my younger son, I’m using Singapore math, and I really like it. But my nine-year-old son just isn’t into math. He can do it, but he isn’t eager about it. But he loves the Life of Fred math books. He’s told me it’s the only way he wants to learn math. So, okay, I decided that’s what we’d use as our main curriculum, and I’d find other ways of supplementing it.

This year we completed four Life of Fred books. (Yes, four! Which puts us at completing seven total.) This year we worked through Dogs, Edgewood, Farming and Goldfish. I have the next three books, which is suppose to take us through 4th grade, and I plan to start them in the fall.

{I should note that the author of the Life of Fred books suggests that you repeat the books 2~3 times until your child has a solid understanding of the material. But Life of Fred books, if you read all of them, does a good job of reviewing material from previous books, which I like, and my son would be bored, if we were to repeat anything he has done before. Second, he did have a good understanding of the math concepts after reading the books. What he needs practice with is memorizing the addition and subtraction facts and multiplication tables, so we continue to do that with games and apps. Also, I think it’s important to teach him how to take tests, and we would do those things in addition to any curriculum we used.}

I had him do some additional practice in a test prep book because this year I had to test him. You can read about our testing experience in My experience with the PASS standardized test for homeschoolers.

I have also begun to require that my son memorize the times tables, and we started with the three times tables. I put a little chart of “the threes” up on the wall, and I covered the answers. We go over it every time we do lessons. To make it fun, I began timing my son on how fast he could recite the 3 times table, and then he tries to beat his time. To my delight, my six-year-old wanted to join in on the fun. (Let me be clear: It’s fun for the six-year-old because he’s obsessed with numbers. Not so much for the nine-year-old, but he’s willing.)

Now that it’s summer and the testing is over, I’m taking a break from our curriculum, and I’m just having the boys practice their times tables. I’ve found some apps to help with this:

  • The first one I found on google play, and I use it on my android phone, but I think it’s also available on Apple products. It’s called DK Times Tables. It’s a very simple car race game where the player needs to answer the equations correctly to get their car to move forward. Players begin with the ones times table & progress through to the twelves and then a mix of numbers. (But you can pick any number to start with.) The game has the player do the times table in order, then randomly & then filling in a missing number, so it’s quite thorough.
  • The second app is on our iPad, and someday I’ll write a separate post about these apps because they are wonderful. It is 24×7 Digital Teach Me apps. Practicing math is just one component. In the 3rd grade edition, I have it set for my son to practice only the multiplication tables and spelling. He really likes it and even asks to play with it! (I had signed him up for Time4Learning, thinking it would make a nice review this summer, but we have been using this app more, so I cancelled Time4Learning.)

That’s the gist of how we’ve done math during my eldest son’s third grade year. If you have any questions for me, I’d be happy to answer them, and if you have some 3rd math materials that you love and want to share with others, please leave a comment!