Homeschooling 4th Grade: Our First Science Curriculum

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Up until this year, I guess you could say that we have “unschooled”science. My son loved nature and, consequently, science. We got outside to explore often, and we did experiments at home for fun. We raised butterflies. We grew carnivorous plants. We read books. He got into robotics, which he still likes. We watch countless science documentaries. Furthermore, over the past several years, there were many opportunities to learn about science through community resources. My son was in the knee-high naturalist class and homeschool science classes at the nature center for years. We still take advantage of programs at the botanical garden. I am convinced that given all these opportunities, young homeschooled children do not need any formal instruction in science.

For a list of our major science projects/studies, click here.

This year we thought it would be a good idea to round out his knowledge with a more systematic curriculum. I am finding out that, indeed, my son learned a lot of science. But there is vocabulary and finer details that we’re learning anew in the curriculum.

We are using Biology for the Logic Stage by Elemental Science. I wish I had other science curriculums to compare it to because I can’t tell you whether I like it very much or not. I do like how it’s organized, and it’s easy to use. I love the books that came with it (or either you have to order them on your own to go with it, depending on which package you buy). These are the Usborne Science Encyclopedia and Kingfisher Science Encyclopedia. What I don’t love about it is that sometimes she calls what I would term “activities” as “experiments.” Experiments are supposed to test a hypotheses. Making a diorama of a habitat is not an experiment! However, this is being nit-picky, and on the whole, I think we’re getting a lot out of the curriculum.

This curriculum is supposed to be for middle school, so some of what it requires is a little hard for my 4th grader. That is, writing up lengthy reports, etc. Since my son’s writing skills still need work, I’m not requiring him to do any of that. But we do read the assigned pages, watch videos (via the QR Codes in the Usbourne book –I love that), memorize terms, fill out the vocabulary list and label the sketch.

As far as the “experiment,” i.e. activity, I let my son do it, if he wants to. This is because he’s already done 90% of them on his own or during classes in these last several years of unschooled science inquiry! (I think I shall refer to those years as “the science years.” Now we are into “the piano years,” though we still love science. 🙂 )

Though my son still loves science, he doesn’t love this curriculum. He likes watching science documentaries and doing science when it’s not required. I don’t blame him. But I do think it’s important that we “cross our Ts and dot our Is,” so to speak, especially now that he’s ten, and he’s not actively pursuing science topics like he used to. However, he did ask me to order the chemistry curriculum for when we finish this biology book. He’s always liked chemistry, so you never know where that might take us.

Homeschooling 4th Grade: Math & the Multiplication Tables

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I love math.

Wait. Did I just say “I love math?” Why, yes, I think I did. It’s the first time I have ever made that statement. 

One of my English professors said that English majors are usually proud to say how bad they are are math. That’s kind of true. But now I know that the only reason I was ever bad at math is because I was ushered through a boring math curriculum each year, and I didn’t really get it, but I managed to pass, and that’s all school cared about…that I could pass. They didn’t care if I didn’t like math or if I didn’t understand it that well.

I’m hoping I can do a better job teaching math to my boys even though math isn’t my forte. Luckily, there are many good curriculums that can help English majors teach math to their kids. *wink*

My 10-year-old has never wanted to do math with any other curriculum* except Life of Fredand even though I’ve heard people say that Life of Fred can’t stand alone as a math curriculum, we’ve made it work. If you haven’t heard of it before, Life of Fred is a series of books that tell a wacky story of a five-year-old math genius named Fred. Fred encounters math problems in his everyday life, so readers of Life of Fred  are going to learn about math as well as a little bit of history, grammar, odd facts and not-so-bad advice for living a good life.**

I think it does a pretty good job of teaching everything my son needs to know about math and then some. However, it doesn’t include a lot of practice problems, which is probably what causes people to criticize it. But up until now, I liked the fact that it only had a few questions at the end of each chapter, and some chapters include an additional “row of practice.” This is because I didn’t think my son needed to waste time doing worksheets. That would have caused him to hate math.

Let me be clear: I don’t think very young children need to spend their time filling out worksheets unless they like doing them. Young children need to move and play, and they don’t have to spend that much time practicing sums such as 2+1=3. But now that my son is ten, he’s more than capable of sitting still and focusing for longer amounts of time. And the math he’s doing is more complicated, and I think he needs to practice. He’s not going to remember the steps for multiplying or dividing large numbers unless he practices. I don’t feel bad making him sit and do worksheets anymore, although I can’t say he loves math. But I don’t think he hates it either.

Because of this, I’ve added a Spectrum 4th grade workbook to my son’s lessons. He has just started it — this is something I added mid-year. I really like this workbook, and it’s going to help me assess what my son knows and what he needs more help on. The other great thing about the workbook is that I don’t need to be here when he works on it, and that’s really helpful. (I know many children do Life of Fred on their own, and my son could probably do it by himself too, but I actually like reading them with him because that way I know exactly what he’s learning and where he’s at, and I can help him, if he needs it.)

So far this year the 10-year-old and I finished Life of Fred: Honey, and now we’re in the middle of Life of Fred: Ice Cream. After this, we’ll do Life of Fred: Jelly Beans, and that will complete the entire elementary series! According to the author of Life of Fred, the elementary series is 1st-4th grade, so we’re right on target. Next year, we’ll work through the intermediate series. (Life of Fred continues right on up through college level.)

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The Multiplication Tables

To memorize them or not? I spent a very short time deciding whether or not I should make my kids memorize the multiplication tables. I decided that, yes, they should. Their math curriculums would be that much more difficult, if they didn’t learn their multiplication tables. Life would be more difficult too!

Also what helped me decide is that my husband listens to this tech podcast (sorry I don’t know which one), and he told me that one of the speakers was talking about how he unschooled his son, and he didn’t make him memorize the times tables. He said that now his son is an adult and works in computer science, which requires a lot of math. He said his son wishes his dad made him memorize the times tables because now he struggles with simple multiplication. It’s a lot easier to memorize things when you are young!  And, you just don’t know what your kids might do when they grow up. Why put them at a disadvantage?

For the past year, I’ve been working with both my boys (my younger one wanted to join in!) on the multiplication tables. We used flash cards and some simple games, and we got through the 5s times tables.

Then, thanks to a recommendation by my real-life acquaintance, Drue , who sometimes reads this blog, I’m trying out Times Tales with the boys. Times Tales cost about $20 and come with two videos and a couple of worksheets and activities. The stories in Times Tales are mnemonic devices that are supposed to help your children learn the 6-9 times tables. If they can remember the characters (such as Mrs. Week, who is the number 7, and the treehouse, which is number 9), and they can remember the story associated with the number characters, they should remember the answer to the multiplication problems.

Did they help my boys? Yes and no. Yes, it has helped my older son, the 10-year-old, tremendously. He’s remembering his multiplication tables much better! However, it has not helped my 7-year-old. He has a hard time remembering the stories or “getting it.” He may be too young, so I’ll wait a couple of years and have him watch the videos again. It also could be that they help my 10-year-old because he’s very much a visual and auditory learner, and my younger son is more hands-on, but I have a feeling it’ll help the 7-year-old when he’s older.

At any rate, it’s the 10-year-old who is supposed be learning his times tables right now (Life of Fred recommends making flash cards and practicing them before moving on through the books), so I’m thrilled that Times Tales has helped him so much. We are going to keep working through the activities, and I have no doubt he’ll master all of them soon.

 

*I’m using Singapore math with my younger son. Stay tuned to get a full review of it.

**For those of you who are secular homeschoolers, you should be forewarned that Life of Fred is written by a Christian author, so there are Christian references in the books. However, there is nothing that is offensive to me, and there is no preaching.

4th Grade Homeschooling: Language Arts

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By the time my son graduates, I not only want him to be a competent writer, I want him to have read a lot of great literature. I think good literature teaches children much more than language arts. I use it to teach compassion, history, and about different kinds of people and places, just to name a few things.

My 10-year-old has never been drawn to literary things like I was a child, but he used to love for me to tell him stories, and he still enjoys being read to. He also reads comic books by himself. (I consider that a win.) Until this year, he hated the physical act of writing…it hurt his hand. So, I waited, worried, tried different things, didn’t push too hard, and waited some more. At nine-years-old, whatever it was that bothered him about picking up a pencil, went away. (Yay!) So now I’m slowing acclimating him to doing a little more writing during his lessons, and I’m planning to start a more formal writing program next year.

With those things in mind, here’s what we’ve been doing so far this year:

Literature

Recently I finished reading The Birchbark House by my favorite author, Louise Erdrich, out loud to both boys. It’s the first book in a series that is supposed to compliment the Little House series as it tells the story of a young Anishinaabeg girl. At first, my younger son wasn’t interested in the book, but he was always in earshot, and half-way through the book he began to sit down and listen with his older brother. The 10-year-old liked it a lot, and I think he’s looking forward to its sequel. You can read a review I wrote of the The Birchbark House on the home/school/life blog, but it’s a great history lesson as well as a beautiful read. And I loved that it had strong, female characters.

In the evenings, I always read to each boy separately, and the 10-year-old and I just finished reading My Side of the Mountain and its two sequels by Jean Craighead George. My Side of the Mountain was one of my favorite books when I was a kid, so I knew I wanted to read it to him, and we were both so happy to find out she later wrote the sequels: On the Far Side of the Mountain and Frightful’s MountainIf you have a child who loves nature and/or peregrine falcons, you must read these books. Frightful’s Mountain was my personal favorite!

My 10-year-old has read a few books by himself this year: Jedi Academy: A New Class, I Survived: The Nazi Invasion, 1944, Star Wars The Empire Vol 1 (Legends), and Star Wars The Rebellion Vol 1 (Legends). He also enjoys reading Garfield and Calvin & Hobbes.

Handwriting & Beginning Writing

This is where I’m going very slow, and I’m just getting him used to putting pencil to paper more often.

Since he’s willing to write now, I dusted off some old workbooks that we used in previous years, and I assign a 2-4 pages per week. He’s finished with Printing Power by Handwriting Without Tears and almost finished with this Star Wars writing book, which has creative writing prompts in it. These are for younger grades, but like I said, I just wanted to get him used to doing some more writing. We’ll be jumping ahead and into a more formal writing program next year, I think.

He is also still working through a free keyboarding program. He hates it, but this is something I think he’ll be thankful to know later. I only require it once or twice a week as well.

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Grammar

My big project — reviewing grammar curriculums for home/school/life magazine — really paid off for me. (I hope you will read it!) I didn’t think I would be able to find a grammar curriculum that my son would like, but I did. We’re now using Fix It! Grammar by the Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW). Right now we’re using the first book (there are six total) called The Nose Tree. I plan on buying the next books as we need them. My son has actually said he likes doing grammar with these! Each week I teach him about a new part of speech, and then there are four days of very short lessons. All he has to do is correct one sentence, look up a vocabulary word, and copy the sentence into the notebook. The sentence he’s correcting and copying is one sentence in a long story called The Nose Tree, and once he finishes this book, he’ll have written out the whole story in his notebook. We both love that.

Although the curriculum conveniently creates lessons for a four-day school week, we usually take two weeks to complete them. This is because I don’t do grammar everyday…we have so much to do!

This is what we’re doing for language arts right now. I have many plans percolating in my head about the future of my sons’ language arts homeschool program. As I work through them all, I’ll be sure to share it with you. Thanks for reading. 🙂

My Mid-Year Homeschooling Report in Multiple Posts

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Every year around this time, I write a “mid-year review” that compliments my beginning-of-the-school-year schedule and curriculum posts. It’s in the mid-year that I can tell you if my best-laid plans at the beginning of the year were actually good plans. Or did I change anything? I almost always change something because as homeschoolers, we are allowed to stop what isn’t working and try new things.

This year, I’m breaking up my mid-year post into several. I’m going to go over each subject matter in depth because there’s just too much to say. (Well, you know I have a hard time being brief.)

I’ve created this post so that I only have to add one link to my Table of Contents, which is getting quite large, and I’m not sure what to do about that. Suffice it to say, this is the TOC for this series of posts: (I will add links here as I post these.)

Homeschooling 4th Grade: Language Arts
Homeschooling 4th Grade: Math
Homeschooling 4th Grade: Science
Homeschooling 4th Grade: History

Homeschooling 1st Grade: Mid-Year Report (I think I can handle this in one post.)

Let me go ahead and tell you that we’ve done a pretty good job of sticking to the plans I made for the fourth grade at the beginning of the year. However, I’ve added some things! Shocking, I know! But I’ve been able to do that because I’m not pressuring myself to complete all our curriculum by the end of the year, and I’m not doing everything the science curriculum requires. I have also abandoned my idea of starting “Art Fridays” again this year. Big bummer there, but the boys just aren’t as interested in art as they used to be.

Briefly, I have added a grammar curriculum, a math workbook, and we’ve started a more earnest exploration of history. I’m so excited about this! I’ll be sure to tell you about the resources we’ve picked out for that.

As for my first grader, he’s such a delight to teach! I think I can update you on his work in one post, but I’ll change that, if I need to.

I will begin this series tomorrow, so stay tuned! And thanks for reading!

Why Do We Homeschool?

Someone asked me on Facebook if I could tell her the reasons we homeschool. There are so many reasons, I’m not sure I can list them all! I’ve written posts in the past about why we homeschool, but I think it’s a good question to come back to now and then because as we continue to homeschool, I find there are more and more reasons to keep homeschooling instead of sending our children to public school.

To give some background, here are the reasons we began homeschooling in the first place:

  1. When I was pregnant with our first child, my husband and I met some homeschooling families in our neighborhood. At that point, we didn’t even know homeschooling was possible. We immediately thought it was a good idea because we felt we could probably do just as good of a job teaching our children as the public school does, and maybe even better. We remembered many negative aspects of our own early education.
  2. My husband and I love reading, learning and exploring the world, and we wanted to pass on this love to our children by creating a positive, loving and creative environment where all questions are honored — not by forcing them to sit all day and do busy work.
  3. Both of us felt that a good education should be tailored to the needs and interests of the individual child. Traditional school cannot do this.
  4. Both of us feel that when kids are forced into groups all day with their peers, most of them “aspire to the lowest denominator” as I mentioned in a previous post. Homeschoolers are exposed to people of all ages and are encouraged by role models who show them a world of possibilities.

And here are the reasons that we continue to homeschool:

  1. As I began homeschooling my son, I did a lot of research about homeschooling and also what public school looks like today. I found out that children in the youngest grades are forced to do academic work before they are developmentally ready for it. Also, free play has been greatly reduced, which is detrimental to a young child’s development.
  2. I also read and heard a lot about how the testing in schools is stressing out teachers and students. They mostly “teach to the test,” and free play, art, music and other important subjects have been greatly reduced, if not completely taken away.
  3. As my children grow, I have seen them flourish in their homeschool environment. My eldest son is intelligent and creative, but he’s also quiet and thoughtful. Instead of being stifled in school all day, he has lead me on an exploration of science, building crafts/pottery, and music as well as many other subjects. Likewise, my younger son is also intelligent and creative, and he has had a long-term interest in birds. By being homeschooled, they have time to dig deep into their interests instead of being rushed to the next topic. Also, they both enjoy taking community classes and camps and meeting with small groups of friends for long play dates.
  4. Both my boys have become extremely interesting people! They both enjoy books and learning. They love watching documentaries everyday. They’ve learned about the whole world through these documentaries and our trips to museums and other interesting places.
  5. My boys have shown me that most kids just need a facilitator to help them pursue their interests. They don’t need “teachers.” They are their own teachers. They teach each other. They teach me!
  6. My kids get plenty of free time and all the sleep they need. I do too! We are not stressed out trying to get them to school on time every morning. (Although we do hustle when we have an appointment!) We don’t have to stress over homework either.
  7. We have a flexible schedule. We can go on vacation when my husband is off work (his vacation conflicts with public school), and we can go on field trips during the week when places are less crowded. I can also take my children to classical concerts during the week, which we wouldn’t be able to do if we had to wake early to go to school the next day.
  8. Homeschooling has created close bonds between us and our boys. The greatest compliment I ever got was from a facilitator at one of their summer camps. She said of my boys: “They love each other so much. It’s such a joy to watch.” I am not sure they would be this close if they were forced away from each other all day to go to school.
  9. We are able to do academic work in 2-3 hours and the rest of the day we can do the things that we love. As I mentioned before, my boys each have had very interesting and creative projects over the years.
  10. I’ve been able to tailor each child’s curriculum to his abilities and learning style. My eldest son didn’t learn how to read as early as he would have been forced to in school. I think this would have been detrimental to his self-esteem. Instead, we took it slow, and he learned how to read when he was ready. Now, he enjoys reading to himself!
  11. We discovered a year and a half ago that my eldest son is a gifted musician. By homeschooling, he has more time to dedicate to his practice, and he has time to study music history. He can do all this without sacrificing sleep or play time.

I’m not sure I’ve covered every reason we homeschool here, but I hope you get the gist of it — we’ve been able to foster a loving, encouraging, and creative home environment where learning is part of our everyday lives. Learning does not happen in a box or a school building. It happens all the time. When we give the boys plenty of time to do the things they love to do, they are more willing to do “the work.” When kids are honored and treated respectfully, they aspire to high places! This is why we homeschool.

Here are some previous posts related to this subject that you might like to read too:

Why We Homeschool
The Importance of Play in Children’s Lives
My Reasons for Thinking About Homeschooling

 

A Slow, Different Kind of Education

Days are passing fast and furious, and I’m watching my boys grow up at a tremendous speed. My youngest son’s baby cheeks have completely vanished in the last few months. He’s so tall that he’s wearing the shirts his brother (who is three years older) wore last year. My eldest is becoming a young man too. When I listen to him play Chopin on the piano, it’s easy to wonder if this kid is really a twenty-year-old in disguise. But when he begins playing war games with his brother, I’m reminded that he’s only ten. Thank goodness.

They are growing fast, but when I plan lessons, I feel we’re slowly creeping toward the educational goals I have for them. We steadily work through each lesson and subject that I think the boys need right now, but there’s so much to cover that I don’t do everything everyday. Some subjects we touch on once a week. (Just yesterday I finally finished reading the young adult novel that I began reading to them in September!) It would be easy for me to panic a little, if I felt we had to finish everything by the end of this school year, but for me, an education isn’t carved up into years. It is ongoing like a meandering river. I think that the boys are greatly benefitting from going slowly.

This isn’t to say that I never push us forward or that we’re not progressing. We are. And it’s such a wonderful privilege to have a front seat view to my boys’ progress. But it’s a completely different kind of education from the one kids are getting in public school these days. Those kids are on a schedule. They have to learn X,Y,Z by a certain date so that they can get high scores on a test or pass to the next grade. Test scores reflect not so much on the kids as it does on the teachers and the school. In the end, it’s not really about the individual student, although I know that the teachers care a lot about those students. Teachers aren’t the problem, although I do think some of them are blinded by their own education. They think if a kid isn’t doing something by a certain age, then something is wrong. In my mind, I’m thinking, “As long as they know this by the time they graduate.” Or, by the time they need it in order to reach their personal goals or my (the teacher’s) goal (though my goals are based on my child’s readiness and not by someone else’s guidelines). When you think like this, it relieves a lot of pressure, yet it also lends a structure because we focus on certain areas until we reach a level of mastery.

I have met teachers who seem very skeptical at the idea of homeschooling. I guess I can’t blame them when I’ve seen examples of bad homeschooling, but I think it’s usually a good thing. This is because the parent is paying attention to his or her child’s needs. A child is in the best place when she is with people who support, love and want what is best for her. Sure, parents can make mistakes, but I think public school makes a lot of mistakes too.

The thing about homeschooling is that the homeschooled student can look very different from their traditionally-schooled counterparts, so people who are not familiar with homeschooling don’t always realize that this is a good thing. Homeschooled students may not be given reading lessons until they turn eight. Or I’ve even read about a kid who didn’t learn to read until the age of eleven, but she did learn, and later she had no problem getting into college. I’m sure that if the local teachers had met her before the age of eleven, they would have shook their heads and considered that a homeschooling disaster. But it wasn’t. The girl had a very good mother who homeschooled three children who went on to college. Her mother gave her more time to learn how to read so that the girl wouldn’t learn to hate reading.

Another difference about homeschooled kids is that they don’t always understand the latest “fad” that is spreading through the hallways of public schools. (Although, homeschoolers sure know a lot about Minecraft. They probably have more time during the day to play it.) Homeschoolers and traditionally-schooled kids typically don’t think the same kinds of things are “cool.” For example, when I was growing up, I thought classical music was boring. But now I have a 10-year-old who thinks classical music is cool, and he doesn’t care for pop music at all. Now, I’m an avid classical music listener. He’s taught me well, don’t you think?

Homeschoolers don’t really get the attitudes or unwillingness to learn that you see in many kids. As a college professor, my husband has said that some of his best students were homeschooled students. They would actually participate in his class discussions instead of trying to hide in the back of the room. Another friend of mine who is married to a professor has said her husband has noticed the same thing.

Why are homeschooling students like this? First, I think it’s because working hard is so much easier when you also have plenty of downtime. My kids don’t have to go to school all day and then come home and labor over homework. They get all their lessons done in about two hours, and then they get to work hard on the things that they care about. And second, there is nobody around here telling them that what they love is not cool. Young people who have to spend all day/everyday together tend to aspire to the lowest common denominator, and those who don’t are usually made fun of. At least, it was this way when I was in school. Has it really changed that much? I know there are schools where this doesn’t happen, and surely there are other exceptions, but I don’t think that the “herd mentality” is always a positive thing for our young people.

Third, it may be because by being at home all day, the kids see first hand why we have to work. My kids know how much home repairs and groceries cost. They meet a lot of people working a variety of jobs, and they are smart enough to realize which jobs they would rather work at someday. Critics of homeschooling say that homeschoolers won’t learn about the “real world,” but I think it’s the opposite. I think being locked inside a school building all day with people the same age keeps kids away from the real world. How many times have you heard older people complain about the younger generation’s work ethic?

Okay, I will come down from my soapbox. I didn’t actually mean to write a tirade — I meant to write a mid-year report on our homeschool! (I’ll still do that. I promise.)

I’ll just end by saying again that I love watching my boys grow and learn in a slow, yet meaningful and thorough, way. I follow my boys’ interests, and I follow mine too. I also think about the major topics they would be learning in a traditional school, and I try to incorporate those in an interesting way — in a way that suits these boys.

This is a slow, different kind of education. We are not racing to the end of a curriculum. Instead, we are absorbing interesting topics, learning useful skills, and building a more purposeful curriculum that meets the needs of our individual students. Personally, I think it’s pretty awesome, and I don’t understand why more parents aren’t homeschooling. But that’s their prerogative, and I will always say that a parent knows what is best for his/her child.

Please share how your homeschooled student differs from his/her traditionally schooled peers?

Holiday Prep and Cheer

This is the first year we put our tree in the activity room.

December has been a whirlwind of activity, though I don’t think we experience the busy-ness that many families experience. We don’t spend a lot of time with extended family. Relatives either live too far away; or they have their own lives, commitments and interests; or both. The adults in my family don’t exchange presents either. But we still hustle and bustle to figure out what to buy for our own kids, each other, and a few others. So it’s never completely exempt from stress!

Although doing Christmas cards is not my favorite thing to do, I try to write out a few notes and letters because I much prefer getting real mail than an impersonal card without even a real signature on it. As such, I keep my card recipient list to a minimum, and sometimes I send out e-mails instead. Every year, I tend to do things a little differently, and this includes decorating too. (See below to see how we decorated this year.)

The 10-year-old sewed a Santa's hat for his little brother's favorite toy bird,
The 10-year-old sewed a Santa’s hat for his little brother’s favorite toy bird, “Chick.”

I’m grateful that the holidays for us mostly means the four of us relaxing at home, making ornaments and decorating leisurely. It means watching more documentaries and movies too. It means pulling out the Christmas storybooks, and maybe, just maybe, I’ll bake something too.

Unfortunately, this week brought illness to our house. My husband and 10-year-old are feeling very poorly, but somehow my youngest son and I have stayed healthy. I’m keeping my fingers crossed! I’m sad for them because for my husband, it’s not how he wanted to spend his vacation, and my son was also sick on his birthday this year. I’m hopeful that he’ll be feeling much better on Christmas Day.

black-capped chickadee
black-capped chickadee

At least, we have the next week and a half without any appointments or any commitments, and that feels pretty awesome to me. Our busy time was the first half of this month, and it was pretty special too because the 10-year-old performed in two recitals. The first recital was here at our house — I invited my dad, step-mom, two aunts and uncle to hear him play his latest piano pieces. (He played 13 pieces of classical music.) I made two kinds of soup, three loaves of bread, homemade fudge and a homemade apple pie. It was all delicious, and everyone enjoyed themselves, and I was so very happy to do this. But my son was the star of the show, and he wowed my family with his piano playing. Better yet, we’re going to try to do a family recital twice a year, and this experience reminded me how music can really bring people together, and I’m so grateful to my son for bringing music into the house. It was a day to celebrate for sure.

One week later, my son performed in his new piano teacher’s performance group, which is basically a recital. She does this four times a year, and what a pleasure it was to hear her other students and give our son a chance to perform in a supportive, relaxing atmosphere. And he played his four pieces perfectly! He was so proud of himself, and we were on Cloud 9 all day.

The 10-year-old painted this black-capped chickadee.
The 10-year-old painted this black-capped chickadee.

My youngest son is still fond of birds, so together with his brother and I, we decided to do something different this year. We kept most of Christmas tree ornaments in storage except for the beautiful balls. Then we decided to make the rest of the ornaments — mostly birds! So our tree is full of birds this year, and it’s so pretty and delightful. My eldest son and I did most of the work. He is very good at drawing and painting, so he made some pretty ornaments. My younger son gets frustrated with his handiwork and gives up quickly, but I think he had fun trying.

Birdhouse painted by the 7-year-old.
Birdhouse painted by the 7-year-old.
From left to right: cardinal sewed by 10-year-old, blue jay painted by me, starling painted by 10-year-old, and an American goldfinch I made last year for the 7-year-old.

And how can I forget — before we even came up with the bird ornament idea, the 7-year-old decided we needed more outdoor decorations. (All we have is a wreath on the door, but several of our neighbors have lots of lights and decorations outside.) He didn’t know the name for it, but he described it to me, and I realized he wanted to make an evergreen garland for our porch. He was determined to make it and not buy it, so I said that we could walk around our yard and see what we could find to use. I told him that we might have a problem though — we couldn’t cut too many evergreen branches from the trees or we might hurt the trees. So he was very conservative, and we picked just a few pretty pine needles, sprigs of cedar and a couple sprigs of holly too. This, of course, was not enough material to make a garland that would stretch across our porch.

I tried to work with his ideas as much as I could, but once he “got tired” and said he didn’t want to do it anymore, I made some big suggestions. (I have realized that when he gets “tired” that means he doesn’t know how to proceed and needs help.) My suggestions revived his enthusiasm for the activity, and he finished off the decorations with his very own ideas — to hang an ornament from them and to hang them from the hooks on the front porch. I think they turned out quite pretty, don’t you?


I hope wherever you are and whatever you celebrate (and even if you don’t celebrate this season), you are warm, healthy and at peace. I hope you’re with people you love, and I hope you’re engaged in activities that make your heart sing. I know many people struggle this time of year and throughout the year, but this is my wish for everyone. I would like for us all to live in peace with one another and share our unique gifts with each other. I hope everyone has someone else to support them in this.

Much love and thanks for reading. Happy New Year too!
Shelli