January 2022

My daffodils are blooming early, and they will always remind me of my dad who died in January 2021. He had given me these bulbs. They were growing on a back corner of his property, and they may have originally been planted by my great-grandmother! I have many more around the front of my yard.

It’s the last day of January, and whew — I’m glad it’s over. This has been a very busy month, and it has been cold outside with a few days of almost warm. It also has been a month of remembering….remembering loss from last year and remembering pre-covid times when everything was so much easier. I have been doing lots of random things like going to physical therapy, and I have been ordering specimens for my son’s biology labs. I also baked a loaf of bread for one of his science experiments. I haven’t baked in a long time, but I was pleased to have the skill when it was needed. I finished another James Herriot book, and I discovered that I absolutely love Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique. I’m so lucky to have musicians in my house!

The project that has taken the most time, however, is my 12-year-old’s new YouTube channel! Yes, we have taken the bird project to new heights! This year my 12-year-old is in an online ornithology club, which has really inspired him to dig deeper into the world of birds, and then I wondered if he might enjoy recording the birds in our yard and starting a YouTube channel. I was right, and he’s so excited about this. Every few days he’ll put the camera outside, picking a new place or a different angle, and we’ll put the seeds out there. Then we go inside and hope the birds will show up. They usually do. (And we’re at the window with our binoculars.)

This project is teaching my son more than just how to record birds. We have sat together to edit the film, and I’m surprised that he has so much patience to go through the recordings! He picks out the best parts, and I’ve shown him how to trim them. We are also going to learn more about video editing together, and I can see that it won’t be long before I won’t need to help. You never know where this could lead.

Naturally, he is most excited about getting new subscribers on his YouTube channel. So if you feel inclined, I hope you’ll subscribe. You never know, I might be fostering a YouTube star. LOL. Or, maybe Mr. Cardinal will become the star. We’ll see. 🤣

Here’s one of my favorite videos. Please go to his channel and click on “videos” at the top to see them all. And then you’ll understand why I’ve been so busy. This kid likes recording!

 

How has 2022 begun for you? I hope it’s starting out well.

Pandemic Homeschooling

Below are links to posts I’ve written specifically for parents who find themselves needing to homeschool during the pandemic. If you have any specific questions, don’t hesitate to email me. I would like to try to help.

Crash Course in Homeschooling

Scheduling Your Homeschool Day

School Closures vs. Homeschooling

Stuck at Home? Need to Teach Your Kids? Try these ideas.

If you are seriously considering switching to homeschool long-term, and you have elementary level students, I recommend my 48-page PDF resource The Everyday Homeschooler’s Guide to Teaching the Early Years. You can find it in my store.

 

Scheduling Your Homeschool Day

My son’s pitcher plant is blooming beautifully right now. The Carnivorous Plant Project was a lot of fun.

This post talks about how I block big chunks of our day for our homeschool lessons. If you’d like to know how I schedule the individual, academic lessons within those larger chunks of time, please refer to my blog posts on each grade, which you can find in my menu. For 7th grade, I have a PDF resource in my store.

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Looking back over the years that we’ve homeschooled, we have kept a very similar schedule each year, though, of course, it gets tweaked here and there. For me, the best time for formal, academic lessons has been in the mornings right after breakfast, though for my younger son, he isn’t a morning person, so I usually spend an hour one-on-one with him after lunch. But he usually joins his brother for some lighter lessons in the mid-morning, or he does some work on his own at this time. (Currently, he’s working on his own in the mornings and with me after lunch.)

My eldest son has always worked in the mornings, and in the last few years, he’s gotten up slightly earlier each day so that he has more time. As he gets older, he has more work to do. Right now, in 7th grade, he spends three to four hours each morning on his lessons. He’s very motivated to finish by lunchtime because the afternoons and evenings are reserved for his piano practice. We usually have outside lessons and activities in the afternoons too.

When he was younger, he had many varied projects because I use project-based homeschooling techniques. He used to like to build and make things, or we did science experiments, so our “project” time was either right before lunch, and then it moved to after lunch. This is where it’s stayed because this is when he practices piano, but he also practices right after dinner too. The piano is his only project now, but it has morphed into a serious vocation. 🙂

My younger son has never been as much of a maker and builder as his older brother, and curiously, the only long-term project he’s got going on is his love of birds. We’ve done many activities and field trips to help him with this interest, and we continue to do so. But he’s never needed a specific “project time” for this, so he just works at his lessons at his preferred times — before and after lunch — and he also practices cello (a hobby for him) after dinner.

Setting Your Own Schedule

If you’re trying to work out a homeschool schedule for your family, I would try to follow the natural schedule that your family is already inclined towards following. You can ask yourself these questions:

–What is my family’s preferred schedule on the weekends?
–Are there times during your weekends when your kids want more time with you, i.e., when you have their attention?
–Are there times when they want to retreat and be by themselves?
–Do they need a nap or downtime in front of the T.V.?

You can use this information to help form a schedule during the week, leaving the quiet time alone (keep that!), and using the other times when you have their attention to do work. But don’t forget to also use some of that time to have fun with your kids or just talk to them about anything. You don’t want all your time together to be prescribed work. Those fun/quiet moments can be much more important and valuable for your child than academic lessons.

How much time to spend on academic lessons?

I mentioned that my eldest son, who is thirteen, is working 3~4 hours in the mornings on his academic lessons, but this is because he now has specific goals for his future, so he’s very motivated to do the hard work.

When my kids were in the first grade, I found we didn’t need more than an hour to work on reading and math. That was all the “academic lessons” I did with them, but once you consider everything else we did — reading aloud as we snuggled on the sofa, building/craft projects, watching documentaries, visiting museums, exploring nature trails, I could tick off all the boxes of a typical 1st grade course of study. The boys had no idea that all that “other stuff” was educational. For them, it was just fun! It was our DAILY LIFE. I did not plan much. I followed the boys interests and my interests. If anything, I was strategic about picking out what library books I wanted to read to the boys, but I always let them pick their own books too, and we alternated the books.

Every year after that, our “academic lesson” time got a little bit longer. Some years, it may have only been stretched by 30 minutes. Other years, it got about an hour longer. Overall, I would say we didn’t need more than three hours to complete formal elementary curriculum in the 5th and 6th grade, and I don’t think we’ll ever need more than four.

I think as homeschooling parents, it’s our job to look at our child’s overall day and find the moments when our kids are learning despite it being part of our planned agenda. Kids teach themselves far more than we can teach them. If you compare their child-led work to a typical course of study, you will find they are doing far more than is expected. (Even if they are playing video games — look for what they are learning from that!) Over time, all of this learning can make some exceptional kids…as long as the adults don’t get in the way.

Unfortunately, kids who go to school are so used to adults planning every minute of their day and having information forced upon them that they are incapable of getting excited about the natural world, or books, or documentaries, etc. It all smacks of “school” to them. Anything associated with “school” isn’t fun to them. These kids need a long time to adjust and get used to more freedom. They especially need to be given freedom in exploring things that interest them so that eventually, they will begin turning down metaphorical “rabbit trails,” i.e. learning about other things that branch off their main interests, which can lead to many various and highly educational places.

If you find my blog helpful, I ask for only one thing — please share it! Share it with your friends and on social media. And please leave me comments about how you schedule your day. You may help others that way. If you have any questions, you can also leave a comment or email me through my contact page.

Project-based homeschooling: American Elm

‘Princeton’ American elm.

Happy Arbor Day!

In my last post, I told you a bit about my boys’ interest in plants and how we began identifying all the plants and trees in our yard. Even more so than plants, I think my eldest son is interested in trees, and he loves to try to identify them and propagate some of them, which I also mentioned in my last post. Today is Arbor Day, so I thought it would be the perfect day to write about my son’s special interest in American elm trees.

Sometime during this past year he read about the American elm tree. This is a beautiful tree that can grow to over 100 feet tall and live for a thousand years. You may already know how this beautiful tree used to line many urban streets in the central and eastern United States, but around the 1930s almost all of them died from Dutch elm disease. (Millions of elms were killed by this disease.) There were a few American elms that didn’t die, however, including one cultivar named ‘Princeton’ American elm. (Named so because it was developed by Princeton Nurseries in 1922.) Today these trees are under conservation, and many ‘Princeton’ elms are being replanted in urban settings. We have even found a few of these young elms in a town square of a small Georgia town we’ve traveled to.

For the first time, we’ve been able to see new leaves emerge on our American elm tree.

After learning about the American elm and the conservation efforts to save it, my son wanted to get one to plant in our yard. We certainly don’t need more trees, but how could we say no to our little conservationist? Last October, we got one from Thomas Orchards, and we planted it in a grassy area in our front yard, which is near the street. It’s been exciting for us to see its first leaves appearing this spring and to think that someday it may tower over our street just like American elms did long ago.

Planting our new tree last October.

By coincidence, several years ago I got the opportunity to photograph an estate in Twin City, which is a tiny town located in central Georgia. On that property, there was a huge American elm, which was a rarity. The owner of the house said that researchers from the university had come to see her tree and study it. Here’s a photo I took of that tree:

Quite impressive, isn’t it?

What is your favorite tree and why?

Project-based Homeschooling: Plant Project

A winged elm (Ulmus alata). We found two fully grown winged elms in our yard when we began our mission to identify and label all the plants and trees in our wooded yard.

Happy Earth Day! To celebrate, I thought I would write about a project we’ve been working on for over a year. My older son has always had a special interest in plants. When he was little, he became obsessed with seeds for awhile. Then he had his carnivorous plant project, and we still grow the carnivorous plants. My younger son also enjoys gardening and likes having his own plants to care for too.

Wild ginger (Hexastylis arifolia) grows abundantly in the woods behind our house, and I love this wild plant. If you pull back the leaves, you can see their bell-shaped flowers.

About a year ago my twelve-year-old became extra interested in plants, especially trees, and he even asked to go to the Atlanta Botanical Garden for his birthday.  He’s been learning how to grow and propagate trees by himself, particularly redbud trees. His younger brother wanted to try this too, so he’s trying to grow some hickories. Needless to say, my refrigerator has been packed with little pots of dirt and seeds this past winter! If they have any success growing these trees, I’ll be sure to write about it in the future.

Butterfly Pea (Clitoria ternatea). We found this growing wild by our driveway!

There are some trees that are very difficult to identify, such as this prominent oak in our front yard (center). We think it’s a post oak. (Quercus stellata)

What started all this? Well, we decided to try to identify and label the plants and trees that grow naturally in our wooded yard. I had mentioned trying this a long time ago, but I never did it because it was a huge undertaking. Finally my twelve-year-old wanted to do it in earnest, so we got serious about it.

So far we have identified and labeled 20 different species of trees and plants! It feels like we’ve made a lot of progress, but there are so many plants we still haven’t identified!

Plants we’ve found:

Butterfly Pea (Clitoria ternatea)
Wild Ginger (Hexastylis arifolia)
Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatom Communtatun)
St. Andrew’s Cross (Hypericum hypericoides)
Smartweed (Polygonum pensylvanicum)
Pennywort (Hydrocotyle microphylla)

Trees:

Wild Black Cherry (Prunus serotina)
Dogwood (Cornus florida)
Willow Oak (Quercus phellos)
Winged Elm (Ulmus alata)
Hawthorne (Crataegus)
Blackjack Oak (Quercus marilandica)
Water Oak (Quercus alba)
Sassafras (Sassafras albidum)
American Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua)
Carolina Basswood (Tilia americana caroliniana)
Loblolly Pine (Pinus taeda)
Shortleaf Pine (Pinus echinata)
Holly (Ilex)

Water Oak. (Quercus nigra) Surprisingly, we have only one water oak in our yard, but it’s huge, and it’s near our front porch. It also happens to be my favorite tree in the yard.

As a homeschooling mom, I can say it feels great when your kid gets old enough to do the hard work by himself. This project has led my twelve-year-old to learn how to use a dichotomous key when trying to identify plants and trees. He has used Tree Finder: A Manual for Identification of Trees by their Leaves (Eastern U.S.), Winter Tree Finder, A Field Guide to Eastern Trees and the Internet to identify several plants and trees. Then he lists the plant names in a notebook. Sometimes he takes photos of them, but I often do that. I’ve also been helping by uploading some of our photos to iNaturalist, which has been a big help in identifying plants and trees too.

We have several white oaks. (Quercus alba) The ink on the label has already faded in just one winter. Time for a touch up.

I also help by writing out the labels that we put on or near the trees and plants (because I have the nicest handwriting). We always put the common name and the scientific name. My yard is starting to look a little bit like the botanical garden….well, I guess it would need to be much neater before I could say that! But I enjoy seeing the labels nonetheless.

We have a few wild black cherry trees. (Prunus serotina) They surprised me one year by producing small, tasty cherries! These trees have beautiful bark too.

This Friday is Arbor Day, so I’m going to use that day to post about a particular tree my son wanted to buy and plant in our yard.

There is one small willow oak (Quercus phellos) trying to grow among the the other hardwoods in the backyard.

I hope you are having a happy spring!

The Family Project: Our Yard

purple coneflower

I have been gardening with my boys since they were very young, and though I’m sure that my love of gardening has influenced them, it hasn’t taken much effort on my part to get them to enjoy it. I think all children are drawn toward nature and plants when they have the opportunity to explore a yard. (You can find links to my earlier posts about gardening at the bottom of this page.)

I have enjoyed watching how my eldest son’s love of nature and plants has evolved. There have been years when I thought he was losing the interest, but now as I look back, I realize he has always been interested in plants, and perhaps now more than ever.

My eldest son’s white-topped pitcher plants and Venus flytrap (but you can only see the flowers of the flytrap in this photo)

My younger son, too, enjoys plants and gardening. He has his own Venus flytrap which he dutifully waters (when I remind him). He likes to plant new seedlings or store-bought plants, and in general, he’s leaning down looking at whatever his older brother is inspecting in the garden. He doesn’t complain at all when we go to the plant sale at the botanical garden, and he told me that our big project this year was “more fun than I thought it would be.”

What was that project? Well, it was reconstructing the path that I had created in our backyard woods before the boys were born. Back then, my husband helped me. We had collected many rocks from our new, uncultivated yard (and a few empty lots), and with his help, I created a path through the woods. However, over these past several years of having babies, child-rearing, and homeschooling, the path became neglected and overgrown with weeds. Erosion caused some of the rocks to get buried in the dirt or even moved around.

I had been talking about cleaning up the path with my boys for a long time, and back in April (when it was cool and there weren’t any bugs out yet) my eldest son suggested we do it. So we took a full week off from our regular lessons, and we went out back every morning and worked on our path. You can see the transformation in my photos.

BEFORE and AFTER we cleared the path in our backyard. A fun, spring project.

It looks great now, and we’re going to try to keep it maintained. Nature wants to take over so quickly, and this in itself is a great lesson for the boys. We will work on it mostly in the cooler months because it’s a mosquito heaven in the summer. We’re hoping to help cultivate the woodland plants that grow there naturally and get rid of the weeds and a few plants that tend to “take over.”

This wasn’t our only yard project this year, however. After watching Big Dreams Small Spaces with Monty Don, my husband got inspired! He suggested we try putting some flower beds in our front yard where we gave up growing grass. (It’s mostly a play area for the boys.) So with my husband’s help, we got the frames set up, and then the boys and I filled them with dirt, and we selected some partial shade loving plants, and they are looking very good! (In the future, we hope to add some more flower beds and fill the spaces in between with either pebbles or wood chips.)

These flowers have given us such joy this year. They are attracting all kinds of pollinators and birds, and we enjoy taking care of them. It was a relatively inexpensive project that renewed the boys’ interest in gardening!

Since we have the yard, I have many ideas for homeschooling projects, and the boys are pretty excited about them. It’s just a matter of finding the time to do them! If we do find the time, I’ll be sure to write about it.

Tell me about your garden. 🙂

Board Games

This game is called “Dungeon!” and it’s inspired by “Dungeons and Dragons,” but it’s more simple to play.

If there was one thing I wasn’t planning at all when I started homeschooling, it’s that we’d become a family of gamers. Well, we may not be gamers according to everyone’s definition, but we do play a lot of games. My boys love their digital games, but they also love board games, and this past year, especially, we have played more times than I care to count. The boys keep getting more and more games for gifts too. (Anything that keeps them busy for long stretches of time is actually a great gift!)

I play games with my eight-year-old every. single. day. Well, almost. Once in a while, something might interrupt this schedule, but we really do play pretty much everyday. He is becoming adept at strategizing, counting change, and planning ahead. I think he’s learned so much from these games, which is why I don’t mind playing with him.

Star Wars Risk – really fun game.

We play in the evenings during the eleven-year-old’s second piano practice session. This can take over an hour, so we’ve got a lot of time. During his breaks, my eleven-year-old will come over to watch us, and sometimes he’ll try to help me play a game better, but his brother doesn’t appreciate that very much. lol Sometimes he helps his brother too.

I taught him how to play Rummy, which I always played with my grandmother.

On the weekends and sometimes during the week, if they aren’t playing outside, the boys will play board games together. It’s a lot of fun for me to watch them play together. They’ll play games that I don’t know how to play, and in fact, my eleven-year-old has spent some considerable time reading the hefty instruction booklets of a couple of his dad’s old war games this year. (I think that’s one of the biggest perks of having a boy who can read — I don’t have to read the instructions anymore!)

We love monopoly and play it often. Sometimes “Chick” plays with us too. In this game, he became a “thousandnaire” and won.

I can’t possibly list all of our games, but here are a few that were played frequently this year. Don’t tell the boys, but we also have a few other games packed away in the closet, waiting for birthdays and holidays and such! 😉

Some vintage games we own:

Monopoly
The Game of Life
Yahtzee
Air Assault on Crete

Great games for younger kids:

Trouble
Lattice
Sum Swamp

Newer games that the boys love:

Star Wars Monopoly
Star Wars Risk
Munchkin
Dungeon!
What’s It?
Evolution

Please tell me about your family’s favorite board games.

 

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.

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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?

Three Years of Piano

This is my third year writing about my son’s main interest—classical piano. In fact, I think we can stop calling it a project now. This is his chosen vocation, which, yes, I believe a child his age can have because I’ve seen it over and over again in my husband, myself, and in the biographies of people I admire.

My son may have many vocations over what I hope will be a long life, but being a musician is definitely one of them.

There’s not much more I can add to what I have already written except to say that he’s still working hard and making good progress. My husband and I continue to provide him with the time and tools he needs, and we all enjoy attending classical concerts at the nearby university. He has been entering local and state-wide competitions and doing very well in them.

We decided to take the plunge and create a YouTube channel for him. He is excited about it and hopes he’ll get a lot of subscribers. You can follow his progress over the coming years, if you care to. I feel some trepidation about putting him out there into the world, but I also know that sometimes you have to take risks in life. I hope you will check it out and subscribe.

I will write about important piano events in my monthly updates, but this will be my last project-based post because as I mentioned above, this has gone beyond a homeschool project. Many thanks to everyone who has supported my son’s endeavor.

Our 4th Grade Piano Adventures

At the end of May, my 10-year-old marked a full two years of taking piano lessons. In less than two years, he advanced to playing late intermediate/early advanced repertoire. This is quite remarkable, and for me, it finally sunk in just how remarkable this is over the past year. Of course, my husband recognized it right away, and I give him full credit for his swift and fierce support!

My son has some natural talent, and I think it’s safe to say that becoming a classical pianist has become a serious goal for him. But I can’t underscore enough how hard he works at this goal. It’s been inspiring to watch, and my husband and I are so proud of him. Not only does he practice a lot, he loves listening to classical music and learning about composers. His knowledge about music, music history, and modern pianists is remarkable in itself. And we don’t have to make him do any of this or fuss at him to practice. Not at all! My husband is always right there with him, encouraging him and sometimes advising him (he’s not a musician; he just loves doing research), but if my son didn’t want to do this, none of this would be happening.

I’m calling this post our “piano adventures” because it’s been an adventure for all of us. My husband and I have learned so much about classical music right along with our son, and we love it! Just like with all my sons’ interests, I have loved getting a real education and exploring and discovering things that I didn’t know about before. Not only do I love listening to classical music now, I love learning about the world of classical music and how pianists learn and grow. On this adventure we’ve also met various teachers and learned how they work too. This year we found a new teacher for our 10-year-old, and our younger son began lessons in October with another teacher. The 7-year-old is not as passionate about playing the piano as his older brother, but so far, he likes it. He is certainly benefitting from having such a talented older brother and everything we’ve learned about on this journey.

During this past year, our 10-year-old entered his first competition, which was the state competition. He placed in the top ten, which for two years of piano lessons, is wonderful (in my biased opinion).

But my son has a long and challenging journey ahead of him. There are many talented, young pianists out there, and he’ll have to work very hard, if he wants to compete. If he continues to want to pursue this goal, we’ll give him all the support that we can. If not, that’s okay too. I have no idea what to expect, but I hope it continues to be a positive experience for him.

If you have a child who wants to pursue classical music, please e-mail me! It would be great to meet other families who are on a similar journey.