Supporting the Little Makers

{How to Support Kids Who Like to Build Things}

Some kids will be natural builders. They will gravitate toward toys such as blocks, Legos, Zoob pieces, Tinker toys or many others that are available. They can also do wonders with cardboard and lots of tape. They like building, making, and creating. Let them do this to their heart’s content. There are other kids who may not like building, or they just do it a little. That’s okay too. Let kids do what they want when they have free, unstructured time.

Supporting the little makers is perfect project-based homeschooling territory, and over time, it may help you see how these techniques work.

Every parent wants their child to be independent and do things on their own, but that’s not going to happen until well into adulthood. So don’t think that when I say “fostering independent learners” or something similar, it means that you need to let your kids struggle or always play alone. On the contrary, when you follow project-based homeschooling techniques, you’re going to be available to your child and offer them the support they need.

During the time you set aside for your child’s projects, you can consider your child the boss, and you’re the employee. Your child gets to tell you what they want to happen, and you can do it for them. This is especially helpful when your child is little, and they may not have the manual dexterity to create what they envision. The important thing is not to take over your child’s project. Just ask them what they need you to do and don’t do anything else.

Don’t wander off or look at your phone during this time unless it becomes clear that your child doesn’t want you there. Sit there and let them know you’re available to help. Be interested in what they are doing. You can show interest by asking them questions about what they are building, but sometimes they’ll be happy if you just watch. Be enthusiastic. Just taking 30 minutes to an hour to sit by your child’s side even if they don’t need you to do anything will show your child you love and support them!

You can sometimes make suggestions, but I recommend waiting until they’re a little stuck or having a hard time accomplishing something. Always hesitate and ask questions. Wait and watch to see if they can figure it out on their own. Project-based homeschooling is about letting your child do the work when they can. You may think your child could not possibly figure out a way to fix a problem, but they might surprise you. I know there were a few times when I was working with my son, and I could see an easy way to make whatever it was he wanted, but I didn’t say anything. I saw him start doing something that I didn’t think would work, but then guess what? He made it work! His mind was working differently from mine, but his way worked just as well.

Of course, there were also times he got frustrated, cried, and I wondered what the heck I was doing. This is definitely a long road and takes practice for the parent. You are getting to know your child, learning when to step in and when to back off.

Do you have a little maker? I’d love to hear about them!

Also, please join me in one of my video chats as I discuss more project-based homeschooling techniques and answer all your questions. I’m going to schedule one for January, so please contact me, if you’d like to know when I do that. Alternatively, patrons can unlock access to all my classes, PDF resources, and much more, so please check out my Patreon page!

Private Homeschool Support Group for Project-based Homeschoolers, a.k.a. any Homeschool Family :)

I’m excited to share some news. I have created a Patreon account so that I can form a small, nurturing community of like-minded parents. Space will be limited, so we can get to know each other.

It will be a homeschool support group for project-based homeschoolers, but you don’t have to consider yourself a project-based homeschooler (PBH) to join. You just need to be interested in becoming a better mentor and guide for your child, which is what PBH is all about! Seasoned project-based homeschoolers are more than welcome too!

Project-based homeschooling might seem like unschooling or common sense parenting, but there are actually a lot of tips and tricks that I learned that helped me find a balance between stepping in to help my kids and stepping away when appropriate. That’s harder than it seems! I will be sure to share everything I’ve learned in this support group and help you with whatever comes up in your daily homeschooling life. I hope everyone in the group will support each other.

We will not be restricted to talking about project-based homeschooling! As a support group, we can discuss all aspects of homeschooling, parenting and daily life as homeschool parents. Also, you can use PBH techniques whether you unschool, use a strict curriculum or are somewhere in between.

So, if you’d like a small, nurturing group that you can check in with daily, weekly, monthly (whenever it’s good for you), please join. If you’d like to share your child’s projects and successes, but you don’t want to put it out for everyone on the Internet to see, please consider joining. If you’d like some camaraderie with like-minded parents, please join. 

I want to make it accessible, affordable and easy to join, but I can’t do this for free because I need to pay fees to keep up the infrastructure. I have created two tiers that I hope you find very reasonable:

$3.00/month subscription — Join the group I’m calling the “Wrens,” and you will receive the following benefits:

  • You will unlock posts on Patreon that are not on my public blog. I can be a little more candid there. Some of what I’ll share:
    • Resources I’m using right now and my candid feelings about it.
    • Curriculum I don’t like.
    • Ups and downs of daily life.
    • Our research into colleges and universities and what I need to do to help my kids reach their goals.
    • The pitfalls of homeschooling.
  • Ask me any question in a comment, and I will respond ASAP. Or you can access a private Discord server for this group that I will monitor daily. Share your child’s projects, ask advice, or just chat with the group!
  • As a sign on bonus, I will give you access to all my PDF resources.
  • You will also be supporting this ad-free blog (which will remain unchanged), and you will have my deepest thanks!

$6.00/month subscription — Join the group I’m calling the “Ravens,” and you will receive the following benefits:

  • You will have everything from the Wrens tier plus:
  • I will offer a monthly, live online support group meeting. Day and time will be determined by the first few members, so please don’t hesitate to sign up!
  • As a sign on bonus, you will have access to the classes in my store. That is, you do not have to pay extra for these classes. You can even take them more than once. (Each class is worth between $10-$25 each, and I will be adding more classes in the coming months.)
  • I will also create classes/presentations by request from my patrons on specific topics.

NOTE: I also have a $1 tier for anyone who would like to support my blog and read my posts on Patreon, but you don’t need a support group.

Click here to access My Patreon. Also, please share this post with your social networks. Thank you!

If you aren’t sure what project-based homeschooling is all about, start here: https://mamaofletters.com/project-based-homeschooling/

To learn more about me, see https://mamaofletters.com/bio/

Please join. Will you? Please comment or ask questions below.

Project-based Homeschooling in the Later Years

Recently I gave a Zoom presentation on project-based homeschooling (you can sign up here for the next one), and a question I received made me think about how I have never stopped using project-based homeschooling (PBH) techniques, but PBH looks very different in our home than it did ten years ago. I don’t think about the techniques anymore. My sons each have a project that has become more of a life goal, and my role is to support them on a higher level. In other words, our lives revolve around these activities. My own projects have evolved over the years, overlapping with the boys’ activities, so we learn and grow alongside each other.

Here are the current state of our projects:

My eldest son is a classical pianist, and at 16, it’s clear that he has his heart set on a career in music. I’m not sure what that will look like yet, but we’re sacrificing a lot to help him. As we do more research, we know what we can offer him may not be enough to catapult him to the place he dreams of, but he works hard, and I have no doubt he’ll carve out a life full of music making. Besides taking the time he needs to practice and work on his technique, he has started a Patreon account where he will share short, weekly practice videos, and I’ll help him chronicle our research into his next steps, including college applications, scholarship applications, auditions and more. I hope someone will show their support for him there. 🙏

He got to hold his favorite bird!

My younger son has been interested in birds since he was four-years-old, and it’s interesting for me to look back at how this interest has always been there, though there have been long periods when he hasn’t done much with it. Now that he’s 13, this is changing, and that’s largely because he’s old enough to join certain classes related to birds on Outschool and get something out of them. He also has an active YouTube channel where he shares his videos of birds. Recently he also got to visit a bird banding station in a program run by Georgia Audubon for teens. Now that he’s getting a chance to meet people with similar interests, I hope it’ll introduce him to many possible paths that will most likely include birds.

As for me, I’m thinking about what I can do to support the boys in these later years, yet I also know they are going to go by fast. So I’m wondering what life has in store for me when they don’t need me as a teacher/facilitator/coordinator anymore. With that in mind, I’m slowly building a store and some other opportunities for families to connect with me in video chats so that I can share more of what I’ve learned. (Watch this space for updates on that.) I don’t know how much interest I can stir up, but if nothing happens, I’ll lose nothing….except a little pride, maybe. 😉

If there is one thing about project-based homeschooling, it’s that the learning never stops, the creating never stops, and the striving never stops. It’s a life-long endeavor. You have to find joy in the journey. Ultimately, the big project is creating a life that is worth living that also puts some good into the world. With the proper support, you can’t go wrong with that.

Time for a Change

Here it is October, and I’m relieved by the cooler, beautiful weather. Yet the boys are full swing into their new homeschool year, and I’m already feeling the crunch of time. Sometimes I sit and breathe and remember that all will be well. No matter what we get done or don’t get done, the boys are growing into intelligent, caring people, and what more can I ask for?

Whether I like it or not, life is always changing. By that I mean people change and circumstances change, and I can’t control it. I’m getting older, and my body doesn’t agree with what my mind wants it to do. I can’t get society to act in ways that I wish it would, so instead I accept what is, and I do what little I can to help my family and make the world a better place.

One thing I have always loved to do is offer encouragement to other homeschooling parents. I don’t do this because I’m an expert at it. I’m carefully considering my every move on this unsure journey. However, I feel confident I have found some things that work well for the boys and me, and as they get older, I find it’s the boys themselves who are validating the overall choice to homeschool, go at their pace, and focus on their interests. Because like I said, they are growing into intelligent and caring people, and they have such interesting pursuits. (This doesn’t mean I think everything is perfect or that I don’t wish I had more resources at my fingertips!)

I hope we can help them in this later stage of homeschooling as they take what they’ve gained here and make their way into more independent lives and, most likely, higher education. I can’t wait to see what happens, but I’m humbled by knowing anything could happen, and nothing is certain.

I also think about myself and what I will do when I finish homeschooling. There are things I’d like to try, but I have less interest in the things I used to do. Will that interest come back when I’m less exhausted and have more time? Maybe. For now, I hope I can continue to be a source for homeschooling parents.

I have always been available by email, but I need to change that. I’m getting busier, and I have less energy for typing long emails. So I’m going to try out Zoom so that I can talk to parents. Unfortunately, I can’t do this for free, but I don’t need much to sustain it.

This Saturday, I’m giving a presentation on project-based homeschooling with plenty of time for a Q&A. (I can also make it available at a time that’s good for you.) These simple but powerful techniques helped me shift from thinking of myself as a parent-teacher to more of a mentor. It helped me identify my kids’ interests and not just the ones I thought were education-worthy.

I think it’s important to say that this is not about helping kids get into the best schools or putting them on a certain career path (unless that helps them with their goals). It’s more about supporting kids where they are at and creating a relationship of trust so that they know you are their advocate. Every kid should have an advocate that truly cares about what they care about! I think it’s these relationships that create a path of success for kids, and by success, I don’t mean just financial success. I mean a path that will be meaningful to them and the community they live in. When you respect kids and their interests, they will turn around and respect others. And that makes the world a little bit better.

Okay, I’ll get off my soap box now. I hope you’ll sign up for my presentation. Click here to do that.

If there’s an interest, I may create an on-going homeschooling support group for a nominal fee. So let me know, if you would be interested in that.

Join me for my presentation on Project-based Homeschooling

 

I’m very excited to offer this live video chat to anyone who would like to learn more about project-based homeschooling techniques and how I have used them in my homeschool. We’ll meet for 1~1.5 hours so that there’s plenty of time to answer your questions.

If this day/time doesn’t work for you, there’s an option to purchase the class and arrange another time with me.

Please share this with anyone you think would be interested. You can download a PDF of this flyer by clicking on the word “Download” above this image. Contact me, if you have any questions!

Our 6th Grade Homeschool Curriculum

If you look closely, you can see the Great Blue Heron on the other side of the lake.

This is bittersweet for me because this will be the last post I write about our curriculum on my Mama of Letters blog, though I will keep writing here in other ways. For middle and high school, you can find my curriculum resources here. As the boys get older, I want to protect their privacy a little more and give myself new ways to connect with parents who value my work.

My younger son has completed 6th grade. In some subjects he’s a little ahead where his brother was because after developing these plans for his brother, I had them on hand, so I used them earlier with him. He’s also a different kid. He isn’t practicing an instrument several hours a day like his brother, so he has more time for other things. He loves to read, and I gave up trying to keep track of the books he’s reading. I think he was averaging a new book every 2~3 days at one point. 

Here’s a run down of his course of study and the resources I used:

Language Arts

Besides all the books he reads on his own (and I have to thank my husband for making many trips to the library to keep him supplied with books), I assigned him some books for a literature unit. The theme was survival. After reading the books, we talked about them, and I prepared a series of worksheets for him to fill out. The worksheets included information about the author, vocabulary, discussion questions, short answer, short essay, and a review of literary terms. I cobbled these together from stuff I found on the Internet, so I can’t share it here, but the last few books, I kept it simple. We discussed them, and I asked him to write about how survival was a theme in each book. This is what I assigned:

  • Island of the Blue Dophins by Scott O’Dell
  • Woodsong by Gary Paulsen
  • Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
  • The Cay by Theodore Taylor
  • A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park
  • A Day No Pigs Would Die by Robert Newton Peck
  • Short Story: Little Match Girl by Hans Christian Anderson
  • Short Story: A Worn Path by Eudora Welty

In addition to this literature unit, he worked through Michael Clay Thompson’s Paragraph Town with me, and he did all the paragraph labs, four-level sentence analysis and punctuation lessons and worksheets.

If that’s not enough, on a whim I decided he could join his brother and me as we read the play Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare. Some of what I did to explore this play was listen to a professional reading of the original text followed by reading the modern text out loud together (from No Fear Shakespeare). We discussed the play, and we watched a BBC movie version of the play too. I’m really excited to start exploring Shakespeare with both my boys!

Math

For math I finally switched curriculums for the middle school level, and I have to tell you that if I had to start homeschooling over again, I would use this curriculum from the get-go. (But who knows? It might not have been a good fit when they were six-years-old.) Anyway, he’s working in Math Mammoth now, and if you use this curriculum, you should know that it’s more advanced than most math curriculums. For example, Math Mammoth “Grade 7” is pre-algebra. Most kids take pre-algebra in 8th grade, so if you use Math Mammoth, your kid will be slightly ahead of their public school peers. My son is on track to do pre-algebra in the 8th grade.

Science

This year I outsourced science because this kid is still into birds. If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile, you’ll know this is the one and only project he has stuck with over the course of his short life, and he even has a YouTube channel that’s all about birds. If he continues to find this a major interest, there’s a good possibility he may go into one of the sciences. That’s still to be determined, but just in case, I didn’t feel like I could make science very exciting by teaching it myself. For this reason, I’m very grateful for Outschool.com. He’s taken many classes on this site, including some excellent classes specifically about birds and zoology, and he’s also been part of an ongoing, weekly ornithology club and more. But to meet a more typical course of study for 6th grade, I enrolled him in a year-long middle school Life Science class.

To be honest, I wasn’t crazy about how this Life Science class was taught even though it ticked the boxes for what I needed, and my son liked it. I’m not going to promote this particular class, and instead I will tell you that if you are looking for classes on Outschool, I find the best teachers are usually those who were not public school teachers. Of course, this isn’t always the case, but if you can find someone who has a degree in the subject, they will be excited about it, and they’ll have interesting ways of teaching it and a depth of knowledge that can’t be matched. Again, not always the case, but that’s been my experience so far. If anyone else has other experiences with finding good classes on Outschool, I welcome your comments. I do highly recommend Outschool. It’s been a game changer for us, and I appreciate how affordable most of the classes are.

artwork by the 6th grader

History

I had such ambitious goals for learning history and recording it on this blog, but Life taught me to keep it simple. I began reading Everything You Need to Ace American History In One Big Fat Notebook out loud to my youngest son last year, and we continued it this past year. We stopped reading sometimes so that we could read history-related middle grade books that I had picked up at library book sales. One of those that I would like to highlight is Frederick Douglass for Kids: His Life and Times with 21 Activities by Nancy I. Sanders. We loved this book, so we read it slowly over a long period. I highly recommend it.

If it had not been for the pandemic, I probably would have ordered more history books from the library, but we’ve really enjoyed this simple approached and the few books we had on our shelf. It won’t be long before he does U.S. History with his father (a history professor) in high school, so I think he’s getting a good introduction.

Foreign Language

Both my boys have been taking weekly Mandarin Chinese lessons with an online tutor for almost three years now. As time went on, I felt that they needed more practice speaking Chinese, but I couldn’t figure out how to do this without spending more money. Suddenly this year we got what feels like a huge gift dropped on us. They are going to start getting twice weekly lessons with a new, fantastic tutor for free! I am over the moon excited. I wish I could share this resource with everyone, but unfortunately, it’s not mine to share. But I would urge anyone to just keep looking for opportunities in your community because you never know what you might find.

Physical Education

I always include physical education on my end-of-year progress reports, though I’m not sure how much I’ve written about it on my blog. We’re not an athletic family, but we are active in that we take many walks and hikes. This year I made more effort to take this kid out for more walks, and I succeeded.

Music 

And now we just passed my son’s 5th anniversary for taking cello lessons! I say this every year, but I can’t believe how fast the time is going. He enjoys playing the cello and considers it a hobby, so he spends about 45~60 minutes on daily practice, six days a week. His cello teacher is awesome, and he started back to in-person lessons this past winter.

I hope this is helpful for you. If you’d like to chat with me on Zoom about homeschooling, you can sign up here.

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.

***

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?