My Favorite Posts of 2015

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For the first time, we stayed up until midnight on New Year’s Eve. Of course, we had to take some silly selfies in the dark while we waited for the ball to drop.

I hope that 2016 is a wonderful year for you and your family! I want to thank all of you for reading my blog, “liking,” commenting and occasionally e-mailing me. Connecting with other people, especially about homeschooling and parenting is what brings joy to my life, and I hope you will continue to reach out. Thank you so much for taking the time to read whether it was one post or many. I hope what I offer helps you even a little bit!

I thought I would take a look back at some of my favorite posts from 2015. I tend to like the ones that are about my kids and their projects the best because, as you know, they’re my favorite people, and they inspire me to be the best I can be.

Project-based Homeschooling: Sketching at the Botanical Garden

Art Fridays: Homeschool Art Lessons — I’m looking forward to getting back to this in the new year!

Piano Lessons

Project-based Homeschooling: Robotics

Project-based Homeschooling: Birds & Feathers

I’m also pretty proud of How to Make a Big History Timeline for Your Wall.

In addition to this, I have many great memories from our trip to Cloudland Canyon this year as well as our other day trips, which we take as often as we can.

Finally, this is the year that my husband launched his History for Homeschoolers — all his college history lectures online for free!

I also decided to offer Free Homeschool Coaching, and I hope you’ll take me up on it!

Happy New Year!

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Counting My Blessings at Christmastime

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Artwork I commissioned my six-year-old to do. “A T-Rex eating a Christmas tree.”

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on December 23, 2015.

As I write this, my nine-year-old is completing the last class of his homeschool chemical engineering class, and there are many blessings in that. 1) He enjoyed the class and learned a few things, which I’m glad about. 2) It’s the last day I have to drive him to this class, and I’m probably gladder about that. In fact, I’ll have a couple of weeks when I don’t have to drive my kids to four different appointments. It’s a small blessing, but I welcome it.

I feel extremely blessed that, for the most part, I am in charge of our schedule. We already took a break from spelling, handwriting, math etc. so that we can prepare for the holidays. Our tree is decorated with lights and ornaments, many of them hand-made, and lights are draped along the wall. Another small-lighted tree sits in the front window. The boys are bubbling with excitement as Christmas day approaches.

The Christmas books have been pulled from their storage place, and we’re reading about the true meaning of Christmas as well as the trouble Curious George causes this time of year. One day my six-year-old told me he had an idea for how to make some Christmas ornaments, so we got out the cardboard, scissors, glue and paints, and he’s been working on those. Both boys make a good supply of paper snowflakes each year too.

Despite the challenges and financial stress homeschooling comes with, I feel blessed to see the boys grow and have the time to pursue their interests. My nine-year-old was in his first piano recital this month – a Christmas recital – and my husband commented on the fact that if he were going to school, he wouldn’t have much time to practice. I doubt he’d be taking lessons at all considering homework and the downtime he would need.

We took advantage of one of the warmer days recently to visit Dauset Trails nature center near Jackson, Georgia, and we were delighted with the small zoo and trails they have there. We’ll go back again to explore. I feel blessed to live in a state with such a rich assortment of national, state and private parks and other sites to visit. We never run out of places to explore. On top of that, we never run out of things to learn about. Our whole world is fascinating and beautiful, if you know the right things to put your attention on.

I enjoy Christmas and the holidays, and this year is promising to be a good one, but I know many people have a hard time at the holidays, and I know I’ve had some sad ones too. If nothing else, this time of year always reminds me that I don’t have the close, extended family I would like to have. Divorce, lifestyle, beliefs, politics…you name it, and there are more reasons for why my family members each stay in their corner of the United States at this time of year.

But the blessing here is that as we grow older and become more independent, we have the power to begin anew with our own families, start our own traditions, and try to do better. We can put our attention on the people who do make our world a better place, and even though it can be very hard sometimes, we can work toward our own goals. And as we get even older, we’ll continue to meet and greet new people into our lives who make this world a better place. Cultivate love, and your life will bloom.

As I wrap up this column, I can see my son in his classroom, shaking some kind of chemical concoction in a plastic bag and laughing with his classmates. I know that on the way home, he’ll tell me what he was making in the class, and he’ll tell me the odd thing or two he learned today. That is always my favorite time of day. It’s a big blessing.

I hope that your holidays are a blessing to you. I hope you are warm, healthy and with the people you love. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Happy Winter Solstice!

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My five-year-old and I made winter solstice trees today with branches, twigs and paper snowflakes. My eight-year-old decided to make a mossy swamp tree! There is moss on its bark and Spanish moss hanging from the limbs (the dried strings of glue were left there on purpose). It even has a dead branch underneath it with red mushrooms growing on it! I love how he gets these crazy ideas and just goes with it!

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Five-year-old’s tree is on the left. Mine on the right.

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Close up of eight-year-old’s “swamp solstice tree.” LOL

What are you doing to celebrate the winter solstice?

Gift Ideas for Young Kids

Printmaking with good acrylic paints was fun!
Printmaking with good acrylic paints was fun!

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on December 17, 2014.

I was at the hobby store with my boys last week to buy a birthday present for my son’s friend when a woman stopped us to ask advice on getting a gift for a seven-year-old boy. Her son was twenty-six, so she felt out of touch with the younger generation and thought my eight-year-old and five-year-old could help her. Indeed they could, and my eight-year-old was happy to tell her what he liked.

She was specifically asking about art supplies, so first we told her about air dry modeling clay. My boys love playing with this stuff, and I like it so much better than play-doh. My eight-year-old used to watch YouTube videos to learn how to sculpt small things, and later this led to him taking pottery classes, which he still enjoys. After drying this clay will get brittle, and small parts may break, but that hasn’t been a big deal to my kids. One big box of clay is about $8 and lasts a long time.

I also keep craft supplies on hand such as beads, feathers, popsicle sticks and whatnot because my boys love to build things with them, and for my younger son, he likes to take a hunk of clay and stick those things in it. Makes for an interesting decoration.

My eight-year-old’s favorite toy has been Legos, and over the past two years he has gotten all kinds of kits that he will spend hours putting together. Eventually these get taken apart and the pieces get mixed in with other Legos, but I think that’s okay because then my boys begin to use their imaginations and make creations of their own. I think Legos are awesome and educational, and I wish I owned stock in the company.

My five-year-old still plays with our dinosaurs and other animals almost everyday. I think it depends on the kid, if these plastic animals can hold their attention. We have hundreds of them (at least it feels that way), and my son will line them up on the floor as if they will fight each other, or either he’ll make a zoo by setting up our various blocks as pathways and cages for the animals. My favorite brand is Schleich because of the quality.

Another favorite toy are my boy’s remote control monster trucks. I’m not talking about a cheap one though. You need to spend at least $30 to get a good one, and be sure to buy extra batteries as part of your gift because these things suck battery life quickly. (You may need different kinds of batteries for the controller and the car.) However, these toys get my boys outside, and they build obstacle courses for them. Anything that gets them outside and using their brains and creativity is beneficial in my book.

Both my boys enjoy drawing and painting, but my five-year-old especially loves it. I bought him a sketchbook, and I’ve found that to be a great way to contain the hundreds of pages of drawings he can accumulate.

I’m also a fan of quality art supplies for kids because it makes a difference in the experience, and they are more likely to enjoy painting with good stuff. My eight-year-old even commented to me that he noticed a big difference between our acrylic paints and the Crayola washable ones. I think a great gift would be some good watercolor paper and watercolor pencils or quality paints. Good paintbrushes can offset the frustrations that cheap ones can give you when the bristles fall out while painting. You can also have more control over where you want the paint to go when you are using a nice brush instead of the cheap, bushy ones in kid’s sets.

Of course, some kids aren’t going to do anything with these kinds of gifts if they don’t know how to use them. The best way to get a child to be creative and try new things is to do it yourself – without the expectation that the child join you. That’s right. Children rarely want to do what you tell them to do, but they tend to follow you around and want to do what you are doing. So give yourself a gift of some new art supplies or a building set or even an obstacle course with a monster truck and don’t be surprised if a little person wants to join you.

I could have added many more things to this list that foster creativity. What would you add?!

Merry Christmas

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on December 24, 2013.

This is a magical time of year for my boys, who are four and seven-years-old. That seems to be the perfect age for all this Christmas stuff, and I’m happy to be a witness to their pure joy. Luckily, their excitement is contagious, although I’ve been feeling the urge to hibernate.

It’s cold outside, and I’d like to huddle under the covers and read a good book. I avoid the malls by doing most of my shopping online. I’d like to turn off the computer, but it seems my life is too intertwined with it to shut it down completely. At least I can curl up in my bed with my laptop and avoid social media.

I get sad doing our annual Christmas cards. It reminds me of all my loved ones who live far away, and my failings in trying to keep in touch with them. Christmas is about connecting with people, yet we live so much these days through Facebook. I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t feel real to me.

I am warmed by the thought that I can make connecting with those closest to me meaningful, and I can reach out to those who seem to like reaching back. I’m grateful for the distant friends who return e-mails and write letters. I’m grateful for the new friends I have found recently who are becoming so important to my boys and me.

My boys had their first Christmas surprise when my husband suggested we buy a real tree for the first time this year. At first my seven-year-old was upset because putting together the artificial tree with his mom had become a ritual he looked forward to! I wasn’t looking forward to it, though, so I agreed.

After my son realized a real tree was just as big as our artificial tree, he was happy, and both boys were thrilled to pick their own tree out of the hundreds available at the store. At home, after I put on the lights, they did a great job hanging most of the ornaments. I don’t mind the places where the ornaments are squished together. It adds character to the tree.

The boys made me pull out all of our Christmas decorations this year. They weren’t going to let me skimp, so now our mantel has nothing but Christmas cheer on it. Extra lights are strung around the door of our activity room, which used to be the dining room. Another little tree sits by the window in there.

Cooking has never been my forte, but I was determined to do some baking with the boys. We’ve been making apple pies, apple turnovers and homemade animal crackers, which my boys will actually eat!

We’re also reading books and talking about the meaning of Christmas, and we’ve discussed giving instead of receiving.  This year, my boys bought a gift for each other with their own money, wrapped it and put it under the tree. But I know they are most excited about receiving their own presents, and what’s a Mama to do? I’m excited for them, and I can’t wait to see their faces on Christmas morning when they see their wishes fulfilled.

Wherever you are, I hope you’re warm, healthy and safe. I hope you’re able to connect with those around you in a meaningful way, and I wish you a Merry Christmas.

Happy Thanksgiving

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on November 26, 2013.

Thanksgiving is here again. The leaves have fallen to the ground and crunch under our footsteps. I have to dig out my sweats in the morning and wear a jacket outside. I’m knocking on wood, hoping that our “sick season,” which lasted most of the fall, is gone for a long time.

In the past, I wrote about creating new family traditions and how that can be hard sometimes, especially if it requires breaking away from old traditions. This year I’m thankful that we’ve established some traditions for our sons, such as staying home on the holidays and working together to cook a big meal.

Lately I’ve been cooking more (much to my husband’s surprise), and every time I make a meal, I let my sons help me. It’s pretty crowded at the kitchen counter, and it can be messier too, but now that I’ve started this ritual, I’m finding it’s a good motivator to keep me cooking. I’m just so happy that my boys enjoy it, and they’re learning something too.

I told them that along with all the other traditional foods, we’re going to make an apple pie for Thanksgiving – I’ve never made any kind of pie in my life, so it’s a learning experience for me too. My picky boys probably won’t eat it, but sometimes I can coax them to try something after we cook together. That’s a huge leap in this household.

I have a lot to be thankful for this Thanksgiving, and though this may sound strange, I think the thing I’m most grateful for is the ability to be thankful…the wisdom to see that this life I’m living is Blessed with a capital B.

I haven’t always felt so cheerful (not that I’m cheerful all the time now), but for the most part, I’m happy. And for however long this lasts, I’m deeply grateful.

I’m thankful my life has been mostly good. No big tragedies – but enough sadness to keep me down to earth.

I’m grateful to have had parents who loved me and did the best job they could. My mom, especially, did a lot of work, and I love her for it.

I’m grateful for my husband who I know loves his kids and me more than anything, and even when we disagree, I know we have a better relationship than many unfortunate couples.

I’m unbelievably grateful for my children who have shown me how to look at this world with fresh eyes. Last week when it warmed up a bit, we went hiking, and we stopped by a river, and I watched them search the shore for treasure…. rocks, a shell, sticks and a few moments spent with a tiny frog. I realized I have learned more about our natural world in these last few years than I ever knew before simply because my seven-year-old is the Nature Boy, and the four-year-old is following in his footsteps.

I can’t imagine not spending this time with them. I can’t imagine not taking the time to learn what makes them tick and finding ways to feed those fires and their imaginations. They are too precious to leave in the hands of anyone else. I’m grateful I can stay home and homeschool them.

I am also thankful to you, whomever you are, for reading down to the last paragraph of this column.  You may be in a different place in your life, you may have different ideas on how to raise children, and that’s okay. I’m grateful that you’ve taken the time to read what I have to say. Happy Thanksgiving.

And thank YOU, my blog follower too. 😉

Thanksgiving Wreath

This is a Thanksgiving wreath that my son made last year…. 

We’re having a cozy Thanksgiving at home this year, and the only true activity we are doing besides cooking, eating, and reading our Thanksgiving books is make this autumn wreath out of cotton, natural items from our yard and natural items that my son’s cousin sent him last year from his yard in Colorado (a very cool X-mas present)! My son arranged these on some cardboard I cut in shape of a wreath and glued them down himself with a hot glue gun. 

For more autumn and Thanksgiving activities to do with young children, you can read the post I wrote two years ago: November & Thanksgiving Activities With Small Children.  If you have any activities you want to share, feel free to post a link in the comments section.

Whether you celebrate Thanksgiving or not, I want you to know how thankful I am that you have taken the time to read my blog. I hope you are warm, safe, loved and happy.

Letters to Santa

{Addresses for Santa Claus to receive a reply}

Note: Over the next few weeks, I’m going to be posting a few of my holiday posts from the past, which people seem to like. This will also give me a little holiday break too. (But there will be new stuff coming up too!) 😉 Thanks.

This column was printed in the Barrow Journal on December 5, 2012.

I’ve created a tradition of having my six-year-old write a letter to Santa every November, and he loves doing this.  He definitely wants Santa to know what he’s wishing for.

My son doesn’t know it, but I use the opportunity to let him practice his handwriting and learn about letter writing.  Usually I let him dictate what he wants to say, and I write it down, and then I have him copy it in his handwriting, or either I call out how to spell the words like I did with the one above. I also have him watch me address the envelope and fill in a return address.

I addressed our letter simply to “Santa Claus, North Pole,” and the year before last, I stealthily stashed a postage stamp into the envelope without my son noticing.  We got a reply back from Santa before Christmas that year, and since I remembered to do it again this year, I hope we get another reply.

I haven’t tried it, but according to The Christmas Almanac (published 2003 by Welcome Books), you can guarantee a response by secretly enclosing your own “reply from Santa” and sending it to Santa c/o Det. 2, 11th WS, Eilson AFB, Alaska, 99702.  Elves working for the Air Force Weather Squadron will turn the mail around so that your child receives the reply.  Be sure to send your letter before Dec. 10th in order to get a reply back before Christmas.

The Christmas Almanac also gives an alternate address, and you’re supposed to receive an authentic North Pole postmark if you send a self-address stamped envelope to Postmaster, Attn: Steve Cornelius, North Pole Branch U.S. Post Office, 325 Santa Claus Lane, North Pole, Alaska 99705-9998.

In “Letters to Santa full of chuckles, but also tears” on TODAY via NBCNEWS.com, I read that the U.S. Postal Service receives hundreds of thousands of letters to Santa each year, with increases during tough economic times.

The article describes the research done by Carole Slotterback, a psychology professor who wrote the book, “The Psychology of Santa.”  She analyzed approximately 1,200 letters sent to Santa between 1998 and 2003.

“From the humorous to the heart-wrenching, children’s wish lists to Santa reveal that children aren’t as toy-centric as parents think,” the article states.

This doesn’t surprise me.  Children can be amazingly selfless when they want to be, especially when they have dealt with hardship in their life. I’d wager that children who are a little selfish actually have a good life at home with parents who love them unconditionally.

Slotterback said that one child asked to be an elf, another said “NO CLOTHES,” and another asked for a mom. What did my child ask for?  A rocket. Then he was concerned because he couldn’t think of anything else to ask for. Yep. That’s a child who has a good life.

The article also said that children weren’t always as polite as they should be.  “You’d think if you were asking for a lot of presents, you would throw in a ‘please’ or a ‘thank you,’” she said.

Uh oh. I opened my photo program and looked at the picture I took of my son’s letter.  Ah, shucks! I forgot to have him write, “thank you.” Oh well. (I did tell him it was polite to start a letter wishing a person well.) I guess even mamas need a reminder to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ sometimes.

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Last year I asked readers to comment about the debate of letting children believe in Santa Claus. I’m not going to include that here, but if you’d like to comment, I’d love for you to add to the discussion in last year’s post. Click here for that.

The Day of the Dead

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on Wednesday, November 6, 2013.

Since my son and I are learning Spanish together, I decided to celebrate the Day of the Dead or “Dia de los Muertos,” which is celebrated over two days, November 1st and 2nd.  The purpose of Dia de los Muertos is to remember and honor friends and relatives who have passed away. It’s not supposed to be scary or morbid. Instead, it’s a celebration of their lives and a way to remember that death is a part of life for everyone.

The roots of this ancient holiday can be traced back thousands of years to the indigenous people of Mesoamerica. After the Spanish conquest, the festival blended with Spanish customs, and eventually became Dia de los Muertos. It’s celebrated throughout Mexico, and Mexican Americans and other people around the world celebrate it too. The holiday continues to evolve as each culture puts its special spin on it.

I like the holiday because it is another way for me to teach my boys about their ancestors and the people who were once an important part of my life. Sharing family history and stories is important for children because it teaches them where they come from and gives them a sense of belonging.

Honoring the dead is a tradition from my husband’s family, and each Memorial Day we visit the cemeteries where some of my ancestors are buried. Those who celebrate Dia de los Muertos may visit cemeteries now and clean the gravesites and decorate them with flowers and other memorabilia, but since we visit cemeteries on Memorial Day, I decided we would celebrate Dia de los Muertos in a more simple fashion at home.

I chose to make a “shoebox altar” to honor my grandmothers and our more recent animal friends who died in the past few years.  My boys can remember Millie, our dog who died over a year ago, so I thought the celebration might have more meaning for them by including a friend they remember.

Altars are decorated in bright colors. Flowers, particularly marigolds, toys, photographs, bread and other foods are all traditional items that may be placed on an altar. The idea is to invite the spirits of the deceased to come back and celebrate the day with you.

I remember that both my grandmothers had plenty of sweets on hand whenever I visited them, so I put some candy under their photos. They also loved flowers and gardening, so my boys and I made some flowers out of tissue paper to add to the altar. For the dogs, my son put out a little dog food, and since Millie loved to steal our socks, we put a sock out for her as well.

The most common symbol of Dia de los Muertos is the calacas or skeleton.  Again, it’s not supposed to be scary. Calacas may be dressed in colorful clothes or painted with flowers and religious symbols.  I made a skull out of paper mache, and I decorated it with flowers and my favorite colors. My boys laughed at it, which was the reaction I was hoping for.

Every evening I make up a story for my seven-year-old, but on these two nights, I retold him the stories I remember my grandmothers telling me about their childhoods. I don’t know if their spirits actually visited our house those days, but by making the altar, looking at photos, and reminiscing, I felt the spirit of their lives and how they helped shape me as a person. It felt good to honor and remember them.

Scary, Oozy, Slimy Day at the Sandy Creek Nature Center

Attending Scary, Oozy, Slimy Day every October at the Sandy Creek Nature Center in Athens, Georgia has become a tradition in my family. There’s nothing scary about it, of course. It’s a wonderful event that showcases under appreciated animals such as snakes, frogs, bugs, spiders and more. There are many hands-on activities and games for children, and children are invited to wear their Halloween costumes, if they want to.  We have especially enjoyed meeting and speaking with the college students who man several of the stations and share creepy crawlies from the university. Since my son is interested in biology, we’ve learned a lot by chatting with them.

Here are just a few images from our visit this year, in October 2013.

 

 

 

My husband the beekeeper? I don’t think so.