Clay Penguin

I just wanted to share this penguin and its baby that my six-year-old made earlier this summer. This was his own idea, and while he was making it, he looked at a photo of a penguin and its baby on the Internet.



Air-dry modeling clay is a staple in our house. You can buy a 10 lb. box of Amaco air-dry modeling clay for about $8 at craft supply stores, and it lasts us a very long time. I keep the box and a roll of parchment paper in our activity room, and the boys can get it out whenever they want.

Keep in mind that the air-dry clay can crumble and break easily after it dries, so I would not recommend it for serious work, but it’s been great for the boys at this young age.

♥ Show them how to use the materials. 
♥ Show them how to take care of them and clean up afterward.
♥ Give them freedom.
♥ Watch the creativity unfold.

You can see more of my son’s creations in The Little Projects and Boys Like to Build.


Worthy Reads


Why Homeschooling is Becoming Hipster –

School Choice Week: Why Homeschool Is the Best School –

Happier Homeschooling – – I thought this was a good, succinct article about making homeschooling less stressful. I definitely agree it should make your life easier, not harder!

Take me to Your Dungeon Master – FIMBY – A must read for anyone who is doing interest-led learning. What happens when your children want to learn about something you’re not interested in?

Stress and Learning – Avant Parenting – Excellent information for homeschoolers about brain research and how we learn.


Three Trends That Will Shape the Future of Curriculum – Mindshift – I saw Patricia Zaballos tweet this, and I agree with her when she said, “Homeschoolers, we’re so far ahead of the game!”


8 Mindful Practices for Parents – Mindful

Tear Down the Swing Sets – Slate – Thanks to Jennifer L.W. Fink for sharing this on Twitter!

Raising and Educating Boys (Don’t forget I add all of these to my comprehensive page Worthy Reads about Raising and Educating Boys.)

Building Strong Boys – Not Just Cute – This looks to be a promising series about boys, risk factors and the positive things they need.

Little Builders

Note: This column was printed in the Barrow Journal on January 30, 2013.

Last October I took my boys to a birthday party, and the birthday boy received a Lego kit.  While we were there, my six-year-old sat next to the boy who built the car, helping him find the pieces. Later, when we got home, my six-year-old said, “You know, I think I could do that.” 

That was music to my ears. This is a boy who as a toddler was content to watch me build with blocks and rarely took the risk to build his own tower.  Later I figured it out it’s partly because he’s a visual learner and likes to watch several times before he feels comfortable doing something on his own.

At the time of the birthday party, we only had Duplo blocks at home, which are the big Legos, and no Lego kits. But we did have a BYGGA construction set from IKEA, which has tools, wooden blocks, shapes, and wheels that you can make a plane, helicopter or motorcycle out of. Like Legos, the instructions are numbered illustrations, so my son could follow them without having to read anything.

The BYGGA set is not as complicated or stable as Legos, but my son had never tried to use it without my help. After the party, he pulled it out and constructed a vehicle with minimal help from me.

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you what Santa brought my son for Christmas, huh? Yes, a really cool Lego kit that he could build a plane, boat or helicopter with.

I don’t know why adults think that children don’t have long attention spans. I would have given up as soon as I poured those hundreds of tiny Legos on the table. But my son spent two days building the airplane, and again, he needed minimal help from his dad or me.

Last week, my son decided to pull the airplane apart and build the helicopter. Again, he spent a full day and part of another on it, and my husband was starting to get frustrated with him because it looked like his neck and shoulders were hurting, but my six-year-old wanted to persevere.

The next morning, my three-year-old asked his brother to make him a plane out of the BYGGA set, so he could “fly” around the house too.  My six-year-old was glad to do it, and then they spent the morning “flying” together.

Even though the BYGGA and Lego kits are beyond my three-year-old’s ability right now, I have always thought of him as my “little builder.” He is clearly hands-on, fearless, and he goes right to it whenever he sees anything he can stack. He even stacked the after dinner coffee cups left on the tables at my in-laws anniversary celebration.

We have several sets of blocks, and my three-year-old will stack them up, or he’ll make walls. I gave him a set of small Legos for Christmas, and he likes to cover the base with one layer of colorful Legos.

I have a small bag of geometric shapes, and he’ll pull those out and make interesting patterns on the floor, or maybe he’ll make a flower – something he saw his brother do. He’s good at puzzles, sorting and making patterns. Once he took a set of cards and lined them up on the floor, three to a row.

I’m thrilled to be home with my children and watch their unique abilities unfold. I’m grateful that they have the time and materials to express themselves and develop skills through hands-on work.


For some more information about how to get your children started building, be sure to see these previous posts:

If you’d like to read some articles about the benefits of block building for children, go here:

What kinds of things do your children like to build?

How I’ve Taught Kindergarten Reading


I’ve written a lot about how I haven’t pressed too much formal learning on my five-year-old.  I believe playing, fostering his imagination, and letting him acquire a love of stories and books is the most important part of Kindergarten.

I tried short, formal lessons though, and it worked for a while, but now I’ve stopped.  This is partly because my two-year-old has stopped taking naps and we’re having an early, beautiful spring, but mostly because he was struggling to stayed focused, and I feared he would start to hate reading (math too).  Since he’s above his grade level anyway (his birthday is late August, and he would begin Kindergarten this coming fall, if I were enrolling him in public school), I’m certainly not going to worry about letting him go at his own pace.

To give you an idea of where we’re at, he is a master at the ABCs & phonics.  He can sound out many simple words, though he is often reluctant to do so.  He knows several sight words.  He still struggles when reading early readers, though.  He is good at reading the online books at

This is what I’ve done to get him this far.  Click on the links to learn more:

  • My five-year-old learned the ABCs very early, around 21~22 months.  It was part of our everyday fun.  (Don’t worry if your child didn’t learn the ABCs this fast. My two-year-old still doesn’t know them. He’s a completely different kind of learner.)
  • To be honest, I don’t remember how he learned the phonics.  I think he taught himself!
  • We worked through Lesson 70 of Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons.  (That’s the longest and most formal of all the reading lessons I’ve done with him.)
  • Sometimes we play the sight word game that I made up.
  • He has watched Meet the Sight Words 1 from Preschool Prep Company several times.  (This was a gift, and he likes it.  I haven’t bought the others in the series though.)  If you have an auditory/visual learner like my son, these may be worth looking into.
  • I’ve sat with him and had him try to read early readers.  We’ve got many books, but I especially like the We Both Read books.  Since he struggles to focus, I only make him read 2~3 pages at a time.
  • We used Progressive Phonics for a while, and I really like it, but we’ve gotten out of the habit. (PP is FREE!) (Thanks to For Love of Education for telling me about PP!)
  • Recently I went back to In the past I’ve let him play with Starfall on his own, but now I sit with him and do one line at a time (if you go to this page, you’ll see how each line is numbered.)  He can do the quizzes and read the books well, and I think it’s a good review/practice for him.  As we have time, I’ll keep doing this.  He likes it as long as I don’t push him too hard. (SF is FREE, but they’ve added more to it that is accessible via subscription, but it’s reasonably priced.  I’ve considered signing up for it, and I may in the future, since my son likes the site.)

None of this includes the exposure he gets to reading and phonics through other means, such as books I read to him, computer/iPod games, and television shows he watches.  Though he hasn’t asked to play on the computer/iPod in a long time, he does love educational television shows.  Right now he’s on a Super Why! kick, which has to be one of the best shows that teaches reading.  Another good one in regards to sounding out and building words is Word World.  He has watched that quite a bit.

As you can see, if you want a solid, how-to teach my child to read, I’m not the blogger you should read.  I have tried different things because 1) I had them or I could afford them, and 2) my son liked them.  I watch my son closely to see what he likes and doesn’t like, and I ask him too.

For now, this works for me, although I have great respect for those who need a curriculum plan laid out for them.  I completely understand how we need that sometimes, and we each have different personalities, organizational and learning styles.  As we teach our children, we have to find what works best for them and us.  Otherwise, we’ll get over-anxious, frustrated, and that will not help the learning process for sure!

What are your favorite resources for beginning reading?

Stay tuned!  Next week I’m writing a column about math!

Book Review: RAISING BOYS by Steve Biddulph

From my archives: Boys visiting a farm

Note: This column was printed in the Barrow Journal on February 29, 2012. You can read the online version by clicking here.

Last week I finished reading Raising Boys by Steve Biddulph.  Not long ago I wrote about one of his other books, The Secret of Happy Children.  Like that one, Raising Boys is short and easy to read.  I found it full of useful advice.

Some of it was similar to Michael Gurian’s book, The Wonder of Boys, which I reviewed last year, but there’s enough difference that I highly recommend both.  Busy parents may find Raising Boys more concise and practical for their needs, however.

Biddulph begins the book by noting that thirty years ago, a huge effort was raised to help girls gain confidence. While this was good (I think I benefitted from that), there was neglect when it came to boys. He writes, “…today, it’s the girls who are more sure of themselves, motivated, and capable. More girls than boys finish school, more girls go on to college, and they get better grades than boys.”

While this isn’t true for all boys, I have noticed other articles about boys and education reporting similar findings.  But work has been underway to change how we treat boys.

Much is known now about the differences between the developments of boys and girls brains.  Boys’ brains develop more slowly, and the left and right hemispheres of their brains are less well connected.  Since we know this, we can take steps to help boys and girls as they develop.

Biddulph advises, “…when you chatter, interact and tell stories to babies, toddlers and school-age boys, you’re actually building their neural linkages so they will become men who are good with words and feelings.”

In the book Biddulph writes about the three distinct stages of development for boys.  From birth to approximately six-years-old, boys are in the “learning to love” years.  This is a time that mama is the star of the show, although dads are very important too.  From six to fourteen, however, is “when fathers count the most.”  After fourteen, boys begin to seek a wider world.  They need mentors and caring adults in addition to their parents.

I learned in the book that boys like structure and need to know who’s in charge.  “Wherever you see a gang of boys looking unruly, you know the adult leadership is failing,” Biddulph writes.  Later he adds, “If the teacher, scoutmaster, or parent is kind and fair (as well as strict), boys will drop their macho act and get on with learning.”

He also explains that “if girls are anxious in a group setting, they tend to cower and be quiet” (that’s true for me!), but boys may run around and make noise.

I found it interesting that he noted that schools such as Montessori schools which engage boys in interesting hands-on work have less of a problem with unruly behavior.  He also explains that girls can certainly behave like boys too, and many of the differences between girls and boys are slight.

Biddulph is a big proponent in having boys start school one year later than girls.  I have read this many times and even talked to a kindergarten teacher about it, which is why I wouldn’t enroll my five-year-old in Kindergarten until next year, if I weren’t homeschooling.

Boys’ fine-motor skills and cognitive skills develop slower, so most of them would benefit from starting school later.  Just watching my little boys, it’s evident to me that they need to move a lot.  I don’t make my five-year-old sit at a desk for lessons for more than 20~30 minutes, and even when we are learning, I allow plenty of wiggling.

The book has a chapter each for fathers and mothers and explains the important roles each of them have in their boy’s development.  There is also advice for single mothers, a chapter dedicated to finding and creating the right school environment for boys and much more.

My favorite quote from the book is: “Family life is a work in progress. You only get in trouble if you have to be right and you have to show them who’s boss.  If you are human, it goes much better.”  Raising Boys is an essential read for parents with young boys.

What parenting books would you recommend about raising boys and girls?

Boys Like to Build Outside Too

A couple of days ago I wrote about how my boys like to build and create inside the house with various materials, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that building outside is even more fun!  I’ve posted a photo of our stick shelter before, but the day that I wrote about how the boys like to build, we happened to spend a good chunk of time outside adding to the shelter!

This was my idea many months ago when I was trying to channel my boys affection for sticks into a less dangerous activity.  Although sometimes they play around the shelter, they haven’t seemed interested in adding to it.  But the other day my five-year-old found some more branches and started to add them to the shelter.  (After many months, we had plenty of freshly fallen branches!)  The two-year-old picked up his fair share of small sticks.  I began helping them, and my husband pitched in too.  Before we knew it, the front yard was looking neater, and the shelter was a little taller.

My five-year-old says he wants to keep adding to it and build a little house.  You never know!

<—-This photo to the left was taken shortly after we first built the shelter.

Note: And as someone kindly pointed out in my last post, girls definitely love to build too!  I write about boys because I have boys, but everything on this blog could definitely pertain to girls too.  I’m a girl, so I should know!