Homeschooling Year 2 – December

Here we are. Back in December and all of the joy and creativity it brings. As I write this in 2022, looking at these pictures of us spending time in nature reminds me of just how important the fresh air is for all of us. This is one way we help keep germs at bay. Getting outside and connecting with the planet keeps your immune system strong, and those few precious hours of sun during our short days makes it even more important to get that natural vitamin D when we can. Get outside, even in the cold. Even if it’s for 20 minutes! Run, jog, sled, trot, wait outside for the Polar Express, whatever! As you can see, work never stops for the outdoor diggers. Sand or snow, these trucks know how to get it DONE! We love our rugged machines. If you are looking for the best digging machines for your child this Christmas, click below. My boys and girls have tested many brands and these are by far the best: John Deere and Bruder.

The season would not be complete with all the delicious food that gets created. From cookies to maple candy, we use every opportunity we can to bake as a part of our homeschool day. At this time of year, our kids bake food to eat as gifts, but they also make their own salt dough ornaments. I will link our recipe in another post. The kids make a bunch of ornaments for their extended family members, teachers and friends. Sometimes, they don’t use a cookie cutter mold like these. They’ll just create whatever they’re into. One year, we had snowmen and this year we had a poop emoji. Insert shaking-of-the-head emoji from Mom here. They were not always painted, but now that they’re older, they really go to town. Paint, glitter, googly eyes, and yarn have all been used to fashion some unique and memorable Christmas ornaments. We always write the year the ornaments were made by using a Sharpie or writing on the ornament before it’s baked with clay tools or a fork. The recipe we use is kid-safe, and although it hasn’t been eaten by any of our kids, it has in fact been licked to check for salt content (not by me, promise!). Regardless, it is non-toxic and safe for little ones to play with, although I don’t recommend them eat any large amounts due to high odds of getting a stomachache. Supervision is still needed for kids under 3. Make sure to brush your teeth well after all the baked treats!

We were able to really spend time on our Christmas traditions since most of us were home this year. From visiting Santa Claus to cutting our own tree, memories were made. Check out your local events or Facebook pages to see what’s going on in your area. There are many local events that pop up, even post-Covid, that your kids will talk about for years to come. One of ours that seems to be on repeat every year is our tree tradition. My family will hike all over the Green Mountains looking for that great $5 tree. We get a permit through the Vermont National Forest service for $5. There are certain places you can travel to to cut one down, and let me tell you, some of our trips have not been for the faint of heart. And to top it off (no pun intended), we always “have” to get a 12-14 foot tree. We have one area of the house with a cathedral ceiling and a regular-sized is not good enough for our kids. Go big or go home is their motto when it comes to a tree! Other memories of the joy of getting it into the living room will not be posted on this site…some years are smoother than others, let’s just say that!

When the big day finally arrives, all of their hard work pays off. They are so proud to give their creations to their family members and friends. They have helped wrap presents for others. They’ve cooked and baked and now get to eat…and eat…and eat. Then play! There is so much learned from play. We used to run all over from Christmas event to Christmas event on the big day, and we made the decision to stop this when the kids were young. They needed to enjoy the magic of waiting for Santa and playing with their gifts. Watching movies and eating. Napping or playing outside. We were losing the fun and sparkle of the event, so we scaled things back. It was worth it!

Don’t forget to rest and recuperate after the big day! The anticipation and work done can be exhausting and thankfully Christmas break gives people a chance to recharge. Enjoy the magic of the season with your crew! Build in as many traditions into your homeschool day as you can while you have your children with you during the day. There’s so much you can do!

Homeschooling Year 2 – November

Back to the cold, we were, and winter decided it needed a month’s head start to share its snow with us. Atypical cold and atypical snow had us picking and choosing when to go outside and play. Big B was learning about estimating and one project he decided to build a snowman as close to his height as possible. He accomplished the task and was just a bit off! It was a lot of work for little B to supervise. We still had the ability to hike even though the trails were covered. Having the right gear goes a long way. Although it can be tempting to buy cheaper quality outdoor clothing, I have found that by investing a bit more money into quality products, we can stay outside longer and the products wear better. Fewer rips, cracks or leaks are worth it if you want to get the most out of being home and outdoors with your kids. These items have been some of our favorites: hats, mittens, snow pants, coats, and boots.

It was only November, but Christmas anticipation was in full swing when a cousin wanted to use our kids in a photo shoot. I didn’t pick the pictures I’m thinking of, but we got ready by also picking out a bunch of Christmas books that we just left out around the house to read when we had time. The cousin took pics of the kids reading these to little B.

This is the perfect time of year to focus on writing letters to Santa, planning the menu for Thanksgiving, picking activities to give back in your community, such as shoveling someone’s driveway or purchasing needed items for the food shelf. Include your children in these meaningful experiences and you’ll have stories to talk about for years. My children still talk about the time we had some young family members who weren’t going to have their parents around due to an emergency, so we invited them over for Turkey Day. We spent a few days getting ready by cleaning the house, prepping food, decorating and baking. The kids were tired, but they were proud when the holiday came.

We also have two November birthdays in the house, one kiddo and one adult (me!). This year we made it extra special by booking a party at a local gymnastics studio. We don’t usually splurge but A needed something exciting to look forward to. Transitioning back into public school was going okay, but she hadn’t totally found her footing, although she liked being back in school. To get ready, our second born helped bake the cupcakes. She was developing her baking skills and to this day, she really enjoys watching Cake Boss and making desserts.

Heads up about the next pics: Vermont and hunting season go hand-in-hand, so if you get queasy at the sight of dead animals, please click another post!

My boys did well and both Dad and Big B were able to use some tags. This was Big B’s first deer shot by himself. He completed the Hunter’s Safety Course just weeks before this big event and put his knowledge to the test. He spent 5 weeknights for 3 hours at a time with his grandfather learning and studying and practicing how to be a responsible hunter. The Hunter’s Safety Course teaches young hunters to be safe, responsible, and knowledgable about hunting in Vermont (and in general).

We lose our sun for most of the days during November, so these are the basics for survival: sleep, fresh air, and food! The pancakes showcased below were created by Big B as a project from his history lessons. They are made with pumpkin and the recipe came from his Middle Eastern studies. Can’t go wrong with all three of those survival basics! They carry us over till March temps warm us up.

Writing Supplies for Homeschooling

If you purchase the Oak Meadow curriculum for your child, they’ll have a nice, concise list for you about what writing materials you will need for your child throughout the school year. I thought I’d share what we used and then some extras that supported our children with writing in the two years we homeschooled.

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I’ll begin with an extra that is really exciting to me as a budding writer. I wish I had had something like this to publish works as a child. This isn’t a staple item by any means. It’s definitely more of a splurge but our children receive them about every other year at a holiday because they are such a creative and physical way to manifest a writing piece. In the Lulu Story Making Kit, children can draft a story and then use the assorted pages to craft it. There are pages for illustrations only, illustrations with writing and just writing. There is a page to design the cover of the book and a place for parents/children to submit a photo and blurb for their bio section.

Before beginning the program, I hadn’t heard of crayons made out of beeswax. Beeswax crayons are smoother than regular crayons. When your child colors, draws, doodles or scribes you can take comfort in knowing that you’ve chosen an alternative to paraffin-based crayons which have shown to be potentially risky for your kid’s health.

Spiral-bound sketch pads serve as the portfolio of work your child creates throughout the year. Everything they do can be written, painted, glued, stapled, whatever right into this notebook. Then, when it comes time to submit work to the State to prove your child has learned the content required to move onto the next grade, you have everything you need in one location. Each state has their own requirements. In Vermont, if you aren’t using a teacher to test your child at the end of the year, you have to submit a portfolio of work for each subject area from multiple times during the school year. I had to write a narrative report (about 1 page) for each child and take pictures of content in their notebooks to show mastery of a concept.

Watercolor paints and watercolor paint tubes play into this curriculum all year long. To this day, we continue to use them for art projects. They are versatile, inexpensive, and vibrant. They’re easy to clean up and they can be used at just about any age. If you purchase the Crayola ones, they are of course non-toxic and safe for little ones.

Watercolor paper was a new concept for me at the time. What a gamechanger when it comes to painting! This paper has groves in it that keeps the watercolor paint from spreading all over the page, as traditional printer paper or sketch paper can do. It does allow some spread as necessary for watercolor beauty. It is also much stronger than other kinds of paper and won’t rip with the amount of water it takes to paint this way.

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Homeschooling, Year 2 – October

We seem to cruise through warm months and are always in the middle of a cooler/cold one. October can be warm in the beginning with an extension of summer weather, beautiful for sure with the turning of the leaves. This is a great time to get last-minute fall vibes and see the changes taking place in nature. We walked and spent a lot of time outdoors. Once the leaves drop, we can see animals and other parts of nature more clearly. On the hike below, we saw an impressively large owl! I’m sure many more animals see us when we’re out but they’re so quiet and peaceful, we don’t see much with a tribe of noisy kids in toe. We do, however, see birds, chipmunks, squirrels, rabbits and other vermin very often. Deer at this time of year go into hiding due to hunting season, but from time to time we’ll see their lights at night while driving. And the eyes of the coyotes and foxes around. This year, skunks had been abundant during the summertime months, but they were hunkered down at this point so we are less anxious about dogs getting sprayed or trash being broken into.

This year, we also took a trip to Old Orchard, Maine to visit some of my extended family. The beach was so peaceful and the ocean vibes made us all feel like we could reach for the stars – or moon! – even easier than normal. What goals do you set with your children? We talk about future plans and hopes & dreams openly with our children. The answers to these conversations are not surprising most of the time, but every now and then, they’ll have a new aspiration to share. I’ve encouraged our kids to write these down or create vision boards so they can look back and see which goals have been achieved and how long (or short) it took for them to come to fruition. Most goals come true when they’re on a shorter timeline. But, the sky is the limit, so I push them to think big!

A rare moment of the two boys below makes it seem like everything was always peaceful. What you don’t see are the other kids in childcare running around and the mess of the table where Big B’s supplies for the day were spread out.

Something I learned quickly was that organization of supplies and books is critical to homeschooling and for a busy life in general. I don’t have a lot of storage space, especially where we needed to work, which was the kitchen table. Occasionally, Big B would use the desk in his room, but he needed my help with reading, which was a huge part of all subjects so he needed to be nearby for me to care for kids and also assist him.

Moving drawers, small totes, pencil pouches, and pocket charts can help make your life easier. I used wall space that was open on the kids’ level for the calendar and pocket charts. I used pencil pouches I could stash in a drawer when we needed the table for meals and had a set of drawers on wheels I could move wherever we were or even outside. I also placed books on the top shelf of a bookshelf so that the little ones wouldn’t get into them. When Big B accessed them, it would sometimes stir the little ones up and they would want to read as well, so I placed books for them on the bottom shelf. It was a win for all of them and kept them occupied while Big B and I were working on an assignment.

Books for the Littles!

I am going to have to restrain myself with this post. I could probably write for days when it comes to children’s books. So, I’ll just write about the favorites in our house.

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Before I begin, let me just preface by writing about the importance of exposing children to books. I found this great quote from Reading Rocket’s website:

“Reading books aloud to kids stimulates their imagination and expands their understanding of the world. It helps them develop language and listening skills and prepares them to understand the written word. Even after children learn to read by themselves, it’s still important for you to read aloud together.”

Reading books to your child sets them up for success in every subject later on. Once children have the learning of sounds and letters in motion, it’s heartwarming and rewarding to start watching them make connections during your reading. Don’t forget the importance of talking about the covers, title page, dedication page, author/illustrator name and more. These are areas that are assessed at early ages in school, so the sooner your child knows these, the more excited they’ll be when school brings them up.

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You cannot expose your child to too many books. You can, however, read too many before bedtime if you’re trying to keep a consistent bedtime routine going! 🙂

Here are some of our favorites:

  1. Little Blue Truck series
  2. I Love You to the Moon and Back
  3. The Very Hungry Caterpillar and other Eric Carle books
  4. Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site
  5. The Bad Seed
  6. Goodnight Moon
  7. Search and Find books, especially the Disney-themed ones
  8. Chicka Chicka Boom Boom
  9. The Wonky Donkey
  10. Dragons Love Tacos

I have to stop myself. Books make great gifts! If you have access to Scholastic book orders through a classroom, you can’t really beat the prices, except for Amazon, and they have so many ways to search online. You can do this by grade level, reading level, interest level, and more. Have fun exploring!

Books for Big Kids!

I get asked a lot about book resources during our homeschool years and the answer is simple: most of the time, any book your child is interested will do. There are occasions where the book should be “just right” for your child’s reading level. After all, you want them to grow as learners and meeting them where they are for practice makes sense. But there are times where children just want to read – anything that strikes their fancy. Even if they can’t read all the word, exposure to print is critical for their reading development.

In our situation, our oldest has a reading disability, so most books throughout elementary school were above his level. But that didn’t stop me from having a wide variety of books for him to look at and learn from, even if he couldn’t read every word. It’s like putting healthy snacks or veggies on the table at a meal. You know your child may not scarf them down, but they may sample them and expand their palates. Every time someone reads, they “expand their craniums”, as Mrs. Doubtfire wisely stated. Here are some books that my older students (grades 3-6) enjoyed (and continue to enjoy):

Popular MMOs Minecraft books

Diary of a Minecraft [Zombie, Creeper, Etc.]

Any book about Dinosaurs

Any book about Construction

Deadly 7

I Survived! Series

American Girl Series

Any book about Horses, such as Black Beauty and Spirit

Harry Potter, especially the first 3 books

Wish by Barbara O’Connor

Graphic novels like Sisters by Reina Telgemeir

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I would spend hours sifting through books at the local book sales, thrift shops, yard sales and book fairs. There is a cute, inexpensive book shop on Old Orchard Beach in Maine called Barnett Books. If you’re ever in the area, it’s worth checking out. There is a wide variety of books available nicely organized into categories. We also come home with a bagful.

I also love going onto Amazon and eBay to find cheap versions. If there’s anything that bothers me, it’s paying full price for books because the minute you go to resell them, the value drops. It is easy to get new books for less than the cover price. You just have to be willing to put in some extra time.

Science!

Every now and then, a cool product comes along that makes me ask myself why I didn’t come up with the idea. One of those is the Edible Candy kit given to one of our kiddos for Christmas. This kit has easy, fun ingredients for kids to mix together to create gummies and other candy while watching the chemistry happen.

This kit is geared toward older kids, from age 8 and up. This is because of some of the chemicals. Citric acid shouldn’t be touched without gloves, so obviously kids should be supervised when doing any of these chemistry experiments. It’s exciting for kids to watch liquids turn to solids within just a few minutes. And the best part was the candies turn into really delicious treats. I’m glad that this was just a treat, though. Usually, I look for food that doesn’t have artificial flavors or dyes for the kids, but from time to time, we live on the wild side.

“A” received a National Geographic Earth Science Kit from Santa a few years ago. It was so hands-on, easy to do, and engaging that she did all of the activities in a matter of a few days. She created a volcano that actually erupted, mined for gems, and created a crystal that still sits on a window sill. It’s a bit faded, but still green and reminds us of the story when I dust it. If you’re kiddo loves to create and watch things happen almost instantly, this is for you. Again, I thought I would need to be present for all experiments and that was not the case. The only thing I remember having to help her with was setting up the base of the crystal. Because it’s Nat Geo, I felt relief in knowing the items were of good quality and safe for young learners. You can find one here!

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That same year, “S” received a National Geographic Starter Rock Tumbler Kit. She is our rock collector, stashing them all over the house. I used to find them in the pockets of her clothes after playing outside or find them making noise in the washer or dryer. She again got right to work following the instructions. The kit came with some raw gemstones that come out completely different after being tumbled for a month. She had to change the grit after so many days, and wrote those dates on the calendar to remind herself. If you don’t mind a little background noise for a month or so, the gems come out so beautiful and there is a sense of accomplishment after waiting so long. Amazon offers them at a decent price here as well as selling the grit for later on here.

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Big B received a telescope from his grandparents. This is a great starter one if you’re interested. Click here to check it out. This telescope has seen many things over the past few years: A mama bobcat and her babies, a bald eagle, and star gazing complete with meteor showers.

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I found one of these at a thrift store, which might have explained why it didn’t focus 100% correctly, but having a microscope like this one here when you’re homeschooling is pretty essential. Big B’s curriculum required one. I would suggest buying one brand new to skip any headaches a used one can bring. Big B was able to look at leaf cells and bug legs, which was neat and not something we see everyday.

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People don’t always realize this, but cooking is science, too! When the liquids turn into solids (cookie dough + heat of the oven = delicious chemistry), that is science. This kit has been used repeatedly by our kids, and will be passed onto cousins or friends when my children outgrow it. It’s made to be beaten (no pun intended) and rewashed a million times, so it’s worth the investment!

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These are just a few fun ways in incorporate or add to a science experience during homeschooling. There are so many other things that will pop into my mind now that this is published, and I’ll add to this list when they do. Happy experimenting!

Homeschooling, Year 2 – September

So began year 2 of homeschooling. This year looked very different. I only had one child homeschooling, but opened a home daycare in the meantime. So poor Big B was surrounded by little ones no matter what, but benefitted from being home and enjoyed the laid back approach to his last year of elementary school.

As promised, Oak Meadow gave him many hands-on projects to choose from to show his understanding of a unit or lesson. Below is a sculpture he created. He was learning about ancient cultures and civilizations all year, so this was connected to his history lesson or unit.

Wow, how time does change a yard. Please excuse the debris in the background! That is no longer there and our yard is much tidier in that area. We now have goats and horses that occupy that space. We had just come back from a vacation and weed trimming hadn’t take place yet. Yikes!

Nonetheless, we know how quickly the cool temps roll in in September, so again, outside play and learning happens much more frequently when it’s nice out. Both boys could be found in the sand pit creating roads and structures. Big B was mostly patient with Little B who loved creating and destroying whatever he could get his hands on. I joke that he was born with Godzilla blood, a favorite hero for Little B to this day.

Sand play is one of my favorite ways to teach without actually needing a lesson plan. When children play in the sand, they can become completely absorbed in their imagined mini-worlds. I see this all the time. Big B is now almost 15 and he still turns on his toys’ imaginative motors when playing with his brother. Sandbox play also strengthens finger and hand muscles and improve coordination, which are precursors for handwriting, many sports and self-sufficiency tasks like buttoning clothes and tying shoes. Our sandpit is not fancy. We had a load of sand delivered by Grampa and that literally has lasted over 5 years. Big B will freshen it up with the tractor once a year, pushing it around, scraping out the weeds, etc. which is like gross motor for the tractor and training for himself. Whether you have a turtle box, a box made out of wood, or just a dirt pile in your yard, the creativity you will see emerge from the play that takes place is incredibly rewarding.

Games Are So Important for Learning

I cannot get enough of game play. Whether that means me playing or just the kids, there are so many great games out there to reinforce learning.

Take Charades for example. The way you play is easy! Players act out a word or phrase without speaking or making sounds (so hard sometimes!). The other members of the team try to guess what the actor is portraying. The objective is for your team to guess the word or phrase as quick as possible. We have this game that Amazon offers for a really decent price. I can’t remember where we got it; possibly a Christmas present from a relative, but we love this version. I’ve seen and used many, and I like this one the best. It’s easy to play and has different levels for different ages. Check it out here.

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We use Bananagrams a lot as well. The case of letters is so small that I leave it on our table in the winter months for something quick and easy to do while we’re killing time in the darkness and the cold. If you’ve never played, it’s like Scrabble-light…sort of. This is a word game that uses lettered tiles to spell words. You have to arrange your tiles into an ever-evolving crossword puzzle that you can create and rearrange constantly until players use all of the letters. Whoever does this yells, “Bananas!” and wins the game. It’s addicting, fun, and builds vocabulary and spelling skills. Good to keep a Scrabble or dictionary around as a resource. There are a couple of versions. We play the original and the kids’ version.

Another classic game that seems to live on and on is the fishing game. There are many brands, and I honestly cannot remember who made it first. We have had a few cheaper knock-offs through the years, all of which have withstood the play of many little hands. Like this one, the object of the game for little ones is to use the fishing pole to grab a fish at their turn without dropping it. Taking turns until all the fish are gone, the winner is the person who has the most! This activity supports fine motor skills. Something my kids have always done with their fish at the end is sort them either by color or shape or eye stickers, depending on the version of the game and how the fish look.

The point is, including games is a brain break. Kids work hard! Learning and play is their job. Sometimes the academic grind of book reading and journal writing or experiment doing takes a toll and they need a different way to learn or a review to reinforce lessons just learned. Don’t forget that card games count! Go Fish, Rummy, and War are always “on the table”.

May – Month 9 of Homeschooling

Warmer temps come to town in May! Thank goodness! We try to get outside as much as possible during May and June. Biking and fishing count as physical education, as well as kayaking! We are blessed with lots of places to do all of the above. Some trips were done one on one, like the biking tour with my oldest. Some we did as a family like a trip to a nearby pond for fishing and kayaking fun. We went with another family who had similar interests and created some memories. Granted, one of those was when one child hooked another in the foot with a fishing hook, but we still talk about it! No one said family excursions were easy…!!!

Getting started with gear for these kinds of trips can be pricey, but we watched the sales going on at Dick’s and were able to land a few kayaks for half price at their opening spring sale. I found two others on Craigslist from a family whose kids were grown and the kayaks were in great shape. These last almost forever, so it’s an investment we thought was worthwhile since our kids would hand them down to siblings and cousins once they’d outgrown them. Something not pictured is that kayaks are used year-round at our house. My older kids will pull the kayak in the snow behind a snowmobile and friends and cousins ask in the winter to come and do this. I guess they created a new winter trend! Maybe I’ll create a post about that! Fishing gear is pricier than I remember it being but again, once set up with everything, the costs are relatively low. And again, checking sale fliers and Facebook marketplace, etc. are great starting points. We did our own worms from the yard, so that eliminates a little bit of cost.

On cooler days, crafts and building are still popular. The turtle sandbox got filled with corn for less mess (initially, anyway). This provided the younger ones with math (sorting) and fine motor (filling the pots or picking up little pieces) lessons, even when the idea was to just play. Ever the sandbox lover, my oldest even chose it as a sit-spot to read! I am shocked as to how tan the kids are, even before summer officially started back then. That’s how much the program (and our drive) pushed us to get outside for learning. Gardening is another way to practice fine motor, gross motor, sorting, planning and science skills!