Rocks…yet again.

They are working together on the rock dig. Nicholas is the geologist and he designated Abby as his "Second in commond geologist."

They are working together on the rock dig. Nicholas is the geologist and he designated Abby as his “Second in command geologist.”

It is always a little hard for me when we have to go through a topic a ton of times. Partially, my creativity is getting worn down. There are only so many ways I know of on how to present a topic. Secondly, I like some variety in our studies. But when my kids wanted to return to rocks, I knew there was no way out of this.

So we pulled out the rock dig again. Nicholas insisted on wearing the goggles that came with the dig. Abby refused to put hers on. The nice thing about the rock dig is that they worked together. Nicholas did it and then showed Abby how to do it. Abby tried, promptly banged the hammer into her finger, and then wanted the brush back so she could dust the rock dust away. We finally finished the dig and found all the rocks.

Then we got to clean the rocks. I simply put a bowl of water and a towel out and let the kids have fun with cleaning rocks. The polished them and then we got to sort them by color. Nicholas had to help me clean up the dust (he swept) while Abby was in charge of sorting rocks by color. When we were done cleaning we compared the rocks to the chart that came with the dig.

Next we pulled out our magnifying glasses and looked around for rocks in our house. We found granite (in our tile) and

The Christmas tree is made out of construction paper and is up on our wall.

The Christmas tree is made out of construction paper and is up on our wall.

we found rocks around the house. The kids had great fun searching through the mud for rocks.

When we practiced writing we practiced the words: rock, geologist, mineral, and granite. Then we did a rhyming game and named all the words that rhyme with rock. Nicholas was responsible for telling me what the beginning sound of the word was, then I wrote the word on a piece of paper.

Math was done next – we did an addition review and subtraction of double digit numbers (no carrying).

Finally we did our art for the day. We are learning how to draw a Christmas tree. I cut one out of paper and put it on the wall so the shape is nice and big. Every day we sit down and draw the tree.

It might sounds repetitive but drawing the tree with the kids is fun. We all draw a different looking tree. In Abby’s case the tree is more of a blob. Nicholas is actually able to get some of the shape drawn correctly.

Then we choose how we are going to decorate our trees. Yesterday the kids wanted to use feathers and pompoms. The day before it was glitter glue. I’m kind of hoping today is just crayons so it is easy to clean up.

So that was our lesson!


Christmas season here we come!

We made wreaths for the fromt hall as part of our art time. Who knew a 4 year old could be taught to use a law-heat glue gun?

Christmas is one of my favorite times of year. It is only topped by any occasion on which I have a babysitter and my husband and I get to go out. Even those occasions don’t last for a month, so Christmas is really a nice season for us.

We are working harder now than we were in October. The routine has gotten easier and as the kids have gotten more used to the routine, the routine has gotten even easier. They know that sometimes we break routine – like when we go visit grandma – but normally they know they have to finish their school work before anything else happens. We have two sets of work: Practice work and lessons. Our practice work is the hands on practice of math worksheets and writing. That work is done before we go anywhere. We finish that work by 8a. The lesson gets worked into the day somewhere – that is my responsibility.

We have a few things we always enjoy more at Christmas. Art is always more fun when it gets displayed – and I display all my kids’ Christmas craft projects. I consider it an investment in disposable decorations. They make it, we display it, we dump it and make new stuff next year. Some exception are there – like the wreaths Nicholas made this year. But mostly we create, dump, and make new again next year. It saves on storage space.

The lessons this month won’t be all Christmas all the time  – that’s not fun for us. We like a variety of lessons. But the art time and cooking time – those are Christmas oriented.

We made candies today. Candy has a lot of science in it. I love this website that explains all the science behind candy making.  We did the caramel lesson today. It turned out okay – better than my caramels normally turn out. I can’t wait to work our way through the rest of the recipes. Tomorrow is marshmallows!!

Do we still do our normal stuff? Yep. Math and writing are done everyday. To save myself a bit of a hassle I got a writing workbook and a math workbook. We are just working our way through them this month so that I can focus more on our fun things and planning – this month can get so hectic.

Happy start of the Christmas season!

What is Thanksgiving?

It is that time of year again – Thanksgiving!

It’s a time for food and family. To see how you can help your child learn about how food and celebrations go hand in hand, visit our post on “Using food to celebrate.
With this lesson, we are learning about the story of Thanksgiving.

We made a questions board for Thanksgiving. A questions board is a piece of paper (or in our case, cardboard with construction paper on top), where you introduce a topic and let the kids ask questions. Then you can spend the week going over the answer to the questions. If they are old enough, the kids can write their questions on paper and stick them to the board themselves. In our case, I wrote the questions. If no one has any questions, you can ask them questions about the topic and if they don’t know the answer, then the question goes on the board.

When I introduced Thanksgiving as the topic, the questions we had were:

1. What is Thanksgiving?
2. Who celebrates Thanksgiving?
3. Why do we celebrate Thanksgiving?
4. Why do I have to eat turkey?
5. How come we don’t put up Christmas decorations until after Thanksgiving?
6. Am I only allowed to be thankful on Thanksgiving?
7. Why are there 3 football games and a parade on Thanksgiving? (This question came in response to why there won’t be any Mickey Mouse Clubhouse on Thanksgiving morning.).
8. What is a Turkey Bowl?

So I decided to start with the first question: What is Thanksgiving?

I used the Thanksgiving story from this website. I really liked it and it was easy to print out – which is always a plus (I will include it below).

Then I had the following reading comprehension questions:

1. Who celebrated the first Thanksgiving?

2. What were they giving thanks for?

3. How did they celebrate Thanksgiving?

4. Why do you think we celebrate it now?

Then we got to draw our idea of a Thanksgiving. My kids love art, so drawing is a plus for them. Nicholas kept asking me to repeat parts of the story so he could draw the correct things on the table and the right people. I was going to post his picture up here, but really you can’t tell what it is unless he’s describing the picture to you. My daughter’s picture is even more interesting. And I was certainly not posting my picture, because I can’t draw. It’s simply not one of my talents.

Finally, I pulled out a piece of scrapbooking paper that had clouds on it. I wanted my kids to write down some things they were thankful for. We started off with the traditional list: Family, God, Grandma, toys, Daddy (because he doesn’t count in family). Then I asked them questions about what else they were thankful for. Nicholas cam up with some more: Lightening McQueen (from Cars), horse back riding lessons, toys (it came up again), candy, and television. Abby just kept saying dolls, Minnie Mouse, and Daisy Duck. I think she thought we were listing things that we like.

I wrote them on the piece of paper and put it up on the wall. Form now until Thursday we will be adding one thing a day to it. I added running water today because I had to defrost the turkey – which wouldn’t have happened without running water. Nicholas added rain and clouds to the list before he went to bed.

Here’s the story we used, copied from the website above.

The First Thanksgiving

by Nora Smith

Praying PilgrimsNearly four hundred years ago, a great many of the people in England were very unhappy because their king would not let them pray to God as they liked. The king said they must use the same prayers that he did; and if they would not do this, they were often thrown into prison, or perhaps driven away from home.

“Let us go away from this country,” said the unhappy Englishmen to each other; and so they left their homes, and went far off to a country called Holland. It was about this time that they began to call themselves “Pilgrims.” Pilgrims, you know, are people who are always traveling to find something they love, or to find a land where they can be happier; and these English men and women were journeying, they said, “from place to place, toward heaven, their dearest country.”

In Holland, the Pilgrims were quiet and happy for a while, but they were very poor; and when the children began to grow up, they were not like English children, but talked Dutch, like the little ones of Holland, and some grew naughty and did not want to go to church any more.

“This will never do,” said the Pilgrim fathers and mothers; so after much talking and thinking and writing they made up their minds to come here to America. They hired two vessels, called the Mayflower and the Speedwell, to take them across the sea; but the Speedwell was not a strong ship, and the captain had to take her home again before she had gone very far.

The Mayflower went back, too. Part of the Speedwell’s passengers were given to her, and then she started alone across the great ocean.

There were one hundred people on board – mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters and little children. They were very crowded; it was cold and uncomfortable; the sea was rough, and pitched the Mayflower about, and they were two months sailing over the water.

The children cried many times on the journey, and wished they had never come on the tiresome ship that rocked them so hard, and would not let them keep still a minute.

But they had one pretty plaything to amuse them, for in the middle of the great ocean a Pilgrim baby was born, and they called him “Oceanus,” for his birthplace. When the children grew so tired that they were cross and fretful, Oceanus’ mother let them come and play with him, and that always brought smiles and happy faces back again.

At last the Mayflower came in sight of land; but if the children had been thinking of grass and flowers and birds, they must have been very much disappointed, for the month was cold November, and there was nothing to be seen but rocks and sand and hard bare ground.

Some of the Pilgrim fathers, with brave Captain Myles Standish at their head, went on shore to see if they could find any houses or white people. But they only saw some Indians, who ran away from them, and found some Indian huts and some corn buried in holes in the ground. They went to and fro from the ship three times, till by and by they found a pretty place to live, where there were “fields and little running brooks.”

Then at last all the tired Pilgrims landed from the ship on a spot now called Plymouth Rock, and the first house was begun on Christmas Day. But when I tell you how sick they were and how much they suffered that first winter, you will be very sad and sorry for them. The weather was cold, the snow fell fast and thick, the wind was icy, and the Pilgrim fathers had no one to help them cut down the trees and build their church and their houses.

The Pilgrim mothers helped all they could; but they were tired with the long journey, and cold, and hungry too, for no one had the right kind of food to eat, nor even enough of it.

So first one was taken sick, and then another, till half of them were in bed at the same time, Brave Myles Standish and the other soldiers nursed them as well as they knew how; but before spring came half of the people died and had gone at last to “heaven, their dearest country.”

But by and by the sun shone more brightly, the snow melted, the leaves began to grow, and sweet spring had come again.

Some friendly Indians had visited the Pilgrims during the winter, and Captain Myles Standish, with several of his men, had returned the visit.

One of the kind Indians was called Squanto, and he came to stay with the Pilgrims, and showed them how to plant their corn, and their pease and wheat and barley.

When the summer came and the days were long and bright, the Pilgrim children were very happy, and they thought Plymouth a lovely place indeed. All kinds of beautiful wild flowers grew at their doors, there were hundreds of birds and butterflies, and the great pine woods were always cool and shady when the sun was too bright.

When it was autumn the fathers gathered the barley and wheat and corn that they had planted, and found that it had grown so well that they would have quite enough for the long winter that was coming.

“Let us thank God for it all,” they said. “It is He who has made the sun shine and the rain fall and the corn grow.” So they thanked God in their homes and in their little church; the fathers and the mothers and the children thanked Him.

“Then,” said the Pilgrim mothers, “let us have a great Thanksgiving party, and invite the friendly Indians, and all rejoice together.”

So they had the first Thanksgiving party, and a grand one it was! Four men went out shooting one whole day, and brought back so many wild ducks and geese and great wild turkeys that there was enough for almost a week. There was deer meat also, of course, for there were plenty of fine deer in the forest. Then the Pilgrim mothers made the corn and wheat into bread and cakes, and they had fish and clams from the sea besides.

The friendly Indians all came with their chief Massasoit. Every one came that was invited, and more, I dare say, for there were ninety of them altogether.

They brought five deer with them, that they gave to the Pilgrims; and they must have liked the party very much, for they stayed three days.

Kind as the Indians were, you would have been very much frightened if you had seen them; and the baby Oceanus, who was a year old then, began to cry at first whenever they came near him.

They were dressed in deerskins, and some of them had the furry coat of a wild cat hanging on their arms. Their long black hair fell loose on their shoulders, and was trimmed with feathers or fox-tails. They had their faces painted in all kinds of strange ways, some with black stripes as broad as your finger all up and down them. But whatever they wore, it was their very best, and they had put it on for the Thanksgiving party.

Each meal, before they ate anything, the Pilgrims and the Indians thanked God together for all his goodness. The Indians sang and danced in the evenings, and every day they ran races and played all kinds of games with the children.

Then sometimes the Pilgrims with their guns, and the Indians with their bows and arrows, would see who could shoot farthest and best. So they were glad and merry and thankful for three whole days.

The Pilgrim mothers and fathers had been sick and sad many times since they landed from the Mayflower; they had worked very hard, often had not had enough to eat, and were mournful indeed when their friends died and left them. But now they tried to forget all this, and think only of how good God had been to them; and so they all were happy together at the first Thanksgiving party.

All this happened nearly four hundred years ago, and ever since that time Thanksgiving has been kept in our country.

Every year our fathers and grandfathers and great-grandfathers have “rejoiced together” like the Pilgrims, and have had something to be thankful for each time.

Every year some father has told the story of the brave Pilgrims to his little sons and daughters, and has taught them to be very glad and proud that the Mayflower came sailing to our country so many years ago.

Our handouts are free!!!

In case you haven’t heard, our handouts are now being uploaded to Teachers pay Teachers.

This website is FREE! You have to register to download anything, but the registration is free.

My store – where you can find all our handouts – is located at

The handouts I make are free. So are the mini-lessons that are at the store.

In addition to my store, there are many other free resources available online. Go browse and see if you can find anything to help your studies. I found a free word wall for our German lessons. This way I don’t have to cut and paste all the pictures – it has already been done for me.

Have fun browsing, and make sure to follow my store to get all the handout updates as we go.

Counting money.

Counting money is not something, like colors, that is simply acquired. It has to be worked on and developed – at least it does with my child. Part of what we are doing with counting money is learning to save money and earn money.

Here he is counting and sorting the money he has earned from chores.

First – counting money.

I had Nicholas take out his piggy bank – which is just a converted Ikea box. He had to sort all the coins by shape and size. Once that was done, I took 1 quarter, 2 dimes, 5 nickels, and 25 pennies and put them to the side.  I showed him the quarter and said it was worth 25 cents. Then I showed him the dime and said it was worth 10 cents and told him to get a quarter out of dimes he would need 2.5 dimes. Then we did nickels (5 cents). He was able to tell me that 2 nickels make a dime and 5 nickels make a quarter. With the pennies I told him each one was worth 1 cent. He then told me that 5 pennies make a nickel, 10 pennies make a dime, and 25 pennies make a quarter.

Lastly, I showed him a dollar bill from my wallet and told him that he needed 4 quarters or 10 dimes, or 20 nickels, or 100 pennies to make a dollar.

Then we counted what he had. We counted the quarters first, then the dimes, nickels, and pennies. I had him write down how many of each coin he had. Then I did the conversion into dollars and cents for him. He was devastated to learn he only had $3.27 – after all he had a lot of coins.

Second – saving and earning money.

He then told me he wanted to save him money for a Lightening McQueen toy. I told him that such toys normally cost $5.00. We figured out how much more money he needed – I wrote out the subtraction equation and he did the subtraction. He now knows he needs $1.73 to get his Lightening McQueen toy. So we made up way he can earn money and lose money.

We decided on certain extra chores he can do around the house. His chores are currently taking his laundry into the washer, dusting, cleaning toys each night, and cleaning his sink on Tuesdays. He decided that each square of tile he cleans should be worth a penny. I said that I would do 2 squares for a penny. He said okay (The tile squares are 18 inches by 18 inches). He also wants to be able to clean toilets – so he can have 2 pennies per toilet. He will get 5 cents for putting dishes away from the dishwasher. Those he can’t put away, he has to put on the kitchen counter so I can put them away. We made up a nice chart with each chores and the amount he can earn. Then we made a chart he doesn’t like – how to lose money.

Nicholas loses money for not following directions, not behaving during quiet time, hitting, calling people names, and fighting with his sister. He can also lose money for bad behavior. That chart is up right next to the “How to earn money,” chart.

Finally, we went around the house and talked about how much things cost. We did a gallon of milk, a loaf of bread, the TV, shoes, computers, phones, and the car. I know the concept of hundreds of dollars or thousands of dollars is hard for him to grasp, but it was important that he learn how much money things cost so he can be more careful with things in the future. This way he doesn’t ask for all kinds of stuff too.

I’m hoping that he will take this lesson and stop asking for everything because I want him to know that things cost money and sometimes we don’t have the money to buy more toys. So I’m hoping that we are beginning to learn about money and common sense with money.

Using food to celebrate.

As humans we use food to celebrate. As families we have traditional food. Part of learning about your culture, for a child, is learning about the food.

With Thanksgiving drawing closer and closer, I decided to have Nicholas think about food as part of his life. We sat down with a piece of paper and wrote down different holidays. I spelled them for him, but he was responsible for writing the word for each holiday out. Then we went through each holiday he wrote, and I asked the question: What food do we use to celebrate this holiday.

Sometimes the responses were very predictable: We use cake to celebrate birthdays and watermelon to celebrate summer and marshmallows when we are camping. Other times he surprised me: We use Costco ice cream to celebrate soccer games, pizza to celebrate football games, and candy to celebrate Halloween. After he gave all his answers, he had to draw a picture of each food next to (in some cases, over) the word he wrote for the holiday.

Then I told him that Thanksgiving was coming up and we sometimes celebrate Thanksgiving with turkey and ham (which he already knew) and pie. He got very excited when I mentioned pie.

Then I handed him this worksheet.  The worksheet is a free download that I put up on Teachers Pay Teachers. You have to sign up for an account, but the download is free.

The worksheet asks him to list the ingredients for a food. In this case, we were going to use pie. So I took out all the ingredients to make apple pie and I laid them down on the counter. Then he got to draw them all in the top box. Then we actually made an apple pie.

When he got to the next box on the worksheet entitled “To make,” he had to draw a picture of what the ingredients make. Lastly, he had to write the word “Thanksgiving” in the final box because we make apple pie to celebrate Thanksgiving.

He completed the worksheet just fine and we go to have apple pie as a treat.

When we were done with the pie he said, “Now we need to practice celebrating the day after Thanksgiving with some strawberry ice cream. I need to fill out another worksheet.” I could only laugh.

Ancient Egypt: Review and timeline.

Sorry this took so long to get onto the website – we’ve been a little busy!

As a review and closure for our Ancient Egypt lesson we did a timeline. I gathered a list of all the dates of things that we have studied and put them all together. Then I had Nicholas cut them all apart and we glued them on a long piece of butcher paper in the correct order. 

Once the dates/events were glued down we started back at the beginning and reviewed. As we reviewed what occurred on the various dates, Nicholas drew a picture that was representative of the event. We had many, many pictures of the Nile and some grass – since he knows the Nile is in Egypt. We also had some great pictures of pyramids.

When he forgot what a date was about, we went back and reread the section in our book on that particular event. While I was reading, he was drawing.

So ended our Ancient Egypt learning.

Here are the dates we used:


3100 BC – Upper and Lower Egypt United by King Menes

3100 BC – Hieroglyphics developed

3000 BC – Bronze Age begins

2700 BC – First stone pyramids build – step pyramids

2700 – BC – Writing on papyrus

2590 BC – Great Pyramid of Khufu built

2515 – Sphinx is built

2000 BC – Wheeled vehicles and horses are used

1552 – 1069 BC – Tombs in the Valley of the Kings

1490 – 1436 – Reign of Tuthmosis III in Egpyt – greatest of the warrior pharaohs

1347 – 1337 BC – Reign of Tutankhamun

332 BC – Alexander the Great took control in Egypt

323 BC – Ptolemy took over Egypt; creates library at Alexandria

196 – Rosetta Stone carved

51 BC – Last Queen  – Cleopatra

What? No tests?

Wouldn’t you rather see the smiles and energy that come from learning and exploring the world than the stress of exams? Why would I test when instead I can take the kids out and show them how things work in the real world and see them smile?

Recently I’ve been getting a few questions from people about how I am going to verify that my kids are learning something. What they are asking is – are you going to test them?

Let’s think about what a test is. A test is a way to check if you have memorized certain facts or a process. When children take standardized tests the test is looking for a certain thing: Can you read a paragraph and answer a question this way. Or can you do a math problem. Tests do not measure a creative process or critical thinking. A test is only a good verification tool of a fact or a set process – because if there could be more than one answer, then the test isn’t going to be a standardized tests – that’s what essay exams are for.

Essay exams are a little different then regular tests because you have a blank paper in front of you and get to explain yourself. In an essay exam you can express your answer and the way you got there. While an essay exam has more leeway with allowing you a creative process and critical thinking, it is still an exam and is still looking for a right answer. I have taken many of these in my college and graduate education and know that the exam is still looking for the “right” answer – they just want to see your reasoning to get there.

So what is the goal of a test? To measure something specific. It is a little like Jeopardy in that way – except the exams are more limited than possible Jeopardy questions.

I don’t test my children – nor am I planning to. I don’t think they need exams to show that they have learned something. I don’t need to give them a math test to verify they can add – they will simply be able to add and subtract and since I’m the one doing the work with them, I will know if they can do it. I don’t particularly care if they memorize the historical facts and figures we are learning about. I’d rather they get a general overview of history. The things they like will stick with them.

Am I sure about this? I am sure. I get random questions all the time about how I’m going to be sure they are learning something. They will learn. We interact in lessons. We go to exhibits and watch shows and do experiments and practice work that shows me they are learning. You don’t have to test whether kids are learning – they really are.

Some people seem very frightened by this approach – as if by not testing my children they are going to miss out on various facts. So here’s my question to you guys out there who believe testing is an integral part of a child’s educational experience: Why? What fact did you learn for a test that you truly remember? I know, from experience, that I learned things for tests that I have no idea what they are right now. None. I can tell you that I passed high school and college level courses in chemistry and biology – yet I can’t remember what the parts of a flower are. For the kids in my neighborhood that’s a big test coming up right now. There are lots of kids trying to memorize the parts of a flower. Why? If they are interested, these facts will stick with them and drive them to various classes in continuing education. But for now…why?

Sure, my kids are going to be tested by others. They will learn that tests are something they need to do for other people. But at my house, I’m happier seeing the smiles that come with learning and exploring than the stress of preparing for exams.

Story board.

Puzzling out what pictures to use to make their own story is part of the fun.

Every once in a while Zulily has some educational toys/games/workbooks etc. on their site for sale. I love Zulily because things come at a great discount. Sometimes they just have clothes and random toys, but usually, in any given week, there are some manipulatives and other educational toys on sale there. If you aren’t a member yet, click this link to join Zulily.

This is a storyboard set that I got from Zulily. It has a bunch of pictures and words. There are also punctuation marks, “s” letters, and various other gramatical devices. The top part of the board is a felt like substance that the velcro on the back of the pictures can stick to. The bottom part of the board is plastic pockets to slip words into.

We play this game a few ways right now.

First: The kids get to pick out random pictures and have to make a story out of them, using all of them. Second, I pick out the words and they have to find the pictures and match the pictures to the words. In either way, they can make the stories be whatever they want. The things that get made up are very silly sometimes (the pigs eat the watermelon which falls out of the barn and lands on the hay). But since they are putting the words together in sentences, that is what I want. Plus, it allows them to explore their imaginations and make up stories.

Lastly, and this is something we are just doing with Nicholas right now, he has to pick words and make sentences on his own. He is slowly learning how to make his own sentences and the differences between a question mark and a period. It is a good exercise for him to learn how to link words into sentences. What is even better – this is forcing him to read all the words in the set to make the right sentences. Since he’s getting to develop his own story on the board, he works very hard at reading all the words – harder than he works when we are just reading books. So he’s getting a lot of reading time in with this.

Abby just likes to pull out all the pictures and name the items. Sometimes she even runs around in circles with the various animals making the right animal sound. She also likes to make animals go into the barn and over the tree. She makes her own, very small, stories.

Lastly, we can even do this in German. We practice very basic German grammar (the cow is on the tree/the man is in the barn) with this story board. It was made to be an English teaching item, but we are good at adapting and growing our tools to be very versatile.


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