The mistakes we made this week…….

It seems like the mistakes I’ve made this week just compound and compound. First, I let Nicholas do all his Story Starters on Monday. He said he wanted to do them all on one day, so it seemed like an okay plan. Then I realized that I normally make him practice writing every day so what was he going to practice with now? He hats to practice writing, so I decided we’d do a book report. I let him choose any book – and he picked a Rescue Bots book (to no one’s surprise).

But then  we went back to math. I need him to review all his addition and subtraction. Nicholas hates review. He does it once, gets it, and thinks he’s done. So review is hard. I gave in and started giving him stickers. 20 stickers gets him a quarter. I forgot, at the outset, to say he needed to do the worksheet correctly to get a sticker. So he just put down random numbers, handed it in, and expected his sticker. He explained that I didn’t tell him it had to be done correctly, so he got a sticker that day and the caveat went down for “it had to be done correctly” the rest of the time.

I let him sharpen his own pencils. For some kids, this wouldn’t be a big thing. But my kid loves to learn how things work. So he plugged it in, worked on sharpening a pencil, and I walked away to change a dirty diaper. I come back and he’s got the pencil sharpener all torn apart and is showing me how the motor turns with the electricity coming into it, and how the turning motor makes the pencil sharpen. I’m sort of proud until I ask him where the blade of the pencil sharpener is, and he says, “I don’t know….I just know it sharpens the pencil and works with the motor……” I tuned out at that point because, low and behold, I stepped on the blade.

Nicholas likes it when I bleed because he gets to use his microscope. He saw me start bleeding and ran to grab a slide. He doesn’t stop to help me or anything, he just wants to see the blood under the microscope….

He checked everything for magnetic properties. Door hinges, tiles, walls, windows, piano keys...they all got checked.

He checked everything for magnetic properties. Door hinges, tiles, walls, windows, piano keys…they all got checked.

Oh where did I go wrong?

The answer is, no where. He’s having fun and living it up with learning. But sometimes I wish it wasn’t so messy, so inconvenient, and did I mention messy?

He decided he didn’t want to so his spelling this week. But that one we had a throw down on – and since I won the wrestling match, he did his spelling. If only he’d agree to everything based on a wrestling match. Then I’d win a lot more. At least until he’s bigger than me.

We wrapped up our week with a magnetism treasure hunt. These are easy to do. I gave him a magnet and he went around checking everything – and I mean everything – for magnetic properties. He found some studs in our walls, and then went over all the walls inch by inch to see if he could find more. It was highly amusing and took him a whole 4 hours to cover the walls – at which point he decided he wanted to see if our floors were magnetic. Too bad we have tile floors. But he had fun, and at least we talked about magnetic fields and north and south poles during that turn of events.

Isn’t homeschooling fun?


Week 2 and 3 story starters.

If you are following us, then you know that we are using story starters to practice writing and grammar. It is sometimes easier to teach through doing, than to teach the rules of grammar. Plus, all kids need handwriting practice and this is a great way for them to get it without having to actually think they are practicing handwriting. So here are the story starters for this week and next week:

Week 2:

Monday: Which superhero would you like to be?

Tuesday: Tell me about your family?

Wednesday: What is your favorite animal?

Thursday: What is the dog doing in the grocery store?

Friday: What is the grasshopper doing?

Week 3:

Monday: What is your favorite dinosaur?

Tuesday: Where does a whale live?

Wednesday: What do the fish learn in school?

Thursday: What lives in a coral reef?

Friday: What is your favorite flower?

When do I do preschool?

One of the questions I get asked is if I only do one lesson a week for Abby – my preschooler. The answer is no – I have lessons everyday for her.

First, the lessons we do on a subject she joins in. Sometimes she’s sitting on my lap handing things to Nicholas. Other times she’s doing the experiment as well. She cooks, cleans and plays with us all day.

Second, she gets her own work. While I’m working with Nicholas I give her a puzzle to do, or she’s doing art (a favorite), or she’s doing sticker matching….or sometimes she just plays. She isn’t as old as Nicholas and isn’t as capable of doing math. I don’t ask her to do developmentally inappropriate things. She just sometimes tries to do them 🙂

Third, we spend some time everyday on something just for her. Sometimes it is threading shapes onto string and naming the shapes. Or we count, or measure, or go around the house naming the letters that things begin with. But everyday we have something for her. I’ve listed the worksheets below that we used this week so you can see the types of things she does everyday.


From Confessions of a Homeschooler – letter B – B puzzle, B dot-to-dot, B matching

Sticker book – Dogs

Colored in her Strawberry Shortcake book



Letter D scavenger hunt (I posted letter D’s all around the house on Post-it’s and she had to find them)

Mammals lesson.

We are headed to the Oakland Zoo on Friday with Grandma, so Thursday’s lesson is all about, “What is a Mammal?”

A mammal has a couple of characteristics – and I’m only listing the ones I expect my son to know.

  1. Mammals have hair.
  2. Mammals nourish their young with milk.
  3. Mammals are warm blooded.
  • Fastest mammal (also the fastest land animal): the cheetah (60-70 mph = 97-110 kph)
  • Slowest mammal – the sloth (less than 1 mph, or 2 kph)
  • Biggest mammal, biggest animal that ever lived on Earth – the blue whale
  • Biggest land mammal– the African Elephant
  • Tallest mammal – the giraffe
  • Smallest mammals – the pygmy shrew (weighing 1.2-2.7 gm) and the bumblebee bat (weighing about 2 gm)
  • Loudest mammal – the Blue Whale. The second loudest is the Howler Monkey.
  • Smallest newborns – marsupials (pouched mammals, like the kangaroo)
  • Smelliest mammal – the striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis)

So now what to do with the information – I know, a test! So I wrote down the characteristics of a mammal on some Post-its (I love Post-its). I put the numbers 1, 2, and 3 up on our white board. Nicholas had to name off the characteristics and put it on the white board. He knew he got all three when there were Post-it’s next to each number.

Then we did a mammal word search.

And we drew an elephant.

And we went and played around on this wonderful page about mammals.

We also went through our animal stickers and made a collage of “mammals” and “non-mammals.” It was a simple piece of paper with a line down the middle and he had to put the pictures of mammals on one side and non-mammals on the other. Abby did this one too – although I let Nicholas tell her where each of the stickers went on her page.

Lastly, we did some matching. I wrote down the facts about mammals (from the bullet points above) and printed out pictures of each of those mammals. Then he had to match up the fact with the animal. We pasted those onto some construction paper so he could make a poster out of them.

Lastly, we went to the Oakland Zoo’s webpage and wrote down the names of all the mammals he wanted to visit. So that will be our guide while we are visiting the zoo.


Book reports.

I always hated having to do book reports as a kid. But as an adult, I realize they taught me about how to read an summarize books. They also ensured that I was reading. To pass on the reading and summarizing skills, I decided to make a book report form.

I want to make sure that my kids understand – from a young age – that each book has a title, main character, plot, and conclusion. To incorporate my children’s love of art, I also made a “your illustration” box at the end of the book report form.

They don’t have to report on every book that they read, but they do have to report on one book a week. My oldest has to do the book report mostly on his own. I help him with words he cannot spell. I ask guided questions if he gets stuck on what he’s supposed to do. But I do not do it for him.

With Abby, I simply ask her the name of the book. She goes and finds the book and tells me it is “This one.” Then I point to the title of the book and we say it together. She then just colors in the rest of the page while Nicholas does his book report.

Here’s a link to the book report form. It is free, you just have to download it.

Toddler Tuesday: Letter A.

Yes, I know I’ve already done letter A last year with my little one – but nothing hones skills like repetition. I love the letter printables form Confessions of a Homeschooler.  I use a lot of her handouts for my little one to do. We also do some of our own projects, but we use a lot of her printables. After all – no reason to reinvent the wheel. Her activities have a lot of positives and hands-on options to them – and that’s what we do best here.

So the worksheets I chose from her site to do with the letter A are:

Dot-to-dot letter A, Sorting A and a, Apple coloring, and apple cutting.

I printed two of the dot-to-dot letter A sheets because Abby really likes doing dot art. I figure she can do both of them and enjoy the letter A a bit while I work with Nicholas on his story prompts.

So the lesson goes like this:

We do the Starfall letter A worksheet – with Nicholas teaching Abby.

Then Abby gets to do dot-art on her two letter A’s while Nicholas works on his story prompts at the same art table. This way I have both of them together, but they are doing their own work.

Then Abby gets to sort the Big A and little A’s onto the correct tree. I printed this worksheet onto cardstock and she can sort them to her hearts content. I get to spread all the apples out (I cut them out the night before), and she sorts them. Then I check it, and she wants to do it again. To get her moving, I put the apples on one side of the room and the trees to sort onto on her desk. She loves the activity and the sorting. So it works for her to do while I work with Nicholas on math review.

Now we move onto the cutting. She gets to cut out along the lines. I printed two of these, so Nicholas cuts them out too. It’s always good to work on scissor skills together – that way I only have to have the scissors out when they are together. We move to the art table for this and for a change of scenery.

Choose a few more letter A's, print them out, and make your own A collage.

Choose a few more letter A’s, print them out, and make your own A collage.


We have an “A” snack – apples and ants (chocolate chips).

Next, we do the “A” collage. The A collage is awesome. I downloaded a bunch of pictures of the letter A and put in a bunch of A’s in different fonts.  Then Abby gets to cut them out and paste them onto construction paper (she chose purple) and then color it and decorate it. This project took her almost an hour to be happy with. It allowed me to work with Nicholas on his spelling and word ladders without too many interruptions.

This was our letter A day. After we finished the letter A, we went onto the number worksheets – with they both did together for the number 1. Lastly, we spent some time reading. I let the kids choose their own books, and today I ended up having to read Morris the Moose four times. Oh well, at least it was reading.

Story Starters – Week 1.

Like some of you, I have problems getting my son to really want to settle down and write. He likes stories, he likes creating his own stories, so I thought a solution to this problem would be to make a bunch of “story starters.” Story starters are questions that he can draw the answer to and then write the sentences that describe his illustration.

I got the Picture and Story Pad from Lakeshore Learning for him to write and draw on. It is a pad of paper (double sided) that has a blank spot at the top and lines at the bottom. It allows him to draw and write on the same page – with a dedicated spot for each.

How to use story starters:


Use a piece of paper that they can draw on for the illustration and a piece of paper they can write on. Picture story pads are great for these because they have a space to draw on the top and lines below.


Give the child the prompt. Have them draw the illustration first.


Then write the words under the illustration to describe the story.


If your child gets stuck, use the guiding questions to help them. Remember, it is the child’s job to draw and write. You can help them by providing pictures for them to look at if they don’t know how to draw something, but you cannot draw it for them. You can help a child spell things, but the thoughts must be their own.


Keep these in a binder.


You can either do the individual story prompts (a new one each day), or create your own prompts to make a full story in a week.


Week 1 Story Starters


Monday: Where did the car go?


Tuesday: Where did I go on my bike?


Wednesday: What is the bird doing?


Thursday: What did I find while digging?


Friday: What can you make out of sand?


Guiding questions:


What shapes make up (insert the object they are trying to draw)?

What color are you going to use?

Where are some places you go in a car?

What are some things a bird might be doing?

What else might be in the picture with you?

Who else might be in the picture?

Do you need help spelling anything?


Let me know how the story prompts are working for you. I love them and hope that they will encourage my son to write a bit more all the time.


Numbers and letters

I really like Starfall’s number and letter generator. They make these great worksheets that are good for preschool on up to first grade – depending on how you use them.

I use these as Nicholas’ chance to teach Abby. He really likes teaching her, and she LOVES to do the same thing he is doing. So we do one letter and one number a day (this week it is numbers 1-4 and letters A-D).

Number worksheets

I put the worksheets on the table and Nicholas shows her where the number is an helps her count the objects. Then I help her trace the number once, and she does the rest (with varying degrees of success). Nicholas blows through tracing the numbers, and moves onto writing the words. He shows Abby each of the letters in the words and points them out to her – after he’s finished writing the words.

Lastly, he tells Abby what the objects are and what color she should color them. Then they attempt to draw the objects in the blank square next to them. This works best with triangles and ovals, although I use the suns and leaves sometimes for a change.

Letter worksheets

The letter worksheets work a bit differently. He just sits next to her and explains everything. I even let him hold her hand and help her trace the letters. Nicholas is much better at helping her than he is when I ask him to write. But he tells her the names of all the objects and helps her write her letters. I supervise. I don’t let him make mistakes, but by teaching her, he is showing me he really knows what he’s doing.

And best of all is they love the time with each other and I get to watch them grow.

My planner

A shot of my planner two weeks before the lessons. As we get closer, it will get messier.

A shot of my planner two weeks before the lessons. As we get closer, it will get messier.

People have asked me how I plan for homeschooling. Truth is, there’s a lot of flexibility in planning. I have two tools that I couldn’t live without: my planner and my 10 minute box.

The planner

The planner starts off all neat (see the images on the other side), and ends up messy. I paperclip each days’ stuff to the planner as we get closer, that way I have all the information I need in one spot. Then I gather all my materials and put them into the box for school – and then we start getting closer. I put down names of books we are reading, if we take a trip to the grocery store I write it down if my kids do any math or reading while we are there. The planner gets messier and messier. I cross things off with a highlighter when we finish them. And at the end of the week, I try to get everything we didn’t finish in to finish.

The planner helps me organize, but I like that I don’t have to stick to it. It’s my guide, my helper – but it doesn’t rule my life. If we need to make changes, we make changes.

10 minute box

My other special tool is my 10 minute box. This box holds plastic bags that have a ten-minute lesson in them. These can be art projects, short lessons, some dot-to-dot activities….there are lots of things in the box and they are all independent activities. We have “light source” treasure hunts. I have “measure the chairs to find the tallest” I have lots of fun activities in the box. The key to using this box is that it givers me a few minutes to set up for the next activity. The kids pick – and I make them pick the same thing. Then they do the activity while I set up.

I also use this box instead of the TV sometimes. And I make them do and activity from here before they get anything on TV.

The 10-minute box is really helpful to give me just that little bit of time I need. It is also neat because I let the kids pick the lessons they want to do out of it – so they feel like they have some control.

I try to put 30 lessons in there on a Sunday and hope I don’t run out. Sometimes my kids really like going to the box, so it can be neat.

Other tools

I also have a bunch of other tools I use. I keep a stock of Lego activities in my head. They can be as simple as “build me the tallest Lego tower you can,” or “Build a castle with your blocks for the Army men to conquer.” All of these ideas are ones that the kids can do to give me a few minutes to set up the next activity, project, or meal, without having them underfoot.

Of course, sometimes they need to be underfoot – like when they are helping cook.

I hope this helps people understand how I go about planning and being flexible.

Spelling and reading: Week 2 day 1 and blocks for Engineering.

After the hard work of spelling and math was done, we headed over to our blocks for some engineering - although Nicholas just thinks he' having fun building things.

After the hard work of spelling and math was done, we headed over to our blocks for some engineering – although Nicholas just thinks he’ having fun building things.

Today is Day 1 of our second week in spelling.

Our spelling words for this week are:  map, chair, table, desk, sink, bathroom, bedroom, stairs, car, and pool. For the first week of spelling, click on this link.

Last week’s spelling words went really well. The progression from writing and saying to the actual spelling test went really well. We even managed to get a 100% on the spelling test. And I didn’t help or coach on the spelling test. So that was a nice treat. Nicholas was also super proud of himself when he finished the spelling test and got a 100%.

We did our math for the day (we are still reviewing our addition and subtraction from 1-12). We are going to be done reviewing at the end of this week and moving on. He finished the first day of spelling, and we did some “reading the clock” practices.

We have a few more items on the agenda for today: A science experiment about making balloons travel, cooking, measuring the chair legs in the house, German, and some engineering. We also have our physical activity. Abby and Nicholas have to vote on it, and today we ended up with bike riding for a little bit followed by basketball at the park.

But we had to make a pit stop and do some blocks. My kids got special treats when they visited their grandma and aunt yesterday – one of the treats being some planes from Planes. So we had to make an obstacle course for them to go through. Blocks were making the course, and we had a ton of fun.

We practiced how tall we can build things, making arches and bridges, making things work together, and building paths. All of these things can be worked through in an engineering lesson, or you can just build and let the kids learn by trial and error. So the block building was a blast.

I have to prepare some special handouts for our trip to the CA Academy of Science tomorrow. That way the kids feel like I put some effort into the trip too.

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