Why I focus on academics…..

When people ask me about homeschooling, they are sometimes shocked by the focus on academics that is found in our house. I homeschool for fun too – but the basis of all our fun is academics.

If we are painting, we are talking about painters. We are drawing things from different perspectives. We are talking about composition, negative space, and distance.

When we are getting ready for field trips, we are talking about what happened where we are going, why the place is important, and other such specifics.

I don’t simply let us drift. I want us to have pride in our academics.

For anyone who thinks that their school has pride in their academics – please look at the trophy case in the front of their school. What is there? Sports trophies. Schools focus on sports. There are HUGE costs to sports in high school – financially and academically. Sure, sports are fun, but they aren’t what school is supposed to be about.

I want my kids to have pride in their minds. Sports are great, and if either one wants to play we can do so through club teams and things. But sports aren’t the point of education. Resources aren’t supposed to be wrapped up in sports. They are supposed to be wrapped up in academics. Imagine if we took the money that it costs to run an average football team and put that into math study – provide teachers better pay, provide chances for real mathematicians to come in and show what they do, participate in math games and other such things. Kids would become more engaged and do better in math. When that focus is elsewhere, then the academics suffer.

So in our house, we place academics first and sports second.

If you want to read more on the subject, here’s an interesting article: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2013/10/the-case-against-high-school-sports/309447/


Building day.

Abby thought the bridge building looked like fun, so she got in to build her own bridge to span the gap between blocks.

Abby thought the bridge building looked like fun, so she got in to build her own bridge to span the gap between blocks.

Fridays tend to be more relaxed at our house. We are finishing up lessons, doing projects, and most of all – we spend a lot of time building.

We’ve been playing around with the West Point Bridge Designer software for a few weeks.  The software is part of a competition, but since Nicholas isn’t old enough for the competition, we just play with it at home.

This morning I decided to set Nicholas a challenge. I took the blocks out and set them up about 1.5 feet from each other. I asked him to build a bridge with his Legos that would go across the pan, without touching the ground, and hold 3 of this toy cars. It took him about 25 minutes, but he built one.

Then we moved the blocks farther apart. He decided it had to hold his army tanks too. So began a new challenge.

Nicholas was challenged to build a bridge between the two blocks that didn't touch the ground and could hold his cars. He managed it after a few false starts.

Nicholas was challenged to build a bridge between the two blocks that didn’t touch the ground and could hold his cars. He managed it after a few false starts.

Best of all, Abby got into the challenge too. She wanted my help to design a bridge that would hold her dolls. So we pulled out her Lego Duplo’s and built bridges too.

Nicholas got a little tired of building bridges, so he pulled out his new kit and built a hydraulic crane – it moves using water pressure through a series of tubes. Then he used the crane to help build another bridge.

I went to go grab some other things for Abby, and before I knew it he had some pipe cleaners out and was making a suspension bridge. He put one “pylon” down into the carpet because he says all suspension bridges have pylons into the water. Then he went on building suspension bridges with his crane, pipe cleaners, and Legos.

We did this for about 2 hours this morning, and it was great fun. I didn’t have to do anything except ask questions. My most used questions was, “Why do you think that didn’t work?” I don’t accept “I don’t know” as an answer. Instead I have them think.

When kids are engaging in this type of play, they are learning critical thinking skills. They are presented with a problem, they have to solve the problem, and then evaluate their solution. It’s a great way of developing skills without workbooks.

I enjoy playing and building with my kids. And having them use and develop their critical thinking skills is a plus.

Detours: Slugs.

A slug became Nicholas' science project this morning. Simple distractions make great lessons.

A slug became Nicholas’ science project this morning. Simple distractions make great lessons.

I had a plan this morning. I have plans most mornings for the day – after all, I spend Sunday planning for the week. The funny thing is, plans get derailed. Almost always it is a good thing.

There’s a standing “rule” in the house – we do about 20 minutes of school followed by 10 minutes of play. My kids were on one of their 10 minutes of play times – out in the back yard -when Nicholas comes inside, grabs a paper cup, goes back outside, comes inside, does something on the computer, then runs back outside.

This isn’t unusual behavior. Normally it’s because he’s found something he wants to Google. So I went and looked at the computer. A website was up. It looked like Nicholas had Googled “Where do slugs live?”  After looking at his research, I went outside.

Nicholas was building a house for a slug. He had found the slug under the trampoline in the grass, and wanted to build it a house so it would be a pet. I drew the line at building the house inside.

He found the animal, did the research, and built the house all on his own. In a very weird way, I’m super proud of the kid. He followed the advice on the website – that slugs like damp places with shade and leaves, and built the slug a house. Then he put the slug in the house. He also named the slug, and told it that if it gets lost, the house is at our house (and he gave the slug our address).

Periodically throughout the day, Nicholas has gone out and check on “his” slug. So far the slug hasn’t done much at all. I get progress reports on the slug and whether it is decorating its new house, leaving the house and exploring, or just resting. It has been quite the fun sidetrack to our morning.

Boys will be boys – and this boy really learned a bunch about slugs this morning.

Social Studies.

It turns out that we didn’t do a good balance of things this past month. We had our ES visit last Wednesday, and when she saw everything we did, she turned to me and said, “So what about Social Studies.” I looked at her and said, “We are reading our history book.” She was like, “Okay, but what about student work to do with Social Studies.” Then I realized – uh oh. We didn’t do any.

In my defense, we did do some – we studied both the German and Polish was of celebrating Christmas, and contrasted that with how we celebrated Christmas. We did read our history book – everyday. It’s just that we met after I took all the Christmas stuff down. And before I had a chance to get anything together about Social Studies.

So I’m making sure that we cover something this month. In fact, I’m going to try and cover a bunch in one day (Monday) so that I have something to show her.

I downloaded a few worksheets from Education.com:

Make your own flag: http://www.education.com/files/409901_410000/409923/make-your-own-flag-worksheet.pdf

Learn the First Amendment: http://www.education.com/worksheet/article/learn-amendment/

Color the state of California: http://www.education.com/worksheet/article/trace-color-state-shapes-california/

We are also going to go on a walk around our neighborhood and make a map of it.

I figure those four activities can cover our Social Studies for the month. And then we will have to do some other things as well.

To continue and summarize our “Ancient People” history – which we are going to be ending soon as we move onto Ancient Greece and Rome – we are going to make rock paintings – just like in olden times. We will take paint and paint rocks. We will also be learning the difference between a pictogram and an pictograph – and trying our hand at both.

With all that I figure that should cover our Social Studies nicely for the month.


Handwriting practice pages.

As everyone knows, I love Starfall. I like their online games and I love their resources section. In their resources section they have letter writing practice pages and all kinds of fun stuff.

Now, Confessions of a Homeschooler has some letter writing practice pages too. So here’s the link to those. The handwriting practice pages from Confessions of a Homeschooler are awesome. They practice a shape, then the letter. It’s kind of nice to have more than just the letter practice on the page. As an added bonus, they tie into the rest of the preschool stuff that she does on her page. 

We are using these as a switch from Starfall for this Spring. We will go back to Starfall in the summer. But I’m still using Starfall’s printable books – simply so Abby can color and trace the words in the book, then read them herself (well, I read them first, then she reads them to herself or her dolls. Repeatedly.). 

Hope your week is going to go well. 


Lesson on galaxies.

The image that generated our science lesson: The Pandora Cluster as seen from the Hubble telescope. Did you know all those are galaxies – not stars – galaxies?

Our science topic has been astronomy for the past couple of weeks. Nicholas got a brand new telescope, and an astronomy book, and is loving astronomy.

I found this interesting article on Slate this morning while I was reading my news. It’s all about galaxies and the Pandora Cluster.

So I decided it would be our science lesson for today.

First, we talked about Hubble and what the Hubble telescope is. We went to the Hubble webpage and Nicholas had to read, to me, the “essentials” part of the page.

Then we talked about a light-year. A light-year is the distance light travels in a year. We learned that things we see from far away, like in our telescope, could have happened millions or billions of years ago – depending on how far the light has had to travel.

It’s really hard for kids – and adults – to grasp the vastness of space, so I don’t worry too much about that. But we do learn how far away things are, and talk about time and things we can do in a year, so Nicholas has some relative distance to work from.

Then we went to look at the image I wanted to use: http://imgsrc.hubblesite.org/hu/db/images/hs-2014-01-a-full_jpg.jpg

You can zoom in and out. And notice – those linear things are actually galaxies – not stars or anything else. Those are galaxies. They just look different because of how the light is bending in space.

So the picutre is of 4 galaxy clusters, collectively known as the Pandora Cluster. They are 4 billion light years away. That’s pretty far, and that’s a pretty old image we are seeing. It boggles my mind. But Nicholas just accepts that the picture is what things looked like out there 4 billion years ago. If we want a picture of what it looks like today, we’d have to wait 4 billion years to get that picture.

The reason the light bends and gives us images of galaxies we might not have otherwise been able to see is that the Pandora Cluster has a mass approximately 400 trillion times that of our sun. This image was taken over 67 hours. It shows some galaxies that are 12 billion light years away. That’s almost when the galaxy was born (13.8 billion years ago). The image is of great significance and shows amazing things.

But what was most exciting was being able to explain all this to Nicholas and have him jumping up and down and being excited about astronomy. It’s a fabulous short lesson – or longer depending on the child. Using the resources around on the Hubble website can provide many more lessons – especially for those who like astronomy. I imagine this will be a common lesson that we have every once in a while. It actually goes quite nicely with his Khan Academy choices from yesterday – the scale of space (large and small). It was awesome.

Books and more books.


I love books. I want my kids to love books. This is why we take many, many trips to bookstores and the library.

Sometimes we get things, sometimes we don’t. But we love to go through bookstores. We will always get books from the library.

Recently my mom – their grandmother – took us to this great store: Half Priced Books. It’s in Concord, Ca (the one we went to). I found this book called  . The book had great information on five different types of planes. But the best thing was, the book had planes to pull out and make.

The plane parts are all of cardboard, and they have slots so they all fit together without glue (although glue makes them stronger). The planes are the different types of planes described in the book. They have instructions the kids can follow to put the planes together. It’s really a fun book. We also found their “Build a Robot” book.

The same publishing company has a bunch of books – I’ve included links to them below – that can serve as lessons and an activity all together. So you read the book and learn something. Then you get to put everything together, as an activity. When we did the robot book, we built the robots right after reading the section about them.

Lastly, you can display the creations. We made wall hangings for them. I took a small diameter craft stick and hung everything off them. Then the wall hanging went into his room, so he gets to have all his robots and planes around him. It’s neat, because sometimes at night he doesn’t want a story from a book, instead he makes up a story about his robots and will tell you it; all while pointing at the various robots and planes hanging around his room.

There’s also a great mermaid book – Abby loved it and was content to play with it while I worked with Nicholas on his, more complicated, building projects. Nicholas even helped her put the mermaids together. It was quite awesome.

Magical Worlds Mermaid Press-Out & Play

Here are the links to the books:
Awesome Airplanes
Build a Robot
Build a Digger
Amazing Cars
Build a Bug
Build a Dinosaur

Random things we use……

There are a bunch of “random” books in our house that we use for “school time.”

You notice that “random” and “school time” are in quotes – and there’s a reason. Nothing is randomly gotten in this house. I pick things that the kids will like to do – or that I know we need. Other people think the books are random because they don’t seem to follow a theme. School time is also a variable concept. Dot to dots and mazes teach children important things – counting, problem solving, logic, fine motor skills, shapes….the list goes on and on. So while there might not be a lesson in sight, the kids are still learning. Even better is when they think they are playing.

Here’s a list of some of the things in our house I use to support learning, without the kids knowing they are learning. There’s probably a lot more than this, but these are the items we use a lot.

If I could find a link to it, I included the link:

Construction truck dot to dots

Anything art related – especially the dot art paints and books

Dinosaur coloring books

Everything dot to dot book



Princess books

Everything gross mazes

Legos (and lots of them!!!)


Logic Links

Play money they use in their play kitchen – mostly when they play restaurant

Dress up box




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