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.


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




Our Artist curriculum.

Water Lillies - one of the paintings we are going to study by one of my favorite artists - Monet.

Water Lillies – one of the paintings we are going to study by one of my favorite artists – Monet.

I think that art is important. The making of art and the studying of art is important. Kids don’t always like it, but it is important to be able to express yourself and enjoy pictures, sculptures, and appreciate art. I’m lucky – my sister-in-law is an artist. She’s a ceramic artist and is always happy to answer art questions I have. I also like art, so my kids probably get more of it than they would if I didn’t like art. I’ve introduced the concept of “professional artist” to my kids. Abby has decided that she wants to be an artist, and Nicholas said, “Nope, I’m still going to be an engineer.”

The artists we are studying are:

Claude Monet, Sandro Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci (who comes up again and again as we study inventions), Raphael, and Vincent can Gough.

I really don’t like Wikipedia for sources, so I’m using the Met’s website for all my information.

Here’s what I do:

1. Print of a black and white version of the artwork: I Google “coloring pages for (insert title here),” and print off the coloring page.

2. We view the real painting online with the iPad. I ask the following questions (after I know the answer of course):

What colors are here?

What do you think this painting is about?

What do you think was used to make the artwork/What is the medium?

What emotion do you feel when you see the artwork?

3. Then I use the information I’ve taken off the website and talk about the painting (medium, style, title).

Then the kids color the artwork, while I leave the picture up online so they can see it. They often choose other colors. Last, I hand them a sheet and they glue down the information I’ve printed off. I print off: Artist’s name, years he was alive, title of the painting, when it was painted, style, and medium. I cur those pieces of information up into strips and the kids glue them onto a page. Then we insert the coloring and the information page into our artist binder.

I’ve left the lesson open ended so you can add your own paintings of choice to it. But that’s an art lesson for us for the day. We do one a week.

Art lesson #1: Draw what you hear.

Art lesson number 1: drawing what you hear.

Art lesson number 1: drawing what you hear.

My kids know how to draw a line, a dot, a circle, a triangle, and a rectangle. They’ve done the curved line and straight line lessons. So now it was time to combine all those lessons into one art lesson.

This lesson is taken from the website:

So I gave them 4 instructions in this order:

1) Draw four lines from one end of the paper to the other.

2) Draw five circles anywhere on the paper.

3) Color in 2 circles.

4) Fill in three more areas on the paper how every you want (squiggles, lines, dots.. .whatever you want).

My kids came up with two completely different drawings. Then we did it again. They came up with two more completely different drawings.

This was simply an exercise in creativity to let the kids follow directions, but still explore their creativity.

Learning about leaves.

Leaves are everywhere! And they make fun lessons and crafts.

Leaves are everywhere! And they make fun lessons and crafts.

We’ve learned about photosynthesis, and now we are doing some leaf identification. Identifying leaves works on classification skills. It’s also pretty cool to be able to do when you are on nature walks. Whenever we go somewhere, we almost always go on a nature walk and my children love to pick up leaves. Their favorite questions is, “What tree is this from?” They don’t mean they want the name of the tree (not normally), but they want to point to the tree it comes from. So I ask them a series of questions, and they eventually find the tree.

Here are the four things we are focusing on about leaves: Shape, margin, simple or compound, and alternating or opposite.

There a great website that has images of compound/single and alternating/opposite leaves.

I printed out this chart and then laminated it.  Two copies of this chart sit in a crate in my car so that I always have it. Along with paper and crayons (leaf rubbing or rock rubbings are always a great way to end a nature hike). Plus, I just like having them in case we need to get out of the car and go walking.

To begin our lesson, we wrote the word “leaf” three times. Then we learned the word for leaf in German (das Blatt/ein Blatt). I handed them a picture of a leaf and they colored it. Then Nicholas had to write “das Blatt” on it. I wrote it for Abby.

We’ve already learned what leaves do. But it is Fall here, and leaves are starting to fall off trees. So we had to read about why. I let Nicholas type the question into Google. I’m trying to teach him to find out answers on his own, and since “Google it” is our version of, “Look it up,” I try and let him do it. We ended up at this website, which had a nice and short explanation.  Then he wanted more, so we went to the NPR site, which was more scientific and less geared towards kids, which bothers my child not at all.

I printed out this worksheet for them. They had to draw the veins on their leaves – which the kids know that the nutrients to the leaf – and then color them. I then let them cut out each leaf and make a collage.

Now we go on our nature walk! I took the kids down by the river, handed them a paper bag, and let them collect leaves – only leaves that had fallen off trees. When we got home, we sorted the leaves by size, then by color (these two were for Abby to practice her relative size and color skills), then by shape and compound/single. Lastly, I handed each kid a piece of heavyweight poster board (I get the multi-packs and then cut them into paper size). I set out the glue, and had them clue all their leaves onto the board as a collage. We brushed glue on the paper, on the leaf, and then over the leaf. Abby wanted to add glitter to hers, so I let her. We had out nature leaf collages.

Believe it or not – this activity took all day. It was our whole school day. Nicholas still had to do his spelling and online math, but we were done after this. It was awesome. They had fun. and learned a lot – all without realizing they were really learning.

Nature contest.

One of the fun advantages of being a homeschooler is getting all these notifications about contests. Most of them I’m not interested in doing right now because they are too complex – and involve a lot of writing.

But I got sent an email about a nature based one that is art, photography, music, video, or writing based. Here’s the link to the contest:

I asked Nicholas if he wanted to do it and what categories. Not surprisingly he picked art, photo, and video categories. So we made  a plan for each entry.

I’m lucky we are headed to the Bay Area this week. He wants to make a sand picture. So we will go to the bay and get sand. He can then make his sand picture with glue and paint. It’s going to be messy, but he wants to do it. I’ll have to find a way to ship it to the contest, but that’s my issue and not his. That’s what I get for offering him to do anything.

He’s already decided on his video topic: Sand castles. He wants to show why he loves the beach. So I now am planning a trip to Stinson Beach so he can have his sand area to build castles. Lovely huh? I think I might be indulging him a little too much, but it’s what he wants to do.

He hasn’t decided on his picture yet, but he thinks he might want to go to the river and take “tons, like a million” pictures. Then he will pick the best one and we can send it in. Sounds good to me.

Here’s what I like about this contest:

1. It is nature based.

2. It is required that the kids do their own thing.

3. It’s easy to enter.

4. There’s lots of chances for him to win.

5. The prizes aren’t about cash.

I also like that he got to pick the categories and he can enter as many as he wants. He also has to plan. I’m not picking what he’s doing – he has to make a plan for himself and get it all done. He’s also going to really learn how to work with iMovie before this is all done – the movie he makes I’m going to make him edit and stuff.

He’s also going to learn about waiting and possibly – probably – about losing. Why do I assume this? Because the age category is K-4th grade. He’s not the best at any of these things, and he’s going against kids who are 4 or more years older than him, so they will have more experience. So I’m assuming he’s going to lose. And then will be presently surprised if he doesn’t.

We shall see and I’ll update people as we go about this contest.

Ocean animals: Review and wrap up.

Nicholas likes crawling through a sea turtle's shell.

Nicholas likes crawling through a sea turtle’s shell.

We are finishing sea animals with a quick review today and moving on. I made a crossword with one of those random crossword generators. The great thing about crosswords is that they can test knowledge, teach spelling, and work on handwriting all at the same time.

Here are the clues I used for the crossword:

Octopus: Has 8 arms
Coral: Groups of small organisms that make a reef
Water: What the ocean is made of
Jellyfish: Has long tentacles and no bones
Waves: Movement of ocean water
Ocra: Black and white whale
Kelp: Anchored in rocka and grows in forests
Dolphin: A smart mammal that swims in pods
Walrus: Likes cold water and has lots of fat to keep it warm
Fish: Swims in schools
Sand: Found on the bottom of the ocean


Our next set of lessons is going to be on the 5 senses and finishing our orchestra lessons. At any given time, we have two themes going on so I get to choose between the various themes to make things fun. Also, I get to find various worksheets. I like making my own worksheets, but I also don’t like reinventing the wheel.

What else are we doing?

We are working on math out  of the 2nd grade textbook and practicing place values.

For writing and reading we are working off these worksheets on He likes these sentence worksheets because they give a topic, and help you draw the animal at the bottom. I also print one off for Abby and she writes all over the page, tries to draw the animal, and tries to trace the letters.

All of our art projects this week will be Valentine’s Day themed. We will be writing valentines to our family and friends, and making wonderful pictures to decorate with.

Mixed media art lessons.

Working on the painting portion of our mixed media art project.

Working on the painting portion of our mixed media art project.

I really am into mixed media art. I saw a mirror I liked at Ross the other day: It was a circle mirror surrounded by a mosaic. I also saw a fabulous painting that used sequined leaves instead of painted leaves. The more and more I look at mixed media, the more I really like it – personally and educationally.

Mixed media art is any art that combines mediums. Some artists use pencils and paint; others use ceramics and glass. Whatever you use, mixed media is awesome.


Some of the materials we used for mixed media art lessons.

Teaching kids to use mixed media art is a creativity-developing skill. Kids sometimes get stuck in the markers, crayons, and paint art categories. Teaching them to use mixed media helps them reach for the limits of their creativity. It allows them to broaden their minds and see what they can come up with.

My goal with mixed media is two-fold: To help me create unique art for my kids’ rooms and the bathrooms, and to teach my kids that more things can be used in art than you think. I’m not going to have them use bird poop, food, or some of the other stranger medias that sometimes get mixed. But we do use more than one media in our lesson.

Here’s what we used: paint, glue, sequins, tissue paper, and stickers. I think some crayon art got worked into the pictures as well. First, we painted and let them dry (thank you to my hairdryer which does double duty as an art dryer on cold days). Then we took out the glue and put stuff onto the paintings. It was a lot of fun. I really enjoyed doing art like this. It also allowed my kids to make patterns and designs in the paintings that they otherwise can’t do because they are not good enough with a paint brush. Over all, it was a great lesson.

Science journals and scavenger hunts

Our science journals for today - and hopefully a few more days. We draw our observations in here.

Our science journals for today – and hopefully a few more days. We draw our observations in here.

I really like PBS. They have great shows and their shows have great ideas. More than a few of my ideas in my 10 minute activity box are from PBS shows. I have scavenger hunts for different colors and shapes. There are leaf walk ideas, basic art lessons, and all kinds of drawing activities. Which leads me into what our lessons for today were all about.

Yes,  I know it’s just a few days after Christmas, but my kids get very over-active if we don’t have things to do. So I went through my activity box and grabbed a few activities for us to do today.

First, our light scavenger hunt. I was lucky that our DVR still had the Sid the Science Kid episode on it with the light scavenger hunt. So we watched that episode first. Then we pulled out our science journals and went on a light scavenger hunt of our own. We started upstairs and worked our way through each room. Then downstairs, then outside in the back yard and the front yard. After we went through everywhere we came back inside and opened up our science journals and drew things that gave off light.

Then we did our basic art lesson. It is pretty stormy outside so we worked on

Our art lesson. We ended up with a rain cloud and some rain, with lightening. I let the kids choose their colors and paper without my influence. So we have a green cloud in this picture.

Our art lesson. We ended up with a rain cloud and some rain, with lightening. I let the kids choose their colors and paper without my influence. So we have a green cloud in this picture.

short lines, zig zags, and small curves. We first drew small short lines on the paper, then small bumps, then zig zags. We flipped the paper over and drew a cloud (with the small curved lines linked together). Then small short lines – for the rain. And zig zags that go from the clouds to the ground. It was a lot of fun to draw, and it helps the kids focus on learning about the shapes of things, so when they really want to draw, they can try.

What else did we do today? Connect Four is a big hit in our house. We play all the time these days. The two kids play together, and it is quite funny to watch. No one ever wins, and they just put all the pieces in and then dump them off. We also play with some remote controlled cars – a Lightening McQueen is a favorite. We have a ride-on pony in the house now; we practiced the names of the various parts of the horse. But other than that – we are just playing and reading. But putting together a few short lessons makes me feel a little better 🙂 It also gives the kids something to do and learn.

Arts and crafts day.


Today was arts and crafts day. We had a wonderful friend over, so we spent the day doing arts and crafts.

One of the benefits of arts and crafts is that kids practice their motor skills. Placing beads on a string, drawing, cutting, and stickers all help kids practice fine motor skills and hand/eye coordination. When kids draw and use materials to make pictures, their creativity grows.

We did 3 projects today: Beaded candy canes, Pom Pom ornaments, and sticker trees.

Candy cane ornaments

We used pipe cleaners and pony beads. I put one bead on, then folded the pipe cleaner end over (about an inch). Then I covered the doubled over pipe cleaner with beads. Then the kids went to work putting beads on the rest. They chose and threaded their own beads. My two year old helped me put her beads on, but she chose each bead. Then we folded the top inch over and threaded it back through the beads. The kids made them into candy came shapes.

Pom Pom

Our Pom Pom ornaments involved putting glue onto pre cut foam shapes. The kids had a blast putting the Pom poems in glue and then into the foam.

Sticker trees

I had a ton of leftover stickers from last year. So I pulled them all out. The kids put them all over their trees.

This was great fun to do and watch. As an added bonus, I have a bunch of new Christmas decorations in my house.

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