What will your verse be?

Robin Williams died yesterday. I really loved most of his work. He was first introduced to me in “Dead Poets Society” and then I became a fan. I’ve watched Mork and Mindy, Patch Adams, Good Will Hunting, and a ton of other movies because he was in the movie. In honor of his death, we are spending today’s lesson reading poetry and talking about it. In fact, we have made our own “Dead Poet’s Society” in our house.

We built a fort.

Then we watched this fabulous clip where Robin Williams is asking the students what heir verse will be.

Now we are reading poetry and talking about it.

Here are the poems we are reading today:

Walt Whitman: Oh Me! Oh Life!

Robert Frost: The Road Not Taken 

Rudyard Kipling: If

We then talked about which poem was our favorite. Each of us got to draw a picture representing our favorite poem, then tell everyone else about the picture.

Was there talking and reading in this lesson? Yes. Was there presentations and public speaking? Yes. Did each of us have to decide on a favorite and articulate a reason why? Yes. We practiced all these skills in a simple poetry lesson. And we also got to have a lot of fun huddling in a fort and doing class in a place that wasn’t a table, classroom, or desk.


Color and ice.

We did a color and ice experiment. Or really, we played with tools, ice, and color.

Here's the bin before the kids started playing with the ice. Food coloring, water, pipe cleaners, and all our tools.

Here’s the bin before the kids started playing with the ice. Food coloring, water, pipe cleaners, and all our tools.

Here’s what we used:

  • A plastic bin to hold the ice
  • 2 plastic containers for water
  • Paint brushes
  • Food coloring
  • Knives and spoons
  • Pipe cleaners
  • Hammers (the ones we use with playdough)
  • Towels

All I had to do was put everything outside, and away they played. For 2 hours.

First, the kids grabbed the food coloring and made their water different colors. Then they dripped it on the ice. Then they rubbed the ice cubes together. They were shocked to find that the food coloring made the ice not stick together. They had previously made ice sculptures by using water to make the ice cubes stick to each other. But with the food coloring, the ice wasn’t sticking. Abby and Nicholas had a great conversation about it. I got to sit and listen to them. It went something like this:

N: Why won’t they stick together with food coloring? Mom?!

A: Maybe it’s too colored.

N: Maybe. Let’s see. Stuck two ice cubes together without food coloring. Then tried to stick two of the colored ice cubes together – and they didn’t stick.

A: See. I told you so.

N: Yeah. But I bet the colored water works.

A: No. Your colored water is too brown (Nicholas had made it all brown).

N: Tries with his colored water, and it worked. Ha Abby, I told you so.

A: Okay. But now my hands are all colored.

N: We can wash them later. Let’s smash ice cubes!

A: Okay. I get the pink ones.

N: They aren’t pink. They are just less red than some others.

Coloring the water and the ice was one of the first things they did.

Coloring the water and the ice was one of the first things they did.

I love listening to conversations like this. They have these amazing conversations where they are playing and discovering things, all without being led somewhere. They are simply exploring the world around them, and these lessons will stick with them better than any other lessons. When they do something that’s similar to this, they can simply flash back to the things they learned while playing. There’s a reason why kids learn best while playing, and why all we have to do – as parents – is present them with opportunities.

It’s really quite amazing to listen to the conversations that go on for hours about this. I imagine we will be discussing the ice activity as a favorite for days to come. My kids tend to get stuck on these things and request repeats. Next time, I think I’ll make ice cubes in different shapes and colors beforehand. Then I don’t have to give them food coloring and watch them color themselves, their clothes, and the patio.

So our AAR (after action report) went something like this (I ask the questions, and the kids give their responses):

What did we use?

  • Ice cubes
  • Hammers
  • Colors
  • Water
  • Paintbrushes
  • Hands
  • Feet
  • Knives
  • Sticks
  • Rocks (they found some in the back yard)
  • Leaves (they picked them off the plants and used them as decoration)

    Yes, we were in pajamas. No one wanted to get dressed. It's one of the great things about homeschooling -science and learning in pajamas.

    Yes, we were in pajamas. No one wanted to get dressed. It’s one of the great things about homeschooling -science and learning in pajamas.

  • Water

What did we do?

  • Played with ice
  • Made ice sculptures
  • Colored water
  • Painted ice
  • Smashed ice
  • Melted ice
  • Painted my feet (Abby)
  • Had fun
  • Mixed colors
  • Stuck ice together
  • Colored ice
  • Used a knife
  • Drilled holes

What did we learn?

  • Ice sticks with water.
  • Ice doesn’t stick with too much food coloring.
  • Red, yellow, and blue make brown.
  • Mixing colors makes other colors.
  • Colored ice melts into colored water.
  • Breaking ice is hard.
  • Smashing ice is fun.
  • Smashing smaller pieces of ice is easier than the big pieces.
  • Food coloring colors people too.
  • Water can melt ice in patterns.
  • Leaves can stick to ice.

What words describe our experience?

  • Fun
  • Smash
  • Color
  • Ice
  • Cold
  • Wet
  • Exciting
  • Loud
  • Crush
  • Drop
  • Multicolored
  • Friction
  • Melt

Hands on for August.

This week is the last week before vacation! We are headed out to a family reunion (yes, my kids still do work at vacation. It keeps them on a pattern, a routine, that helps ground them when they are in a place where everything else is different).

I’m gathering everything for August. It turns out that we might be on our own for homeschooling this year. I applied to a charter school like the one we used in Sacramento, but they are all booked up and don’t have room for us right now. So we are going to homeschool on our own – or I’m making plans for that.

In preparation, I’m working on our August curriculum. Nicholas has requested that we do more hands on things. I have a stock of science kits in the garage that we will work our way through, but I wanted something to do that’s more engineering – that will force him to think outside the box. So I found this great book called Tinkerlabs – it’s all about helping little inventors get inventing.

One of the best parts about this book is that Nicholas can read it himself. We will pick something to do on Monday. Then he has to make a list of what he needs and what we have. Tuesday we can shop, and the rest of the week will be spent doing the project. There’s a Home Depot, a Michael’s, and several parts stores right by us. I imagine that we can find most parts easily. And what we can’t find, we can use Amazon Prime to have shipped to us in a few days.

I’m super excited to get started on these projects. I’m also really excited that Nicholas is excited about his August plans. It’s always best in our house when the kids are excited about what they are doing.


A new find…….

I’ve found a new blog that I like.

It’s Not Just Cute.

I found her blog because a friend posted one of her posts about dry ice bubbles. Since I’m always looking for science experiments we can do at home, I totally opened her post and now we are doing the experiment today.

But as I started browsing through her stuff, I kept finding more and more that I liked.

It’s sometimes hard for me to find other homeschool bloggers that I like to read a lot. Some are too religious for me. Some homeschool through homesteading (which isn’t a possibility for us). And still more are homeschooling special needs kids – which I don’t have to deal with. Others blog about their specific style of homeshcooling – usually one of the big three (Montessori, C Mason, or a packaged curriculum). These all have some good ideas, but aren’t really a good set for me to spend a lot of time reading – because they don’t apply to us.

But Not Just Cute blogs a lot like I do – about random stuff, with some themes in there. And they still have great ideas.

So I’m stealing her experiment – and her questions! But I’m going to add a few questions to the list. I’ll post our poster about the experiment on the blog later today and add a format for you to do a poster too. I do love doing posters about experiments. They are almost better than keeping a lab book for younger kids because you can print out pictures, post them on the poster, and describe them.

We then put the posters on our walls. Needless to say, people who come into our house always comment on the decor – which I call homeschool chic.

I hope everyone has a good day!

Summer writing practice.

We’ve been doing schoolwork over this summer. Yes, I’m one of those moms. I don’t believe that the school year exists for any good reason. I think learning can, and should, be done year round. I certainly don’t think that it’s a good idea to take months off of practice.

If we were talking about professional sports people, they don’t take months off of practice. They might cross train, but they certainly don’t take breaks for months at a time. Not and be good at what they do.

I want my kids to be professional learners. Therefore we might cross train, but we don’t take time off.

Some skills that are easily deterioratable (yes, I made up my own word) are: Math, reading, and writing. Those are the skills we practice everyday. Without fail. Anything else we just learn as we go. Museums, hikes, shopping – these are all things we do to learn. But math, reading, and writing we do everyday.

Nicholas practice reading and writing the same way he did over the school year. I find science articles, or articles about the World Cup (he’s obsessed). He then reads then and writes a sentence summarizing the article.

Abby doesn’t like that method of learning. She hasn’t learned to write all her letters yet, and would prefer I just leave her alone with her paints and paper thank you. She would rather not participate in learning her letters and numbers. But that’s too bad. Sometimes I’m the mean mom and force her to spend 10 minutes, yes 10 minutes, doing something I need her to do.

I’ve bragged about Confessions of a Homeschooler before – and how much I love her stuff. She has some neat writing and number practice sheets too. I’ve downloaded these and put them into folders. Abby’s job is to pick one of each (one number and one letter) out each morning. When the folder is empty, I refill it. Sometimes I add extras before they are all gone.

Why do I let her pick? Well, she has to do it. So letting her have a choice in what she practices is important. She gets all her numbers and letters practiced – which is why I try not to refill them before they are empty. Otherwise we would practice the letter A and number 3 all year long. Instead she has to pick from what is available, and do the work.

I also let her do it with crayons or markers. I don’t care what she writes with, so long as she practices.

This way we all get some say in the work that gets done, while still getting the work done that needs to be done.

Number practice sheets

Writing practice sheets

Website review: NextLesson

I’m a HUGE fan of technology. I like it for my kids to play with, to learn with, and for me to use to develop lessons. I also use it to share all kinds of information with (hence this blog).

NextLesson is a website that has pre-made lessons, and a method for you to make your own. They are integrated with Google, so students need to have a Google account to get the most out of the experience.

The pre-made lessons come in two different types: whole lessons and worksheets.


The worksheets are really neat. They have math worksheets based on real athletes and real statistics. My son got a kick out of the LeBron James (and other basketball stars) multiplication worksheets. The worksheets are all tied directly to Common Core standards. They are listed. It’s easy to print them off and use them. It’s even easy to find them – you simply click on the worksheets tab. Then you can search by grade, or simply browse them to find what you like.

Pre-Made Lessons

The pre-made lessons are also amazing. The lessons cover a variety of subjects – and if you need the Common Core correlation standards they are all right there.

Once you’ve signed in, you simply search and the download the lesson. The lesson appears in the lessons section of your account. Each lesson is fully contained. You can print each part of the lesson, or you can simply browse through it online. I took some of the sheets and put them into a PowerPoint (just to see if it could be done) – and it was very easy. So if you don’t want each student to log into the lesson separately, you can just project what you need through PowerPoint.

Each lesson is broken into clear steps. Each step takes you to the next logical place in the lesson. The assessments are all done for you. All you have to do is follow the steps.

The lessons also allow you to assign a code to join the lesson. Then you email the code to the students, and they join a lesson using a Google account. So there can be online and long distance collaboration.

Another great feature is that the lessons allow you to customize them. You can add tasks, videos, and all kinds of fun stuff. I added some extra ranking tasks and videos to the “Animal communities” lesson. It was easy to do, and I got to add some specialized information about the animals my child likes best.

Making your own lessons

Once you have downloaded a lesson, it is easy to create your own. You simply click on the “create a lesson” tab. You can pick between starting from scratch and starting based on one the community already has. I started one from scratch. It is a very easy interface to drag and drop everything.

It certainly makes organizing my own thoughts easier, and it is simpler and allows for more “stuff” than simply typing out a lesson in MS Word and creating my own worksheets. I can add videos to watch, clips to listen to, and all manner of web-related activities. It also lets me put the lesson into steps – so I can do that all online rather than having to mark it out in the MS Word document.

It’s a very easy interface to use, and is much simpler than making a long list of websites to visit and videos to view while typing a lesson plan out.

My favorite part

So you might be asking what my favorite part of the whole thing was? It is that things are grouped clearly and the outline are already done. The lessons are customizable. But the outline of the lesson – and really the whole lesson if you want – is already done. I just like to make each lesson “mine” by adding something here or there – and that was really easy to do.

The only problem is…..

The problem is that some of the lessons require “golden tickets.” The golden tickets are used for the premium lessons, and there’s nothing that I can tell about why some lessons are premium and some are not.


Overall it’s a good website. It doesn’t have a lot of the younger kid stuff- there’s no preschool or basic letters/words anywhere. But it does have a plethora of older kid stuff. I love it for practicing math – there are so many examples that are based on multiplication but aren’t simply answering multiplication facts. It’s great because the kids think they are solving sports problems, but they are doing multiplication.

I’d definitely sign up for their basic service. The basic service – if you go now – can be as low as $4/month. Considering how much is already done for you, and how many lessons there are on the site, I’d be willing to spend the money to be a basic member. I don’t know about access for the premium lessons – there’s not a real good way to preview them so I can see if I’d like them. But for all the basics – absolutely.


Caveat – I did receive a one-year subscription in exchange for this review.

Free play: 7 skills you can learn with play dough

play dough as a learning tool

Abby and her play dough cakes.

Sometimes the best playtime is free time.

I’m working really hard this summer to let the kids have free time every day. Today that turned in play dough (and a huge mess).

I admit, I use the commercial play dough. Not because it’s cheaper – but because it’s already made. Plus I already have a ton and don’t feel like making any. It’s a mess to make, as well as a mess to clean up. Since I already have it made, when I use that it’s only half the mess (just the clean up mess, not the making mess). And it comes in really great colors. Bright, vibrant colors.

So they kids pulled out the play dough bin and got to work.

Here’s the 7 skills they learned and worked on with play dough:

  • Cooperation (they had to share the tools and the play dough)
  • Creativity and Art (you should see the things they come up with)
  • Physics (how high can you build something before it topples)
  • Sharing
  • Fine motor skills (cutting it with scissors)
  • Gross motor skills (making balls and rolling them on the floor)
  • Cleaning skills (they made the mess, they can help fix it).


It’s a messy free play activity – or it can be messy. With my kids it is certainly messy. But if you make them help you clean up, it reinforces some good habits (and gives you help cleaning).

Free play also allows the kids to express themselves. I got about 10 birthday cakes, 2 castles, 3 cars, and a whole host of animals (none of which I recognized and used the universal “ah, that’s nice” comment).

What was best about the whole thing is that the kids played together. I could hear the scuffles they had. But I sat in the kitchen, cleaning dishes, and refused to interfere. They made it through the scuffles with some serious negotiating skills (Abby got the pink play dough in return for giving Nicholas the knife and roller she was using).

Best of all, they worked all kinds of skills and had a bunch of fun without me having to “lead” them in any activity.

Happy summer!!!

I’m back!!!!!

It turns out the move was a lot more
stressful than I imagined. I needed to take a break from blogging while finishing the packing and doing the unpacking.

But now we are unpacked (mostly) here in Santa Barbara and enjoying life.

So I’m coming back to blogging.

I’m hoping to spend some time this summer finishing the online Civics curriculum and putting together a whole Civics book for homeschoolers. I’m also hoping to get the whole Civics curriculum onto the Teachers Pay Teachers website.

There are other goals too. I need to review my Calculus so I can stay ahead of my 6 year old. And practice German so we don’t lose all the skills we gained over the last year.

That’s all for now from sunny Santa Barbara.


When mom has things to do……

One of the more challenging aspects of being a homeschooling family is what to do about school when mom has things to do.

Different families handle this differently. I always make sure our basics get done first, then I find something else to do with the kids. Sometimes it means a free play day. If the task is short, they might get to do a couple of things out of our 10 minute box. If the task is longer, we might watch a movie. Is the task is really long, we might watch a Science channel program I recorded earlier in the week.

Other times I use worksheets. Yes, worksheets. Not your normal boring worksheets, but worksheets like puzzles, brain teasers, crosswords, critical thinking exercises, sudoku…….you know it and I have used it – and do use it.

For instance, I found these great number puzzles. I have them printed off and into envelopes. When I am stuck on a task for a time, Nicholas gets some puzzle worksheets, and Abby gets these puzzles. I hand her an envelope and ask her to put it together. She then checks with Nicholas when she’s done and he helps her get it right – if it’s wrong. Then they work together to glue it or tape it (Abby gets to choose), and then show me. It’s a pretty nice deal for me because it covers a bunch of things – and I’m not involved in any of it until the end.

Still another activity we use is our iPads. I know, I’m goofy. But my kids have an iPad (Nicholas) and a LeapPad (Abby). Abby can also use my iPad. I’ve put games and stuff onto both kids technology. The kids love playing with them and I love that they like playing. Abby mostly does art on hers. She loves art apps. Nicholas tends to play games. Either science games or the free Lego games. He likes those. all of them teach the kids things – critical thinking and problem solving is top of the list. They have to figure out, in the game, how to work it. My general rule is that I don’t help with technology. I might show them if the controls are complicated, but otherwise, they can run the tutorial and figure it out. It makes them solve their own problems.

So, what do you do when you need time to finish tasks and the kids aren’t cooperating?

So you are thinking of homeschooling? Part 1.

So you are thinking of homeschooling?

There are plenty of questions that come about when you think about homeschooling. The biggest question tends to be: “Can I really do this?”

My answer, to everyone, is an unqualified yes.

For every family there is a way to homeschool. Notice I don’t say “kid,” or “parent.” That’s because homeschooling is a family event. It’s really not a single person endeavor. It’s a family decision. Homeschooling influences and effects everyone in the home – whether they are there for school or not. It can even effect people who are extended family (like grandparents and family members in different states).

There are way to many articles out there about homeschooling. If’ you’ve found this one I’ll count myself lucky.

So I’m going to point you to two articles to start your homeschooling discussion.

The first is about 13 basic questions to answer. These questions have not a lot to do with the “how we homeschool,” but more with the motivation behind it. It’s important to understand your motivation. Because, like with all jobs, homeschooling days have their good days and bad days. It helps to remember why you are homeschooling – especially on the bad days. That way you can keep going and work through it.


The second is about deschooling – the transition from a traditional “school” mindset into the mindset of a homeschooler. Homeschooling can be – and for a lot of families is – remarkably like traditional school, except it’s done at home. For others it is looser. This article talks about the transition that needs to take place in your mind.


These are the two places I’d start with. Once you are done answering the questions and deciding which type of homeschooling you are going to try, then I’d move on with more specific google searches. Don’t be afraid to go way deep into the search results. The first pages on homeschooling aren’t necissarily the best – they are simply ranked higher for various reasons. Some of the best pages I’ve found are deep within the search results.

But most of all – have fun!

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