New Shelves!

26 Aug

After 6 years of cobbling together random organizing ideas, I finally got my Billy bookshelves!

We had planned to re-do most of our flooring, so I was worried the shelves wouldn’t be tackled until we were a week or more into school, but the husband and I got into a spat about what new flooring to choose, and neither one of us is budging, so the old floor remains.

If you haven’t seen the “before”, here you go!


Cramped, overflowing Borders bookcases that don’t maximize the space. (Plus a 3rd in the dining room behind me.)




there’s enough space for everything. Still pretty stuffed, still working on where everything should be, but so much prettier and more functional.

And the “retractable whiteboard” still works!


We’re ready for school to start next week!


Science in a Nutshell

7 Aug

My kids love Science, and it sometimes makes me want to cry.

I never really enjoyed science as a kid. All the memorizing was boring. Most of the experiments confused me. Forming a conclusion for lab reports was torture. I would have been perfectly happy doing an extra set of math problems or vocabulary test.

Science is also the most difficult subject in which to find affordable, secular curriculum with lab kits that don’t have you running to the hardware store and/or tearing your house apart for odd items every week.

From the beginning, I’ve kept the kids supplied with tons of science (non-text)books and fun lab kits. My generous aunt gifted us a fabulous microscope and science center membership. We have nice sized property in the woods for the kids to explore and observe. And there are more science-based shows available than we could ever hope to watch.  I worried so much about how we weren’t “keeping up” with the school kids, but the girls still managed to score quite high on the Science portions of standardized tests, so the concepts obviously stuck!

As much as I don’t like to fix things that aren’t broken, I am starting to feel more pressure to get a bit more official in this department now that the girls are middle school aged.

(Side note – I mentioned to our portfolio evaluator, who is a public school teacher and very nice woman, that we would be studying Physics this coming year. She was rather put off by that level of officialness, so maybe I won’t refer to it as such in public!)

I decided to base this year’s studies entirely on Delta Education’s Science in a Nutshell because it eliminates the need to go hunting down lab supplies.


Sometimes I just sit and stare at the pretty stack of boxes, all nice an neat. I don’t want to picture what they’ll look like two months in.

The cluster packs (white and blue boxes) came with great manuals to walk us through everything.DSC_0618

And I did give in and order actual textbooks to back us up!DSC_0617

I ordered the textbooks used from Amazon for about $50 total, as opposed to new from the publisher for $200. The CPO website also has some great (free) coordinating videos under the “student” tab!

The arsenal is stocked. Now if I can just come up with a schedule for everything before September, my neurosis might chill out a bit.

Lucky for me, I still have two little ones who will benefit from my experiences with elementary science fun!

Environmental Education

6 Aug

ImageThough we don’t plan to start our official school year until September, my daughters are already about to have 10 days of school under their belts (legally speaking. We’re in a 180 reporting state.)

We were fortunate to have a little wiggle room in the budget this summer and discovered our local environmental education center was running several day camps at reasonable prices. ($80-85/wk per child, bring your own lunch.) I figured it’d be a great opportunity for them to get some time away from the little boys, meet some new people, and play in the woods.

It’s done all of the above and so much more.

So far, they’ve hiked, collected fossils, learned about glaciers and seen their effects on rocks, written short reports on various animals, learned to identify local plants and other wildlife, built a brush pile for the animals as a service project for the conservation district, took a night hike, fished, and now they’re learning how to collect data in the field and upload it to websites to share and learn with people in other locations.

They’ve come home exhausted and filthy every day, but they’re loving it!Image

The center has also been running weekly 1-hour classes for the little kids this summer. This has been C’s first “class-like” experience, and he thinks it’s very cool. At $3/class, I think it’s pretty cool, too! There have been hikes and frogs and bugs and leaves…Image

In a few days, all the kids’ events at the center will be wrapping up. As much as I’ve hated driving back and forth, I’m still sad.

There will be monthly homeschool classes offered through the fall, but I think it’s going to  feel strange being there so infrequently. I think we need to start a routine for family hikes around the center using Laurel Dodge’s fabulous Nature Study for the Whole Family.

Take a look around the web to see what environmental education opportunities are available in your area. The search terms “environmental education,” “conservation district,” and “nature preserve” are great places to start.

I gave in and bought a ProClick.

25 Jul

After several years of listening to ProClick stories, I gave in and bought one a few weeks ago.  I hadn’t really understood the appeal at first.  As a long-time supporter of the 3-ring binder industry, my needs were being more than adequately met.  Then my daughters, encouraged to become a bit more independent, began dragging their school work around the house.

Math was being done in the bedroom. Writing was done on the floor. History was done while hanging upside down off the couch.  Papers were getting shoved into random binders, there was zero chronological order, and more holes were being ripped than anyone had the patience to repair with reinforcement stickers.

This might not have bothered me so much if we didn’t live in a high-regulation state. Spending an hour per child trying to find end-of-year Spelling evidence was not fun.

So we’re experimenting with a new system this fall.

With most of our curricula delivered, I got to ripping, copying (where appropriate and legal,) punching, and ProClick-binding 10 school days worth of needed paper, and a checklist. The kids (C included) designed their own front and back covers, which I laminated for stability, giving them their own personal touches.


Why ProClick and not spiral or comb-bound? I can still re-open and close the ProClick spine.  If they need more paper, I can add it. If they type and print some work, I can add it.  And, most important to me, I could begin putting the dang things together without waiting to order and receive the rest of our books.  Because, if I had to wait for everything to be “just right,” I’d never get anything done!

Why is this better than a 3-ring binder? It’s much more compact, and it can be laid flat. That’s nice for anyone, but especially for my lefty! The spine is thin and full enough that there’s hardly any bump to battle with at all.  And, if it comes to it, I could always punch the other side and reverse the pages for her.

I have no doubt we’ll find problems with this new set up. If we don’t, I’m sure we can create some! But it’s worth a shot!

I also decided to go nuts and work on my Writing With Ease books before packing them away to await the next student. I’ve been getting the bindings cut and using 3-ring binders for years, and it’s starting to show. Especially in the levels with independent reading. Two years of kids taking those passages in and out of the binder have taken their toll, and there’s no way they’d last us through two more students.  I’m hoping this will extend the life!


I’ve been eying up our IEW binders. They may be my next victims!

Royal Fireworks Press Conference

17 Jul

At the end of June, my daughters and I were fortunate to be able to attend the second RFWP Curriculum Conference in Valley Forge, PA.  I had attended the inaugural event in 2011, and I was thrilled to learn this next one would include sessions for kids.

I know there are a lot of homeschoolers, especially secular homeschoolers, who are completely turned off by the homeschool convention industry.  They don’t want aisle upon aisle of competing takes on Godly curricula. They don’t want cyber school pitches. And they don’t want session after session on how to raise blanket-trained children, watering down academic standards, and improving their wifely attentiveness while leaving the eventual outcome to a higher power.  The subset of homeschoolers demanding quality academic conferences is growing, and their voices are finally being heard.

Royal Fireworks Press specializes in gifted education but, as many of us have discovered, their materials are well-suited to kids of all abilities, sometimes with very minor accommodations or adjusted timelines.   And I beg you not to judge their effectiveness by my writing, considering I haven’t yet had the chance to complete their high school level programs!

The conference was held at Valley Forge Christian College, with comfortable dorm accommodations and affordable meal plans for the college’s cafeteria.  Though Susan Wise Bauer was unable to participate this time, this year’s list of speakers had some exciting additions.

I attended all of Michael Clay Thompson’s sessions in 2011, and my main goal at this conference was to see them again. His passion is incredibly inspiring, and just what I needed to transition from wrapping up a school year to beginning a new one.

This was my first time hearing Dr. Shelagh Gallagher, and I’m glad I did.  I’ve had her book, Problem Based Learning In Your Homeschool, on my shelf for about a year, but I’ve also put off truly digging into it for the same amount of time.  Listening to her explain the PBL concept and walk us through an example made it seem less intimidating and more enjoyable than I had originally believed. I was excited to pick up copies of Concept Development and Ferret It Out and I’m looking forward to taking it all for a spin and reporting back once it’s underway.

I was also fortunate to attend sessions with Bill Stepien, Dr. Frances Spielhagen, and Dr. Dave Purvis.  “Doctor Dave” demonstrated a variety of quick, easy, and exciting science experiments to do with kids. Dr. Spielhagen shared a sneak peek of her upcoming Latin program, and Bill Stepien gave us a taste of what’s to come in his American History program.  All three were enjoyable, not only providing information about their products, but really getting to the heart of their philosophies and pedagogy, giving ideas and principles that can be used in any program and across the curriculum.

I wish I could have been in every session, but I didn’t manage to make it to Laurel Dodge’s Nature Study sessions or Dr. K’s session on using  iPad textbooks.  I tried to see Jen Seron discussing Full Circle Science, but the power outage we were experiencing at the time had me distracted and trying to keep tabs on my daughters and on the sky that was threatening to let loose.

And speaking of the kids, my 10 and 11 year-old daughters had a fabulous time.


They were able to have exciting sessions with most of the speakers mentioned, and loved every minute of it. They made things “explode”, took a nature hike, talked about Ancient Greece and Rome,  got very interactive with early US History, and wrote poetry with MCT himself! They truly did feel privileged to be able to spend time with adults whose works help to shape their education. These authors are no longer faceless entities who impose their academic will upon them from the page; they’re real people with whom they’ve shared a fun experience, and now the pages serve as an extension of that time.

I feel the same way.  Every one of the presenters welcomed questions and conversation throughout the weekend, including over meals. And the friendly atmosphere among the parents was fabulous. It was great to see familiar faces and to welcome new ones.

I’m looking forward to next year’s conference. There’s talk of including even more activities for the kids, and I would very much enjoy refresher sessions from this year’s event and the opportunity to meet new speakers. We may consider taking the whole family so nobody misses out on such a great experience.

Come join us!

“Retractable” Whiteboard!

15 Jul

Ignore the mess. It’s curriculum planning time. Shelf organization comes later. 😉

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