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KT Brison is a former children’s librarian and educator who gave all that up for the most important job in her life—homeschooling her boys. Though she loves the outdoors and rambling around her farm, she can usually be found with her nose in a book. Any book. As long as it has words.

7 Things I Love About the Beginning of Summer

As we begin  our first summer break, I am taking a bit of time to reflect.  The school year is so very busy for me and often weeks go by before I get a chance to stop and just breathe.  I enjoy that busy-ness, but I also look forward to the time when I can slow down a little and look at what we’ve accomplished, compare that with our overall goals as homeschoolers, and look ahead to how I want to proceed in achieving those goals.


In honor of this breather, I want to tell you why I love the onset of summer.  It’s not just a time of slowing down around here, since we have a small farm, it is also a time of speeding up.  Here are the things I most enjoy:

1. Getting outside from dawn till dusk.

This is the time of Great Unplugging for us as a farm family.  We spend most of our days outdoors from May through mid-October, caring for our animals, garden, and woods.  We refurbish pens and fences, plant, water, fertilize, repeat in the vegetable garden, keep our paths cleared in the woods, plant annuals in our flower gardens, make decisions about trees in the yard, and ensure we are providing homes, food, and the like for the wildlife.  We do not have time or inclination for television or screen time (I mean, besides the obvious work I have to do on the laptop).  My poor mama tried to reach me for a while by phone yesterday.  She had to give up and drive over to our house because I was outside and my phone was… not.  And I love that about summer.  I think people tend to be far too attached to their phones.

(Sorry, Mama.)

2. Baby animals

pheasant 4IMG_20150504_082559378IMG_20150504_082657032

We raise golden pheasants, doves, rabbits, ducks, and chickens.  We have years when we raise a pig and/or a cow, and we’ve had our share of goats, but right now we’re concentrating on birds and smaller things.  I can’t leave out the miniature donkey, but since he is a solitary guy, he doesn’t make babies.  Unfortunately.  I bet they’d be cute.  Because the baby rabbits in my barn right now are so cuddly I turn into Elmira from the Animaniacs cartoon.  I just want to grab them all up and squeeze them.  Hard to make money that way, so I resist.  The doves don’t stay little for very long and their mamas are super protective, so we don’t usually get a good look at them until they’re learning to fly, but it’s a precious thing to get to watch them learn.  We’ve not had baby pheasants yet, but who can resist a fluffy, yellow chick or duckling?  Not me.  I bet you can’t either.


3. Five weeks with no schedule

Although I sometimes miss the structure of the school year, it doesn’t take me long to appreciate the loose, easy days of summer.  My sister says our family moves through the day with a certain indescribable grace, accomplishing many tasks while seeming to have no hint of schedule.  It Is kind of organic, the way we think about the things we want to get done in the morning, then move from one thing to another without worrying about time or how much we’re getting done.  It’s so nice to sit on the front porch in the evening, look out across the pond, and realize how much we’ve accomplished.

4. Family camping trips

Even though we live surrounded by forest, it’s fun to load up the camper and go somewhere new.  Camping is a great way to take a vacation on the cheap, and finding a site near a historical venue gives us a chance to turn vacation into learning time and make up for any snow or sick days we might have taken over the winter.

5. Fishing

I’ve already posted about this, but I Love going fishing with my family.  Fishing gives us time to really relax and enjoy each other and we take advantage of it whenever we find a spare hour or two.

6. Hanging clothes on the line

This is a chore that soothes me like no other.  Getting to stand in the sunshine, letting my mind wander as I pin a load of laundry up, is a welcome chance to reflect every day.  Besides, there is something about the smell of clothes dried in sunshine that has no comparison.  It turns the chore of laundry from tedious to pleasant.

7. Getting to plan for next school year

You might hear me complain about this later, but I always love the novelty of doing new research and figuring out what I will teach the Littles about in the year to come.  Right now, I’m deciding about Chinese history.  There is A Lot of it.  So I’m taking my time, trying to figure out how to divide it up.  Do I pick a major event from each dynasty?  Do I focus on philosophy?  We’re doing art history and garden history next year on top of plain old regular history, so how do I incorporate those?  And should I do music history?  Call me crazy, but I love making these decisions.  Especially since I inevitably learn new things myself while I’m planning.

Because I’m so excited about the planning stage, I thought I’d offer you a freebie that is an old standby for me.  This book report form is what the Littles use to let me know they’re reading on their own and understanding what they read.  Let me know what you think of it.  I can always use input.  Here’s the link:


Book Report 2014

What do you do with your summer that you’re looking forward to?  I’d love to hear your plans.

Love wins,


Lessons from Dad

IMG_20150429_194007813I wish you could have gone with us to our fishing hole last night.  It was a warm, breezy evening, the sun dropping toward the trees behind us and lighting up the meadow grass till it was golden.  Red-winged blackbirds and martins swooped low over the pond, gathering insects and drinks of water and chattering at us because, in the case of the blackbirds, we were disturbing their nests.  Geese called to each other and a woodpecker drummed against a tree.  The new cattails and rushes were a brilliant green, the pond the steel grey of spring water, the sky perivwinkle with tufts of clouds (my sister calls them ‘Simpson’s clouds’ because they remind her of the opening shot on the TV show).  After a busy day of school and work, the pond called us to come and just breathe.

Fishing is relatively new to me.  My husband introduced me to it about 12 years ago, and I fell in love.  There is something so peaceful in the monotony of casting and reeling, casting and reeling, hooking something that might be a keeper or a throwback, baiting a hook.  There is no time to worry about anything.  There is nothing to do but relax.


The Littles (and Big) have fished since they were very small.  There are rules when we go fishing.  We only take one phone, in case of emergency, and it stays in my pocket unless I want a picture.  We have to talk quietly.  We each have to do our best to bait our own hooks and remove fish from the hooks when we catch them.  (Sometimes Dad has to help all of us!  I’m not so good at getting a fish off the hook.  Too afraid I’m going to hurt him worse than I already have, especially if he’s small and I know I’m going to throw him back.)

There are lessons to be learned here that wouldn’t have been taught if Martin had not come into my life, because I didn’t know the benefits of fishing before him.  It’s more than just fresh fish on the table, which is delectable enough.  It’s unplugging, unwinding, taking a minute to be by yourself and a minute to just enjoy your family.  It’s taking time to appreciate what nature has to offer and to teach us.

IMG_20150429_193828556_HDRIt’s working alone and working together.  Martin is gentle as he baits Littlest’s hook for him and reminds him how to set the hook.  Littlest glows under the attention. He is a social fisherman, wanting to be close to someone else while he casts and reels.  If he isn’t close by me or his dad, he is glued to Middle’s side, constantly seeking guidance and conversation.  He gets to completely be himself as he fishes in a way that the daily grind sometimes takes from him.

IMG_20150429_193823157_HDRMiddle is an introspective fisherman.  He most often wanders down the bank of the pond to be alone with his thoughts.  He baits his own hooks, removes his own catches, and only speaks or acknowledges us when forced.  I admire this in him.  I watch him sometimes when he is focused, wonder what is going on in his very active little mind.  What adventure is he on that we are not privy to?  Because trust me, that imagination is always working.  I don’t ask.  I let him be him in a way that the daily grind sometimes takes from him.

A fishing trip is one of the best ways for me to enjoy watching how my husband impacts my sons.  His gentle strength, his calm manner, his deference to nature–these are all attributes I want my boys to have.  He teaches them to stand on their own, but also how to work together when they need help.  He shows them how to take advantage of what nature has to offer without taking advantage of nature.  He is a natural science teacher because he knows so much about how the environment works and he talks about it conversationally.  The Littles rarely even realize they’re learning.  He calls me the homeschool teacher, but the truth is he is just as much their teacher as I am.


I love that fishing season starts as the school year ends.  It is a good transition into natural learning.  And getting lessons from Dad means Mama gets a bit of a break.  And as all my homeschooling darlings know, Mama needs a break by the end of the school year!

Love wins,


Life Lessons from The Hobbit

Image result for the hobbitWe are nearing the end of The Hobbit.  We are lamenting the fact.  We all want to stay in Tolkien’s world a bit longer.  Littlest even suggested reading The Trilogy outside of school.  Together, but without the study guide.  I am considering it:  A study guide would help deepen their understanding.  Would they enjoy it more if they didn’t have to answer questions after each chapter?  Would they enjoy it less if I didn’t guide them into thinking about the story more deeply?  Could we do it book-club style?

Whatever–I am all about reading Tolkien for any reason, so I will probably cave.

One of the questions I asked my Littles for today’s chapter of The Hobbit was, “Why did Bilbo give the Arkenstone to Bard?”  If you know the story, from either the book or the films, you know this a pivotal point in the book.  Their answers were many.  And short.

“He wanted to help Bard with the trade.”

“He was weary of being in the mountain.”

“He didn’t want Thorin to starve.”

All true answers.  But I wanted something deeper.  So I kept asking, “Why?”  What purpose could Bilbo be serving in helping Bard with the trade and keeping Thorin from starving and even getting out of the mountain?  They came to it, eventually, without any statements from me.  Just continually leading questions.

Bilbo was trying to save everybody.  This tiny being who once believed he had no adventurous spirit or courage and had been through so many tests of his valor… In the end, he just wanted to save everybody the strife he saw coming if Thorin and Bard continued their stand-off.  Why?

There are a couple of true life lessons I want my Littles to leave home having ingrained in their beings.  Be Kind.  Stand Up For What Is Right.  (In fact, my favorite thing about Disney’s live-action Cinderella is that Ella’s mother’s final advice to her daughter is, “Be kind and have courage.”  I couldn’t have said it better myself.)

So I told the Littles as we discussed Bilbo’s motives, “Tolkien is showing us what a true hero does.  He doesn’t just rush into battle, sword blazing, haloed by courage.  He is kind. To everyone.  He stands up for what is right.  It doesn’t always take a battle to do that.”  I haven’t been able to drive that lesson home so well since we studied Samuel Adams and the Revolutionary War.

When we are kind, we put a good and light energy into the world that pays both forward and backward.  Especially if we are kind for no reason.  One example I set is that I always read the name tags of people working in the public (cashiers, fast food clerks, etc.), and call them by name when speaking to them.  Invariably, they smile.  Granted, they are also kind back to me, which gets me better service, but that is not the reason I take the time to read their names and use them.  I do it because I have worked such jobs and I know how it can start to feel like people are not really seeing you as a human being.  And I don’t ever want to make another person feel that way.

When we have the courage to speak up for what we believe in and take action to support those beliefs, we push back against tyranny.  My Littles understand that each person is an individual with individual thoughts and beliefs, and that we all have the right to those things.  So they don’t pressure others to think like them, and they don’t sit back and allow others to pressure them into behaving in a way that goes against their own beliefs.  It’s a great weapon against peer pressure that will help them throughout their lives.

I was glad that here in our final week of school we got to have such a great discussion about something so important to me.  I guess that means I owe even more gratitude to Tolkien than I previously thought.  I don’t mind.  I can’t wait to see what he teaches us in The Trilogy.

Be Kind.

And Have Courage.

Love wins,


Make an Awesome Novel Study Guide

Speaking of letting them lead, we were supposed to round out our literature year with Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater.  We were all set to read it, having finished The Story of Dr. Dolittle.  Then my Littles surprised and humbled me once more by asking, “Mama, can we read The Hobbit instead?”


I was raised on The Hobbit.  Tolkien was a household hero.  So for my Littles to actually request the book made me nothing short of ecstatic.  I wanted them to really get the full effect of the novel–light (good) versus dark (evil), and secret maps, lost treasures, fantastic characters and courage beyond imagining.  So this called for no ordinary study guide.

IMG_20150421_092911738It called for this.  Not just a folder or binder with some notebooking pages and worksheets thrown in, but a study guide that made them feel like part of the adventure.  So the first thing I did was Google a map of Middle Earth and Thorin’s map showing the way to the Lonely Mountain.  I printed them out and we tea-stained them to make them look old.  We also tea-stained a bunch of lined paper and some worksheets we would be using.  I got out my handy-dandy woodburner and burned the edges of the maps and of the folders (in this case, I three-hole punched manilla folders because they were already the right color), and the Littles glued their maps of Middle Earth to the front.


We glued Thorin’s map into the inside cover.  That way as the company travels to the Lonely Mountain, we can follow their path on both maps.  We used binder rings to add the notebooking paper and worksheets to the folder because I’ve found they are easier to use than brads when you’re dealing with these types of folders.


We didn’t have a lot of worksheets for this guide, but I love to have them keep a character list, especially for books with this many characters.  (I mean, the awesome thing about The Hobbit is that there are pretty much 15 main characters.  15.  Sure, some of the dwarves and even Gandalf get relegated to minor characters throughout the book, but you still have to keep them straight in your head.)  I made this simple worksheet, we tea-stained it and burned the edges… Voila–a worksheet that fits our theme.


As usual, we mostly use this folder for answering daily questions about our reading and doing fun writing exercises like making up dialogues between two characters who don’t ever really speak in the book.  The Littles enjoy it more when they know they helped create such a cool place to keep their work.  And Littlest Cannot Wait till we’re done reading so he can use his maps for play.  With only 2 weeks of school left, he doesn’t have long.

Making this kind of study guide is easy and fun and adaptable to almost any adventure story.  In fact, we did one for Robinson Crusoe two years ago that was made to look like a journal.  If I can dig one out, I’ll take a pic and post it for you later in the week.  In the meantime, keep making literature fun!

Love wins,