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25 Days of Lit in Your Homeschool: Day 6 Bears

ohr4bEver wonder exactly why bears hibernate? Or how exactly they make such good fishermen?  A bear study can teach your littles so much about nature, conservation, and mammal habits.  You can cover black bears, grizzlies, polar bears, Kodiaks.  There are so many varieties of bear.  You can learn about their cold weather habits, their warm weather habits, their diets, their sense of family.  Bears are a great addition to any animal or nature study and adding literature to your study can make it ever so much more fun.  You know it can.  You’ve read it here before.  And I don’t lie to you.

There are a lot of books about bears, and some of them have been favorites in our house for a long time.  You’ll have heard of most of these, maybe.  That’s okay, maybe you forgot how great they are.  Maybe you remember them from your own childhood and haven’t yet had the chance to introduce them to your littles.  Maybe it didn’t occur to you to make them part of your bear study.  Lucky you, you have the Lit Mama to remind you. 🙂


Little Bear by Else Holmelund Minarik

We love these books.  They are sweet, simple stories with an almost lyrical feel to them.  Even the illustrations are sweet and simple.  They’re easy readers, so they can give your lower elementary child reading practice or your preschool child a good chance to cuddle up next to mama and follow along as she reads.  Nothing bad happens in Little Bear’s world and happiness shines through all the family interactions.  Little Bear’s antics will help your littles relate to bears and make their studies even more rewarding.


Corduroy by Don Freeman

This book.  I remember it inspiring me when I was little.  I still kind of believe stuffed animals come to life behind our backs, thanks to Corduroy and the Raggedy dolls.  This one fed my imagination, and it fed Big’s imagination, and it fed the Littles’ imaginations in turn.  Corduroy comes to life in the department store after it closes at night and climbs down from his shelf to look for his missing button.  He has a series of adventures before he’s discovered by the night watchmen and put back on his shelf.  The next morning, a little girl buys him and takes him home to be her friend.  Such an endearing story, and the bright illustrations are sweet while leaving a little something to your little’s imagination.



A Bear Called Paddington by Michael Bond

Paddington is another bear I grew up with.  Traveling to England from Darkest Peru with only a jar of marmalade?  Darkest Peru?  It sounds so intriguing.  (And Peru Actually Is intriguing, so this book with work well with a South America study, too.)  This bear is one adventurous guy.  Luckily for him, he meets a family who accepts him at face value and welcomes him into their hearts. There are more than fifty books about Paddington and this is the first.  If you haven’t already fallen in love with this bear, you will from the first page.


Touching Spirit Bear by Ben Mikaelsen

This riveting story about a young troublemaker who is sentenced to Native American ‘circle justice’ for beating up another kid gives some insight into the nature of bears.  When Cole is sent to live on an island off the coast of Alaska, he is warned of a Spirit Bear who will share the island with him.  Cole, in a typical act of rebellion, tries to kill the bear when he sees it.  The bear mauls him, breaking several bones and nearly killing him.  As he lays alone on the island, surviving on worms and other nasty things, the bear returns twice without hurting him and her realizes it had just been protecting itself.   His journey from being an angry, violent teen to being a more humane person is amazingly well-written.  A wonderful additon to your bear study.


East by Edith Pattou

Pattou is one of the authors who inspired me to make my first novel, Frog’s Princess, fairytale-based (the other was Shannon Hale).  This particular book, based on the tale ‘East of the Sun and West of the Moon,” is brilliant.  Pattou makes her reader fall in love with the polar bear who takes Rose from her home and you stay cheering Rose on until the very end of her adventures.  Sure, it doesn’t really teach much about bears, but my book doesn’t teach you about frogs.  You should still read it. haha


There Will Be Bears by Ryan Gebhart

Nerdy, sweet Tyson just wants to be in the in-crowd.  Unfortunately, he just doesn’t fit in.  His best friend is his Grandpa Gene, a roughneck who has promised to take him on an elk hunt.  When Grandpa Gene gets sick and has to move to a nursing home, Tyson feels like he’s lost his only friend.  Together, they come up with a plan to sneak off to the Grand Tetons for the promised hunt.  But there’s a vicious grizzly in the area, and they’ll have to contend with that, too.  The most exciting part of the book is the encounter with the bear, but kids who love hunting will enjoy it all the way through.

On another note, just in case I haven’t complained enough about how much it’s rained this summer, this meme says it all:


True story.

Love wins,


Day One: Donkeys   Day Two: Summer

Day Three: Water   Day Four: Insects

Day Five: Owls

Indiana Boys on an Indiana Weekend

I am fiercely in love with my ‘flyover’ state.  I’ve probably not talked about it much before, but our weekend was so wonderful (barring a short, scary heat stroke problem) that I have to share it with you.  If you’ve never been to Indiana, you need to understand that I’m talking about the southern half of the state because I don’t spend much time up north and the southern half is the pretty half.  There are rolling hills and forests and, of course, a multitude of crop fields at every turn, but there are also interesting cities that haven’t outgrown themselves and forgotten where they came from.  We don’t live near any of those cities.  In fact, we live in the hills and cornfields and have to drive a good, long way to get to civilization.  Just the way we like it.  It means when we make plans to visit a city, we have a beautiful drive ahead of us.

IMG_20150716_090610544On Friday, we decided to take the day off from summer science and take the Littles to the zoo.  We live within a 2-hour drive of 4 different zoos, each of which is spectacular in its own way, but our favorite is the smallest, the Mesker Park Zoo in Evansville.  So we set out on the back roads for a pleasant drive to one of our favorite spots. It worked out better for us than we could have hoped, because a slight detour took us past the Lincoln Boyhood Home National Memorial.  Abe Lincoln spent 14 years of his youth in southern Indiana, and the cabin where he lived still stands, as does his mother’s grave site, and there’s a beautiful memorial building complete with relief sculptures of Lincoln’s life on the outer wall.  Inside, there are copies of letters Lincoln wrote to his Indiana friends and neighbors, pictures, and an information desk full of answers to all your questions.  Since this was a detour to our original plans and the day was already heating up, we didn’t hike out to the cabin but decided to go back when it’s cooler and see it.  Just looking around the memorial building was fascinating enough.

lincoln memorial

After spending about 45 minutes at the memorial, we got back on the road.  Now, my family loves all genres of music.  Rock, classical, country, folk, bluegrass, hip hop, pop–if it’s good music we love it.  But this day, spent in some of the most beautiful countryside in the world, dotted with farms and corn fields, little towns and soybeans, called for a good country music station.  So, singing along with Jason Aldean, Keith Urban, and Florida-Georgia Line, we made our way to the zoo.


Here’s a gorgeous pic of an Amish hay field.  If you’ve never driven by one of these, it feels like you just stepped back a couple centuries in time.  We are so used to seeing square or round hay bales that these hay stacks always jolt us and make us feel a little nostalgic for a simple way of life.  Teachable moment.  We discussed the history of hay baling and how smart the Amish way of doing things is and how better prepared they are than most of our society to take care of themselves should the zombie apocalypse come.  And you know my Littles, they are just waiting for the day.  So it was a good lesson for them to learn if they want to grow up to be Daryl Dixon.  Which they do.

As we approached Evansville, we fell in love with it all over again.  It sits on the Ohio River, and is the third-largest city in our state behind Indianapolis and Fort Wayne.  Now then.  Here’s a pic of the outskirts of Evansville.  I’m not kidding:

Eville outskirts

Just ahead on this road is the beginning of a row of restaurants and department stores, gas stations and car lots.  I love that there is absolutely no transition.  One second you’re in the country, the next you’re in the city.  I love that it doesn’t take long to get away from the hubbub here.  I’m so glad I’m raising my boys in a place with such roots.

There are many reasons Mesker Park is our favorite zoo.  Its smaller size means we are not (usually) going to wear completely out before we’re done seeing everything we want to see.  And I’ve never been able to figure out the reason, but the animals at Mesker Park are ever so much livelier than at the bigger zoos.  We arrived at feeding time so for the first hour we were there, all of the animals were up and about, easily spotted, and fun to interact with.


We went to Amazonia first, which is a relatively new exhibit that has (obviously) animals and birds from the Amazon in it. Apparently we were the khaki shorts family that day.  Except for Martin, who always has to be different. haha

Here are some of the animals we saw:

How cute is this guy?  He acted like he wanted to talk to us.

How cute is this guy? He acted like he wanted to talk to us.

This gorgeous cat paced so much we had to take the pic quickly.  And we all wanted to take him home.

This gorgeous cat paced so much we had to take the pic quickly. And we all wanted to take him home.

Another thing we love about this zoo is it is rarely crowded.  You never feel like you’re not getting to see the exhibits because of all the other people around trying to look at the exhibit.  You get to actually take your time and look at each animal for as long as you want to without feeling guilty.  Here’s the path leading towards the Australia exhibit.  Notice how much room there is?  That’s because we were the only people on it.

IMG_20150717_121215682By about noon, the day had heated up to sweltering.  100 degree weather and humidity like we were walking through a wet blanket.  The animals scurried for shade or the indoors, which made the last part of the trip a little boring and the heat seem even worse.  But we still saw some really cool things like this goose family who went past us.  I guess they were enjoying the sights, too.IMG_20150717_130255064_HDR

And this peacock feather garden:

IMG_20150717_125005507Isn’t that cool?  There were dozens of them all sticking up out of the grass like planted flowers.  It looked like someone was trying to grow peacocks.  I guess it takes longer to do that than a sunflower or cornstalk.  😉

And of course, we always have to get a pic of the Littles on the giant spiderweb.  It’s like their school picture–taken every year.


We had to cut our visit a little short, because apparently I’m older than I think I am and my body wasn’t too happy with the heat.  An ice pack and a water bottle later, we headed home.  Here’s a pic of my beautiful husband, worrying about me as he drives.  Notice there are still cornfields in the background?  It’s Indiana.  There are always cornfields. And forests.  We love them or we wouldn’t live here. We love them fiercely.

IMG_20150717_111753739The day ended on a bright note despite me heat-stroking out.  Martin ran to get dinner after he brought us home and came back with a garage sale-find coffee table.  Big deal, right?  Well, we’ve been keeping an eye out for a decent used coffee table this year because we wanted to make a game table out of it.  He got this baby for $5.  Another great thing about Indiana?  Yard sales still have yard sale prices.  The table was in perfect shape except for the inserts which were missing the glass.  Which made it perfect for our purposes.  He spent Saturday cutting some of our favorite game boards down to fit into the inserts on the table and covering them with plexiglass.  The end result?  A permanent game table.  Now all I have to do is buy some seagrass baskets to keep the pieces in and our game table dream has come true.  Isn’t it awesome?!


I guess I should have cleaned the board shavings off the table before I took the pic.  Oh, well.  You get the idea.  The great thing is, all of our other game boards will sit atop these inserted babies and we can use the table for any ol’ game we want.  And we own A Lot of board games.  You can see some of them peeking out from their new home under the table.

So guess what we did for the rest of the weekend?

If you ever come to Indiana, there are so many fun and educational things to do.  If I wasn’t such a wimp, we could have visited the Angel Mounds–a thousand-year old Native American site–at Newburgh, which is just a short drive from Evansville.  We could have hiked in the Hoosier National Forest (part of which actually abuts our property, so we can do that any day).  We could have gone to the pioneer village of Spring Mill.  So much of our country’s early history happened here.  People forget that in favor of the coasts, and that’s okay.  If everybody remembered, more people would line the paths of the Mesker Park Zoo.

Love wins,




Practicing Patience in Your Homeschool

I have a confession to make.  I am not a very patient person.  I want long to be.  It would really help my kids out.  I get annoyed about ridiculous things.  If I ask you to do something and you take a millisecond longer than I think you should, I get annoyed.  If I explain something to you in small words and you don’t get it, I get annoyed.  If you ask me to remind you of something and I do and you still forget, I get annoyed.  If you talk to me before my first cup of coffee, I am likely to get mildly homicidal.  If you are late, if you make me late… It could get ugly.  At least inside my head.  A snappish ogre takes over me.  I see red.  It’s so… ugh! ridiculous.

Image from battlereporter.blogspot.com

Image from battlereporter.blogspot.com

I have to work at being patient and I do, all day every day.  I have to remind myself that kids are just little, that people are just people, that I am not the Master of the Timetable.  Doesn’t matter.  I have to literally stop myself from speaking, like reaching out with both fists to grab the speech-producing part of my brain and wrestling it down before I stamp on my tongue with one foot.  Most people have No Idea how impatient I am and absolutely No One knows how often I am impatient.  In fact, when I am feeling that ogre start to take over, I often talk more sweetly than normal, just counter her evil spell.  But not always.  Sometimes she wins.  People flinch away from her.  They run screaming in the streets.  The National Guard is called in. It’s pretty bad.

When we are homeschooling, I have to be even more careful.  See, my littles are here to learn from me.  The reason I decided to do this thing was to provide them a better learning environment.  So if I’m snapping at them all morning for not finding their pencils quickly enough, not understanding simple math, or not remembering the vocabulary word we Just Learned Yesterday, well, I am not giving them a good learning environment.  Ever literally bit your tongue to keep the words in?  I have.  Because, for me, that learning time is the golden time, the time we are all focused on each other, when our minds are expanding and the depths are being explored.  It is sacred.  And it should feel that way to all of us.

How do we practice patience in our homeschool when we have none?  I have some suggestions.

Know Your Triggers

I’ve already listed some of mine.  I know the others.  That’s the first step in practicing patience: recognizing it when it hits.  Know that your anger is arising from your own response rather than what others are doing.  If you are suffering from impatience as a homeschool teacher, sit down and make a list of the things that set you off.  It’s usually when something isn’t meeting your expectations or going your way, but a million things can stem from those two categories.  So make a list. This will make it easier to practice the other steps.

Recognize When It Takes You Over

Before wrestling the ogre, I have to realize it’s her I’m dealing with.  You might be telling yourself you’re angry for a reason.  Stop and think about it.  Is it a good reason?  If not so much, then you are simply being impatient.  And that is not the world’s problem.  It’s certainly not your littles’ problem.  It’s yours.  Just knowing how to recognize the signs in yourself is a big step toward controlling it.

Gauge How Your Reaction Will Affect the Situation

This is where the practice comes in.  Your child can’t find his supplies again?  Didn’t he just have All Of Them at the end of lessons yesterday?  Take a deep breath.  Psychology Today suggests that patience is an act of self-compassion.  You are empathizing with your feelings and treating them kindly.  It’s also (as we all know) a form of outward compassion.  Your kiddo didn’t lose his supplies on purpose.  Is your response going to make matters worse or better?  If you snap or lecture, your child is likely to get his feelings hurt or feel a little rebellious.  So that reaction is only going to make matters worse.  If you breathe, give yourself and your child a little love, then commence helping him look for the supplies, things are going to get better.  If your reaction is going to make things worse, and you feel out of control, walk away for a minute.  Give yourself time to think it out.  And try to keep the storm off your brow as you leave.  When you are back in control, go deal with the situation.

Make a Conscious Effort to Think Before You Speak

Once you’ve recognized that one of your triggers has set you off and given yourself time to think about it, put serious thought into what you are going to say in response.  In the above situation, snapping, “How do you manage to do this Every Day?  Can’t you learn to take care of your stuff?” is probably not the best thing to say, no matter how much you might want to say it.  Instead, try something like, “Well, let’s find your scissors then.  Maybe after class we can make you a new caddy to put everything in with a special place for your scissors.  Would that help you keep track of them better?”  See how much nicer that is?  Your little will respond to it better, and having him help find a solution will give him a sense of empowerment.  The other way?  He’ll feel belittled and small.  And you never want to be the cause of that feeling in your child, do you?

Change Your Perspective

One of the best tools I have for stemming impatience is to stop and look at the situation from the point of view of whomever I’m dealing with.  In this case, the little knows he should have put his scissors up yesterday before he went to have lunch or play.  He is already frustrated with himself for having lost them and he wants to get on with class as much as you do, and  to do that cool craft that requires scissors even more.  When you see things from his perspective instead of your own, it truly helps you let go of the ogre and respond with kindness.  And your day brightens.  And his day brightens.  And all manner of things will be well.

Remember Who You Love

Listen, there are always going to be times when impatience wins.  But here’s the thing.  Nothing is more precious than those littles you’re raising.  Nothing on this planet, in this universe, means as much to you.  They are the bright spark in your life, the joy in your laughter, the reason you breathe and never give up.  And sometimes impatience and a snap reaction makes you meaner than anything else can.  So remember who you’re dealing with.  Remember the learning environment you want for them.  And bite your tongue.  Literally, if you have to.

Love (and patience?) wins,



25 Days of Lit in Your Homeschool: Day 5 Owls

This post contains affiliate links

This post contains affiliate links

So elusive that even if you live in the country mostly all you get is a ghostly hoo-hooo in the very late evenings or very early mornings, owls are amazing creatures.  The sheer size of the great horned owl is awe-inducing.  Here on the farm, we become aware of their presence when a chicken or rabbit mysteriously disappears overnight.  I don’t know if I’ve told you this, but we only cage our rabbits when they are pregnant.  We release mama and babies into the yard when the babies are about half grown.  I love rabbits.  I can’t stand to see them in cages.  So we have a large fenced area by the barn where they are able to dig burrows and nibble grass and really live.  Mostly without fear of predators.  But the downside of all that freedom is that owls can swoop into the yard at night and snatch them up.  It doesn’t happen often, but it happens.  And don’t even talk to me about raccoons.

Owls make for a great study.  There are so many books about them, so many characters based on them… you can even purchase owl pellets to examine in your homeschool.  If you don’t know what those are, they’re the clump of bones and fur an owl spits back out after it eats an animal whole, keeping only the good stuff to digest.  There are so many amazing things to do when studying owls.  So here are a few really good books to include in your owl study.  You know, to make them seem less like rabbit thieves and more like the majestic creatures they really are.


Owl Moon by Jane Yolen

Jane Yolen is one of my favorite authors.  She writes so man different things for children, she can’t be put into a genre.  Owl moon is about a father who takes his child ‘owling.’ That is, looking for owls under the moonlight on a clear winter night.  One of the things I love about this book is that it is told from the child’s point of view in the first person, and it never reveals the gender of the child.  So whether you have a boy or a girl, he or she can relate to the child as his or her own gender.  A cool touch to a truly lovely book.  The story is told in free verse, and the imagery is there even without the simple, haunting illustrations by John Schoenherr.  Just don’t be surprised if your little asks you to go owling.   So dress warm.


Owl and Moon by Heather Swick

This cute book, told in rhyme, has perhaps the most expressive owl I’ve ever seen.  The grumpy guy hates being the only person up at night.  He wants a friend.  But the is moon only other thing awake all night like he is.  Thing is, he’s stuck down here, and the moon is stuck up there.  What’s an owl to do?  I think your littles will enjoy looking at illustrations as much as they will enjoy the story, and this book definitely reminds them how different life is for nocturnal animals.


The Owl Who Became the Moon by Jonathan London

This beautiful book is one of our favorites.  The Littles made me read it to them over and over for years.  Not that I minded.  It is a slow-paced, sparsely worded poem set against a backdrop of gorgeous illustrations.  It’s actually a great bedtime story because of its pace, but don’t doubt that it will engage your littles any time of the day.  It makes the owl even more mysterious than we already think it, and a little mystique is a good thing.


Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh by Robert C. O’Brien

The owl in this tale is mean and frightening (but he would be from the eyes of a mouse.  Mouse is a delicacy for owls.) but he also Has The Answers, as any good owl would do.  I don’t know why owls became a symbol of wisdom in our culture, but it makes for some interesting characters.  Like the Tootsie Roll Pop owl.  Who is very cool.  This book could spark discussions about owl diet and habitat, and maybe even get your littles interested in researching the folklore about owls.  Not too shabby for a story about a bunch of rats.


The Guardians of Ga’Hoole by Kathryn Lasky

This is the first book in a series of 15.  We read it several years ago, and were fascinated by all the information we picked up from it about owls.  It actually sparked our first owl pellet dissection, and we were just reading it for fun.  It’s about Soren, a young owlet who gets pushed out of the nest by his greedy older brother (my doves do this, so there’s really a basis in reality).  Rather than getting mauled by a predator, Soren gets picked up by mysterious owls who take him to St. Aegolius Academy for Orphaned Owls, and there his adventures begin.  When he realizes there is something very wrong in the school, Soren and his friend have to fight against the teachings and discover what is going on.  Lots of owl science here, as well as a look at human nature and politics.


Hoot by Carl Hiaasen

This amazing environmetally-charged book is about Roy, who moves to Florida and discovers a mysterious running boy.  He follows the boy, curious as to where he’s always running.  What follows is an adventure in anti-development.  Roy and the running boy team up to stop developers from destroying the habitat of burrowing owls.   This is great for discussions about being kind to the environment and protecting habitats and species that sometimes get pushed aside in the name of progress.  Plus, it’s big fun, and your littles will enjoy the antics of the boys as they try to stop the construction of a new pancake house.

I could probably go on about owl books all day.  I mean, I didn’t even mention my favorite owl, Owl.  But if you don’t know how much I love the Pooh books, then you need to subscribe and keep reading.  (It’ll probably get annoying, even. haha)

Love wins,