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Rocking Summer Science

We have two weeks left of our first summer break.  Summer Science looms before us in all its glory.  We enjoy breaks, but we all always look forward to getting back into the school groove.  For me, it’s two parts getting a few hours of my Littles’ undivided attention and one part getting to play around with knowledge.  I think it’s probably the same for the Littles.

rocking summer science

I am super stoked about this summer.  It’s going to be a little less undivided attention and a little more independent work, but I think it is going to rock their socks off.  See, I love me a good research paper.  I know, I’m Freaking Weird, but there is nothing more enjoyable to me than delving into the bookshelves (and these days the ol’ interweb) and learning everything I can about a topic.  I never got less than an A on a research paper, not even in college, because I Enjoy Them So Much I put in 200% effort.  Don’t you love to Know?  Everything?  What better way to do that than to research a topic to death?

I think that’s why I enjoy writing all our curricula myself–I get to do research!  Stop throwing things at me.  You know it rocks.

Anyhoo, this summer we are combining research writing with our summer science class.  I’ve mentioned it before, but I’ve come up with a plan I really crush on, and I wanted to share it with you.  So here’s what I did:

Gathering Science Topics

I got out a bunch of our science books and thumbed through them.  Every time a topic caught my eye, I added it to a list.  I don’t want them to just concentrate on one branch of science this summer, so I chose 1 book from every branch I could think of.  It looked something like this–

science books

Don’t you just love books?  Look at all that information, just begging to be known.  I heart this stuff, big time.

So I went through the books and chose random topics that I could list in just a few words.  Then I made a table so I could cut the topics out in strips.

Science Research Paper Topics

This is the first page.  I ended up with 4 pages.  Here’s why.  I’m going to cut all these topics out and put them in a mason jar.  For the first week of school, we are going to learn how to research and research 1 topic together so the Littles get the hang of it.  Then each week for the next 6 weeks, the Littles will each pull 2 strips from the jar on Monday.  They will look at the topics and decide which of the two is most interesting to them.  Then they will spend the week researching the subject and writing a report to turn in on Friday.

O. M. G.  I hope they love it as much as I love the idea.  By the way, click on that pic of the list–it’s a free download for subscribers! That way if you decide you like the idea, you don’t have to thumb through all your science books.  I’ve already done it for you!

And Other Refinements

This is going to be the Best Summer Ever.  Not only are we doing a really cool science class, I have decided (thanks to a yard sale I stopped at over the weekend) to introduce my Littles to my hands-down the best book about the Arthurian legends ever written.  (You know I know–I own over 100 books about King Arthur and Merlin and I have read them all.  This one takes the prize.)  Why because of a yard sale?  They had a copy for practically free, which means I don’t have to break out the well-read copy I’ve had for nearly 30 years and risk anything happening to it.  A hardcover, 1st edition, 1970 copy identical to mine without the wear.  It even had the dust jacket!  Whaaa?

The Crystal Cave and Spelling


If you’ve never read Mary Stewart’s The Crystal Cave (and the other books in the series), go get a copy now.  It is an historically accurate look at the time period with an absolutely gorgeous retelling of Merlin’s story.  Yeah, this one recounts Merlin’s childhood and all the stuff that leads up to his doings with the famous mythical king.  Did I mention it’s gorgeous?  This book has the stuff.

Also, I got that cool spelling book on the cheap and I think we’ll go through it as part of summer school.  The Littles are both good spellers, but I think it will be a cool look at the Language of English.  You get me?  I heart finding books like that–not run-of-the-mill textbook terribles, but interesting ways to learn a subject with a little fun.  It’s not really for the spelling.  It’s for the Understanding.  Painless Spelling is a guide to spelling rules and patterns of the English language (which we all know has so may rule-breakers in it, it almost counts as not having rules at all.)  It breaks down the rules we can work with, and I think it will be interesting for the Littles to learn.

I love homeschool.  I crush so hard on this stuff it hurts.  I hope my Littles love this summer as much as I will.  Surely a teacher with this much passion on a subject can impart a little love to her students.  Right?

Ha.  Wish me luck, my friends!

Love wins,


Celebrating Shakespeare (with a free download!)

I love Shakespeare.  I have crushed on his words and poetic devices since I was very small and my parents would take my siblings and I to witness the overwhelmingly gorgeous productions of his plays in Louisville’s Shakespeare in Central Park every summer.  Though free to the public, these productions were never skimpy.  I remember the stage being covered in candlelight when necessary, sumptuous costumes, soldiers marching from the stage between the rows of the audience…  all very exciting to a small child who half-believed the characters were real.

william shakespeare

I think those early days in that lovely park, the darkness closing about us like a thin blanket to shut out the disturbances of a city night, are what made it easy for me when I reached high school and had to read Shakespeare for lit class.  I had been hearing the language for so long it made perfect sense to me.  I want my littles to have that same lack of struggle when reading Shakespeare, though we live too far away from Louisville now to make the Park a regular childhood thing.

Just look at the set for Twelfth Night. Can you believe this stuff is free?!

Just look at the set for Twelfth Night. Can you believe this stuff is free?!

This year, April 23rd marks the 400th year of Shakespeare’s death as well as being the day we celebrate his birth.  Historians are not 100% sure the 23rd is his actual birthday, but they know he was baptized on April 26.  Since the usual day of baptism occurred at 3 days old back then, it is assumed that he was born on April 23.  Close enough.  Gives us a chance to celebrate the Bard and his works on a specific day (though we hardly need one).  It also gives us the curious fact that Shakespeare may have died on his birthday.  He was a unique man, no doubt.

To give my Littles an early introduction to Shakespeare, I have done everything from taking them to local high school productions to watching films with them.  They love West Side Story, so I made it into a lesson on how it’s based on Romeo and Juliet.  I have several prose versions of Shakespeare’s works that are written specifically for kids, and we read them from time to time just to keep our hand in.  I think they’re old enough now to really read one of the plays, so I am going to be introducing them to Macbeth over the summer.  It is my all-time favorite.  I know, people always think I’m weird for that–What about Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet? Well, I crush on every single play, and every time I read or see one of them, I discover something new to love.  But Macbeth was the very first play I read for myself, and I was so drawn into the intrigue and the resulting guilt and all the consequences that I could not get enough.  I’ve mentioned before that I’m not big on love stories for the sake of love stories, so the romance plays have a slightly less draw for me than the political ones.  Though I have to admit, my favorite Shakespeare line is in Romeo and Juliet: “I’ll prove more true than those that have more cunning to be strange.”

I love that Juliet is saying, “Listen, dude, I know I’m throwing it all out there for you, but you’ll find me more honest and loyal than the girls that play games.”

Yeah yeah.  Nobody likes a player.

If you want to celebrate Shakespeare’s birthday with your littles, there are lots of ways to introduce the Bard without confusing the heck out of them.

Watch West Side Story, Ten Things I Hate About You, or Shakespeare in Love.

10 things i hate about you

Joseph Fiennes as Shakespeare?  My dear, I will take it.  On any given day.  Give me a lovely image to go with that way with words… Oh, I’m there.

But this isn’t about Your Pleasure, Mama, it’s about your littles getting a glimpse into Shakespeare’s time, his rivalry with Christopher Marlowe, and what he went through to get his plays produced.  You will have to fast-forward through some of the more loving parts, but the movie (while not being entirely accurate) is beautiful.

Ten Things I Hate About You is based on The Taming of the Shrew, and if you can’t get the Elizabeth Taylor film of the play (or even if you can), this teen flick might be easier for your littles to follow so they can understand the plot.  Plus, Kat’s poem at the end of the movie is a great example of a Shakespeare-type sonnet.  Also, Heath Ledger.

I think West Side Story is one of the most faithful, if not The Most, musical adaptations of a Shakespearean work.  That could be bias as I was raised to be a Jet.

Find book adaptations for children.

If you search Shakespeare in Children’s Books on Amazon, you’ll get over 2000 hits.  There has to be something in there that will tickle your fancy.  I particularly like Shakespeare’s Stories for Young Readers by E. Nesbit.  It has 12 of the Bard’s plays done in prose while retaining much of the language that people often find tricky.  It is a really good introduction to Shakespeare’s work by an author we already adore.  If only Macbeth were included in the lineup, it would be perfect.  Perhaps Nesbit thought it too bloody for littles?  Out, out, damn spot.

Go to my subscriber freebies and download this great Shakespeare Quote worksheet, which introduces your littles to the language in short bites and gives them an opportunity to interpret quotes for themselves.

shakespeare quotes

Check out these great websites for more ways to celebrate:

This Sweet Life Books, unit studies, and other resources

Hub Pages Paper puppets, anyone?  Bring the plays to life for your littles with some very cool crafts.

31 Cups has a cool pic with a listing of a lot of the things we say today that we don’t even realize come from Shakespeare.

Ed Snapshots Throw a Shakespeare party?  Yes, please.

BBC Shakespeare’s plays animated.  Because when has the BBC ever let us down?

Shakespeare can be fun and inspiring even for the littlest of littles.  It’s even more fun when they realize they’ve been influenced by his work in myriad ways all their lives.  So plan something cool for the 23rd.  And fall in love with Shakespeare all over again.

Love wins,


Story Time: The Giving Tree

Story Time: The Giving Tree - Crafts, activities, and free printables to go with the picture book

Earth Day is this Friday, and I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate it than to do a Story Time on Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree.  We are huge Silverstein fans in this house.  His poetry is one of the myriad ways I introduced the Littles to verse.  This particular book… It is the consummate environmental children’s book.  It is so lovely, the idea that a tree could love a boy so much she would give him everything.  When you think of all the things trees do for us–provide us with warmth, with our very homes, give us shade and fruit, even supply the very paper you might print my freebies out on–when you consider all that, you have to also remember that there isn’t an unlimited supply of trees on the planet and we should do our level best to replace what we use.

Why?  Well, I believe Silverstein would tell you trees have feelings, too.  And I would have to agree.

Continue reading

Counting Blue Birds

Okay, so this isn’t only about counting blue birds.  It’s about counting all birds.

great backyard bird count

It’s the Great Backyard Bird Count, y’all!!

The Littles and I participate in this awesome study every year.  It’s a perfect way to kick off the year’s nature study program, and even now that they’re middle schoolers, we still do nature study.  Nature study is a great introduction to biology, geology, meteorology, astronomy, etymology… you get it.  But the main reason we do nature study is so the littles get a good grasp on ecology and the importance of leaving the smallest carbon footprint they can.

Counting the birds that come to our feeders for the weekend helps us remember the importance of allowing our flying friends the room to have their lives.  We live surrounded by forest, so we can look out the window and see nests in the trees, and a myriad number of birds flitting about every day.  We keep our feeders filled all winter so the winter birds don’t have to search too hard for food, and we keep them filled in summer just to have the chance to watch them.  I have a true fascination for bird feeders.  I can’t walk past them in any store without stopping to dream about which one I’ll buy next.  When we first moved to the farm, I spent hours watching out the big back windows for any kind of bird I could see.  It was so bad that my beautiful husband bought me a pair of binoculars so I could see them better.  He’s amazing like that.

If you go to the website, you’ll find a downloadable pdf with instructions on how to take part and a downloadable poster announcing the count.  I realize that as homeschoolers we might not feel the need to print out a poster, but it always gets my Littles in the spirit of things to see it hanging on the classroom wall for the weekend.  There’s also a data form for youBirds of Indiana to fill out in order to enter your findings, and a bird list and guide to recognizing birds.  As the teacher, all you have to do is print stuff out and you’re ready to go.

We have several bird books on hand, but our favorite is the Birds of Indiana Field Guide by Stan Tekiela.  The birds are separated by color and the pages are color-coded, so it’s easy and quick to find the bird you’re looking for.  The photos in it are clear and gorgeous, and it’s full of information about each bird, including migration patterns, diet, and nesting habits.  And, awesomely, if you go to Tekiela’s Amazon page, you can find a similar field guide for your state!  Yeah yeah.

The cool thing about this bird count is that you can count birds anywhere:  your backyard, the park, on your way to the grocery store.  This free count is connected to the Cornell Lab bird count I posted about a couple weeks ago and co-hosted by the National Audubon Society.  They recommend you spend at least 15 minutes on just one of the days of the Count, watching birds and counting the types you see and how many of each.  Then you simply create an online account at the webite and enter your data.  The account is free, and you can use the supplied data form to keep track.

If you want to do a further bird study with your littles, here’s a free download for researching just about anything and everything to do with birds.

bird report

If you don’t have a bird feeder at home, making one is easy.  A Pine Cone Feeder is as easy as smearing peanut butter over a pine cone, pouring seed onto a piece of wax paper, then rolling the peanut butter-covered pine cone in the seed.  Tie string or ribbon around the top of the cone, and hang it from the nearest tree.

pine cone bird feeder

An Orange Cup Feeder is simple, too.  You just halve an orange, scoop out the fruit and drop it into a bowl.  Then mix the fruit with about 1/2 cup of peanut butter and a cup of birdseed.  Spoon the mixture back into the halved peel, poke a kabob stick near the top of either side of the orange (gives the birds a perch), tie a string to either end of the stick, and boom.  Bird feeder.  If oranges every last long enough in our house to start to turn, they automatically become feeders.




Birding is so much fun!

Birding is so much fun!

Join the Great Backyard Bird Count.  Hopefully your littles will have as much fun as these amazing, wonderful goofballs.

Love wins,