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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,


When You Want to Teach Them Everything

As homeschool mamas, we have a deep desire to do this education thing right by our littles.  We look around at the ever-growing homeschooling world and we see all these choices–curriculum sales, free downloads, dozens of teaching methods–and we want to make them all.  At every turn, we question ourselves:  Should we be using that method or this curriculum??  We look at blogs and tweets and pins and Instagram photos and wonder why our homeschool doesn’t look like another family’s.  And, if you’re anything like me, you want to teach your littles Everything There Is To Know, so they will be fully prepared for the life coming to them.

fill in the blanks 1

The question becomes this.  How do we decide what to teach each year?  You know what a big fan I am of Hirsch’s What Your __ Grader Needs to Know series.  Though I rarely use them these days, I own all of them from kindergarten through 6th grade.  They helped me tremendously when I was starting out, especially when it came to ensuring my Littles were keeping up with their grade level in public school.  That was a thing for me at first.  I knew a family who had lost their kids for six months over a lackadaisical homeschool education, and I would never risk losing my kids for any reason.  However, my Littles surpassed their public school grade levels years ago, and over time I have loosened up.  I’m sure they appreciate it.

Even so, those books are a great place to start figuring out what you’re going to teach for the year.  They can be gotten on the cheap on Amazon, too, so if you feel like you need the help, look into them.

Nowadays, I go about things a little differently.  One of the very first things I do when I start thinking about a new year is create a book list.  Not a text-type list, but a Read-Aloud List.  I try to match a couple up to things we will be learning in other subjects, but mostly I just try to narrow down our options to a doable list.  Because it’s always longer than the school year has days.  Here’s what this year’s looks like so far:

  • Tom Sawyer
  • Huck Fin
  • Animal Farm
  • Ruby Holler
  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame
  • Number the Stars
  • Holes
  • David Copperfield
  • Great Expectations
  • The Jungle Book
  • Treasure Island
  • Moon Over Manifest
  • Fahrenheit 451
  • The Halloween Tree
  • Brave New World

I am not done making this list.  As you can see, we couldn’t possibly fit all of these into one school year of reading a chapter aloud a day.  But I will keep adding to it until about mid-June, then I will sit down with it and figure out which we’ll read during summer session, and how many we can fit in during September through May.  Then I’ll change my mind.  Then I’ll start making novel studies.  I’ll be slightly mad and extremely busy during that phase.  Think the Mad Hatter on speed.  Yup.

mad hatter

Next, I’ll look over my notes, like I mentioned yesterday.  See, throughout each school year some rabbit trail that they show keen interest in  will make me think, “We should study this in-depth.”  So I’ll write up a new schedule for the next year.  A couple weeks later, the same thing will happen, and I’ll either add to the schedule or change it entirely.  Then I’ll read a blog post that inspires me and think, “No, we should do That.”  And more notes will be made.  Once we’ve completed a school year, I have to wade through all of that and make a concrete plan.

Here are the subjects I would like to cover next year.  In a perfect world, I would be able to fit them all in.

  • Reading (i.e. reading aloud and studying the book together)
  • Africa Unit Study (just like this past year, with the history, science, art, etc., of each country)
  • American history: WWI through Civil Rights Movement
  • The Industrial Revolution
  • Spanish (we’ve had several years of Spanish, but I like them to have at least a little every year)
  • Biology (I have a brilliant college text that has language simple enough for them to grasp and I Really, Really want to read that thing.  We had a Science Question of the Day every day this year, and we cracked that book open often to get a little more in-depth answers.  We loved it.)
  • Long essay/research writing (I would like very much to continue our summer studies throughout the year)
  • Romantic Poetry
  • Shakespeare
  • Art history
  • Learn an instrument
  • Math (of course)

Kind of looks like an AP high school schedule, doesn’t it?


Now, I know from this year that the Africa unit will take a lot of our time.  But I fully believe that learning all about a country makes its location stick firmly in their heads, and I have seen the proof of that this year.  Also, I really want to continue this line of geography, because we’re on a roll now and I think it would be cool for them to have that info to build on when we pick an historical period to study later on.  For instance, studying India and surrounding countries set us up for the Industrial Revolution and colonization studies.  Which is why I’m burning to study that in detail.

It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to study two or three different historical periods in one year–that could get confusing.  So if we’re doing Africa, the IR and American history will probably have to wait.  But I have all these super cool books on that period of American history and I Really want to use them.  It’s a quandary.

Also, if we’re studying Shakespeare, studying another era of poetry is a bit of overkill, no?  So maybe I should drop that until next year.  And art history would be included in the Africa study, so I can drop that from the list, too.  So I narrow it down some.

  • Africa unit (including history, science, art, garden, and government)
  • Reading
  • Spanish
  • Biology
  • Essay/Research writing
  • Shakespeare
  • Instrument
  • Math

Looks more doable, doesn’t it?  But reading Shakespeare And reading a chapter book?  Is that feasible?  And studying geology and animal science for Africa and Then studying biology?  Is it too much?

Looks like I have some more thinking to do.

At least you can see my thought process.  When you homeschool without a curriculum, you might have more options, but you also have more responsibility.  When you want to teach them Everything, you can make the mistake of over-planning.  Having too much on their plates can kill a school year quicker than anything.

So make a list of all the things you want to teach them.  Then decide which are most important to you, most interesting to them, and if any are similar enough that you can choose one and still be covering the subject.  Before you ever take out your planner, narrow the list down 2 or 3 times.  Then, once you start filling that planner out and realize you’re going to be in school for 12 hours a day, narrow it down again.  Get your littles’ input.  It helps me to find out which of the chosen subjects the Littles would like to study most.  Because you want them to learn Everything, but this is supposed to be fun, right?  Because it’s easier to learn when the learning is fun.

If this didn’t help you at all, I hope that entering the chaos of my mind at least entertained you for a few minutes.  Lord knows it amuses the hell out of me.

And keep in mind, I always end up chucking at least one thing once the school year is in full swing.  I already told you–I’m a plan-a-holic.

Love wins,



Why We Homeschool During Summer

homeschool summer style

Ah, summer.  Those long, lazy days when there is nothing to do but whatever you want to do.  The possibilities are wide open.  It’s so exciting when you’re young that even the hottest, most humid day doesn’t bother you.  I remember feeling like summertime lasted about a year when I was in school.  It was the pinnacle of the school year–the time when I didn’t have to learn anything I didn’t want to, filled with life experience and exploration and sleep.  Blessed sleep.

So why would I choose to take 7 weeks out of every summer and homeschool my kids?  Well, let me tell you, it started out as a fluke.

See, when we first started knocking about the idea of homeschooling (or at least taking it seriously), I was worried the littles–then 6 and 8–would not be able to learn from me or take me seriously as a teacher.  Sure, they had no problem with it when I was in their classes at the school, but taking on their entire education was… different.  Monumental.  So we asked them how the would feel about homeschooling and they were all for it.  Which scared me even more.  So I made them a deal.

An offer they couldn’t refuse, if you will.

I told them we would do a science class that summer and if they approached it with a willingness to learn and were serious about it I would then take all the necessary steps to un-enroll them from the public school and start our adventure.  I think I picked 7 different fields of science and spent a week on each.  Just to see how they would respond.

summer school

The truth is, it overwhelmed me.  They took to it like fish to water.  They took me seriously, they learned tons, and We Had Fun.  I was hooked.  They were hooked.  This homeschool thing was on.

Then, when I started planning the actual school year, I realized we had already accomplished 7 weeks of that year.  A whole 35 days was wide open to do with as we would.  We could take 2 weeks off at Christmas.  I could be off for the entire hunting season and wouldn’t have to miss out on morning hunts because of class.  We could take a week off in January or February when winter had us at our lowest.  Hmm.

Yeah yeah.

So I contemplated the genius of the plan for the next several months.  The cool thing about having done a science program during the summer was that we could get outside and explore and get hands-on experience with whatever we were studying.  Also, we had held school mostly during July, that time of year when the Ohio Valley is unbearably humid and hot and people are more apt to escape to the air conditioning than spend long days outside.  So we were able to be inside when we wanted and outside when we needed to be and It Was Perfect.

Nature study walk

Nature study walk

A yearly schedule was born.  The Littles still get 10 weeks off for summer, but they get it during the best parts–June and late August/September.  They still giggle that the bus drives by while they’re on summer break.  They still get to hang out with their friends who attend public school and are on break when they aren’t, because we’re done with summer school by 11 and the rest of the day is theirs.

We’ve done it every year, picking a different science theme each year.  It is one of my favorite parts of the school year to be honest.  We shuck the classroom and have class at the dining table, out on the patio, on a blanket in the grass.  We’re more relaxed, looser, and even more apt to laugh.  It’s still golden days of summer, we’re just learning at the same time we’re enjoying.

This year, because both boys will be middle-schoolers, we’re going to expand into something new.  They are going to learn to write research papers, which means much more independent work than we usually do during summer.  Each week I am going to let them pick a science topic to research on their own and write a short paper about what they’ve learned.  It will be a new area for us, independent study during summer school.  I am having trouble letting go.

But I bet they’ll be dragging their books and tablets out to a blanket in the grass to do their research.

That makes it all worth it.

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.

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