Monday, July 26, 2010

A Day in the Life of Our Homeschool

We've been dabbling here and there through the summer in our kindergarten lessons, getting a feel for each subject and curriculum in a low-pressure, fun way. But I was getting nervous about how it was all going to come together when we had to really sit down and "do school" for more than just a half hour at a time. So I planned this week to be our first "official" week of school, so we have time to see what works (and what doesn't!) and tweak the schedule before Fall. Also, big sister is away at the beach, so we won't be tempted to pester irritate play with her instead of buckling down.

So since today was our first day of doing a full day of school, I thought I'd share what a day in the life of our brand-spankin'-new homeschool looks like. Veterans, feel free to laugh heartily at my inevitable hubris, but so far it seems to be going really well!

If you don't hear from me again by next week, send help.

Here's how our day played out, roughly speaking...

7:00 AM - Both kids were up and we made our way downstairs. They both immediately seized the rulers I bought yesterday (and craftily left on the kitchen table, all part of my master plan, mwahahaha), and ran off to measure everything in the house. Listening to the two-year-old shout out "One... two... three... EIGHTEEN INCHES!" was priceless.

Running rampant with rulers

7:30 AM - They wandered back into the kitchen in search of breakfast. Thankfully, by this time I had made my coffee, retrieved my newspaper, and employed one of my favorite tricks for ensuring a peaceful start to the day. I'd covered the kitchen table with paper and set out markers and colored pencils.

A clean slate

Inevitably, this leads to at least a full half hour for me to wake up, read the paper, and drink my coffee. Essential to everyone's sanity.

Coffee and newspaper

Ahhh. I also looked over the plan I'd made for our week. I figure planning out every hour of every day is a level of detail that feels too rigid for me. However, flying by the seat of my pants feels a little too loosey-goosey. So I came up with a weekly plan, so each day can unfold as it may, but I have an idea of what we need to accomplish in order to stay on track. It's stapled to the inside of a folder in which I have already copied all the worksheets, etc. that we'll need for the week. I think this will work well for our style, but I'm sure it will require tweaking until it fits just right.

Weekly plan

So while we were also eating breakfast (and some of us were getting appropriately caffeinated), our resident kindergartener was illustrating (and narrating, I might add) a Lion King-based story so elaborate, it would make your head spin. Pretty cool.

An elaborate Lion King story

8:30 AM - We headed upstairs for me to shower and us all to get dressed and ready to take on the day. The kiddos get to watch a show while I'm in the shower, a routine that evolved when I was still trying to keep a young toddler from unrolling the whole roll of toilet paper and other such nonsense while I was otherwise engaged. But hey, it's Backyardigans! Who doesn't love the Backyardigans?

Mommy's shower time

9:00 AM - Report to the schoolroom! Okay, it's not a schoolroom. It's just the family room. But I put all our school stuff in this corner, so at least it's not exploding all over the house. For now. In reality, we "do school" all over the house, but I love having a home for all our books and manipulatives and such.


For instance, we often do math on the floor. I don't know why, she says she thinks better on the floor...? Whatever, as long as she's focusing, I really don't care. By the way, we are using RightStart math (level A), and so far love love love it.

RightStart math

Little brother loves the geoboards. Which worked out well, since we didn't need them for this lesson. Shh, don't tell him he's just playing! He will tell you quite seriously that he is "doing math too!"


Had to move to the coffee table for our rectangles activity...


9:30 AM - Math was over, and the two-year-old was getting restless (and distracting). So we attempted to watch an Eyewitness DVD about plants, which is our science subject for the week. There was a lot of horsing around and not a whole lot of paying attention, but this just tells me that they needed to let off steam. No worries, they both had a few "hey, that's a cool plant!" moments, so I'm gonna call it good.

We talked about the parts of a plant, which she already knows (the kid's a gardener, after all), so she colored and labeled a worksheet.

Plants worksheet

By the end, there was a major case of wiggling going on, so I declared recess.

Bike ride!

10:30 AM - Bike ride to the playground!

Morning snack (al fresco)

Snack under a tree!


Our daily dose of Vitamin D, as well as some much needed running around time. Amazing how much calmer and focused they were when we returned.

11:15 AM - Reading time on the couch. I selected the book about plants, but then they each chose a few others to add to the pile.

Pre-lunch reading time

11:45 AM - Free play for the kiddos while I make lunch. Spaghetti and meatballs was requested, and since I didn't have any bread to make sandwiches, I didn't have an easy alternative to offer. So spaghetti and meatballs it was.



12:15 PM - Lunch. During lunch, I read them a poem I had printed out: Robert Louis Stevenson's "Bed in Summer." It's about the unfairness of having to go to bed when it's still light out. They loved it. The two-year-old asked me to read it over and over and over. Then the five-year-old grabbed the paper and read it herself a few times (based on a combination of memory and sounding-out). Very fun.

Lunchtime poem

12:45 PM - Time for the two-year-old's nap. We went upstairs and read a couple of books. As usual, the five-year-old said goodnight to him by declaring him to be the "best brother in the whole wide universe," and he fell asleep to his CD of folk songs from Appalachia.

1:00 PM - With little brother asleep, it was time to really focus. Phonics time. The program we are using is called All About Spelling, and was initially developed as a spelling program, but a lot of people also use it for phonics. It's a wonderful curriculum, and we have both really enjoyed using it. But it does take focus. And time. I think it took us an hour to work through the lesson, but it was worth it. It's meaty stuff.

All About Spelling

2:00 PM - Time to unwind a bit. We have been reading the second Harry Potter book for the past few weeks, and really needed to get past the scary part. (Note to self: do not stop reading at a point where a child may be in danger. You will get woken in the middle of the night by a child having a basilisk nightmare.) We read for over an hour, and were able to get everyone safely out of the Chamber of Secrets... phew!

6 pages from the end!

3:15 PM - Little brother woke up from his nap, and wanted to join in on the reading fun. So we spent the next 45 minutes reading picture books on the couch.

4:00 PM - Tea time, otherwise known as afternoon snack. (The kids get decaf tea that is more milk than tea, but they adore having tea just like Mommy.) They watched a few videos from the They Might Be Giants Here Comes Science album, and we talked some more about photosynthesis.


And that was our day! I can't wait until tomorrow.

Friday, July 23, 2010

This Moment: Farewell to the Sea

Farewell to the sea

No words, just a moment from this past week that I want to linger with just a little bit longer. This Moment is a series hosted each week by SouleMama -- thanks, as always, Amanda!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

A New Doll

When we were in Maine, we all had great fun rediscovering some of our old favorite children's books. Not only are many of my own childhood books still on my parents' bookshelves, but many books from my oldest's early childhood have made their way there as well. I deliberately brought very few of our books with us, knowing the kids would appreciate the variety.

I was charmed all over again by the original Little Golden Books. One I had forgotten was the sweet story of Kitty's New Doll. (We read the version with the original illustrations, but the new edition available now seems equally charming, and the story is unchanged.) In it, Kitty surprises her mother by declining a doll with all the latest features, and instead selects a simple rag doll, preferring to use her own imagination to animate her new friend. Lovely.

kitty's new doll

And so my five-year-old started talking about making a rag doll. She made it very clear that a) she had to be a cat (like Kitty's), and b) her face and clothes had to be painted on, just like the rag doll in the story.

A new doll

She drew the pattern on paper, I cut it out and machine sewed it, and she stuffed it and painted it.

Painting on face and clothes

Her very own simple, imagination-powered doll. Like Kitty's, but even better.

Finished doll

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


I have just returned from three delicious weeks at my parents' house in Maine. Truly, one of the most beautiful places on earth, and we had a lovely, lovely time. Kayaking, swimming, building sandcastles at some of the world's most gorgeous beaches, walking in the woods, and just relaxing with the grandparents. I feel so incredibly blessed to be able to take such an extended break from "regular life."

But honestly, three weeks is a long time. Yesterday was relaxing in its own way, as we return to the routines and rhythms of our daily life.

And of course, there was the garden.

Three weeks is a long time to be away from a garden. Thank goodness my husband was here to keep things watered and harvested. Because, oh my how things have grown.

Before I left I planted some basil, tiny plants my neighbor had given me.


Can you say, pesto?

Oh, hello morning glory.

This morning glory is a weed. It grows in my rose bed and tries to strangle them. I had pulled it all up before I left. And in three weeks, it reached the top of the trellis. Beware the morning glory, I tell you. These things are crafty.

When I left, I had finally put cages around the tomatoes.

Tomatoes are taller than me.

Now the tomatoes are taller than me. Oh my.

And these zucchini plants and not only ginormous, but they're prolific! The zukes just keep on coming.

More baby zucchini!

The marigolds I planted to protect the tomatoes and zucchini are lost under all that foliage. They must be working, though.

Somewhere under there are marigolds

Because just take a look at this:

Something's coming...

And this:

...something good

Oh. my. goodness. These plants are just overflowing with green tomatoes. I could just jump for joy, I really could.

This Swiss chard could win prizes.

I ate this Swiss chard last night. It was incredible. I swear I could take it to the county fair and win prizes. It's unreal.

Runaway pumpkins!

Uh-oh, the pumpkin vine is trying to escape again!

Escaping pumpkin vine

Dude, what is it with pumpkins?? Stay in your bed, dagnabbit!

Arugula in flower

The arugula is in flower, but that's okay. I'm surprised at how much we got from it, and how long a season we were harvesting it. Thanks, arugula! You were great!


The broccoli is still getting munched to within an inch of its life, but somehow it's growing! Many, many thanks to my devoted husband who dutifully removed cabbage worms for three weeks. It's a thankless job, but my broccoli is grateful.

Munched broccoli leaf

Munched, but still hanging in there.

The green bean house is amazing.

Green bean fairy house

You really can (if you're three feet tall) climb inside and sit in the shade.

And exciting things are happening to the green beans, too:

Green bean in flower

Now, I need to get back to my weeding. The vegetables aren't the only things that thrived in my absence.

Friday, July 16, 2010

This Moment: Put Me In, Coach

Put me in, coach.

No words, just a moment from this past week that I want to pause and savor. Head over to SouleMama to see the other moments being shared this morning.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Tips for Unboring Vacation Photos


If you've noticed the light posting around here in the past few weeks, it's because I've been camped out at my parents' house in rural Maine. For an amateur photographer like myself, one of the most fun things about vacation is the opportunity to take lots and lots of pictures in a novel setting. It's rather embarrassing how many photos I've taken already, but all I can say is thank goodness for digital photography. And yes, like everyone else, I have dozens and dozens of photos of my family members smiling at the camera and squinting into the sunlight, but I am trying to mix it up a little. Those cheesy snapshots have their place, but I'm trying to come away from this vacation with some worth-printing shots, so I'm going for a little more visual interest.

Garden oasis

Here are some of the guidelines I'm trying to keep in mind to capture some unboring vacation pics:

1. Pay attention to the light.

This means avoiding those squinting-into-the-direct-sun pictures (oh my sun-sensitive eyes!). But it also means looking for that sweet light and dragging folks into it for impromptu photo sessions. If you know you're going to go get ice cream after dinner by the water at almost-sunset... by golly, bring the camera!


Misty waves

2. Vary the perspective.

Straight-on shots of kids smiling into the camera are cute, but they only capture one aspect of your kid's personality -- and often a pretty fake one, at that. I try to take a lot of photos with no faces at all. Not that I don't love pictures of my family members' faces, but it's a way to remind myself to capture other details as well.

Rainy day silliness

I can do it too!


3. Record the details.

I am trying to notice and shoot the other little details around us on this trip -- not just people, but the flora and fauna we meet and greet along the way. Especially when you return to the same place year after year, some of the details of your surroundings might escape your notice. But recording these details can help capture an even more potent memory to bring home and savor.


Reid State Park


4. Know how to use your camera before you go.

Duh. I've been shooting with a pretty decent camera for two-and-a-half years now, and I have yet to fully read the manual. Pathetic. If I had only known how to use my camera's super macro setting, I might have actually got this adorable little crab in focus, and not my friend's arm. *sigh* Lesson learned.

Out-of-focus crab

5. Bring your camera everywhere.

If you don't want to lug around the heavy camera, use your phone or whatever you've got. But you'd be amazed at the times when an amazing opportunity for a shot takes you by surprise. I'm afraid people are getting used to seeing me with a camera in front of my face on this trip, but as a result I've been capturing some unexpected shots. When the big camera is too much, I've been having good fun with the Hipstamatic app for my iPhone.



Chipmunk on bird feeder

6. Don't let your photos fester in your camera/computer.

I've started printing out (on my cheapo inkjet printer) my favorite shots as 8 x 10's and actually framing and hanging them in my house. Crazy, I know! But it's so easy with the whole digital thing to stockpile photos and then never do anything with them. And don't forget to share! Whether you use an online photo sharing service, or just upload them to Facebook or whatever, it's great fun to share your photo memories with friends. [Here's where I apologize to my Facebook friends for inundating them with a truly absurd number of vacation photos. I realize I have a problem, but I can stop at any time, honest.] And don't forget to print photos for those friends and family members that aren't online.

And if you can't get out of town this summer, you can follow these tips to capture some fun summer weekend shots. With or without squinting into the sun.