Spring Has Sprung — and I Missed It!

Every spring, when I see flowers begin to bloom, I try to remind myself, “Stop and smell the flowers!” What a common expression, but how true!  And once again, I feel as if spring has passed me by (although this year, in our area, the spring weather didn’t last long at all), as I get caught up in the busyness of the end of the school year projects and activities. And the sad part is (especially to my children), we don’t even end our school year! No matter how hard we’ve tried to get everything done, our year always goes into the summer.

  • Our co-op is winding down with only one more class day to go. This past year, I took on teaching three classes, which was more of a challenge than I anticipated. It was a good year, but a very busy one. But I have some fun projects to share in the next few weeks.
  • The end of co-op also means the end of my high school student’s tougher classes: Chemistry, Algebra II, and Literature.
  • Music recitals are finishing up — one down and one to go.
  • Volleyball practices are ending with tryouts within the next two weeks.
  • End-of-the-year parties and get-togethers are being enjoyed.

And I feel I can begin to take a breath.

And smell those flowers. And pick some, too.

And look at a cicada hiding in a hole in the mud.

And deliver a frog that’s lost its way back to a stream.

And move a turtle out of the road.

And watch a bluebird resting on a fence post.

And pick strawberries and make shortcake.

And enjoy my children.

As the kids get older, we do get busier — busier with studies, activities, friends. So I’m glad its summer — and I’m glad the flowers are still blooming. 🙂


Photo by lightfoot

What’s That About Radon?

This past fall, two of my children entered our state’s Radon Poster Contest sponsored by the health department. To enter, students were to design a poster showing that radon is a harmful gas that can affect people in their own homes.

Right before Christmas, my daughter Cassie learned that she had won first place for our state! It took us a little while to coordinate everything with the health department, but this week, she received her award. And the rest of us received some good information.

Radon is a colorless, odorless gas that forms naturally under the ground. When buildings are constructed over radon, it seeps into the building and becomes trapped. Depending on how much radon is present, the results can be deadly, as it’s the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers. The representative from the health department told us of a young mother of three in our town who passed away from lung cancer a few years ago; the cause, they decided, was radon in her home.

“How do we test for it?” someone asked. Testing is done with a kit that you can either purchase at a home improvement store or get from your health department. After letting it sit in your house for a few days, you mail it off to a lab for the results.

If you test your home and find high levels of radon, what then? Fortuanately, there is a way to fix it. A ventilation system (they call it a mitigation system) can be installed under your home to allow the radon to escape before it ever enters the building. Newer homes, we were told, are often built with this system in already in place.

We also talked about the segment aired a couple of weeks ago on the Today Show about radon and it’s potential danger in the public schools. In one classroom that was tested, young elementary students were exposed to as much radon as if they were smoking a half a pack of cigarettes a day!

The poster contest was a success! Cassie received a lot of  prizes, our co-op received a monetary prize, but most of all, we all learned about radon and how to protect our families.

Are you children interested in entering? Check online to see if your state offers the poster contest. And be sure to check out the 2011 winners here!


Writing Opportunities for Teens

With a group of ambitious teens in one of my co-op writing classes, I am constantly on the lookout for opportunities for them to stretch their creative wings. If you have a young person who likes to write, here are a few outlets you might consider:

Writing Conferences – Sometimes writing conferences, such as Write2Ignite!, offer workshops for teens as well. This month, the classes at Write2Ignite! will be taught by author Vonda Skelton and graphic novelist Chris Schweizer. They’ll cover everything from creating characters, plotting your story, writing good dialogue, and illustrating your own graphic novel.

Publications – There are several publications both online and in print that are looking for teen authors. Here are a few of them:

  • DevoKids.com – This online devotional site for children features devotionals, recipes, and articles written by both adults and students.
  • Devozine – A devotional print magazine is written for teens – by teens. Students may submit devotions and poetry based on a theme.
  • New Moon Girls – This print magazine for girls features articles, stories, and artwork by girls ages 8 and up. Issues center around a theme.
  • Skipping Stones – An international magazine for students ages 8 – 16, Skipping Stones features essays, stories, letters to the editor, proverbs, and riddles, as well as artwork and photography.
  • Stone Soup – Written by kids, this features poetry, fiction, book reviews, and artwork by students up to age 13.
  • TeenInk – This magazine and website work with teens to publish their writing, art, and photos.

Self-Publishing – This year, some of my students participated in National Novel Writing Month. So, after a few more months of polishing their work, we’re going to self-publish them.

  • Lulu.com – This is the site we’re going to use. It’s simple to do, and we can keep the books as a private project so only family and friends can order them.
  • CreateSpace.com -This is Amazon’s self-publishing company and easy to use as well.

Celebrating Valentine’s Day

This Valentine’s Day will be a little different for us. We usually celebrate it by making or preparing Valentines during the day, then surprising each other with them at suppertime. Our grandma comes over for a special meal, and we end the day with a lot of chocolate.

This year, however, my husband will be working late, so the kids and I have been wondering what to do. The consensus is that we’ll have a special Valentine’s Day snack instead of a supper during the few minutes in the afternoon he can come home so he won’t miss it. And we’ll still end the day with chocolate. 🙂

There are lots of ways to enjoy Valentine’s Day. Here are a few more ideas:

  • Find picture books at the library about St. Valentine, or look up information about him online. Share his story with your children.
  • Spend some time baking together!  Make Valentine’s Day treats from scratch with your kids. You can find all sorts of recipes to try at KidsCookingActivities.com and Kaboose.com.
  • Decorate a room in your house – Cut out paper hearts and tape them around the room. Our favorite room is our kitchen, and the paper hearts are going up all over the windows. Have the kids write messages on the hearts or the names of the people they love.
  • Create homemade cards for grandparents or neighbors.
  • Make valentines to share with the residents of the local nursing home or for children in the hospital.
  • Write a letter to a friend you don’t see very often.
Happy Valentine’s Day!

Advertise It!

Here’s a creative writing assignment that works well for both individuals and groups of students. I assigned this one to the students in my writing class at co-op, and it was a lot of fun – for them and for me!

The lesson in the writing curriculum we’re using focused on exaggeration in advertising and how words can persuade and influence us. We started out the class by looking through newspaper ads, picking out key phrases such as “One-of-a-Kind”, “Today Only”, and “Essential”. We discussed our favorite infomercials and other television commercials, and how the words used in those ads convince a lot of people (hopefully not us!) to buy the product.

Then it was time to get to work creating their own advertisements. Instead of promoting a product, though, the students promoted a place – a real tourist attraction in the U.S. For classwork, they advertised the Forty-Acre Rock in South Carolina.

The 40-Acre Rock is actually only 14 acres, and the visit consists of a moderately-strenuous hike to a large rock. Sadly, some of the rock has been covered with graffiti. I handed each student a sheet of paper with the basic facts of the attraction: a small beaver pond, the hike, free parking, no restrooms, wildlife in the area, and the big rock. From those facts, they were to write a short paragraph convincing travelers to stop by.

It didn’t take long for them to come up with some great ads! They then took turns reading them out loud in class. And though they all had the same facts to start with, each ad was unique!

Their homework was just as much fun. I provided the students with a list of unusual places to write about, and each student chose one, looked up information about it, and wrote an ad to entice tourists. Here’s what was on our list:

Carhenge (Nebraska)

The Seattle Gum Wall (Washington)

The Corn Palace (South Dakota)

The Barbed Wire Museum (Kansas)

The National Museum of Funeral History (Texas)

The Tree that Owns Itself (Georgia)

The kids had no problems reading their ads out to the class the following week. And in the process, we all discovered some places we’d like to visit – or not! 🙂


Photo by Kevin Rosseel

Seeing the Problem More Clearly

For much of her later elementary years, my fifth-grade daughter has not enjoyed “school.” While she has always loved hands-on projects and field trips, completing workbook exercises or reading assignments has been a tedious chore both for her and myself.

“Mom,” she would say as I was helping her younger brother, “I don’t get it. I neeeeed heeellllppp!”

“Wait a minute,” I’d reply. “Do what you can, and I’ll help you in just a minute.”

“But I can’t do it!” she’d continue to insist until I gave in. And just as I was in the middle of explaining the math concept, she’d interrupt with “I don’t understand!”

“I didn’t finish yet,” I would answer, trying to keep my cool. And we’d start again. And again. And again. She would fuss, and I’d become frustrated. And so have gone many of our school days for the past two and a half years.

Reading hasn’t been much better. I still have her read aloud to me, and while she knows most of the words and only has to sound out a few, she doesn’t read as much as I would like. And she certainly doesn’t read for pleasure.

But I think we’ve finally found the answer. As it turns out, a recent thorough eye exam revealed that she’s farsighted, and while she could make her eyes focus on her school books, she had to really strain to do so. The result: tired eyes, frequent headaches, and a dislike of reading.

It’s often hard for parents to know when a child needs that extra help, especially if your child isn’t in a regular classroom setting. I remember trying to look at the black board when I was in 9th grade, and squinting very hard to see it. That was my big clue that I needed glasses. But I’m nearsighted, and from what I’ve read, farsightedness is less obvious. Farsighted children tend to make their eyes focus anyway, straining their eyes and sometimes even crossing them to get the job done.

Well, now we know. The struggles I used to credit to my child’s  personality were actually due to poor vision. But now we’re both looking forward to a good second semester. 🙂

New Year’s Around the World

No matter if we’re home together or visiting other family members, we usually celebrate on New Year’s Eve with games, snacks, movies, fireworks, and of course, staying up until midnight. This year, as we get ready for the festivities, we thought it would be interesting to find out how the rest of the world welcomes the new year. Here’s what we discovered:

In England, New Year’s Eve customs are quite similar to our own here in America. Many people celebrate with parties either in their homes, restaurants, or pubs with friends and family. They also watch fireworks displays, and at midnight sing “Auld Lang Syne”. They count down with the clock and toast the new year. Sound familiar? It did to my kids!

But here are some other things we learned:

In Scotland, New Year’s Eve is known as Hogmanay, and it’s an evening full of traditions. One of the customs is called first footing, or being the first person to cross the threshold of a home after midnight. This “first footer” will bring all the luck of the coming year with him, but there are some criteria he must meet. Ideally, he will be tall and handsome with dark hair, but he cannot be a doctor, a minister, or a grave digger. It’s also traditional for the first footer to carry a lump of coal to signify life, comfort, and warmth, along with a cake to represent prosperity.

Omisoko, New Year’s Eve in Japan, is one of the country’s most important holidays, coming second only New Year’s Day. Buckwheat noodles, called toshikoshi soba, are eaten to ensure longevity and prosperity. Families gather to watch the Red and White Song Festival, a television program that features singers whose songs were popular during the year. As the clock approaches midnight, many people visit the shrines and temples. Getting up to watch the sunrise on New Year’s Day is another important tradition, as viewing the first sunrise is considered a good and proper start to the new year. Popular foods for New Year’s Day include fish, fish eggs attached to seaweed, black beans, and kelp. New Year’s postcards sent to friends and family are delivered on New Year’s Day, and children receive monetary gifts in special envelopes.

In Mexico, Año Nuevo (New Year’s Eve) is celebrated by decorating homes in red ( improved lifestyle and love), yellow (blessings and good employment), white (improved health), and green (improved financial situations). Families often celebrate with a late-night dinner of turkey and mole. If Mexican sweet bread is served, it was usually baked with a coin or charm inside the dough. It’s tradition that whoever receives the piece with the coin  will have good luck in the coming year. When the clock strikes midnight, 12 grapes are eaten — one at a time with each chime of the bell – and a wish is made with each one.

People ring in the New Year in so many different ways! What interesting New Year’s traditions do you have in your family?


Photo by Matthew Hull

Late for Christmas?

I envisioned this December much differently. We would finish up with schoolwork early in the month, then sit back and enjoy all the sights and sounds of the holiday season. We’d spend a day baking cookies for a friend’s cookie swap party, work on Christmas crafts together, look at the  various holiday light shows, and make some handmade gifts. And I would actually get my Christmas cards out on time this year.

But like everything else lately, Christmas hasn’t come like I thought it would. Our tree still isn’t up. The house isn’t decorated. We haven’t been out to look at the lights. I didn’t make any gifts. And I can’t even seem to locate our advent calendar.

Just days after we arrived home from a Thanksgiving visit with family, my oldest daughter had to go into the hospital with a ruptured appendix. Though my husband was able to get time off so we could take turns sitting with her, things at home fell further behind. It’s as if I’ve spent the last week or so just trying to catch up — trying not to be late for Christmas.

But it’s never too late to consider the real meaning of Christmas. That amid the hustle and bustle of holiday “have-tos”, the reason for the celebration is still there — the birth of Jesus, God’s Son come to earth.

And while we can remind ourselves, we can remind our children, too. Snuggle on the couch and read a Christmas story book. Set up (and even play with) a nativity scene together. Help them wrap a gift for a needy child in your church or neighborhood.  Talk about what it must have been like for Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, and the wise men as your driving in the car.

So even if the mistletoe isn’t up, the stockings aren’t hung, and the lights aren’t blinking on the lawn, you’re not late for Christmas; any time we think about God’s wondrous gift is the right time.


Even with all of my good intentions, this school year has not been an easy one. Come to think of it, I don’t know that any of them could be classified as “easy.” But as we celebrate the holidays, I am reminded of how thankful I am that we are able to homeschool and educate our children in the way we believe benefits them the most. So even on our “off” days, when things aren’t going as I would like them to, I am so thankful that:

  • I know my children’s academic strengths and weaknesses; while I applaud their strengths, we can focus together on the areas that need improvement.
  • I know their character strengths and weaknesses, and I’m around to help guide them through various situations.
  • I know their friends, their friends’ parents, and their friends’ siblings, and I know what they do when they’re just “hanging out”.
  • They’re learning (albeit slowly some days!) how to accept and get along with one another, as well as how to encourage and support one another.
  • They’re learning practical skills as they help out around the home.
  • We have time to deal with “life” as a family, helping each other when the need arises.
  • We have time to reach out to others in need — to friends, family, and people in the community.
  • We are learning and growing together.
Though many of our friends’ children now attend school, homeschooling has definitely proven to still be the best option for our family. So this season, instead of becoming discouraged by the inevitable “bad” days, I’m going to continue reflecting on all the positives we’ve experienced. And I am so very thankful.
How has homeschooling benefited your family? What are you most thankful for?
Photo by ensignmedia

Teaching Poetry

This month, my junior high/senior high writing class is participating in the Young Writer’s NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. Because they’re busy at home typing out their novels, I decided to use our class time to talk about another form of creative writing: poetry.

Now, my poetry consists primarily of rhyming poems that children would enjoy. But, since poetry is much more than that, I decided to look online for some extra help in teaching the subject. And I found some really great lessons.

One of the best sites I came across is PBS.org. Here, you’ll find a great page to introduce students to poetry. With Rules, Tools, and Form,  you’ll cover what differentiates a poem from other literary works, as well as a summary of why tools and rules are important in writing poetry.

From there, you’ll be directed to two more helpful links: Poetic Forms and Examples and Poetry Devices and Examples. Print out the page of Poetic Forms and Examples for your students, and they’ll have examples in hand of various types of poems, including acrostics, haikus, tankas, couplets, cinquains, limericks, diamonte poems, proverbs, shape poems, rap, and free verse. The page also contains the “rules” so students can create their own.

On the Poetry Devices and Examples page, you’ll find information about and examples of similes, metaphors, personification, alliteration, hyperbole, symbolism, onomatopoeia, idioms, puns, lyrics, feet, meter, rhythm, and mood. This page, like the Poetry Forms page, is clearly laid out and easy for both teacher and student to use.

These three pages proved to be a perfect introduction to our poetry unit. For a class without any true poets (myself included), these pages take the mystery out of writing poetry and turn it into something fun that everyone can do.


Photo by earl53