Tag Archives: activities

Break Time

113697753842We decided to wait until the second week of January to get back into our schooling routine, so we used the time we had this past week to reorganize our home. It’s something I had wanted to do for quite a while, but busy schedules just hadn’t allowed it. So for the past few days, we’ve been moving furniture, sorting through books, weeding through the toys, and cleaning, cleaning, cleaning. And each day, after a few hours of work, we all take a break.

Break time for the kids means free time, which they have been spending playing with new Christmas toys. But for some reason, their free time this week has been exceptionally loud. For the most part they’ve been getting along, laughing and shouting — it’s just been so loud, that it just doesn’t count as break time for me.

My idea of a break is quietly reading a book or magazine in my room, taking a quiet walk by myself, or listening to some quiet music while I work at a hobby. There is a key word in all these activities — “quiet”.

For the most part, homeschooling parents are home with their children most of the day, every day, except when we’re running them to classes and lessons or taking care of household errands. No wonder we need a break from the activity — a quiet one. Although we can enjoy this time when our children are young and moving and playing, we shouldn’t feel guilty about sending them to their rooms, closing the doors, and going outside to sit under a tree. In fact, we need to do just that. We need to take the time to rest, relax, and recharge ourselves so we can move on well with the rest of the day.

So whether you’re schooling, working, cleaning, organizing…whatever you’re doing today, try to find a quiet place to take a break. Make it a habit, for you and your children, and you’ll be able to enjoy being with them even more.

Homeschool Resolutions

New_YrsAlthough it seems I’m always assessing how well our schooling is going, there are generally two times of the year when I make big changes. The first is in August, as I plan for the new school year, and the second comes at the end of December, before school starts again after the holidays. Now, for the new year, I have several homeschooling resolutions:

1. Focus more on school during school time: I tend to get easily distracted with “life” during the school hours, so naturally, my children become distracted as well. For me, this resolution means that I’ll be unplugging the phone and leaving the computer off until after lunch.

2. Include more of the fun stuff: Some days, it seems that it’s all we can do to get the academics covered well. But part of the joy of homeschooling is being able to explore, investigate, and create together. Whether it’s taking nature walks, working on projects, or trying out new recipes, I want enjoyable activities to be a regular part of our school days.

3. Get dad involved: My husband has a full-time job during the day and then works a few extra hours a couple of nights a week. It’s hard to imagine that he’d have time to help out with the schooling, but there are some easy (and relationship-building) things he can do with our children. He can snuggle up with them on the sofa and listening to them read, or he can choose a story to read to them. Or, he could call out a few of those math facts while they sip cocoa together. Either way, the children would enjoy spending that time with him.

4. Make the most of trips: Because we have a lot of extended family living within a day’s driving distance, we often travel to visit and spend time with them. This year, we’ll make the most of those trips by using each one as the focus of a unit study. Before we go, we’re going to research our destination, locate it on the map, and trace our travel route.

All in all, I think it’s going to be a good year. Are you making any changes in 2010?

Lessons on Parade

JGS_mF_AndHeresSanta…Or perhaps this should be entitled, “Lessons from the Parade?”

This past weekend, we followed a family tradition we began five years ago: we entered the Christmas parade of a neighboring small town. For a small fee, we enter the “Non-Commercial Vehicle” category, decorate our old pick-up truck according the theme of the parade, and dress up appropriately. The children and I ride in the back and toss candy while my husband drives. At the end of the parade, plaques are awarded for first, second, and third place in each category. All in all, it’s a really fun time.

This year, though, the theme was a little harder to develop, so I waited… and waited…and waited for inspiration to hit, which it never really did. We worked hard on the decorations, though, and we thought we had a chance of placing. But the weather was damp, and the duck tape we were using to hold our decorations to the truck wasn’t sticking. We were still rushing around as the parade was about to begin, fixing this, taping that. During the parade, I even had to hop out of the truck and walk along beside it so I could pick up anything that fell off!

We made it past the judges in one piece, though, and they gave us a good score. We took first place in our category (yay!), and we were all surprised. But there were some good lessons learned:

1. Cuteness counts!  My youngest, Luke, was dressed as a chick in an egg, and Lillie, my nine-year old, dressed as a farm cat. I think that helped a lot!

2. Prepare ahead of time! I waited too long to get started on this project. While we finished our design in time, it was stressful trying to get it all done.

3. Enjoy the process!  While the kids enjoyed the parade, they also enjoyed working on it. They painted almost all the props, and Luke especially was proud of his work. To me, this was the best part of the parade this year.

So, are we going to be ready next year? I’ll answer with a “Yes!” — that is, if we’ve learned our lessons!

Working With Polymer Clay

sculpeyIn my art classes the past couple of weeks and for one of our recent co-op classes, I’ve had the students work with sculpey. Sculpey is a brand of colored polymer clay that becomes hard when baked in the oven — and the kids have been so creative with it.

I purchased a variety of colors for both classes. The clay comes in 2 oz. blocks, and you can sometimes find it on sale at your local hobby or arts and crafts store. You could also purchase the plain white sculpey, which comes in a larger size; after you mold and bake it, you can paint the sculpture with acrylic craft paints.

Before class began, I did an Internet search for “polymer clay” images and printed off a few to give the students some ideas. You can also find ideas in polymer clay craft books at your library.

Then they let their creativity go, and I helped them along if they needed it. They made small sculptures of everything from horses to roses to beetles to fruit and candy. Even my five-year-old was able to make a strawberry without assistance using a picture as a guide.

You can also vary this project to suit your lesson. Because our co-op class was reading stories about snow, winter, and Christmas, we used the sculpey to make simple Christmas ornaments. The children formed simple shapes, such as triangles for Christmas trees, circles for snowmen, hearts, etc. We then cut a small piece of floral wire, bent it into a “U” shape, and pushed both ends into the scupley, making a “hook” for the ornament. Because the wire was metal, it could be baked along with the clay.

After the sculptures were complete, we followed the directions on the package for baking them, and they turned out great! If you decide to try working with polymer clay with your children, though, be very careful not to over-bake it, as it does give off fumes. A well-ventilated area is best for baking.

Now get started molding that clay — and have fun!

Nature Craft: Bird At Home

Here’s a fun craft to go along with a nature lesson. You can even work at it with your very small ones to help them learn their shapes.


  • Brown paper lunch bags
  • Newspaper
  • Rubber bands
  • Construction paper- yellow and brown
  • Googly eyes
  • Shoe box

1. To begin, cut three small triangles from the yellow construction paper, two large triangles from the brown construction paper. While you can cut out these shapes for young children, older children can cut them out by themselves.

2. Give your child a paper bag and some newspaper. Have your child tear the newspaper into strips and place some in the bottom of the paper bag. Twist the bag near the bottom to form the head of the bird. Wrap a rubber band around it to keep it in place.

3. Have your child tear another sheet of newspaper into long strips. Stuff these strips into the paper bag as well, filling it halfway.

4. Twist the bag again, wrapping another rubber band around it to keep it in place. Spread out the un-stuffed top of the bag to form the tail.

5. Find the three small yellow triangles. Glue one small triangle on the head with one angle pointing downward, creating a beak. Glue the two remaining yellow triangles to the bottom of the bird, forming feet. Affix each foot so that the straight side of the triangle can be seen when facing the front of the bird.

**TIP: While glue sticks are less messy and will work well when gluing paper to paper, white school glue works better when affixing the googley eyes to the bird. Be sure to allow for sufficient drying time when using white glue.

8. Glue the two brown triangles to the sides of the birds for wings.

9. Glue googly eyes to the head of the bird.

10. Have your child tear another sheet of newspaper into strips. Place the strips into a shoebox, forming a nest. Place the bird in the nest. You can also use this time to talk about all the things birds might use to build their nests.

For books to go along with your craft, you might try About Birds: A Guide for Children by Cathryn Sill ; Birds, Nests, and Eggs by Mel Boring; and Bird Songs by Betsy Franco.

The Daring Book for Girls

{230251bookA few years ago, my sister gave my son The Dangerous Book for Boys as a birthday present. Its contents are full of rough and adventurous activities for growing boys such as making a battery, fishing, skipping stones, and hunting and cooking a rabbit. Needless to say, I was excited to find out there was a companion book, The Daring Book for Girls. Now my daughters could have some ideas for adventures of their own.

That is, until I recently realized all that is included in the Book for Girls. While the book does include fun things to do such as how to whistle with two fingers, making daisy chains, and first aid tips, it also contains detailed directions for activities I don’t want my girls having any part of.

Early in the book, you’ll find a chapter entitled “Palm Reading” which includes its history and how to do it. Even more disturbing was the “Slumber Party Games” chapter, which describes a game called “Bloody Mary.” A history of the name Bloody Mary is presented; perhaps it’s the nickname of a queen of England who had many Protestants burned at the stake, of a woman who was killed in the Salem witchcraft trials, of a countess who murdered young girls and bathed in their blood, or of a woman who was killed in an automobile accident and returns as a disfigured spirit. The girls are to stand in a dark bathroom with a flashlight, look in the mirror, and chant until the ghost of Mary comes to get them. Another sleepover game with explicit directions involves levitating someone, again through chants.

While some people may look at these activities as a group of girls having some harmless fun, parents should be aware that any games that deal with fortune telling, calling up spirits, and levitating have ties to the occult. But whether or not you’re concerned if your child participates in such activities, they clearly don’t belong in an adventure book. It was a poor choice on the part of the editors to include them, and one which makes it a book our household won’t be reading.


contentmentRecently I reviewed the book Find Your Strongest Life by Marcus Buckingham. This morning, as I was talking with my son John, I was reminded of a point Buckingham made. Buckingham contends that women are generally less happy now than 40 years ago because they have so many choices, and they’re afraid they’ll pick the wrong ones. While I’m not sure about the entire supposition, I think he’s right about the effect of having so many choices: it seems to naturally lead to discontentment.

As we were driving to co-op this morning, we passed by an elementary school; the school day had already started. John was sitting in the front seat, looked at the school, and commented on how it’s “too bad” for the kids who have to go to school. (I’ve been trying to make the point to my children lately that they have more free time than many of their peers).

I thought back, then, to my own school days. I remember complaining if I had a lot of homework or if I wasn’t ready for a test, but I never thought of myself as unfortunate. We went to school — that’s just what we did.

But now we have more choices. We choose to homeschool, and in doing so I choose the curriculum. We have more free time, so we choose from the many activities available. We do so many things during the year: music lessons, art lessons, scouts, library programs, roller skating, ice skating, PE classes, clubs, field trips, holiday parties, and meeting with friends. So why, then, do my children come to me with grumpy faces and say, “Why can’t we go bowling sometime?”

We aren’t limited in the foods we eat either; we can have pizza one night, chicken the next, then soup and sandwiches, then tacos, then spaghetti. Why then, after fixing a full meal each night, do my children come again with grumpy faces and say, “Don’t we have anything else to eat?”

I often feel like I should give my children every opportunity I can that comes along. That will ensure, I think, that they will have a well-rounded and productive childhood, helping them to grow into fine adults. Yet somewhere, among all those choices, we tend to lose our sense of gratitude and contentment. These, I believe,  are two of the key elements to a truly happy life — and a good lesson to learn.

Find Your Strongest Life

findstronglifeFind Your Strongest Life, the latest book by Marcus Buckingham, is subtitled “What the Happiest and Most Successful Women Do Differently.” By the title alone, it seems like a book geared for women who are in the workforce. But what about a homeschooling mom?

I am constantly finding myself struggling to get everything done. I made the choice to homeschool my children, so I should be satisfied with that, shouldn’t I? Yet although it’s what I want to do, I feel the tug of other interests pulling on me constantly. So how should I use any spare time I may have? I make schedule after schedule for myself, trying to fit everything in — but it never does.

Buckingham’s title, then, intrigued me, so as a struggling homeschooler I jumped right in. In the first half of the book, he explains why women today are not as happy as they were forty years ago, despite the increase in opportunities. The information could have been condensed into a single chapter or two, and his comments are all directed towards women who work outside the home. But if you continue on into the second half, his insights are extremely helpful, even to the stay-at-home mom .

Buckingham has developed an online test for the reader to take to determine her personality type, then describes in detail the roles best-suited for each of these personalities. With that insight, the reader is encouraged to discover (or re-discover) those moments and activities in which they felt strong and energized. These are the moments in which she was doing what she was designed to do, the moments which create the strongest life.

Could that life be one of staying home and homeschooling your children? Absolutely!  But it can also include other things as well. What I found as I assessed my current activities is that while some of them are fulfilling, others are just “filler” —  depleting busywork that, while good activities for someone else, just aren’t right for me.

Buckingham also provides tips for strengthening your marriage and your children, a section I plan to go over again and again. Overall, Find Your Strongest Life is a must-read for any woman who is struggling with purpose, priorities, and a long to-do list.

Fun With a Garden Hose

hoseWe’re still in central Florida, and the temperatures have been high!  Last week they were in the mid-90s, but with the humidity, the weatherman said it felt more like 105 degrees. I’d say he was right. 

But this past Saturday, there was a lot going on in the house, so we moved all the young cousins outdoors — yes, even in the afternoon!  The children played on a tire swing tied to a large shade tree in the yard, but the fun didn’t last long. It was just too hot. That is, until we brought out the hose. 

We started by connecting it to a wide, rotating sprinkler that sprayed water overhead. I had suspected my five-year-old would enjoy it, but I was surprised when my two-year-old nephew joined in. Perhaps it was because his cousins were laughing as they were splattered, but he smiled too, even as he was sprayed squarely in the face. 

After about thirty minutes, one of the children picked up a cup and started filling it with water from the sprinkler. I went in to get some more, and soon everyone was filling up their cups and dumping the water on each other. We then pulled out the little wading pool, and soon they were trying to fill it up with the water in their cups. We unhooked the sprinkler and used the water directly from the hose, making the chore go a little faster.

 About thirty more minutes had past when some of the older ones realized it was going to take a lot of cupfuls to get the job done. We then unhooked the sprinkler and put the hose directly in the pool. A little dishsoap, and the pool was soon full of bubbles. They put the bubbles on their heads, their faces, each other. They put bubbles in bowls and stirred them up. They threw bubbles all around the yard. 

Who knew they’d have so much fun? About three hours since we first brought them out, the children were ready for supper, which was served on card tables outside as well. Then they all resumed playing until it was time to get ready for bed. It was a  well-spent afternoon – few quarrels and a good time together. I’m going to give it a try at home too — right after I buy a new hose.

Chart Jungle

list2Ask any of my kids, and they’ll tell you I’m a list-maker. I make lists for chores, lists for weekly activities, lists for daily activities, lists of items that need to be done, budgeting lists, and lists for schoolwork. I have my weekly, yearly, and 5-year goals written up in lists. My lists are on the fridge, on the bulletin board, and in the school notebooks. I am constantly revising and updating my lists – I think I even have lists about my lists.

If you like using lists as well, check out ChartJungle.com . Wendy Shepherd, the author of the site, has created free printables to help you get things organized. Not only will you find free calendars and charts for schedules and chores, but you’ll also find printables to help you with your money, your car, your weight loss goals, your health, your holiday activities, and much more. For the totally committed list-maker, there are even charts for recording the times you changed your baby’s diapers, when you had a reaction to an immunization, and when your child was nice to his sister.

ChartJungle also offers lists to help get your homeschool organized. You’ll find reading lists, report cards, number lines, graph paper, diplomas, and word lists. My favorites have been the school year calendars, which I use to record our school days and attendance.

The free newsletter is another nice feature of this site. After you sign up, you’ll receive periodic emails about the latest charts that have been added to ChartJungle. With so many charts available, it’s a good way to keep up with the changes without having to search the site. 

If you’re looking for ways to re-organize before the next school year, be sure to check out this site. If you can think of it, there’s probably a chart for it.