Solar Eclipse 2017

Many moons ago I took the Science Praxis exam required in our state for those pursuing a teaching certification for K-8 science. On the essay portion of the exam I had to illustrate and explain how a solar eclipse worked. Recently I tried to explain this same thing to my seven year old while walking in the Target parking lot to the car. My earlier written response was far better than my extemporaneous parking lot explanation. With the upcoming eclipse there are many exciting resources available to help you and your children learn about this rare event.

NASA has a homeschool resource on the eclipse.

The information is very child friendly and there are activities to help illustrate how the moon (400 times smaller than the sun) can appear to block the sun (which by happy coincidence is about 400 times further away from earth than the moon). There are a variety of related science and math activities math as well as language arts and cultural arts extension activities.

Where we live we will not be able to view a total eclipse, we will see about a 70% view. This map from NASA shows the path of totality of the eclipse.


In order to view the eclipse safely you will need a special solar filter or eclipse glasses.

eclipse-glassWe just purchased ours at Lowes Home Improvement for about $1.99. I had contacted our local planetarium to see if they would have any for purchase, and they referred me to my local Lowes store. There are some bogus glasses out there, so to know if you have the real deal, when you look through them everything should be black except the sun, you shouldn’t be able to see anything else through them including artificial lighting in your home.

Check your local library to see if they are hosting a viewing event, many got a grant through Google for free glasses.  If you have a planetarium nearby they may also be hosting an eclipse event using their sun filters. I cannot wait to see posts and pictures from everyone’s viewing parties in a few weeks! I will make sure to follow up here on all that we learn and our reflections on the eclipse.

Audiobooks Rock!

We are about halfway through summer and have had a busy two weeks. While shuffling the kids to camp and appointments we have been listening to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Audiobooks have been a great way for us to squeeze in some books when we have a lot of running around to do. With camp and then vacation bible school, we took 2 weeks off from our official schoolwork, though we have only been doing about 2-3 reading/language lessons a week over the summer. All the added time in the car has allowed us to nearly finish this book. The kids are getting very excited as the tension has been building and they are convinced Snape is up to no good. I have never read the book before, but have seen the movies. I am loving all of the little jokes and witticisms that didn’t make it to the movie. I am also loving Jim Dale’s narration. He brings the characters to life without sounding silly, which is not an easy task. There is enough distinction in the way he reads each character that they are easily distinguishable without being over the top with their accents/pitch etc. I am looking forward to watching the movie together once we have finished the book.

Now that I think of it, all of the audio books we have listened to have been made into movies, though this has not been intentional. In the winter we listened to Matilda narrated by Kate Winslet. I highly recommend it. Kate’s narration was great and we really enjoyed this book, though there were a few scary moments for my youngest, but I assured her that it had a happy ending and she was able to get through them. Later this spring we listened to Ella Enchanted. I was less thrilled about the narrator of this one, but grew used to her as the book went. I had read a sample of Ella Enchanted one night searching for books for the kids and really found the writing engaging. It had lots of suspenseful moments and there were many times that we remained in the car listening even though we had reached our destination.

Next title on our audiobook adventure is something a bit different from what we’ve listened to thus far. D’Aulaires Book of Greek Myths has been recommended multiple times on one of the homeschooler groups that I belong to on Facebook. On a lark, I checked the library that Folkdaddy works at and it turns out they had it in audio, so we will be listening to that next.



Our Road Trip to Virginia


Recently we hit the road for two days to Alexandria, Virginia for a wedding. We wanted to try to squeeze in some other activities, but knew it would be tough between the short timeframe and wedding related activities. Washington D.C. is only about 20 minutes from where we were staying so we decided to stop at the Smithsonian National Zoo on our way down. Our main motivation was that our kids have never seen pandas other than on television and my husband and I both have fond memories of seeing them as children at the same zoo.

The trip down was pretty smooth; we had a little hiccup trying to find parking, but used the Parking Panda app and paid for parking about 5 blocks away. It was 90 degrees out so we came prepared with out spray bottle fan from our time at Disney and plenty of water (which I accidentally left in the van). The entrance to the zoo is lush with green plants and tall bamboo (we were very grateful for the shade it provided). We were a little discouraged as we walked around because many of the animals seemed to be in areas that they could not be observed, but given the heat, we understood. We had to make this a relatively quick trip because we had dinner plans, but we were so excited to get to see the pandas! The pandas were hanging out in their indoor enclosures and we got to see them snacking. We also learned that many of the enrichment treats/activities they use with the pandas are things that our dog Duffy would love. One of the ideas was to freeze apple slices in a container with water and then the pandas play with it to get to the fruit. This idea combines two of Duffy’s favorite things: apples and ice! They also use a toy that reminded us of a jumbo Kong type toy.

As stated earlier, the main purpose of the trip was for a wedding. One of Folkdaddy’s little brothers got married in a beautiful ceremony the Carlyle House. It was an enchanting historical location with picturesque gardens. The ceremony itself was held on the patio area and was lovely. Afterwards the ceremony we made our way to Virtua Feed and Grain for the reception.


(View of gardens from the balcony)

Virtua Feed and Grain is not your typical wedding reception spot. It is a trendy restaurant in a building that was an actual feed house in the 1800’s. It was a very cozy reception and the dance floor was packed all night. We then took the shuttle back to our hotel for some much needed rest before packing up to drive home.

We would love to return to Alexandria to explore more, though we would probably do so in the fall, as the heat tired our crew out. The town was very kid and pet friendly. All of the little shops had water bowls out for your furry friends and many café’s had outdoor seating where pets were welcome. We look forward to experiencing more next time we visit.

Planning Summer Fun on a Budget

School just ended for my 2 oldest (though my homeschoolers will continue to work through the summer on a flexible schedule). The kids are more than ready to put this school year behind them, and my husband and I are ready to embrace sleeping in a little!

Summer, while highly anticipated, can be a challenge mentally and financially. Camps and activities are expensive and sibling spats seem to increase as the temperature does. Here are some ways that we have managed to keep the kids busy without breaking the bank.

Camps: Three of our girls are Girl Scouts and have enjoyed our local council’s day camp. Two of them will again be attending camp for a week this summer. Girl Scouts offers leader discounts, early bird discounts, sibling discounts, etc. which help bring the already reasonable cost down quite a bit. In addition, there is funding available to families that struggle financially to help cover the cost for camp. We have done longer multi week sessions of camp, but have found for our kids they get burnt out a bit if it is too long of a session.

Other camp options are the YMCA camps (that also have financial assistance if needed), township run summer recreation camps (which I hear not all states/towns have), park system run camps, and 4h camps.

Libraries: Libraries have some great resources year round. Unfortunately our local library does not participate in the program where they loan out passes to local museums and gardens, but luckily Folkdaddy works at a library that does. Last summer we borrowed the passes for a local sculpture garden and a museum. Each of those trips would have cost over $100 if we were to pay out of pocket, so it was a huge savings.

Vacation Bible School: We are secular homeschoolers, but our children receive religious education through the Sunday school program at our church. One of their favorite parts of summer is the Vacation Bible School program. They have been attending since my oldest was 3 years old! Now my oldest two volunteer to help run the program while my younger participate in the program. I facilitate the music portion of the program, so it is a very busy week. Many VBS programs are low cost and are very fun experiences for kids.

Season Passes/Memberships: If you are planning to go to an amusement park or museum, a membership or season pass may work out to be a better deal. We live close to a Six Flags, so it makes sense for us to spring for the season pass so we can go to the park throughout the summer. We also have done memberships to museums because it equaled the cost of one visit, with the bonus we could return as many times as we liked for the next year.

Backyard Fun: If you are lucky enough to have a pool then you have a huge source of summer entertainment right there. We put up an Intex frame pool, and though it is small it is used daily. Anything involving water is a huge hit with my kids! They love bunch o balloons, water squirters (we usually load up on the cheap $1 pencil type ones at the dollar store), slip and slides, and sprinklers. I also stock up on bubbles and sidewalk chalk. We use our fire pit quite a bit in the summer and try all different variations of s’mores. While we love the traditional s’more, we like using stripe cookies in place of the graham cracker and chocolate; we sandwich the roasted marshmallow between 2 stripe cookies. We have also used chocolate covered graham cookies in the same way.

Let the kids be bored: When I was a kid, I was not shuffled from activity to activity. I did do a week of day camp a few summers, but other than that I was pretty much on my own to occupy myself. I played with my dolls in elaborate dramatic scenarios, I made artwork to create an art museum at home, I played in the dirt in the yard and swung as high as I could on my swing set without it completely lifting off the ground. When my neighbors were available, we created plays, put on concerts, made mud pies, made forts and dressed up. Other times we would camp in front of the TV and watch a movie and have popcorn. Though I had very few structured activities over the summer as a child, I still had a blast. I have to remind myself it is ok to let the kids be bored. It is at these times, that they have some of their most creative moments.

Our First Unit Study!

We have recently begun our first unit study on “First Americans”. My kids are big fans of graphic novels and comics and when I learned about the Chester Comix series, I knew I had to give it a try. (Affiliate link)


As an avid Tony Hillerman reader, I was very excited because right off the bat in the Prologue, the comic talks about the Bering Straight Land Bridge and the migration of people from Asia to North America. Then in Chapter 1 the Anasazi people (frequently discussed in Hillerman’s novels) are introduced. It is always a bonus when mom is excited about the material; I think it helps energize the kids.

Chester Comix offers free PDF teacher guides; here is the link to the one for the First Americans.

Before reading the prologue, we discussed continental drift. We identified the continents and used paper cut outs to investigate it.

After reading about the Pueblo Indians, we watched a YouTube video of a woman creating pottery in the Pueblo tradition. We then used air-dry clay to make our own creations (they started as pots, turned into Pokemon- it seems everything lately turns into Pokemon). We also read additional books on the Pueblos from the library.

We are about to start Chapter 2 on Pocahontas. My kids are excited to identify the differences from the Disney version.

I am hoping to tie in some gardening, more art and more geography as we work through the next two chapters.

I am a beginner in the realm of unit studies, but after starting this one, I understand the appeal. It is great to make real connections while studying a central theme.

Tips For a Backstage Drama Momma (Papa, Grandma, Grandpa etc.)

Theater stage vector illustration

So far I have written a lot about my youngest and our homeschooling adventures. My oldest two daughters had a very busy and exciting week last week. It was tech week for their middle school performance of Annie Jr., culminating in two performances over the weekend. This was not my first drama performance rodeo, but with both children in the play, it was my most stressful exhilarating.

Here are some tips if you find yourself assisting backstage for any rehearsals or performances.

  1. Coffee is your friend. Pack your best travel mug with your favorite blend of coffee (you will need it!).
  2. Pack your favorite hydrating beverage. Personally I am not a huge water lover (I try) but prefer iced tea. You will dehydrate between the previously mentioned coffee and running around assisting frantic tweens/teens with costume malfunctions and lost props. Load up on water, tea, whatever you like.
  3. Do not forget safety pins! It is inevitable, a hem will fall, a strap will break, a button bulge will appear and safety pins are a quick and easy way to fix them.
  4. Invest in a warehouse-sized bottle of hairspray! You must shellac those updo’s.
  5. Bobby pins are perfect for any stray strands or gravity-defying do.
  6. Bring extra deodorant for your sweaty teen. On the day of the dress rehearsal the backstage holding area went from smelling like pine and paint to a locker room by the end of the day.
  7. Wear comfy shoes because you will most likely be on your feet for many hours.
  8. Last but not least, it never hurts to have some band-aids on hand in case of shoes rubbing or a bleeding hangnail.

Now that you are prepared, enjoy the crazy and fun whirlwind of your child’s performance!!!! You both will treasure these memories for years.

Where We Are At In Our Homeschool Journey

I just wanted to take a moment and reflect on where we started and where we are currently at on our first year of homeschooling. The primary reason we began homeschooling was because our two youngest children were not thriving in public school and it did not seem the appropriate setting for their needs. My main focus and goal at the outset of our homeschooling journey was to remediate my 9 year-old’s reading. She was receiving resource room for reading in public school but did not seem to be making any progress. The best analogy I could come up with was that she has a great command of language expressive and aurally, but when it comes to reading the words on the page, it was how I read a foreign language like Spanish. There are some words I can pick out but I cannot decipher enough to put true meaning to it.

So here we are. After some research I chose to start both girls with All About Reading level 1. I started at level 1 to address any gaps that there might be in their learning. I thought they would be able to do the lessons together at first, but knew eventually one would outpace the other. It happened much sooner than I thought! Beaver (my nine year old) is just about to finish AAR level 1. It is wonderful to see how much confidence she has gained through this program! We will begin AAR level 2 and add All About Spelling level 1. Bear Bear (6 year old) is also progressing nicely through AAR level 1.

For math we have been working on math skills mostly through workbooks. The Sylvan 3 in 1’s are our favorite at this point. Both girls prefer a 100’s chart over unifex cubes or 10’s bars when it comes to manipulatives. We try to tie in number sense throughout our daily life (they are very into counting coins), and will review analog clock skills soon.

Regarding handwriting, we are using Handwriting Without Tears. Truth be told, Bear Bear has shed some tears. She is a perfectionist and gets very upset when she cannot get things to look just right. Thankfully this has improved greatly over time.

The girls are very into science and we focused in the fall on rock formation and geology. They are avid Steven Universe fans and quickly absorbed the information regarding the characters’ namesake gemstones. We have just started focusing on science in a more formal way. We are currently studying matter (sparked by an observation by the girls regarding states of matter). We have begun work in a science journal and love Crash Course Kids. We are picking apart the concepts in the Crash Course Kids matter compilation on YouTube and finding ways to investigate them using materials we have on hand.

Social Studies have been informal, relying on library books and Youtube. The 4h homeschool club we belong to also does a geography club event each month focused on a different country. Beaver also participated in World Thinking Day through Girl Scouts and learned about China, in particular Hong Kong.

The girls recently completed a four-week homeschool art class and it was wonderful. They learned about Monet, Van Gough, and Matisse and completed artworks inspire by them. They also do arts and crafts activities in their weekly homeschool club through the 4h. I love arts and crafts so they always have materials available to them. This week has been all about modeling clay. I plan to build on their affinity for this by introducing different sculpting materials and tools.

Here are a couple of their paintings from art class:



Physical Fitness also has been informal. We try to get outside anytime that we can weather permitting. I love taking them to different parks to explore different trails. They also frequently ride their scooters to the park where they hunt for Pokemon. Many walks have been extended due to the need to hatch an egg in Pokemon Go, so that has been a tool in getting them to move more. We recently joined the YMCA and Beaver takes a kid’s fitness class, unfortunately Bear Bear is not quite old enough, but when the class is over we often swim afterwards.

We are still getting our footing; homeschooling is definitely a fluid experience, always analyzing and adjusting. I plan on continuing to school through the summer with lots of swimming, beach and trips added to the mix. I am very happy with our experience so far and look forward to continuing on this journey.


All About Reading