Homeschool Lessons from the Garden

August 30, 2012

My husband grew up working on the farm and in my large family, we always had a garden that needed tending.  In the era of computers, our kids are sometimes missing out on the lessons of hard work that were so valuable in our childhoods.

So, instead of doing most of the garden work myself this year, I tried even harder (than previous years) to enlist the kids.

My 4-year-old was excited at the beginning of the year to plant the “potatoes”.

He planted two in the buckets on the back deck and has since been very excited to pick and eat HIS own ripe tomatoes.

After the buckets, he was happy to help plant the others around the house and garden, but his favorite was wielding the big water “sword”.

When a friend invited us to come pick the rest of his green bean patch, we loaded up the buckets and the kids.

My husband and I had to laugh when 6 minutes in to the picking the first kid asked how long this was going to take, and were we almost done.

Instead we:

  • spent over an hour picking
  • sat and watched some TV while we snapped them for another hour or two
  • dumped them in boiling water for a few minutes followed by ice water (blanching to stop the ripening)
  • then all the kids helped spread them on dehydrator trays and a few went into the freezer.

The result:

Dehydrated green beans that came out light and crispy and made a great dry snack.  We’ll make sure to add a little salt next time before dehydrating.

Even better, since the kids were involved in all the work from start to finish, everyone was happy to munch on the veggie snack instead of turning their noses up at the idea.

We’ve also picked, washed, and stripped elderberries from our bushes and dehydrated them for future anti-viral winter teas:

Any uneaten tomatoes are being dehydrated to go in future chili, spaghetti sauce, and sun-dried tomato recipes.

Just a few weeks ago, we spent three hours on a Saturday weeding, pulling up all the old peas and greens that had gone to seed, and planting new ones for a nice fall crop.

Just a few of the results of our ‘hard work’ lessons this year:

  • There’s plenty of time to have great discussions while weeding – everything from biomes, plant cycles, to someone’s latest Minecraft creation.  Fellow workers are a captive audience.
  • There’s some satisfaction in eating something you grew right from the beginning.
  • Kids are more likely to eat veggies they grew and less likely to waste them.
  • You feel a bit closer to your siblings after working together on a tough job.
  • You have a greater sense of appreciation for how much work Mom does on a regular basis. 🙂

Overall, we’ve had a great gardening unit study so far this year, and it’s not even over.

Posted under Homeschool Life

Spring is here – get out your Nature Journals

April 3, 2012

We’ve been having so much fun with the amazing weather lately.  Here’s a fun idea:

Nature Journal Recipe


  • 1 fine spring day
  • 1 notebook (from the box of 40 you bought for $0.10 each last fall)
  • 1 or 2 pale, pasty-skinned kids who’ve been cooped up all winter
  • 2 flowers (preferably NOT from the neighbors tulip bed)
  • 1 dead worm
  • 2 rocks (see below)
  • 1 piece of lavender branch that can be rubbed and smelled
  • 1 3-leafed clover (see weeds do have a place in the front lawn)
  • tape
  • a marker
  • crayons and colored pencils
  • a camera


  1. Turn off the TV and all video games.
  2. Point out the beautiful sunshine outside and open the front door.
  3. Drag reluctant kids outside and shut the door behind them.
  4. Point out trees, flowers, weeds, bugs, and anything else you can spot.
  5. Pretty soon the kids will get excited and start collecting all kinds of things.
  6. Attempt to tape items into their journal.
  7. When the 3-year-old has a fit that he wants to tape his rocks onto the page, take a picture, print it, and let him tape that into his journal.
  8. Help kids draw and illustrate their findings.
  9. Smile!  It’s spring!

Posted under Homeschool Activities, Homeschool Life

What do you do with crazy energy during the winter?

January 18, 2012

Ok, I need some ideas. We’re reaching that point during the winter where the kids are going nuts from being stuck indoors.

What do you do to keep the kids active during the cold months?

If you have something that works for your kids, take a second and add it to the comment section and maybe we can come up with a nice list to help us all keep our sanity this winter.


Here’s my idea:

We got the two boys a mid-sized trampoline (8 feet, I think) for Christmas.  It just fits in the basement and we’re planning to move it out to the deck in the spring.  Before that, we’ve had good luck with a simple exercise trampoline and a blow-up jumping ball pit, though the blow-up was not very durable with five kids using it.  It only lasted a year or so.

What works for you?

Posted under Homeschool Life

Pet Care – A Valuable Life Lesson For Our Children

June 29, 2011

Thanks to Isabella York for this Guest Post!

Teaching your children life lessons entails patience, hard work, creativity and most of all, resourcefulness. Homeschooling your kids (and the simple act of being a parent to them) is quite tough, given the fact that their learning mainly depends on what you instill in their minds. Then again, there are just some things that you cannot teach them – things that only other people (or in this case, other life forms) can teach. According to Rebecca Reynolds Weil of the Animal as Intermediaries program, animals play a significant part in making children feel empathy and curiosity. Like the way future parents are taught how to extend their patience when they finally have kids to take care of, children are given valuable life lessons when given the chance to take care of their own pets. The following are five life lessons that we learn from caring for animals:

  1. Empathy. Children who have their own pets become curious about everything in connection to the animal. They become inquisitive and interested in their pet’s feelings, developing empathy and a wider understanding of how the pet is supposed to be taken care of. This empathy then extends and translates into compassion for the greater world. It’s just like making them feel how we are supposed to think of other people’s feelings! Pet care somehow prepares them for a deeper involvement in everything that surrounds them.
  2. Resilience. Although not all children have been through traumatic experiences, it is significant and very beneficial to give your kid a chance to feel that he or she is a part of someone else’s life to avoid self seclusion due to changes in the environment. The feeling of belongingness and importance is a great contribution to the adaptation capability of a child. Say for example you move to a new address and let your kid attend regular school – there are changes in the environment which can cause your kid to feel alone or isolated. But with a pet to care for and nurture, the child knows that there is someone who needs him or her, and therefore does not feel lonely.
  3. Communication. Kids become very attentive to the needs and feelings of their pets. They learn how to listen to their pets’ desires through different cues and signs. In the course of taking care of an animal, a kid learns to differentiate when the pet is hungry, sleepy, angry or happy. He develops the desire to know all the things that his or her pet asks for, and learns to apply this lesson in real life. As he encounters different kinds of people later on, the child then knows how to listen and understand body language as a way to empathize. In essence, he learns to value effective communication in order to understand another person.
  4. Confidence. The lives of children may seem like an easy cycle of playing, watching TV, eating, laughing, and all those fun things! Well, if you think this is what your child is going through each day, you might as well think again. Children go through a vicious cycle of endless judgment. Their grades, physical fitness, manners, performances and actions are evaluated and ranked. They are unintentionally put in a world where they are forced to compete with others, think of their limitations and mull on their mistakes resulting to wavering self esteem and irresolute identity formation. Yes, the life of children is a tough series of worries. You have been through a similar cycle, and I know it has not been very easy. As for your kid, pet care can be very helpful in developing confidence – in as simple as the kid feels that he or she is important to the pet without being evaluated because of every little thing that he or she has done in the past, the kid feels secured and more confident.
  5. Responsibility. Considerably one of the most important life lessons that pet care can bring to your child, learning how to take care of another living thing is something he or she can make use of as he or she grows older. This part should be carefully watched and guided by parents, as taking care of another living being requires a sense of responsibility. As time goes by, your kid learns how to give the pet a bath without your supervision, feed him or her on time without your reminders, and basically take care of the animal and keep him happy and fit. It is a great leap forward in actually learning how to take care of others (people and things), and is something only experience can teach. Your kid grows up physically and emotionally, and becomes satisfied because of his or her capability in nurturing his or her pet.

Getting a pet for your kid may mean you will have to wipe animal dirt off the carpet during the first couple of days, weeks or months. It may also mean you will be taking care of an additional family member thus more effort on your side. But all the life lessons it can teach your kid should be more than enough to say you are willing to wipe your dog’s dirt off the carpet everyday!

A busy mother with a son to raise, Isabella York enjoys being outside in her back yard garden. She helps people celebrate the holidays with Artificial Christmas Trees from Balsam Hill, a provider of fine pre-lit Christmas Trees.

Posted under Homeschool Life

How to Get your Kids to do Their School – Part 3 – Stickers

March 28, 2011

photo by ionascloset

Stickers are often used to motivate toddlers, but what about older kids?  Here’s are a few ways we’ve resurrected the use of stickers to motivate kids around here.

My 9-year-old daughter has a tendency to ‘fortune tell’ or predict her failure with statements like, “I’ll never get my school done in time,” or “My room a huge disaster.  I can never get it all cleaned up.”  Then she’ll usually sit and mope the day away, miss play-dates or activities, and end the day in a sobbing puddle of failure.

I try to let natural consequences do the teaching (when I remember), but she leaves me baffled at times.  She’ll be so upset to have missed a fun activity because her work wasn’t done, and I’ll think that she’s surely learned a lesson, until she does the same thing the next time around.  The point of this long story:  My daughter does much better with a big job broken up into many small easy tasks.  Think of the old adage:  “How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time.”

So, I tried to help her break her tasks into small pieces like, pick up the clothes, then the toys, then the books, then the trash.  Yeah, didn’t work so well either.

Turns out I had to break down the rewards too.  If she had to get all her chores and all her school done to earn media time that she really didn’t care too much about, she didn’t really bother.

So, I needed small rewards and small consequences, to aid her baby steps of progress.  Here’s what I used:

  • Small prizes:  A great garage sale find during the summer of an entire set of 30 pet shop animals with a playset for five or so dollars.  It had been sitting in the gift box waiting for a good occasion.
  • Small rewards:  I made a little chart for my daughter to put her stickers on, fanned out the sets of stickers from our craft box and had her pick her favorite.  Then I explained that any of her responsibilities that she did without being asked, she could put a sticker on her chart.  For every 15 stickers she could pick out a pet shop animal.  So every day, she had the potential to earn 11 stars:  six stars for each of her school subjects, four stars for each of her cleaning chores, and a star for dishes if it was her week.  The tiny ‘bite of the elephant’ associated with each star worked extremely well for her.  She had little rewards for each thing she did, instead of a big one for doing everything.
  • Small consequences:  There was an added benefit.  The two of us had fallen into a nasty habit of me nagging her continually before she would get up and do much of anything.  The more I nagged, the more she resisted, sneaking off, and the more angry I got.  If I tried to come up with a consequence, she’d just get angrier and still not do much of anything.  I really need a small consequence that I could hand out calmly multiple times a day if needed.  The stickers were perfect.  I could hand them out any time I saw her working on something on her own initiative and I could calmly mention what a bummer it was that I needed to take one off because I had to remind her a second time to take out the overflowing trash.

So, if you’re looking for an idea to motivate or hand out consequences in small baby steps, try giving stickers another chance.

(Another fun idea is to try custom sticker printing available at

Do you use stickers or small rewards to successfully motivate your kids?  I’d love to hear ideas!


P.S.  If you’d like to help your kids (or yourself) change their doom-and-gloom thinking patterns like my daughter ‘fortune telling’ or predicting that she will fail, please check out the book “Feeling Good” by David Burns.  I can’t recommend it highly enough.  It’s helped my own depression and helped me teach real tools to my kids when their thinking patterns lead them down that path.

Posted under Homeschool Life

How to Get your Kids to do Their School – Part 2 – Media Time

March 21, 2011

Experimenting with unlimited TV and computer games led to my boys stuck to the screens all day long (my daughter, however could really care less).  I waiting, hoping, they would eventually get their fill and move back to playing outdoors or with their Legos, but it didn’t happen.

So we ended up using computer games and TV as a reward for finishing their school.  Originally everyone could have 2 hours of time a day once they finished their school.  The idea was that this would motivate the kids to get busy so they could play sooner.  There was a bit of a deadline in that everything got turned off for chore time an hour before dinner, but kids could still ‘spend’ their time up until bedtime.

Kids were responsible for setting their own times to keep track of their 2 hours.  Do you already see a problem developing here?  I could never be sure the timers were being used honestly, so we put separate log-ins on the computer for each child with a time counter that would kick them off after 2 hours.  But, that didn’t do anything for the TV, the Nintendo DS’s, or the Wii.  And finally, no one thought they should have to use any of their time if they were ‘just watching’ a sibling play a game.

The result: Whole afternoons and evenings would go by where it seemed like the kids were constantly gaming, and somehow they all still claimed to have one more half hour left up until bedtime.  I felt like a hated policeman and beautiful sunny days were passing unappreciated.  My husband wasn’t too pleased either, because when he came home from work the kids were too busy ‘spending’ their computer time to want to do anything with day.  I was at my wit’s end and ready to get rid of the games and TV altogether.

The solution: One night I had an epiphany.  Instead of trying to keep track of five children and their two hours each, why didn’t I just pick a 2 hour timeslot during the day and everyone who’d finished their chores and school could play during the newly dubbed “Media Time”.

Here’s how ‘Media Time’ works now at our house:

  • Media Time is from 2 to 4 pm every day.
  • Chore time is from 4 pm until we say the blessing on dinner.  If you have your evening chores done and checked off before the blessing, you’ve earned one half hour of your media time for the following day.
  • Morning chores (teeth, clothes, bed, etc.) need to be done before dad goes to work, earning you another half hour of media time.
  • Finishing your six school subjects earns you the last hour of media time (or 1/2 hr for 3).
  • If you didn’t earn all your media time, you have to start late (not finish early), ie. start at 3 pm if you only earned 1 hour of media time.
  • Everything gets turned off at 4 pm.  Too many running past 4 pm, and everyone loses a day of media time.

I used a calendar in MS Word and just added initials and little lines for kids to check off how much time they earned. (C – chores, M – morning chores, S – school)  We don’t always use it, since the kids haven’t had any trouble remembering how much they’ve earned.

So, far media time has done wonders limiting all the screen time, arguing, and cheating.

Benefits of the new system:

  • Everyone in the house can now tell time – at least 2 o’clock and 4 o’clock 🙂
  • Aside from that one chunk of time, the kids are now running around outside, making up games with each other, and in general, participating in life again.
  • Dad gets lots of time with the kids again.  They just played a marathon Monopoly game together last night.
  • My policing load has dropped considerably.
  • The 2 pm deadline adds a new level of motivation, since it comes pretty quickly.  The “You snooze, you lose” concept is very motivating.  Chores and school are being done much more consistently lately.
  • An unexpected bonus:  my daughter is interacting a lot more with the four boys since they have to all play their time together.

How about your house?  Do you limit media time or have ways to keep it from becoming an obsession or cause of contention?  I’d love ideas and suggestions!



Posted under Homeschool Life

How to Get your Kids to do Their School – Part 1 – The White Board

March 14, 2011

Here’s how the fantasy version of homeschooling played out in my head, before I ever started:

My kids would be free to explore whatever subject fascinated them.  They would find a subject that caught their interest, like dinosaurs.  Then we’d check out books at the library, get a model building kit, bury some plastic dinosaurs in the sand box to be excavated, etc.  My child would run from activity to activity, enthralled with learning since he/she wasn’t being forced to follow the strict and often boring schedule of public school.  (I’m an unschooler at heart.)

Then reality intruded.

“I HATE school!”

“Why do we have to do this?”

Left to their own devices, my kids gravitated to the TV and computer games.  We used comic books and fun chapter book series to encourage early reading, but then had a hard time getting the kids to pick up anything non-fiction or non-Harry Potter genre.

I was horrified.  How could they hate being free to learn anything they wanted at their own pace?  They had no idea how good they had it.  I only had a few required subjects, mainly math, reading, and writing, that if they would sit down and get busy could be done in one to two hours a day.  The rest of our ‘school’ is unschooled and learned through what we experience and pursue during the rest of the day.  But getting them to do those couple hours of ‘school’ was torture and would often drag on for the whole day.

So, I thought I’d start an article series about the different strategies and techniques I’ve used to motivate and encourage my kids to “Just Do Your School!”  Some have worked, some have failed, and many work for a time and only for specific children.  That’s why I’d like to put a bunch of ideas out there and hope that one helps you for a specific child.  Please feel free to send me ideas (I’m always looking for new ones) by adding a comment.

The White Board

Take five kids doing five different levels of school in a variety of subjects and it’s a nightmare to keep track of.  Besides, I’m really committed to teaching my children to be self starters for both practical and sanity reasons.  I simply don’t have the time to sit with all five of them every day and teach them each of their subjects.  It works much better for them to do as much work as they can and come discuss it with me when they’re done or need help.

Our solution is a big white board.  After redrawing a grid over and over, I finally figured out that using electrical tape, carefully cut lengthwise into skinnier strips, made a nice ‘permanent’ grid on the board.  The kids’ names go across the top and the school subjects and chores are written down the left side.  To check something off, the kids write the first letter of that day, ie. on Monday, they write an “M” next to math when they have it done.  After multiple evolutions, I added a few rules to help make the white board idea work better:

  • Kids have to report on their lesson to me, and put away their books before they can check off a subject.  The side benefit of this is they develop oral reporting, summarizing, and teaching skills and it helps their lessons sink in better.
  • School and chores are not considered done unless checked off on the board, eliminating having to repeatedly ask, “Have you done your chores?  Is your school done?”  I just walk to the board and check.
  • Cheating by checking something off they haven’t done results in no privileges (explained in another post) that day.

(I considered cleaning up our old workhorse for the picture, but this is how it usually looks, so . . .)

Do you have a calendar system or white board that works for you?  I’d love new ideas.


P.S.  I know many homeschoolers have different teaching philosophies and what works for one may not work for others.  Just as in all schooling choices I respect each family’s decision to do what works best for them.

Posted under Homeschool Life

10 Treats to Keep your Children Cool – Guest Post

August 3, 2010

(Thank you to Kathryn Jones for her guest post and fun ideas for hot summer days!)

When I was little I spent hours outside in the summer. My favorite pastime was digging holes in the dirt with my mother’s kitchen tablespoons. (Boy, did she love that!) Digging long driveways underground for matchbox cars was “the thing” then, and far surpassed playing anything inside the house. Being outside where other kids were doing similar things in their own backyards had its own charm.

I remember one particularly great day, a friend of mine was moving. Although the fact that she was moving away was not great, but what was splendid, was the Going Away Party my mom threw. There, right in the side yard along with my car tunnels, she’d placed a small table with a pretty cloth, and on it were the pinkest, coldest, yummiest looking drinks I’d ever seen.

My friend was smiling grandly. I was probably doing the same. But, what I remember most was how good the drink tasted, and how my friend and I giggled all the way down to the end of the tall glass. It was only later, when my friend was gone, and the tears had dried, that I asked my mom what we’d had to drink.

“Pink Lassies,” she said.

“Pink dogs?” I offered.

“No. It’s a drink made with ice-cream,” my mom said.

And so I offer it today, along with nine other cool summer treats kids (big and small) will love.

Pink Lassie
I cup cranberry juice
¼ cup orange juice
I cup vanilla ice-cream
Mix in blender until smooth; makes two servings.

Easy Popsicles
Fill ice-cube trays with your favorite juice. Place toothpicks inside each cubed section. Freeze until ready to serve. (Or freeze a larger version in a plastic cup with a Popsicle stick inserted).

Frozen Bananas
Skin banana. Cut banana in half. Push banana onto Popsicle stick. Freeze in plastic wrap until ready to serve. (For an extra-special treat, roll banana in melted chocolate before freezing. Place on waxed paper on a cookie tray and freeze).

Frozen Fruit in a Bag
1 bag of frozen or fresh mixed fruit
Small freezer bags
Allow the bag of frozen mixed fruit to unthaw a bit; just enough to be able to work with the fruit. Separate the fruit into small freezer bags. Freeze. When ready to eat, let the bags set out for about 15 minutes. Serve. (Grapes are great as a frozen treat).

Ice-cube Heaven
Place three or four large ice-cubes in a plastic cup. Serve. This treat is especially great for one and two year olds.

Jell-O Squares
3 packages (3 oz.) Jell-O
1 (4 pack) Knox unflavored gelatin
4 c. boiling water

Mix ingredients and pour into glass pan. Set. Cut into squares and serve. Do not refrigerate to set.

Yogurt Fruit Salad
As easy as it sounds. Mix your favorite fruit with just enough vanilla yogurt to cover. (Allow frozen fruit to sit out for a bit and mix with yogurt when it is still partially frozen).

Ice-Cream in a Bag
There are various sites that have the recipe for this great treat. Try MomsWhoThink or Kaboose for some great recipes.

Orange Julius
6 oz. frozen orange juice concentrate
I cup milk
I cup water
½ cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
Mix all ingredients together in a blender and serve. (Slowly adding ice-cubes until you get the drink to desired consistency is best).

Yummy Slush
(This recipe comes from my grandmother)1 46 oz. can unsweetened pineapple juice
1 6 oz. can frozen lemonade
1 6 oz. can frozen orange juice
7 bananas, either whipped in a blender or mashed with a fork
2 Quarts 7Up
Place mixture in containers and freeze until solid. To serve, let mixture stand out for a short time, then mix with 2 quarts 7Up. The more 7Up you add the more like a punch it becomes.
With the summer heat upon us, these cool treats are sure to be a hit!

Kathryn Jones is a freelance writer. She is currently a resident writer for Online Schools, which researches areas of higher learning, how to pick an online school, and education. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, home decorating and ice-cream. Learn more about Kathryn and her work at: A River of Stones.

Posted under Homeschool Life

Homeschool Sushi Boy

June 10, 2010

Proud boy with a plate of sushi he made himself.  I just love that I get to be home with my kids and teach them things like making sushi.  Here is some of the fun we had learning how to make sushi:

  • looked up recipe online
  • bought ingredients at the store
  • read and followed directions
  • Learned some fine motor and detail work, patience, and perseverance – assembling, rolling, and cutting 10 rolls of the stuff.
  • Math – how much did we save when 8 rolls costs $6 at the store and we made 50 rolls for the cost of our ingredients and labor.  The result is about $40 worth of sushi for about $8.  🙂

The best part?  Everyone got to eat as much as they could until they were full.  The even better part?  My kids are learning how to make dinner!!

How much ‘school’ do you do in the kitchen?  Do you have any kid friendly recipes and activities to share?


Posted under Homeschool Life

School at the Park – Ideas to Make Homeschooling Fun

April 21, 2010

Jacob has just discovered the most amazing creation in the universe . . . THE PARK!  He bolts out of the car when we get there and runs from slide to swing to climbing wall the whole time we’re there.  I’d love to suck some of that energy out for myself.  Any ideas on how to do that?

So, this morning he headed out to the garage to throw away his diaper (starting chores early :-)) and before I knew it, he had climbed into the van, up into his car seat and told me very firmly, “Park!”

The rest of us finished our writing (while Jacob screamed at us) and then loaded up our school books, hats, water bottles, a box of crackers, and headed to the park to do school.

Here’s how much more fun it is to do school at the park:

Alex had jotted down his spelling words and I quizzed him while he circled me on his scooter.

The slide and the swing sure spiced up Brooke’s reading, so she didn’t mind so much (We’re waiting patiently for her to discover that reading is fun!)

And here’s a video of Jacob happily practiced his colors (though the red step kept throwing him) and crazy toddler jumping skills.  That’s what happens when you have three older brothers to show you what kind of acrobatics are possible, even if you’re not quite 2-years-old yet:

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Posted under Homeschool Life