Homeschool Discoveries

Sharing a few things I've discovered along the way…

U is for Unless… August 10, 2013

Filed under: Thoughts — kirstenjoyhill @ 7:39 pm

Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain”  (Psalm 127:1 NIV).

This verse jumped to mind right away as I was thinking about what to write about for my “U” post in the “Blogging through the Alphabet” challenge.   I like to plan, and I like to accomplish tasks.    When it comes to homeschooling, it’s really easy for me to work hard on the to-do list, and forget to pray, and lift all my plans up to the Lord.   I want the Lord to build our “house” of our kids’ education, and allow him to direct me as I plan and carry out our school year.




I’m linking up with Blogging through the Alphabet @ Ben and Me!
Blogging Through the Alphabet


Collage Friday: Time Flies… August 9, 2013

Filed under: Weekly Highlights — kirstenjoyhill @ 11:12 pm

You know how it goes…time flies…when you are…having fun, preparing for Vacation Bible Camp, preparing for a big road-trip vacation, oh and getting ready for a new school year all at the same time!  I looked back today and realized it’s been three weeks since I did a wrap-up post!

Here’s some of what we’ve been up to:

The week of July 22nd we went on a field trip to the Oliver Kelley Farm and did a three day local “mini mission trip” called Mission to the City:

Oliver H. Kelley FarmMission to the City 2013



The week of July 29th we visit the Minnesota Zoo with friends from our co-op, and took a weekend camping trip in Clear Lake, Iowa with some old friends from our college days (and their three cute kids!):


The animatronic dinosaur exhibit at the zoo was a favorite on that outing, and a new bike carrier for our car led to a favorite on the camping trip — actually being able to take our bikes with us so we could take a bike ride with our friends!



A highlight from this week was a field trip today to Historic Fort Snelling, a site near us that is a fort that was recreated to be as it was in the 1820s, complete with costumed characters.  The boys’ favorite was watching the soldiers doing their drills and shooting their guns.  Miss M’s favorite was chatting with the cook in the kitchen and doing a scavenger hunt:

Fort Snelling 2013 take 2

Here are a few other highlights of things we’ve been up to lately:

August 9 collage

1. New books are arriving in the mail/UPS…but between Vacation Bible Camp at our church (which I am in charge of, so it is kind of time consuming), and our big vacation, we won’t be starting until the day after Labor Day, just like most public schools around here.  I’ve updated our curriculum page with our picks for 2013-2014.

2.  Watching bikers go by for a local 24 hour bike race

3. – 4.  Helping out with making summer treats (mini popsicles and rhubarb crisp)

5. – 6.  Having fun, laughing and playing

7.  We actually played a math game this week (Corners) — not something we have done much of this summer!

8.  Our National Night Out block party is always a top summer highlight.  This year we had to wrap it up early, unfortunately, due to a sudden thunderstorm.

Whew,…that’s it for now.  I’m looking forward to all our hard work with VBC coming to fruition next week, then relaxing and having fun on vacation.

Linking up with:  Collage Friday and The Weekly Wrap Up.

Homegrown Learners

History Plans for 2013-2014: US History “Year 2″ August 1, 2013

Filed under: Curriculum,History — kirstenjoyhill @ 8:25 am

This past year we studied the “first half” of United States History using my own literature-and-library-book based plans.  We started at the beginning with Native Americans, and I originally thought we would only study up until 1850, or just before the Civil War.

As the year went on, I saw that I had over-estimated how long some of the units were going HTTA-TTto take, and we also were able to get a nice early start on our history studies last year (starting in July).   After we completed my original plans through 1850, we did a unit on Slavery and the Underground Railroad and a unit on the Civil War (I never managed to write blog posts about those units though…maybe I should still go back and do that!).

We’re going to finish our US History studies this year, starting with the post Civil War Reconstruction era, and making our way up to the present, or at least somewhat recent events.  I realized the other day that events I remember (like the political changes in Eastern Europe in the 1990s and the terrorist attacks of 9/11) are history for my kids!

I’m still making my own book-based plans for read-aloud literature, read-alone lit for Miss M, and a “book basket” of picture book and short non-fiction selections for Miss M to read alone or me to read to the boys.

I’m also adding in at least one “History Through the Ages: Time Travelers” study for Miss M.  I’ve already purchased the Industrial Revolution through the Great Depression title.   There’s one more on WWII, then if all is going well, we also might use the 20th Century Lap-Pak.  That title has only the lapbook component, and not the short readings and other projects that come along with the Time Travelers…but it would give us some written component to take us to the present day.

I’m excited to have the short reading sections form a bit of a spine for Miss M, since I don’t have another spine text in mind.  I’m also hoping that since the lapbook pieces and other projects are assigned lesson-by-lesson, it will help us stay on track with having some written aspect to our history studies (something we failed to do last year).

I’m still refining my reading lists (and I may not get them all done before the school year starts), but here is my overall plan for the year…subject to change, of course, if some time periods take more or less time to cover than I am expecting!



Unit: # Weeks Lessons from HTTA Time Travelers Approximate Dates
1865 – 1899 7 Lessons 1-10, except 6 Sept 3 – Oct 18
1900 – 1914 5 Lessons 6 & 11 through 16 Oct 21 – Nov 22
World War I 3 17-18 Dec 2 – Dec 20
1920s 2 19 – 20 Jan 6 – 17
1930s (Great Depression) 2 21-25 Jan 20 – 31
WWII/1940s 6 WWII study — all Feb 3 – Mar 21 (incl. a winter break)
1950s-1970s 4 20th Century Lap-Pak March 24 – April 18
1980s to Present 3 20th Century Lap-Pak April 21 – May 9



I’m hoping to find the time to post by book lists and unit wrap-ups throughout the year!

Linking up with…Curriculum Planning at Highhill Education and History/Geography Link-Up at All Things Beautiful!



T is for Travel Tips to pass the Time July 30, 2013

Filed under: Fun Stuff and Extras,Getting Organized — kirstenjoyhill @ 11:23 pm

We still have a long vacation coming up in August.    As a friend said recently, “We’ve taken ‘trips’ before but this is going to be a vacation!”   We’ll be spending two weeks away from home traveling to the Black Hills of South Dakota, Yellowstone, and Estes Park/Rocky Mountain National Park (plus a stop at Grandma’s house on the way home).  We’ll be doing some tent camping, as well as a few nights staying in cabins.  It should be quite the adventure.   And it involves 40 or so odd hours of driving!

Needless to say, I’m trying to be very well prepared for our time in the car so that we aren’t tempted to have the kids zone out to waaaay too many DVDs.  Sure, we’ll probably watch a few movies.  But I think we’d like to keep it to one long movie or a couple shorter shows per driving day (We have four 8-9 hour driving days, plus one 5-6 hour driving day planned for our trip).

So this list is as much for me to organize my ideas as it is to share a few ideas with readers. :-)

1.  Audio books:  Miss M has enjoyed audio books for several years (though she hasn’t listened to many recently), but in the past the boys never really wanted to listen.   We tried a short, fun audio book on a trip to Chicago earlier this summer, and everyone really enjoyed it!  I’m requesting several audio books on CD from the library for our trip.  Some are long, some are short. That seems like a pretty easy way for us to do it in the car, but our library also offers downloadable audio book loans as well, and there are many great free audio books available for download at

2, Individual “Snack Packs”:  On short trips we just play “toss the snack” to the back row and hope it doesn’t spill or fall on the floor.  But a long trip calls for a different solution.  I have seen some super cute “snack box” ideas on Pinterest, but we keep it simple around here.   Each kid gets a brown paper lunch bag, and I fill it with snack size baggies or other individual snack items.   Hungry kids can help themselves and perhaps the adult not driving can even sleep for a bit without being interrupted by “I’m hungry” (maybe).

3.  Personalized coloring/activity books:  Before the trip I’ll ask my kids what kinds of coloring pages they are in the mood for, and I’ll print some out from the vast reaches of the internet.  Are We There YetThe kids also like mazes, and Miss M might be up for some other printables like crossword puzzles or word searches.   I saw the idea on a blog (but I can’t remember where) of including maps of each section of the trip to give kids an idea of where you’ll be driving each day.  I’ll bind my kids “coloring books” with a pro-click spine, but binders work too (that’s what I did before I had the proclick).

4. Printable games to play:  I’ve found some great travel game printables on Pinterest.  I already have a few games printed and laminated from previous trips, and I’ll probably try and print out a few more before our upcoming vacation.  These will get packed in a large baggie or three hole punched and stuck in a binder, along with dry erase markers.  We could try some travel-size non-printable games…but I’m not sure my kids would do well not losing pieces at this point!

5,  Games to play all together: We’ve discovered our kids love to play “20 Questions” (though we rarely manage to actually keep track of how many questions have been asked).  Other favorites include I Spy, The Alphabet Game (find signs or items that start with/contain each letter), and a “Continued Story” where each person adds a sentence to a story told out loud.  We’ll also pack a few Mad Libs books or similar printable fill-in-the-blank stories

6. Cut down on “Are We There Yet”?:  This is going to be a new area of effort for us.  Since this trip involves a lot more driving than usual, we’ll need to help the kids not ask that question that all parents dread hearing.  ;-)  We might use a combination of something to mark the passing of time (like a road trip countdown or a piece of tape with sections marked off for each hour of the trip) and maybe some kind of “prize” for the kid that asks that question least often!

7.  Pack a few “crafty things” to keep the kids busy: I love the ideas in this post at 123homeschool4me.   From cereal lacing necklaces to foil creations to beads on pipe cleaners, there are so many little things you could pack away to use on a trip.   This will take a bit more effort and planning on my part, but hopefully I could pull at least a few ideas like this together.

8.  Have “something new” up my sleeve:   I’m sure my kids aren’t the only ones that can find something new highly entertaining.  We got a couple gift cards for Christmas (one for a book store and one for a toy store) that I’ve been saving for a special occasion. I think this is it!  I’ll surprise the kids each with one or two new “nice” things for the trip (books or a travel toy)…plus maybe some dollar store junk too.  ;-)



Those are most of my great ideas for what to do while we are in motion in the car.  Do you have any more ideas I should add to my list?



I’m linking up with Blogging through the Alphabet @ Ben and Me!

Blogging Through the Alphabet


Mission to the City 2013 July 29, 2013

Filed under: Fun Stuff and Extras — kirstenjoyhill @ 2:58 pm
Tags: , ,

Our church has been organizing a “local mission trip” called Mission to the City for 15 years. This was our second year in a row participating in a family-oriented three-day version of this “trip”, last Thursday through Saturday.

Going overseas with small children for a mission trip is often not very practical, but serving and reaching out in our community with kids along is very possible!


Mission to the City 2013

About 80 people participated this year, including children old enough to engage in the projects we were doing (there’s not a set minimum age — it’s at the discretion of the parents).   We participated with our two older kids (Miss M — age 9 and Mr E — age 6), while Mr. K (age 4) spent a few days at Grandma’s house and Mr. J (age 1.5) spent time with a series of babysitters and occasionally joined us when no babysitting was available.

Our large group was broken down into smaller teams to accomplish various projects.  Here’s a sampling of what we did each day:

Day 1 (top row of collage):  In the morning, our team of several families weeded and did other landscaping work at the home of a single mother in our church.   In the afternoon, we promoted a carnival we would be helping organize on Day 2 at a neighborhood Boys and Girls club.   Thursday night we volunteered at a local event called “Picnic in the Park” some families (including ours) helped with carnival games, while other families served food or sold tickets.

Day 2 (middle row):  We started out day 2 polishing plaques that honor ever soldier from our county who died during WWI!  That’s 568 plaques, but we could only get about half done in the time allotted (we had done the other half last year).  In the afternoon we ran a carnival at the Boys and Girls club, including games and serving food.

That night we did something really unique called the “Holy Spirit Experience.”    We were paired up with one other family to go out for an hour and a half (with a budget of $20) to do whatever we felt the Spirit was leading us to do.  Our group went on a prayer walk and then blessed a few strangers by buying them ice cream at the Dairy Queen (kind of the “pay it forward” drive through sort of thing…but at a walk-up window).  Other teams handed out ice cream to firefighters and police officers, bought snacks or ice cream for random strangers, or bought flowers for someone who was in need of encouragement.  One team even helped someone pay for a tow truck after a fender bender.  Everyone spent a lot of time praying.  It was super encouraging to come back at the end and hear everyone’s stories.

Day 3 (bottom row): On the third and final day, our team was once again doing landscaping work — this time at the home of a 92 year old widow in our church.  It was awesome to not only bless her by clearing out a weedy area, but also to sit and talk with her and listen to her stories!  Our afternoon plans to hand out free water at a lake (while some others were to volunteer at yet another carnival) were rained out.  So we cleaned and did projects at our church building instead.  We wrapped up MTTC 2013 with a cultural dinner — we ate authentic Ethiopian food and learned about Africa from two ladies who have come to the US (one from Nigeria and one from Uganda) in the past few years.

We were thrilled to have this opportunity again this year to expose our children to service and missions opportunities right here in our own city, and to have the opportunity to serve along side them!




A trip to the Oliver H. Kelley Historic Farm July 28, 2013

Filed under: Fun Stuff and Extras,History — kirstenjoyhill @ 10:03 pm

This past week we spent a few hours at the Oliver H. Kelley farm near Elk River, Minnesota:



Oliver H. Kelley Farm

This Minnesota Historical Society site is a working 1860s farm.  Costumed farmers dress as they would have in that time period, and crops and livestock are raised as it was done in the 19th century.  This is a great “hands on” place for kids to visit.   Visitors are encouraged to jump in and pitch hay, pull weeds, work alongside the women cooking in the kitchen, and even help in the fields or feed the animals (when the farmers give the okay).

I had heard that this historic farm was a fun field trip from friends who had visited before (and it’s only about a 45 minute drive from our house!).   What I didn’t know until our visit was that Oliver H. Kelley was a person of historical significance.  Besides being the original owner of this farm, Mr. Kelley was the founder of a farming organization called the Order of Patrons of Husbandry, or “Grange” as it is commonly known.  The Grange is a fraternal organization for farmers that is still in existence today.  Grange causes over the years have included regulation of railroads and grain warehouses, rural free mail delivery, temperance, direct election of senators and women’s suffrage.

Linking up to Fantastic Foto Field Trips!

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Book Discoveries this Week: Exclamation Mark and other picture books July 27, 2013

Filed under: Books — kirstenjoyhill @ 5:27 pm

Once every two or three months, I like to jot down a few notes on picture books we’ve recently enjoyed.  My last picture book post was back in April, so it’s time to do that againexclamation mark.

Exclamation Mark by Amy Krouse Rosenthal was probably my favorite of the past couple months.  We’ve enjoyed some of Rosenthal’s other picture books in the past (especially This Plus That: Life’s Little Equations).   The exclamation mark in Rosenthal’s book just wants to be like all the other little periods around him.  But no matter how hard he tries to bend and contort, he just isn’t like them.  Then he meets another funny looking punctuation mark who asks a lot of questions, and helps the exclamation mark learn how he is truly unique and useful. All the kids enjoyed this book and thought it was really cute!

Isn’t it funny how kids just love some picture books that we as adults see as just “okay”?  My 4 and 6 year old boys are really enamored with The Chickens Build A Wall by Jean-Francois Dumont.  It’s one they picked out themselves at the library.    In this story the barnyard chickens are afraid of a small, strange pointy animal (a hedgehog) that appears near them one day.    So they build a tower of sorts (with no door) to protect themselves…only to find the hedgehog ended up in the walled fortification with them, and he really isn’t so bad after all.  I thought this book was kind of silly (how were they getting food and water all this time if their fortress had no door?), but for some reason the boys asked me to read this one many, many times.  :-)



Here are some quick takes on other picture books that some or all of us enjoyed recently:



The Cow that Laid an Egg: A bunch of chickens help an insecure cow to think she has a special talent — laying an egg.  I like the subtle message about love and family in this book — even if the “baby” that hatches from the egg is somewhat un-cow-like,  Marjorie the Cow will love her little one anyway.

The Gingerbread Man Loose in the School: A fun take on the classic Gingerbread Man story.  This Gingerbread Man is running to look for a group of kids he really hopes to catch, instead of running away from various pursuers.

Zero Zilch Nada: Counting to None: This is one enjoyed by Mr. K — but not so much by me.  A cute bunny is hired for a job at the balloon factory.  He needs to blow up a certain number of balloons, but isn’t very good at counting or keeping track…so he pops the balloons to count them (leaving him with “zilch” at the end, of course).  The bunny’s actions are a bit silly, but the thing that really bugged me is that the balloons floated up (like helium balloons) when the bunny was blowing them up with air.  I’m not quite sure what was going through the illustrator’s mind here.  After Mr. K requested a 2nd reading, I just couldn’t handle it any more, and this one quick;y went back to the library.  ;-)

13 Words: This picture book by Lemony Snicket (author of A Series of Unfortunate Events), is bizzare, funny and a vocabulary lesson all in one.  The 13 words range from simple (cake) to quite complicated (haberdashery and mezzo-soprano), and form the basis for a rather odd story about a depressed bird.  Worth checking out, even for your own amusement.

A is for Musk Ox:  A is for Musk ox. B is for Musk Ox.  So is C, D, E…and so on.  This book is very, very funny.  The musk ox will tell you all the ways he is awesome, cool and more.  Forget those apples and clowns…musk oxen are where it’s at! ;-) There’s a sequel (Musk Ox Counts) coming out this fall, and we will definitely be looking for that one at the library when it is published!

Clink: A sweet story about a robot who is more than a bit out of date, but would still love to make some child happy.    He almost gives up hope, until the perfect boy comes into the store.

The Amazing Adventures of Bumblebee Boy:  We’ve had this book a few times from the library, but I don’t think I have featured it in a picture book post before.  A spinoff of the “Ladybug Girl” books by the same author, Bumblebee Boy is a typical boy who wants to save the world…without his little brother playing along.  But Owen wants to be a “Soup Hero Too?”  I love how Owen and Bumblebee Boy work through their differences and find a way to fight the bad guys together.   My boys really relate to and enjoy this book…I probably should just buy them a copy since they have checked it out so many times!



I’m joining in with the monthly link-up for Read-Aloud Thursday @ Hope is the Word!



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