Homeschool Discoveries

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

H is for Horse Unit Study April 14, 2012

Filed under: Books,Themes — kirstenjoyhill @ 10:14 pm
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If you’ve read some of my posts over the past few weeks, you may have noticed quite a few comments here and there about books and activities related to horses.  Although it really wasn’t my intention to begin with, Miss M’s Expert Day project for co-op turned into a fairly full fledged unit on horses.

Here’s how her display for expert day turned out as we set it up at home for a practice run:

Do you have a horse lover in your life? Here are the primary resources we used:

Hands of a Child Horse Lapbook (lots of general information on horses).  Here’s how we put together the completed lapbook project:

DK Eyewitness video, “Horses” (scientific and historical information)

Once Upon a Horse (historical information – read my thoughts on it in this post!)

Various books about how to draw horses

A few “easy non fiction” books from the library (which we already returned before I remembered to write down the titles!).  Some Miss M read on her own time, and a few I assigned as part of her school work.

We also checked out The Complete Horse and The Kingfisher Horse and Pony Encyclopedia to have on hand for further research.  Both looked interesting, but we didn’t end up having time to dive into these very much.

We read Misty of Chincoteage as a horse-related literature selection.  I wrote about my impressions of that read-aloud last week.

Miss M picked the broad topic of Horses for Expert Day, but since she only has three minutes to give a presentation, I encouraged her to pick a much narrower topic to focus in on. She decided to focus on how people used horses throughout history.  Since even that is a very broad topic, she chose to narrow it down even further and discuss how horses were used in war and for travel during her three minute oral report. I was able to work with Miss M on important skills like defining a topic, reading for the purpose of research, and summarizing important points of what she read.   She narrated to me what she wanted to say in her oral report, and I transcribed and helped her refine what she was saying.

As much as it was a lot of work, I am glad we have Expert Day at co-op each year to push us to work on these skills!

I’m linking up with:



Why I’m Going to a Homeschool Conference this Year April 11, 2012

Filed under: Fun Stuff and Extras — kirstenjoyhill @ 7:40 am
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I’m starting to get excited…This Friday and Saturday I’m going to the MACHE Conference (Minnesota Association of Christian Home Educators) in St. Paul, MN.  The last time I attended the MACHE conference was three years ago, the spring before Miss M began her Kindergarten year!  That seems like forever ago, and I feel like I am at a very different point now as a home educator than I was when I attended my first conference.

So, why did I not go to a conference the past two years? I had a variety of reasons.  For one thing, the MACHE conference moves around between three locations.  Only one of those locations is reasonably local to me, so it is a much greater expense of time and money for me to attend when the conference is not in St. Paul.   The past two years I wasn’t very intrigued by the keynote speakers, nor did I have any burning desire to see curricula in person or learn more about any techniques I couldn’t just read about on the internet.

This year, I felt more apt to attend in general because the conference would once again be in my local area.  I could easily arrange for the kids to be taken care of, and be home with my family in the evening.  But I have a few other goals for my time at this year’s conference:

I’m looking to settle on a new spelling curriculum or tools to help me use the one I currently have.  Spelling is a weak point for Miss M, and the curriculum I have tried to use this year isn’t helping much.  I am excited to see the Logic of English Essentials curriculum and attend a seminar about it. If this curriculum isn’t “it” for us, maybe I can take a look at some others.

I wasn’t even using Right Start Math or planning to when I attended my last convention. Now I’ve been using it for 2.5 years.  I’m looking to pick up my materials for next year and not have to pay a shipping fee. I’m also thinking I’ll attend the Right Start seminars and pick up a few tips and tricks on using our curriculum

We’re going to focus on American History for history next year.  I’m looking to browse the used curriculum area and pick up some read-alouds to go along with our studies.

This year’s conference theme is “Bright Lights in a Dark World.”  I’m excited about this theme and attending some of the sessions based on this theme.  Raising up children who can will be a light in the world is a big goal of our homeschooling, so this year’s theme is especially interesting to me!

Any local readers out there who will be at the MACHE conference? Or are you attending a conference near you this year?


Happy Birthday to Me…10 Ways I’m Celebrating! April 9, 2012

Filed under: Fun Stuff and Extras — kirstenjoyhill @ 10:27 am

Today, Monday April 9th, is my 35th birthday…and even though I am generally trying to keep this blog focused on homeschooling, I’m giving myself a little more liberty to talk about something else on my birthday, even if it only minimally relates to homeschooling. 🙂

I feel so thankful today for the ways God has blessed me, and here’s some of how I am celebrating:

1. Spending the day with my family, including my wonderful husband, who took the day off from work in honor of my birthday! I love that homeschooling makes it easy for us to spend the whole day together.  We might still work on Madeline’s expert day project a bit (so that the rest of the week isn’t too stressful).

2.  Eating pastries for breakfast that Tony picked up fresh this morning

3. A completely quiet and relaxing bath at 10am.  Almost completely uninterrupted!

4. Playing board games.  I love to play board games and I’ve found it hard to make time for playing “grown up games.”  We played a game with some friends yesterday afternoon…and maybe we’ll try and play some more grown-up games today (and even try to teach one to the older kids?)

5.  Buying myself Amazon Prime.  I always get a bit of birthday money to spend from my family, and this will be the third year of treating myself to this little luxury in life.  I love free two day shipping!

6. A date with my husband this past Saturday.  We even left baby J with our babysitters while we enjoyed a fancy dinner out!  This was the first time we had left him with sitters for a date.

7.  Making something I love for lunch.  I’m excited to make some “fancy” homemade mac and cheese (with three kinds of cheese, mushrooms, spinach and mock crab).

8.  Bike ride around Lake Nokomis.  By myself!

9. Stopping for my free birthday coffee and reading for a bit while out on said bike ride.

10. Family outing for dinner.  I am thinking maybe a Chinese buffet.   Or maybe fancy pizza. But I reserve the right to change my mind before dinner time…it is my birthday after all!

Here’s to all the ways God has blessed us so far, and all the blessings in the years to come!

I’ll be linking up to top ten Tuesday tomorrow…even though it is Monday today as I write this.  🙂 I’m giving myself a birthday privilege to do that.  😉

Top Ten Tuesday at Many Little Blessings


Collage Friday: Horses, Easter Bags, and Character Refinement April 6, 2012

Filed under: Weekly Highlights — kirstenjoyhill @ 2:18 pm

Some local friends were on Spring Break this week, but we forged ahead with our schedule as usual.  The best part about the local schools being on Spring Break was that I had the opportunity to hire two teens with some time on their hands to clean my kitchen.   I find it hard to make time for serious cleaning…and it’s not just because of having a baby…I always can find some excuse! 😉  It was a win-win with the teens earning some money toward their financial goals, and me ending up with a kitchen that hasn’t looked this clean since we moved into the house for a reasonable price.

Here are a few highlights from our week:

1. Mr. E working on a Lego set he got over the weekend as a belated birthday gift.  I’m so proud of him for focusing on the directions and assembling one car from the set almost entirely on his own!


2. Miss M assembling her horse lapbook.  We didn’t quite finish the assembly, as it kept getting pushed to the bottom of our to – do list.  With Expert Day coming up next week, deadline pressure will help us finally bring it to completion next week!


3. I found an offer for a free horse magazine a couple months ago, and the first issue arrived this week! Miss M enjoyed looking at all the pictures and reading some of the articles, even though it is really not a magazine aimed at kids.


4. Miss M’s writing and spelling work came in the form of letter writing.  Inspired by a lesson in her Spectrum Writing book, she wrote a letter to friends from across town that we don’t see very often.  A question directed to Miss M in a family Easter card from her great aunt about what books she has been reading prompted her to begin a letter about some recent favorites. Since spelling is still a big struggle for Miss M (to the point where I think it would be difficult for others to “get” what she is trying to say), I have her write a rough draft. I then correct her spelling mistakes and have her write a final draft.


5. & 6. The kids were given the suggestion at church to make “Easter Bags” to give to friends. There were some pre-made bags with treats and info about the meaning of Easter we could have picked up at church…but my kids really want to go the DIY route and make their own.  I made sure they had some empty bags, Easter eggs and candy and they are pretty much taking it from there!


7.  Math….oh, Math.  There is something about doing math that lends itself to being a refining, character building process.  For both me and Miss M! We worked on lessons 92-95 in Right Start C this week.  Some days were a piece of cake — Miss M finished the lesson 92 worksheet with ease on Monday.  Presented with the exact same sort of problem on Tuesday, we had nuclear meltdown.  Today’s struggles were less about how to do the math problem, and more about how to use the calculator as the lesson suggested (as Miss M is doing in the picture).  I tried to explain that as long as she got the concept, I could help her with using the calculator.  But she was determined to do it herself, to the point of frustration.   Math is a testing ground for learning patience of my part, and for Miss M to learn about humility, being teachable and dealing with frustration/asking for help appropriately.


8. The boys came up with a great project idea today.  Disappointed that I couldn’t find any “Angry Birds Space” coloring sheets to print out for them (I could only find coloring sheets of the original “angry birds”), they asked me to print out lots of small pictures of the various birds and pigs from the space game.  They got started cutting these pictures out and gluing them on large sheets of paper (Thanks to Grandma Karen for supplying us with lots of blueprint-sized scratch paper!).  They are creating their own “angry birds space” levels on paper!


9. Continuing on the “Horse” theme, we read this book, Once Upon a Horse, instead of our regular history this week.  I’ll be writing more about this book for Read Aloud Thursday next week!

Have a wonderful Easter weekend!

I’m linking up with Collage Friday @ Homegrown Learners and the Weekly Wrap-Up at Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers

PhotobucketWeird Unsocialized Homeschoolers


Book Discoveries this Week: Misty of Chincoteague April 5, 2012

Filed under: Books — kirstenjoyhill @ 11:56 pm
Tags: ,

After finishing Adam of the Road early last week, Miss M and I started in on Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry as our next bedtime read aloud.  We made quick work of it, finishing it in just over a week.

Miss M loves horses, but she hasn’t read very many horse-themed fiction books yet, other than a few fantasy stories about winged horses and unicorns.  I thought this Newberry Honor book (published in 1947) would be a good starting place.

Misty is a “kid” story just as much as it is a “horse” story.  Two children living on the coastal island of Chincoteague, Virginia have their hearts set on a horse.  And not just any horse — a wild mare living on the nearby island of Assateague.  Each year, the wild horses are rounded up on “Pony Penning Day”.  The horses are driven to Chincoteague for something of a local festival, where all the horses are displayed and some of the young horses are sold to willing buyers from near and far, before the older horses are returned to the wild.  Paul and Maureen Bebee are hard working kids who endeavor to fulfill their dream of not only owning Phantom, the horse they’ve had their eyes on, but her foal Misty as well.

Misty of Chincoteague is loosely based on a true story.  The real Misty was born at the Bebee ranch, not in the wild.  You can even “visit” her, as I learned via wikipedia that she was preserved via taxidermy after she died! (Okay, that weirds me out just a bit — I’m not sure I want to see a taxidermied horse!).   Pony Penning day is a real tradition on Chicoteague Island that began in 1925 and continues today.  This surprised me a bit too, since the idea of swimming wild ponies across a channel to entertain the masses doesn’t strike me as fitting with modern ideas of kind treatment of animals.  But, I will admit I know very little about horses (I never went through a “horse phase” as so many kids seem to do), so maybe this is something that the wild horses don’t mind too much.

Miss M really enjoyed this book, begging me to read extra chapters each night.  The chapters are short, which made it easy to say “yes”!  While I wouldn’t say it’s among my favorite read alouds this year, it was reasonably interesting and exciting.  I’m guessing that Miss M will want to read more of Marguerite Henry’s books in the near future.

I’m linking up with Read-Aloud Thursday @ Hope is the Word!


G is for Games April 4, 2012

Filed under: Fun Stuff and Extras — kirstenjoyhill @ 10:19 pm

I really, really enjoy playing board games.  Of all the hobbies or activities that I find it hard to make time for in my crazy homeschooling life with four young kids, playing “grown-up” board games is one I miss the most.  I really enjoy games like Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride and Carcassone.  While you can play these games on the computer or Tony and I could just play them alone, it isn’t quite the same as playing with a few other friends. I really look forward to the time when our kids are old enough to play these games with us.  Miss M probably could learn some of these games soon, but it is tricky when the boys would want to play too, but would still have a hard time actually playing these games.

Meanwhile, I love to have lots of games on hand for our kids to play.  The large brown cabinet in this picture is our game cabinet.  We own many classic board and card games for kids, as well as a few less common ones.  We also use this cabinet to store some of our puzzles, our play-doh, some magnet activities, and some math manipulatives that we use for fun (but aren’t a part of our Right Start curriculum).

As the kids are getting older, they are more and more capable of getting out a game and playing it themselves.   As any adult who has patiently played Candy Land with a group of kids knows, some kids games are more fun for the grown ups that others!  😉  In our family, Sequence for Kids, the Ladybug Game and Zingo are frequent favorites.  Even Mr. E and Mr. K are able to get out a game and at least have some semblance of a game by themselves — they played “Don’t Spill the Beans” almost by the rules just today. 🙂

I often think about trying to incorporate games into our school day — games can be a great way to reinforce concepts from many subjects!.  Our math curriculum, Right Start, has a heavy emphasis on playing math card games.  We don’t play them as often as we should! With kids at varying ability levels, I find it a challenge to keep the game interesting for my oldest, while still including the youngest.  If Miss M and I want to play a harder game that neither of the boys are able to play, we typically have to find something to distract them first, or they may not be able to leave our cards or other game items alone.

Do you have any tricks to share about successful game playing with a range of ages? (My kids who are old enough to play games are currently 3, 5 and almost 8).  Any less-well-known games that are a hit with your kids? I’d especially love to hear ideas of games that would hit the 7+ age range, since we don’t own many games between the preschool-age games and the grown up games.

I’m linking up with:


Tech Tuesday: How to Create Your Own Copywork or Handwriting Pages April 3, 2012

Filed under: Technology — kirstenjoyhill @ 11:09 pm
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A friend asked me today if I knew of a website to easily create custom copywork IMG_6335pages with traceable letters.  I knew I had heard of one, but I didn’t have it bookmarked.  A google search revealed that Worksheet Works has a free handwriting practice sheet generator with options for both print and cursive writing styles in either solid or dashed text.  I haven’t tried it yet, but I think it’s exactly what my friend was looking for!

I’ve always made custom copywork or handwriting practice pages using either Microsoft Word or Microsoft Publisher.  There are several free printing and cursive handwriting fonts.  Check out this page at and this listing at for several options.

One aspect of making a practice sheet in Word or Publisher that always befuddled me a bit was creating the blank lines below or next to the text as a space for doing the copying.  The best I was able to come up with copying a free blank handwriting page into the file as a picture or graphic.  This was a clunky solution but better than nothing.

This post at alerted me to a better solution.  Some handwriting/penmanship fonts (including one I had installed, penmanship print), include a blank rule, accessible by using the ` key (this is the symbol below ~, in the upper left of your keyboard).  Brilliant!  I also learned a new trick from reading this thread at the Well-Trained mind forums — in Word, type several asterisks in a row like this *****, and then hit enter.  You’ll get a nice dotted line that extends across your page.  This might come in handy for certain handwriting situations as well!

Finally, if you are looking for a more fully-featured custom copywork or handwriting solution, many people seem to like StartWrite.  I haven’t tried this software, but from a brief look at their website,  I see it includes many neat features like fancy borders, colored text, easy-to-insert graphics, start-point dots, and more.  This software will run you $24.95 or $39.95 depending on which version you select.

I haven’t made many copywork or handwriting sheets lately — Mr. E is just getting to the point of more interest in writing, and Miss M gets a lot of cursive practice with her “Reason for Handwriting” workbook.  I also hadn’t yet installed a cursive font that I was really happy with.  But doing this research for my friend has given me renewed interest in doing this!