Homeschool Discoveries

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

Happy Pancake Day! February 12, 2013

Filed under: Fun Stuff and Extras,Holidays — kirstenjoyhill @ 6:29 am

pancake stackHappy Pancake Day! Or maybe you know it as Shrove Tuesday, Mardi Gras or Carnival.    It’s also the day before Lent for Christian denominations that observe it.  We’re not from a Christian tradition that specifically observe Lent, but when I heard about Pancake Day a few years ago it just sounded like a fun “holiday” to do with the kids.  We love pancakes around here, and it sounded fun to eat pancakes on a day when, apparently, many, many other people are doing the same!

The tradition of eating pancakes the day before the start of Lent dates back centuries.  In times past, women wanted to use up fats and other rich foods that would be abstained from during lent, and pancakes were a tasty way to do this.  In England, children would run from house to house singing a little song about the shrovetide,  and demanding bits of food — pancakes, donuts or other rich foods, depending on the local custom.   More recently, a custom of “pancake races” has developed that involves running while flipping a pancake in a skillet.

Today we’ll be eating pancakes for lunch and talking about Pancake Day and other similar observances around the world!


Want to read more? Here are few links to check out:

History of Shrove Tuesday

Pancake Day in England

What is Shrove Tuesday?

An old book about British customs with a section on Shrove Tuesday and “goin a shrovin” (@ Google Books)

All about Pancake day celebrations in the US and UK


{Image Credit}


Making Rock Candy February 11, 2013

Filed under: Fun Stuff and Extras,Science — kirstenjoyhill @ 10:09 pm

Making rock candy doesn’t sound so hard, does it?  Well believe it or not, we totally flopped at it the first time we tried a couple years ago.  🙂

Rock candy makes a great activity to go along with science lessons on topics like solutions and mixtures, evaporation and condensation, crystallization…or even rocks and minerals (though, of course, rock candy just looks like a rock!).  These would be lessons A-8 through A-10 if you are using BFSU for science like we are.

After reading a few blog posts and other sites with tips on making rock candy, I decided to go with the method I found in this post that I found via pinterest.  I liked their end product — a nice “candy store” sort of colored rock candy on a stick.

Here’s what our set-up and candy making process looked like:

Rock Candy

The actual adding-sugar-to-boiling water part of the process is, of course, not pictured.  I was too busy trying to manage four children who all wanted to help (my three older ones plus a friend), and trying to make sure it didn’t boil over or otherwise make a mess.

I followed the directions from the Design Dazzle blog post (linked above) almost exactly.  You definitely need to have plenty of sugar on hand to do this activity! I think seeding the sticks is a key part of the process — the sugar crystals need something to grow on if you want rock candy anywhere other than the bottom of your jar or container!  We didn’t “seed” our string we used when we tried to make rock candy a couple years ago, which may have been part of the problem — but then again, that time we got no crystals at all, so we may not have used enough sugar or not heated our sugar solution long enough.

Another tip for prospective rock candy makers — if you are using food coloring, do yourself a favor and don’t do any of the stirring with a wood spoon.  Yeah, I have an nice multi-colored stained spoon now!

Then wait a week or so and you’ll have…

Rock Candy Results

…Beautiful candy made of pure sugar!  The kids thought it was pretty tasty, and also enjoyed looking at the crystals through a magnifying glass.  I couldn’t bring myself to eat it.  I got a sugar headache just thinking about it!  Not all of our rock candy sticks turned out.  A few stuck to the side or bottom of the jar and were hard to remove.  As you can see from the picture in the lower right, we got a lot of sugar crystals forming on the bottom of the jar.  I’m not sure if that’s typical, or an indication of some error we made!  Maybe someone with more rock candy experience can shed some light on that subject.

I’m linking up with Science Sunday @ Adventures in Mommydom and with the the Monthly Blog and Tell link-up at the HSBA Post for their “Something  Red” theme with my RED rock candy!  Be sure to visit those link-ups to see what other bloggers are writing about!

Science Sunday

Collage Friday: A Birthday, The 100th Day and More February 8, 2013

Filed under: Weekly Highlights — kirstenjoyhill @ 4:26 pm

We certainly had a whirlwind of a week…lots of fun stuff…and some schoolwork too.  🙂

A big highlight was our 100th Day of School and Mr. K’s birthday (link to a post earlier this week with a birthday interview), both on Wednesday:





I took some ideas from my post earlier this week to fill our “100th day of school” morning.  The kids favorite activity was making a “100 Snack” (10 each of 10 snack items).  I think their second favorite was guessing how many of various activities they could do in 100 seconds, then trying that out (how many times to jump up and down, count to 10, say the alphabet, etc).


Here are a few highlights of our school work this week:




1.  “Just Dance Kids” on the Wii is good “PE” time, right?  It’s hard to help kids find ways to burn off energy in the winter when it’s too cold to go outside or when we really only have time for a quick physical activity break (and of course just getting winter gear on and off takes about half an hour in and of itself!).   So, while Wii is normally not allowed during the day, I made an exception and let the kids do about 20 minutes of singing and dancing one day this week.  Another day we incorporated exercise and math by figuring out how many times they would have to go around the perimeter of the living room rug to run a mile — It turns out you would have to go around 207 times! I don’t think anyone made it around that many times.  😉

2-3.  We’re still enjoying Sentence Family for grammar — we’ve now met 8 “family members”, including four parts of speech.  This is enough for some basic sentence labeling.  Today I helped Miss M (3rd grade) label nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs by their special “sentence family color”.

4.  It was a review week for Miss M in Logic of English Essentials.   Here she marked the words she thought she needed more practice with from the previous 4 lessons.  We tried to play some spelling review games, but due to various distractions we didn’t get very far in our game playing.  The games are a lot of fun with more than one player…but Mr E (Kindergarten) was not in a very good mood about playing games versus his big sister (even with his own spelling words) this week.   Mr. E did two more lessons in LOE Foundations (plus those attempts at additional spelling and phonogram games with his big sister), and in the busyness of this week I just did a bit of phonogram review with Mr K and didn’t do any new lessons for him in Foundations.

5.  Mr. E continues to speed along in RightStart B.  He LOVES his math time.  We covered material in lessons 84-89 (again, not doing every exercise), and started in today on lesson 90. Lesson 90 is supposed to be 4 digit adding on the abacus, but Mr. E was far more interested in learning the pencil-and-paper algorithm, so we did a few problems together that way (as you can see, he still has trouble with directionality when he is writing).   Miss M finished up the geometry chapter in Math Mammoth 3-B, and we did an overview of the Measurement chapter to decide which areas will need our attention.  She has covered some measurement in RightStart, but MM 3-B brings up some new measurement topics we haven’t done much of yet, like weight.   She is also doing daily multiplication fact practice.

6.  One of Mr. E’s big reads this week was Green Eggs and Ham. He loved it and did a great job reading this book.  He asked an obvious question I had never thought much about before.  Why in the world does Sam insist that this guy need to eat the green eggs and ham in the first place.  I mean, we all have our favorite foods but we don’t usually chase people around and tell them that they have to eat it too! 😉

Just for fun, here are a few more non-school-related highlights from our week:



Top Row:  Baby J looking cute, making messes.  Don’t you just love the spot he picked to “read” his book?

Middle Row: Even though we didn’t have any one over for a Superbowl party, we still made some fun “party food” and watched the game (and the commercials, of course!) as a family.   On Saturday night we met some of Tony’s coworkers and their families at the Mall of America (it’s just down the road from our house) for dinner and rides.  Did you know there’s a Peeps store at the mall? I just had to go in and buy some candy.  🙂

Bottom Row:  Need to keep two middle boys amused for a while? Just print out a stack of Star Wars coloring sheets!  Our Rock Candy turned out pretty well (post coming next week about that).  The final picture is another cute shot of Baby J from our trip to the Children’s Museum on Mr. K’s birthday.  Tony left work early to meet us at the museum!

Have a wonderful weekend!

I’m linking up with Collage Friday and The Weekly Wrap-Up!

Homegrown Learners

Book Discoveries this Week: The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich February 7, 2013

Filed under: Books — kirstenjoyhill @ 5:38 am

We’re back to a historical fiction read aloud to match up with our US History studies with birchbark houseThe Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich, the story of an Ojibwa girl living on what is now called Madeline Island in about 1847.

Omakayas was born on another Island in Lake Superior — but her family and everyone else on her island died in an outbreak of smallpox.  Little Omakayas was rescued by a gruff older woman, and taken in by a family who raises her as their own.   Omakayas is seven years old when the story begins, and The Birchbark House follows one year of her life through ups and downs, joys and sorrows.

We really enjoyed the rhythm of the passing seasons as we read this book, and the details of mid-nineteenth century American Indian life.  Omakayas’ family is still living a traditional life for the most part, as their ancestors have done for centuries…yet the influence of the white men is creeping in, and will end up changing her family’s life in irrevocable ways.

I am not a reader who is easily emotionally moved by sadness in books that I read.  It’s not that I don’t empathize characters experiencing tragedy…but I don’t usually feel those emotions in a particularly deep way.    This was not the case for me with Birchbark House. I cried during a particularly sad part of the story when I was reading it outloud.  Neither Miss M nor I could recall that ever happening before!  A member of Omakayas’ family dies, and I could just imagine and even feel how sad it would be to be in that circumstance.  (Miss M didn’t react so strongly — she just said “oh, I guess that would be sad.”  I had to have a good cry even after we were done reading for that night!).

A day or two later as we finished the book, I was gushing to Tony about how much I enjoyed it.  His comment was “So, it redeemed itself after that sad part, huh?”  I told him that no, the sad part was sad but really good too.    In the end, the sorrow that Omakayas feels shapes her and how she experiences life.  She became a very real character to me — one that I found myself day dreaming about when we weren’t reading the book…Something I haven’t done with too many children’s books I have read with Miss M.

Needless to say, I am marking this as one of my favorite books we’ve read so far this school year (if not the favorite so far).   Miss M and I both agreed to ditch our pre-planned reading list for a bit and read at least the next book in Erdrich’s four book series.   So far, we’re enjoying The Game of Silence just as much.

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


Happy Birthday, Mr. K! February 6, 2013

Filed under: Fun Stuff and Extras,News and Info — kirstenjoyhill @ 11:28 am

DSC00453Happy 4th Birthday to Mr. K!  We started celebrating last night by having two neighbor families over for cake and ice cream.  For today, his birthday day, our family tradition is to let the birthday child pick the menu.  Mr K picked cinnamon rolls and boiled eggs for breakfast, macaroni and cheese with hot dogs and Cars soup for lunch, and Fish Tacos for dinner with French Silk Pie for dessert.  We’re celebrating our 100th day of school this morning, then Mr. K wanted to head to the Minnesota Children’s Museum in the afternoon, followed by a movie night tonight after dinner.

In honor of his special day, here is a birthday interview with Mr. K:

1. What is your favorite color? green
2. What is your favorite toy or thing to play with? toy monster truck
3. What is your favorite thing to do outside? play in the snow
4. What is your favorite tv show or movie? Avengers
5. What is your favorite thing to have for lunch? Storm Trooper Macaroni Cheese

6.  What are you really good at?  Taekwando (which is funny because we’ve never taken lessons or gone to a class for this!)
7. What is your favorite game? Boomer Wings, a game I made up
8. What is your favorite snack? Pancakes
9. What is your favorite animal? dolphins
10. What sport do you like best? Baseball
11. What is your favorite book? A Pokemon book
12. What would you like to learn more about now that you’re 4? Incredible Hulk
13. Where is your favorite place to go? The Mall to ride on rides
14.  Where would you go if you could visit any place? Grandma Hill’s house
15. What is your favorite song? I like a song I made up called “How Low You Go and How High You Go”
16. What does Daddy do at work? Math and Science
17. What do you like to take to bed with you at night? My stuffed animal Luke Bird and Han Solo Bird and Chewbacca Birds
18. What is your favorite thing to eat for breakfast? Apple Cinnamon Rolls
19. What is your favorite holiday? Christmas
20. What do you want to be when you grow up? A Race Car Driver

Happy Birthday, Mr. K!


Celebrating the 100th Day of the Homeschool Year February 5, 2013

Filed under: Fun Stuff and Extras — kirstenjoyhill @ 6:01 am

Celebrating 100 days of school is something I’ve thought about doing for at least a couple of years, but I’ve never quite gotten around to actually doing it.   Prior to last year I wasn’t keeping track at all of our number of school days, so it would have been pretty difficult to figure out which was #100.   (I know some homeschoolers track their number of school days or hours carefully, but it’s not a requirement for  in our state, and last year was my first year with a student at the compulsory attendance age anyhow).

DSC00257Last year I was keeping rough track of our school days in my planner.  But I figured out which day was the 100th day…about the night before the 100th day.  And besides, it fell during the same week as other special activities, so I didn’t feel like I could really take time out of our week to celebrate.

I decided to plan ahead this year and let the kids keep track of our days in school.  I gave them a blank hundred-days-of-school chart, and let them fill in a box each day.  As it happens, our 100th day falls on a special day anyway this year (Mr. K’s birthday).  But he was okay with doing some “100th day” celebrating on his birthday, so we’ll spend the morning on Wednesday doing a few fun activities to celebrate #100.


I’m still making my final decisions as to what we will do, but here are a few ideas I’m considering:

  1. 100th Day Snack Mix (10 each of 10 trail mix items — cereal, candy, raisins, etc)
  2. Cookies or Jello Jigglers in the shape of 1’s and 0’s to make “100”
  3. 100th day creative writing (What would I do with $100? What will the world be like in 100 years? I would like 100 of..  etc)
  4. An art project: Something creative made in the shape of 100, A “what I would look like at 100 years old” project, or just a 100th Day coloring page
  5. Legos: What can you build with 100 legos?
  6. 100-themed challenges: How many … can you do in 100 seconds?  Can you do 100 jumping jacks? 100 sit ups? and so on
  7. Counting to 100 together
  8. Making a necklace of 100 cheerios or fruit loops
  9. 100-themed math activities — measuring 100 centimeters, doing math problems on a 100’s chart, etc
  10. A 100-themed scavenger hunt around the house — this could be clutter inducing, but it would be fun to count out 100 of a few small food items, 100 buttons, 100 paper clips, 100 books, and so forth.

There are a lot of 100th day ideas out there — I collected quite a few on my 100th Day Pinterest board.  Some of the ideas I saw would work much better in a classroom, but I tried to pin activities that make sense for a homeschool celebration — it’s not quite the same as in a classroom where students can each bring a different 100 items from their own homes to school!

Why celebrate 100 days to begin with?  I guess just for fun!  It’s a neat milestone to mark, and it happens in the cold, dreary days of winter.  What more excuse do we need for a party? 😉

Linking up with Top Ten Tuesday @ Many Little Blessings!
Top Ten Tuesday at Many Little Blessings


Neighborhood Fun: 2013 Art Sled Rally February 4, 2013

Filed under: Creativity,Fun Stuff and Extras — kirstenjoyhill @ 3:45 pm

I meant to include this in my most recent Collage Friday/Week-in-Review post, but I forgot all about it in all the other fun and learning we had last week.  🙂

Something I love about our neighborhood of Minneapolis are the many creative people who share their art (and other forms of creativity) with others.  We have a very unique May Day parade, an annual art fair in the park, the Empty Bowls fundraiser for hunger-related causes where all the soup is served in handmade pottery bowls, the Art Sled Rally, and more.

In our six years living here, we’ve never before made it to the Art Sled Rally.  It’s kind of understandable, really.  I mean, who goes out to stand in the park in the middle of January in Minnesota to watch people on sleds?  😉  Well….lots of people apparently, including us this year just a bit over a week ago.

Art Sleds 2013

From what I’ve heard, people come from all over the metro area, not just our neighborhood, to participate.   Sleds and riders were adorned to look like anything from a loaf of bread to a dragon to a tea cup to a sick polar bear (yes, really!).  Conditions were very icy this year, so the sleds were “guided” down the top portion of the hill before being released to travel the rest of the way down the steep hill in Powderhorn Park.

We only saw the first handful of sleds go down the hill before the boys got too cold.  But it was a fun experience! Miss M aspires to build/decorate a sled with her best friend to launch next year.  We’ll see if the parents are up for helping with that endeavor.  😉


Of Book Reports and Ninja Christmas Carols February 2, 2013

Filed under: Books,Creativity — kirstenjoyhill @ 6:15 am

A little over a week ago, Miss M and Mr. E gave book reports at our co-op.  One of the reasons I really like participating in a co-op is opportunities just like this.   The kids get up in front of their class (a group of 8 or 10 students about the same age) and talk about a book they’ve read.  While we can discuss books all we want at home (and we often do), it is a growing experience to organize your thoughts into a few sentences or paragraphs someone else will understand, and getting up in front of a group to share those thoughts.

Miss M is really never nervous to speak in front of anybody, but writing out her book report has caused some stress in past years.  She narrated to me and I wrote it down as a first grader (we were in a different co-op when she was a K’er), then last year as a 2nd grader I thought she should probably be able to write it down for herself — a process which caused a few more tears than I was expecting.  Some of the tears were due to stress at not knowing how to spell what she wanted to say, and some of the stress was due to the difficulty she discovered in explaining the book she selected — she picked a mystery, which was hard to explain without giving away the whole ending!

This year, Miss M made an easier book selection (one of the “Caroline”  American Girl books), and has gained a lot more confidence in her spelling abilities.  In the book report process she mostly needed a bit of help to organize her thoughts and decide which details were important to communicate in order for the plot to make sense.

This was Mr. E’s first year to give a book report at co-op.  He wanted to pick The Way of the Ninja, a favorite Lego Ninjago book I’ve read to him several times.  He didn’t have too much trouble summarizing the plot, with me writing down what he wanted to say.  Prior to book report day, Mr. E was pretty nervous about giving his report in front of his class of K through 2nd graders.  I reminded him that I could listen in and prompt him if he got stuck on a word, and that his friends would enjoy listening to him give his report.  In the end he did a great job, reading some complicated words that he wanted to use and only getting stuck once!

We heard a lot about Ninjas over the last couple weeks with Mr. E thinking about and then practicing his book report.  By book report day, Miss M was inspired to write a Ninja Christmas Carol.   I guess she still has Christmas on the brain!

All of us ended up contributing to this unusual song, written from the perspective of a Lego Ninjago Ninja who has a “True Skeleton” sending him gifts instead of a “true love” — so the gifts take on a bit of a different flavor:

The Ninjago 12 Days of Christmas:

On the first day of Christmas my true skeleton sent to me: One creepy guy

On the second day of Christmas my true skeleton sent to me: 2 fights in the rain

On the third day of Christmas my true skeleton sent to me: 3 dead ninjas

On the fourth day of Christmas my true skeleton sent to me: Orders to find the 4 weapons of Spinjitzu

On the fifth day of Christmas my true skeleton sent to me:  5 rotten fruits

On the sixth day of Christmas my true skeleton sent to me:  6 more skeletons

On the seventh day of Christmas my true skeleton sent to me:  7 explosives in my house

On the eighth day of Christmas my true skeleton sent to me:  8 annoying parrots

On the ninth day of Christmas my true skeleton sent to me:  9 scary monsters

On the tenth day of Christmas my true skeleton sent to me:  10 balls of fire

On the eleventh day of Christmas my true skeleton sent to me:  11 skull motorbikes

On the twelfth day of Christmas my true skeleton TOOK from me: my 12 favorite weapons

(And my apologies if you now have the 12 Days of Christmas or this variant stuck in your head for the rest of the day!)  😉


Collage Friday: Games, Pioneers, Rocks February 1, 2013

Filed under: Weekly Highlights — kirstenjoyhill @ 12:00 pm

It’s the end of another week and we are back to sub-zero chill here in Minnesota, at least for the day.  I think by next week we’ll get above freezing again.  Meanwhile, I am sitting warm inside while not looking forward to (eta) having survived bundling everyone up to go to Miss M’s guitar lesson this afternoon.   I’m comforting myself with the fact this might be the last below-zero cold snap this winter, if we’re lucky!


Here are a few of our school work highlights for this week:



1.  History: Miss M (age 8.5, 3rd grade) loves our current history unit — We are studying the time period of US History between about 1815 to 1860, with a focus on the pioneers and westward expansion.   Our history book basket is full of books she is excited to read.  I didn’t get as much history read aloud done with all the kids as I had hoped I would, but I did finish a bedtime read-aloud with Miss M faster than expected. Look for a review of Birchbark House next week!

2 and 3.  Mr. E (age 5.5, Kindergarten) and Mr K (age almost-4, Pre-K) loved the new Angry Birds printable packs from Homeschool Creations — so much so that they did almost all the activities on Monday, the day I printed them out!

4.  Science: Miss M asked me on Monday, “Mom, why haven’t we done a lapbook in a long time?”  I reminded her that the last time we were working on a lapbook (near the beginning of the school year), she told me she was tired of lapbooks and didn’t really like them so much any more.   She had no memory of telling me that, and asked to do a lapbook for history or science.  We decided together that she would do a science lapbook first to go along with our current unit on Rocks and Minerals (conveniently enough, I already had a Hands of a Child lapbook on that topic just waiting to be used!).

5. and 6. – Math:  We played a couple of RightStart math games this week.  “Rows and Columns” was suggested in one of Mr. E’s lessons for RightStart B (Miss M asked to take my place as his game opponent), and Miss M asked that I find a new multiplication game to try from the RightStart game book, so I found one called “Ring Around the Products” that was pretty fun.  We didn’t finish either game — it would have taken a couple hours! (I guess that means we started with too many cards in our stock!).  I love math games but even when you cut them short, they are time consuming.

Besides the games, Mr. E worked on lessons 76-83 in RS level B (we didn’t do all the exercises in all those lessons — he was catching on pretty fast, though we may go back and do some later for further practice and review). Miss M worked through a lot of the Geometry chapter in Math Mammoth 3-B (she is currently on a “break” from RS level D) — a lot of it was review from RightStart, but I am finding some of the same concepts are presented differently, so it is good for her to see things from this different angle.

7.  Spelling/Phonics: Bigger boys working on the table…little boy playing under the table. 🙂  Mr. E is working on a Logic of English worksheet here.  He worked on lessons 54-58 of Foundations — a number of the concepts here were review, with some new.   I didn’t do as much Foundations work with Mr. K this week.  This is a beta- test product and new teacher’s manual files were released for lessons 1-20.  I tried to jump in where we should have been with the new file in lesson 11…but the order has changed up a bit, so I had to back up and figure out what was new.  So, I worked on a couple of new phonograms with Mr. K, but I guess we are still somewhere around lesson 9 or 10?  🙂  Miss M did the next lesson in Logic of English Essentials this week, Lesson 24.

8. My mom, Grandma Karen to the kids, comes to visit once every couple weeks.  When we don’t have a field trip planned we often try and incorporate Grandma into our school day.  🙂   Here, Mr. E is practicing reading with Grandma.  He read a level 1 book he picked out for this week called, “Space Cat.”

9.  Everyone gathered around the table with Grandma — the two older kids playing Corners (a RightStart math game), Mr. E coloring and stickering, Baby J eating a late lunch after nap. 🙂

More “Just for Fun” Highlights:



1.  We made Maple Sugar Snow Candy at the beginning of the week — read more about that here.

2.  Given our success with that project, we started some Rock Candy on Tuesday…hopefully we will have something positive to report about that project in a week or two!

3.  Siblings having fun together!

4. After a weekend snowfall, we had nice (above freezing!) weather for a couple days early in the week — perfect for snowballs and snowmen.  This potential snowman got too big, too fast (no one could lift the midsection on to the base), but the big snowball in the backyard makes a nice…leap frog obstacle?  😉

5. Baby J is now 15 months old, and inching ever closer to being a toddler.  He takes a few steps now before falling down, but definitely prefers scooting to walking.   Here he tells me, “all done” — he put all his fabric scraps back in his fabric fun box.

6. This is Mr. E’s favorite Lego accomplishment of the week.  He loves Star Wars legos and we have several sets — but not very many Jedi or Sith.  He spends hours pouring over his Lego Star Wars Character encyclopedia.  This is his “homemade” version of some of his favorite Jedi and Sith — made from pieces we already own.  🙂


I’m linking up with Collage Friday and The Weekly Wrap-Up!

Homegrown Learners