Homeschool Discoveries

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

Collage Saturday: A Crazy Couple of Weeks June 29, 2013

Filed under: Weekly Highlights — kirstenjoyhill @ 8:11 am

I’ve had a little “side job” for over a decade helping edit a small devotional publication.  My deadline is quarterly, which is a great situation because I can re-arrange my life for a couple weeks before the deadline to fit work in as necessary, and then I can ignore it for a couple months!

I should have learned by now, after 18 months or so of regularly writing this blog, that I can almost never accomplish writing blog posts and editing at the same time.  Note to self: Write some articles ahead next time or just plan to take a break…instead of thinking “oh, I’ll get to that” and just not posting.  🙂

This past two weeks has been even crazier than usual.  I may not be trying to get schoolwork done with the kids but…


We’ve also been doing:

  • Daily tennis class for the older two kids at the neighborhood park
  • Swimming lessons 8 days out of the past two weeks, plus random trips to the pool where we have a pass as well.  I like to get swimming lessons out of the way at an indoor pool before summer really starts…but the program we like was full for one of the levels the kids needed, so that bumped us into summer lessons at an outdoor pool.
  • Miss M still has her guitar lesson…and the boys are thrilled to play at the park during lesson (and everyone plays all together for a bit afterwords).
  • We had a HUGE storm that knocked out our power for only about 15 hours (some people were out for days).  Thousands of trees fell all over the city (luckily, none of them were in our yard!).
  • We fit in a quick trip last weekend to the Minnesota Children’s Museum
  • I told the kids, “No monarch caterpillars right now. We’re too busy”  We usually raise at least one every year.  Then my mom brought some milkweed for us to replant in the yard (for future caterpillars).  It was in water in a jar, and I promptly set it in the corner and forgot about it.  Lo and behold, a couple weeks later…there were three healthy caterpillars munching on the milkweed.  So, we went ahead and brought them in the house and put them in our caterpillar boxes.  🙂
  • Oh, and on top of all this…I had a garage sale with my mom and a neighbor that lasted three days over two weekends.  Crazy!!!  It was supposed to be last month, but we had to postpone it due to rainy, cold weather.   At least it was a successful sale and I am pleased with how much stuff I got rid of and how much money I made.

Needless to say, not a lot of organized “summer school” activities took place…though we have been doing a lot of reading aloud to relax from all this craziness.

Here’s to a (maybe) relaxing weekend, and hopefully finishing my editing before the 4th of July holiday.

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

Homegrown Learners

Collage Friday: Long Weekend and Time with the Boys June 14, 2013

Filed under: Weekly Highlights — kirstenjoyhill @ 1:17 pm

Happy Friday!  Last week at this time we were heading to the Chicago area for a four day “mini vacation.”   We went for a family event on Saturday, and had Sunday free for sight seeing (driving there and back took most of the other two days!).

I already shared this collage earlier this week in my post about our museum visits, but in case you missed that post, here it is again:

A Trip to the Field Museum and the Adler Planetarium in Chicago.

A Trip to the Field Museum and the Adler Planetarium in Chicago.

The day after we returned, Miss M left again to spend the rest of the week with my mom.  Grandma takes each of the three older kids for a special visit “one on one” each summer.  It’s a fun chance to get extra time with her in a different way than they can with their siblings around.   Miss M will return later today!

So, it was just me and the boys this week:


We had one completely rainy day — which was the perfect time to play board games and math games, enjoy some color by number printables, and do lots of reading.

Ever since our visit to the Field Museum, the boys have been very interested in mummies.  I pulled out a few books I was collecting for our next trip through ancient history, and we also watched a Netflix documentary about Egyptian mummies.    I also started a new read-aloud with the boys — The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary.   Mostly Mr. E is listening to this one, and we’re read at least two chapters every day this week.

Despite the fact that it’s not overly hot, we went to the pool twice this week.  We’re making the most of our season pass…even if it means that I’m shivering while I follow Mr. J around the little kids’ pool.

The boys (or the boys and I) also did a bunch of things I have no pictures of — like tons of time playing with neighbor friends who are out of school for the summer, a trip to a really large play area to meet up with an old friend of mine from college days (who recently moved to our metro area), errands conducted in a relaxed manner (instead of having to cram them in at the end of the day or on weekends like we often do during the school year), and tons of play with legos, blocks, light sabers and toy cars.  🙂

I totally flopped at having Mr. E  practice reading this week.  We’ll try and get back at that next week, I guess.

I have a suspicion we may end up back at the pool later this afternoon if it’s not raining.  Then we are looking forward to a busy weekend.

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

Homegrown Learners

Book Discoveries this Week: The Little White Horse June 13, 2013

Filed under: Books — kirstenjoyhill @ 11:17 pm

In our continued foray into books-not-related-to-our-history-studies, I chose The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge as my next bedtime read aloud with Miss M.  I wasn’t really familiar with this title until I read Amy’s post about it a few month ago.  After reading her description of the book I knew I wanted to add it to our list!  I even went ahead and just bought a copy of it, since I suspected it would be a title Miss M would like to have on her bookshelf for future reading.  🙂

At it’s core, The Little White Horse is a fairy tale, complete with an orphaned girl (Maria) little white horseliving with a distant relative, sweet love stories, mysterious circumstances, evil triumphing over good, and just a bit of magic.

Miss M and I weren’t drawn in so much by the beginning of the book — a description of Maria’s journey to her new home at Moonacre Manor — but with each passing chapter things got just a bit more intriguing.  Maria has the opportunity to set things right in a generations-old feud between her family and another family, and she boldly does what needs to be done.   A variety of “coincidences” begin to come together as the story unfolds…and since this is a fairy tale, these happy coincidences result in more than one happily ever after.

The Little White Horse was written in 1946, but the descriptive language could easily have come out of a 19th century novel.  It’s really dense with detailed descriptions of food, clothing, interior decor and scenery.

Here’s an example:  “The pretty room was panelled in oak, and the western window, with its deep window seat, looked out on to the rose-garden.  Perhaps because of this, the person who had furnished the parlour had made it a rose room.  The cream-colored brocade curtains at the window, torn but beautiful, had little flame-coloured rose buds scattered over them, and the winged armchair beside the fireplace was upholstered in the same brocade. The Persian rug upon the floor was patterned all over with full-blown golden roses upon a sea green ground.  The six Sheraton chairs that stood stiffly round the walls had seats worked in petit-point, white roses with golden hearts, upon a background that echoed the sea-green of the carpet.  There were no pink roses anywhere.” (p. 39)

Many of the detailed descriptions do serve a point in the story though (the lack of pink, in this case, is the important part — a clue to the person who decorated the room), and you certainly could not walk away from reading this story without a vivid idea of how the author wants you to envision the setting for the story.

Given the detailed nature of the reading, I think it made a good choice to read-aloud.  I tried a couple times to convince Miss M to read it on her own (while we were working on other read-alouds), but I am glad she said “no” and we had the opportunity to enjoy this one together.   I think she would have been apt to skim over the thick descriptive paragraphs, and miss details important to how the plot works itself out.  Now that she’s familiar with the arc of the story, I won’t be too surprised if I  see her picking it up to read on her own.

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


M is for Museums: A Trip to the Field and the Adler in Chicago June 11, 2013

Filed under: Fun Stuff and Extras — kirstenjoyhill @ 10:08 pm

We just finished the second of two short “mini vacations” we had planned for the early part of our summer.  Two weeks ago we went to visit family in Iowa, then this past weekend we took a 4 day trip to the Chicago area for a family gathering.  Chicago is a nearly 8 hour drive for us, so two of the four days were pretty much spent traveling.   The family event took one day…and that left us one day free for sight seeing!

We decided our kids would really enjoy the Field Museum of Natural History, and possibly the Adler Planetarium as well:

M is for Museums

I knew one of our local museum memberships would get us some sort of admission benefit at both the Field and the Adler through the ASTC Passport Program.    We decided to start our day at the Field, and see how things went from there.  We were very pleasantly surprised to discover that our local membership got us into the Field museum for free!  This was just a basic admission (not for the special exhibits) — but there is so much to see that we were totally okay with not upgrading our admission.

The Field museum was unlike any museum I’ve ever visited.  I realized that I had never really been specifically to a natural history museum before!  Highlights for us included animal dioramas, an exhibit on Egypt that included many mummies (as well as two actual rooms from an Egyptian tomb!), dinosaur skeletons, and the incredibly realistic plant models.

Since we didn’t have to pay an admission fee to see the Field, we decided to check out the nearby Adler Planetarium as well.  Just like at the Field, we also got free admission to the exhibits at the Adler with our local membership card.   The kids were excited to see a planetarium show at the Adler, so we paid $10 each to see one of the several shows they offer.  We weren’t quite as “wowed” with the Adler.  Part of it may have been that we had already spent four hours walking around the Field!    The kids’ favorite part of Adler (besides the show) was an extensive kids’ play area that brought together various space exploration themes and activities.

We really did enjoy both places very much and hope to visit again — though on our next trip to the Chicago area, we may check out the Museum of Science and Industry, another museum we can visit free through the ASTC Passport program.

If you enjoy “sciency” sorts of museums and have travel plans in the upcoming months, you should definitely check out if any your local museums and the museums at your desitnation participate in this reciprocity program.  Our free admissions on this trip actually turned out to be of greater monetary value than the cost of our year-long membership to The Works (a favorite smaller science and technology museum in our metro area).  You may just find you could visit the sites on vacation AND visit your local museum all year long for less than you could spend on full price admission on vacation!

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

Blogging Through the Alphabet


Collage Saturday: Summer Break + Summer School June 8, 2013

Filed under: Weekly Highlights — kirstenjoyhill @ 9:59 pm

This was our third week of summer break — though the weather has still not been very cooperative to make it feel really like “summer.”   We also started adding in just a light amount of “summer school” into our schedule.

Monday, we headed to the Minnesota Zoo for a short visit after running an errand to a friend’s house nearby:



We especially enjoyed the special exhibit of African animals, the outdoor Bird Show, and the baby prairie dogs.  Baby prairie dogs are really adorable!


In other highlights this week:



1.  Miss M (age 9) built  new Lego Friends set she received as a belated birthday gift

2-3.  The two older boys (ages 4 and 6)  practiced making scrambled eggs

4.  Though we don’t own a cat of our own, Miss M really loves cats a lot.  So much so that she spent some of her birthday money on jar of catnip to make homemade cat toys as gifts for friends with cats, and for herself to use while playing with the many friendly cats on the block.  Thanks to Family Fun magazine for a great idea (I continue to get this magazine not because I ever take the time to read it…but because Miss M loves the crafts and other fun ideas!).

5.-6.  Speaking of fun ideas, Miss M really wanted to make this travel art case she saw on one of my Pinterest boards.  It was a total fail (my fault — I couldn’t figure out how to properly cut the case).  She made a small cardboard-and-duct-tape small crayon box instead with inspiration from daddy.

7.  With continued less-than-ideal weather much of the week, Mr. E created art work as well.  I really liked this one he is holding up in the picture.  I think he said it was a “Red Guard with a Double Bladed Lightsaber.”  Or something like that!

8. We finally planted a garden.  The kids and I took advantage of a short break between rain storms and planted a few veggies on Wednesday afternoon.   We’ll see if the weather is favorable the rest of the summer for actually growing any vegetables!

9.  Miss M and Mr. E continued typing practice with Dance Mat Typing this week, and everyone played educational games on the iPad.  “Summer School”-wise, Miss M started learning about Minnesota History by reading two “Studies Weekly” newspapers, and I played math games with the two older kids. And of course we did plenty of our usual reading aloud.  Like I said, a nice, light start to a bit of planned summer learning.  🙂


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

Homegrown Learners

Book Discoveries this Week: Owls in the Family June 5, 2013

Filed under: Books — kirstenjoyhill @ 11:35 pm

I’ve been meaning all year to step-up the chapter book read-alouds with Mr. E (age 6, rising first grader), but I wasn’t very successful.  He really enjoyed the longer read-alouds he did listen in on, but I had a hard time figuring out where in our schedule literature read-alouds for everyone (or even just for Mr. E) should fall.

I had been thinking that soon Mr. E would “graduate” to joining Miss M and I for longer bedtime read alouds…but Mr. E really like bedtime stories with daddy and his brothers.  He is no where near interested in giving that up (and the attention span of the two younger boys makes chapter books at bedtime a less ideal situation).  Compounding the problem is the fact that Mr. J (the 19-month-old) has this bad habit of crawling all over us every time I try and read-aloud to the boys.  I am trying to teach him not to do that…but without much luck so far.

So last week we decided we were going to make a concerted effort to have reading time during Mr. J’s nap every day…or at least as many days as possible.  And during this block of reading time we’ll read a chapter of the Bible, at least one chapter of a longer read aloud, and probably do some other reading as well.  I’m sure it won’t happen every day…some days we’ll need to work on other projects.  But at least for this summer, nap time will be story time.

I’ve had a stash of more “boy oriented” read-alouds I have been saving for Mr. E.   I decided owls in the familyto kick off our new reading time with Owls in the Family by Farley Mowat.   Much to the chagrin of my kids, we are a non-pet-owning family…but my kids would love to own one.  So this story of a boy and his many pets (including two pet owls) was a big hit with all the kids.

Owls in the Family is a fairly short chapter book (only 91 pages), so it’s a good choice for a little bit younger crowd.   The pet owls in the story are pretty funny, and of course, are the cause of antics with other kids, neighborhood animals, the mail carrier,  a new minister in town, and more.     Besides being a cute, sweet story, Owls in the Family gives a lot of little factual tidbits about owls, the Canadian prairie, and other nature-related topics.   Overall, it’s a great choice for a family read-aloud (especially for animals lovers!).

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


L is for Learning a Language June 4, 2013

Filed under: Curriculum — kirstenjoyhill @ 11:26 pm
Tags: ,

Homeschoolers get asked a lot of questions (Do you kids get enough socialization? Do your kids have to take standardized tests? Where does your curriculum come from? Do you have to teach what the schools teach?).  And a question that I’ve been asked several times is, “Will your kids learn a foreign language?”

My answer has been, “yes, someday.”  Honestly, just getting a solid start in English has been our priority so far.  We dabbled just a bit in learning Spanish with a co-op we participated in when Miss M was in Pre-K and Kindergarten.  I day dream about teaching Latin (but I can’t see my kids getting excited about).   I have generally been of the opinion that while learning a language in elementary school is nice, if you don’t have an immersion opportunity, you might be able to quickly get up to speed in middle school or high school when English skills are stronger.

But the kids have been bugging me a lot lately…about learning German.   Now, this isn’t as out of the blue as it seems.  We have close friends across the street who often speak German at home and their kids go to a German immersion school.  Other than smatterings of Spanish and Somali my kids hear spoken at the park or around the neighborhood (those being the two primary immigrant groups in our area), German is by far the non-English language they hear most often.

So, I think we may at least dabble in a bit of German and see if the kids’ interest persists.  At least they will have the opportunity to practice with German speakers!  Luckily, I actually did take German in grades 7-10.   While I don’t remember a lot, I have a bit of a clue of how things should be pronounced and I am guessing more will come back to me.


MindSnacks German App

Unfortunately, unlike Spanish and Latin, two languages often studied at school (or at home by homeschoolers), I haven’t found that there are quite as many options for beginning German for early elementary-age students.

I’ve requested a few books and videos from the library, we’re trying out a couple of apps and our German speaking friends have some books and videos we can borrow.   I’m still hoping a curriculum or at least something we can use in a more organized fashion will turn up.  But until then, we’ll dabble (and maybe start saving up for Rosetta Stone software for the future!).

Let me know if you have any suggestions for learning German…especially if you have any suggestions appropriate for younger kids who aren’t yet strong readers in English.

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


Collage Saturday: Week #2 of Summer Break June 1, 2013

Filed under: Weekly Highlights — kirstenjoyhill @ 9:56 am

This was a short week for us (as I’m sure it was for many people) with our family returning late Monday afternoon from a 4-day weekend out of town.   It felt more like a “break” week than last week did, since last week was so full/busy.   We didn’t make any big plans — we mostly stayed home (besides taking care of a bunch of errands…and actually having time to do them in the morning before everyone was tired and crabby!)

When it was time to take our summer break, I told the kids I would give them two weeks without bugging them about “school stuff” at all (We have some light schoolwork planned for the summer).  But they still managed to learn a lot anyway.  🙂


I tried to keep a few notes of the learning activities the kids did this week…mostly on their own initiative, or with a little prompting/suggesting from me when they were out of ideas on a few rainy afternoons:

  • Letter writing (Miss M — age 9)
  • Using the dictionary to check spelling (Miss M)
  • Snap circuits (Mr. E  — age 6 and Mr. K — age 4)
  • Fill-it-in Math Word Problems (like mad libs, but with a math question at the end)
  • Miss M and I tried a new yeast bread recipe (Italian breakfast bread)
  • Educational iPad games
  • Science “One Minute Mysteries”
  • Mr. K dictated a short story to me
  • Started “Owls in the Family” as an afternoon read-aloud with all three older kids
  • Finish a woven potholder (Miss M)
  • Miss M learned how to make twice baked potatoes
  • Typing practice (Mr. E and Miss M)
  • I finished a long read-aloud with Miss M
  • Finding new books at the library (a nice review of using alphabetical order for Miss M)
  • Practicing etiquette at a backyard tea party
  • Birdwatching in the backyard (we observed a female goldfinch for quite a while)
  • Started Life of Fred Cats, at the kids’ request
  • Random picture book read-alouds


Have a wonderful weekend!


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

Homegrown Learners

Book Discoveries this Week: The Mysterious Benedict Society

Filed under: Books — kirstenjoyhill @ 8:16 am

The past couple summers Miss M and I have devoted our bedtime read-aloud time to a series.  This year I didn’t have a particular series in mind, but I thought we would start out our summer with a change of pace.  We’ve spent a majority of the school year reading some pretty serious historical fiction…so we’ll turn our attention to some lighter reading for a bit.

I’ve heard a lot of good things about The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee MBSStewart.   This combination of mystery, adventure, and fantasy kept us up late reading many nights through all of its 485 pages!

Many children answer a classified ad that asks, “Are you a gifted child looking for special opportunities?”  But after a series of very unusual tests, only four very different children are selected by Mr. Benedict for a special task.  These four children become The Mysterious Benedict Society.   The children are asked to go on a dangerous mission together to uncover what is really going on at an unusual boarding school run Mr.  Curtain — a man who apparently has an evil plot in mind that involves sending hidden messages in TV broadcasts and the like.  The Mysterious Benedict Society employs their diverse talents to discover what is really going on at the Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened, trying to put a stop Mr. Curtain’s evil intentions.

This was quite an exciting, funny book.  So exciting, in fact, that not only did we stay up too late several nights…My eyes kept skipping ahead wanting to read ahead silently (aka more quickly) to see what would happen…and Miss M grabbed the book and read a few chapters during the day on a few occasions and told me that I could just catch up later.  🙂  Normally we save our bedtime books to read together, but since this one was so long I thought it would help us get through it in a more reasonable amount of time to read parts of it separately.

The Mysterious Benedict Society has a couple of sequels — Miss M will be reading those on her own.  In fact, she insisted I get a copy of the next book ASAP from the library as soon as this first book was finished.  I was happy to oblige, since Miss M has been hard to please as of late when it comes to her own pleasure reading.   The next book in the series is plenty long as well, so it should keep her busy for a bit.

Her love of the Mysterious Benedict Society, along with a recently found love of Roald Dahl books, helped me figure out a bit more of what kind of books to suggest for her — I think funny, outlandish and mysterious are three adjectives that describe her current reading tastes! We just picked up the first Series of Unfortunate Events book as well as the Nurse Matilda collection to add to her book basket.   If you have any other books you think I should suggest to Miss M that fit some of those characteristics, let me know!

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