Homeschool Discoveries

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

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!

Join Me at The Homeschool Post!


Q is for Quotes July 16, 2013

Filed under: Fun Stuff and Extras — kirstenjoyhill @ 10:29 am
Tags: , ,

“Quotes” was an easy choice for me for the letter “Q” in the Blogging through the Alphabet challenge.   I’m a bit biased, but I think my kids are really funny.  Especially, Mr. K (currently age 4).  He seems to have inherited his daddy’s sense of humor.  🙂  I often post funny things my kids say on Facebook to entertain my family and friends, and today I picked out ten favorites from 2013 so far to share with you:


  1. Mr. K:  “If Puffed Wheat cereal is just made out of wheat, then I guess Puffed Ice Cream cereal would be made out of sugar, ice cream, wheat and fruit loops, right?”
  2. Mr. K leans in toward me and q is for quotessays, “Mom, I know what the “s word” is!” Then he leans in closer and whispers, “Stinky!”
  3. Mr. K: “Mom, I’m going to write a book about the ceiling. Will you edit it for me?”
  4. Mr. E: “Mom, I have a different kind of present to give you. I’m not going to sit OR lay down on top of the table today!”
  5. Mr. K: “Can I sometime brush my teeth with ketchup? [pause]…I like getting cavities filled. Can you get me ‘getting some cavities filled’ for my birthday next year?”
  6. Mr. E: (after seeing that our neighborhood Aldi store is completely rearranged): “I know how they did this…some Ninjas came in during the middle of the night and moved everything around.” And then a few minutes later, Mr. K says to a random Aldi employee stocking shelves, “Hi Ninja!” (of course, the guy looked really confused so I felt obligated to explain Mr K’s greeting).
  7. Mr. K: “Did you know that plungers use electricity? A robot told me that.”
  8. When asked by Tony why he kept falling off the couch, Mr. K just answered, “Gravity.”
  9. Mr. E: “I’m the superhero Princess-Man!”
  10. Miss M: “Calculus? Oh, I know all about Calculus…no, wait…I was thinking of Celsius.”



I’m still catching up with my “Blogging Through the Alphabet” challenge posts!  See more alphabet posts at  Since I have ten quotes, I’m also linking up with Top Ten Tuesday @ Many Little Blessings.

Blogging Through the AlphabetTop Ten Tuesday at Many Little Blessings


P is for Pajamas July 15, 2013

Filed under: Fun Stuff and Extras — kirstenjoyhill @ 11:04 pm

There’s this common stereotype of homeschoolers that we all like to do school in our P is for Pajamaspajamas.   I feel like I hear homeschoolers touting this all the time as a major benefit of homeschooling — you don’t even have to get dressed to do it.  While I am sure this fits and is a benefit for many families, I can assure you that not all homeschoolers like to do school in their pajamas.   We I certainly don’t.

Now, let me just say that I think I must have a “thing” about pajamas.  I have never been the type to want to stay in my PJs all day.  I don’t feel like the day is really started unless I have changed clothes.  I discovered as soon as I had kids that I felt strongly about them only wearing pajamas at bedtime.  You know how most people like have their little babies lounge around in their cute little footie sleepers?  Well, I discovered that this drove me crazy!  So even when my kids were tiny, I still dressed them in “day time” clothes for the day, and the cute footie PJs for sleeping.  Crazy, I know.

Even now, I ask all the kids to get dressed by a reasonable time.  It’s hard for me to feel like they can take their day seriously in their jammies either! I have one kid who wants to get dressed almost as soon as he wakes up, one kid who will generally not stay long in pajamas, and a kid who would barely even change clothes once every two days unless someone made him (the same kid recently told me he wished he only had to take a bath once a year).  And of course there is the toddler, who gets dressed when I want him to.  🙂

We’ve only had an official “Pajama Day” once in recent memory…and it was really quite a while ago.  I am sure a majority of my kids would love it.  Meanwhile, all the other days…we are definitely not doing school in our PJs.  😉

I’m still catching up with my “Blogging Through the Alphabet” challenge posts!  See more alphabet posts at
Blogging Through the Alphabet


Hermann Heights Monument in New Ulm, MN July 10, 2013

Filed under: Fun Stuff and Extras — kirstenjoyhill @ 11:04 pm

During our holiday weekend camping trip to New Ulm, Minnesota just after July 4th, we also took some time for a bit of sight seeing.  At the top of my list of places to see in New Ulm was the Hermann Monument, affectionately referred to as “Hermann the German”.  My childhood memory of this place was that it was a really huge structure, and my memory served me well — the copper statue and base has a total height of 102 feet, and provides a great view of the surrounding region from the viewing area:

Hermann Monument

The Hermann Heights monument comemerates the role that Hermann (also known as Arminius) played in the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest in 9 A.D. — a victory for Germanic tribes over the Romans.   Over the centuries Hermann became a sort of national hero, and a much larger statue of Hermann can be seen in Germany, somewhat near the site of the battle.  You can read much more about Hermann and the monuments to him on Wikipedia.

In the base of the monument there is a small interpretive center with interesting artwork and displays:

Hermann Monument Interpretive Displays

The displays were quite interesting and I learned much about Hermann that I had forgotten (or never learned) since my childhood visits to Hermann the German.

Linking up to Fantastic Foto Field Trips @ HSBA Post!

Join Me at The Homeschool Post!


A Visit to the Wanda Gag House July 8, 2013

Filed under: Books,Fun Stuff and Extras — kirstenjoyhill @ 11:30 pm

This past weekend we took a three day camping trip to New Ulm, Minnesota.  It’s about a two hour drive from our home in Minneapolis, and is a town I lived in for about four and a half years as a child (from about age 5.5 to age 10).  Besides a fun and relaxing time spent camping, we also did a bit of sight seeing.

Miss M and I both were very excited to visit the Wanda Gag House.  Gag is well known as the author of Millions of Cats, and we have enjoyed several of her other picture books as well.  Gag lived in New Ulm her entire childhood in this house that is now a museum. I thought perhaps the boys would not be very keen on seeing the house — but they were excited to see it too!  So, we all went in to view the house.

Wanda Gag House

This was my first visit to the Gag house as well — The house was not purchased for restoration and preservation until the year after I moved away from New Ulm. The Gag home has been restored in a number of ways to the look it would have had when Wanda and her six siblings lived there.  After many, many layers of paint and wall paper were removed, decorative painting and scrollwork done done by Wanda’s father Anton Gag were visible on the walls!

A number of works of Wanda’s art are displayed on the main floor of the house, while works of art by younger sister Flavia (who was also an author and illustrator of children’s books!), and her father Anton are on display on the 2nd floor and in the attic space.  We learned many interesting facts about Wanda and her family.  One little tidbit I found interesting — the hand lettering featured in Millions of Cats and some of Gag’s other works was not done by Wanda but by one of her younger brothers.  What a talented family!

We bought our very own copy of Wanda Gag: The Girl Who Lived to Draw to take home with us.  We greatly enjoyed this picture book biography on at least two occasions from the library.

Linking up with Fantastic Foto Field Trips @ HSBA Post!

Join Me at The Homeschool Post!


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


K is for Kitchen May 29, 2013

Filed under: Fun Stuff and Extras — kirstenjoyhill @ 11:13 pm

I think most kids have at least some inclination toward wanting to help out in the kitchen.   And since I love to cook, I’m not surprised that my kids seem to have quite a bit of desire to help out and learn.  Even the toddler, Mr. J, seems to count pretending to “cook” with my pans and spoons (and possibly scraps of real food if he can find any!) as one of his favorite activities.

K is for Kitchen

While I generally let my kids “help out” a bit as soon as they are old enough to stir and crack eggs, I’ve noticed that it has been in the past six to nine months that Miss M (who recently turned 9) has been really capable of cooking on her own in a very complex way.  She has been able to do a few simple kitchen tasks for a few years, like browning ground beef, making scrambled eggs, or heating up soup and making grilled cheese.  But this year as her math skills, attention to detail and patience have grown, she is able to follow a recipe from start to finish.

Miss M and I both enjoy baking, both yeast breads and desserts, so it has been natural for us to start there as she grows in more cooking independence.  After working closely together on a number of projects, Miss M ventured out and made M & M Blondies (a cookie bar), pizza dough, and an Italian Breakfast Bread almost completely on her own!  For the Blondies and Breakfast Bread, I let her explore on Pinterest to find a recipe that she wanted to make.

Next, I want to be a bit more intentional at helping Miss M learn how to make the staples of our dinner menu rotation.  She finds this to be a bit less exciting…but  I would love to see her capable of making most anything I make by the time she’s in high school.  I’m planning to start a “cookbook binder” of sorts for her, and add recipes as we make them together (and make sure she gets a chance to make each one on her own too).

One thing I’ve always been so happy my mom did for me as I was growing up, was that starting in Junior High and continuing through High School, she asked me to take one week every summer where I was in charge of our dinners from start to finish. I planned the menu, made the grocery list, helped with the shopping and then made each dinner.   I tried new recipes, as well as practicing family favorites, and I felt well-prepared to cook and plan menus once I was out of college and on my own.  As the kids get older, I’ll be asking them to try their hand at doing the same thing.

Right now, the focus of my cooking instruction has been Miss M — but I am sure the boys will be following close behind.    They will be learning how to cook as well!  I’m not sure if they will develop the passion for it that Miss M seems to have, but they at least need to know the basics.

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


J is for June and July (aka…our summer plans!)

Filed under: Fun Stuff and Extras — kirstenjoyhill @ 12:06 am
Tags: ,

We’ve been on “summer break” from our regular academic-year homeschool schedule for just a bit over a week now…but it hasn’t felt like summer yet.  Last week was busy with a flurry of special activities, then we went out of town for four days…and today was cool and rainy.  It’s looking like a cool and rainy week here, but hopefully by the time June and July roll around, we’ll really be enjoying some summer weather!

Last year we went all out and made a huge bucket list at the beginning of the summer.  We haven’t done that this year (at least not yet), but I’ve been forming a general outline in my head.  I’ll be using this to sit down with the kids soon to fill in a few more details and find out what they have been dreaming of doing this summer.

Big Plans for Fun, Recreation and Travel:

  • Lots of Swimming (swimming lessons + a pool pass…I really hope it warms up soon!)
  • Visiting MN Historic sites with our Minnesota Historical Society membership
  • Park and rec sports – Tennis for the two older kids, soccer for Mr. K and maybe Mr. E as well
  • Vacation Bible Camp at church in August
  • “Mission to the City” for two older kids (along with mom and dad) — 3 intense days of service projects with our church
  • Long weekend trip to Chicago in June and a two week vacation out west at the end of the summer
  • One or more weekend camping trips
  • Visits to Grandma Karen’s house for each of the three “big kids” individually

“Summer School” plans:

While all those activities will keep us busy, I want to make sure we fit in some intentional learning and review, mainly for the two older kids.  Here are a few things I have in mind:

  • Summer history/geography theme of learning about our state (Minnesota) — We’ll read some fiction and non-fiction, and Miss M may make a lapbook or notebook…plus the field trips of course!
  • Math review — Miss M and Mr. E will focus on math fact review with RightStart math games, iPad games, and maybe some “fun” worksheets (as fun as worksheets can get, I guess! I bought a few interesting e-books from the dollar sale at Scholastic Teacher Express that might come in handy).
  • Daily reading — Reading aloud is almost always part of our routine, but I want to make sure that Mr. E continues to practice his reading skills often, and that Miss M finds interesting books to read on her own
  • Learning to type — Miss M will work on learning to type this summer, and Mr. E may join in on this too
  • Interest-led science/nature study — Miss M in particular is really interested in nature study at the moment, and Mr. E often has a science topic in mind to learn more about…so I will be encouraging the kids to pursue these interests

Beyond that…we’ll find plenty of ways to have fun, I’m sure.  Water gun fights, ice cream outings, field trips to other local attractions and time to play with friends will definitely be on the agenda.

I’m linking up with…


Blogging Through the Alphabet