Loving science, even if you’re a Language-Arts-kinda mom

In The Book Thief, Markus Zusak describes words as “clouds, waiting to be held and wrung out like rain.”


Zusak is right. When dropped gently–like summer-day raindrops–or strung together painstakingly, on tip-toe, the perfect combination of words rumble through one moment of our life and never leave. But did you notice what Zusak did with his allegory? Much to my joy–since I’m a language-arts-kinda girl who feels inadequate teaching science to my homeschooled daughters–Zusak combined natural-science and language arts beautifully Continue reading


Encouraging a Passion for Philanthropy

I’ll admit it right up front–it’s hard. It takes long hours of commitment. Days. Years. No, it really takes a lifetime. Encouraging a passion for philanthropy in your children is not for the weak-at-heart, minimal-time-to-invest parent. Continue reading

Drawing Straight Lines With Crooked Sticks

Some days I feel like I am a crooked stick trying to draw a straight line in the dirt. On those days, I remind myself of my educational goals for my child. I remind myself that they’re simple, really. I remind myself that there are only two.


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Why We’ve Put Away Bookwork

We put away bookwork for this school year one week into May, and we won’t be picking it back up until the first week of September.


Because there’s too much work to do!

On our homestead, spring is the time for big plans. For a 12-year-old who has been enamored with Doll DIYs for over year now, the perfect plans will culminate in a full-size American Girl doll house.  She measured, planed, and diagrammed her dream. Now her Mechanical Engineering sister, who’s home from college and not heading back out of town for her summer internship for a few weeks, is helping her put the tools behind her plans.


She’s so glad we worked hard on the bookwork over the long, snowy winter so we could be done our official school year in early May. Now the fun work can begin!


This is the second year we crunched hard through core subjects in the dead of the winter so we could have a long summer. It was necessary when we were moving 400 miles away last May. And it seemed sensible when my homeschool graduate headed off to college last fall. We decided to follow her school schedule, so we could be off over her breaks. It was fabulous motivation to work hard and stay on schedule, knowing they’d have another long summer (and this summer wouldn’t be filled with moving boxes, painting, and wood floor refinishing).

Of course I’ll keep records of their projects–after all, not all 12-year-olds get to take on a hands-on Machinery and Design Class! Her sister will be completing Gardening, Planting, and Design 102. (101 was last summer.)


And they’re both learning more than I’ve ever known about raising chickens and bunnies (other exciting projects on the farm).

Then there’s Lessons in Philanthropy. The youngest is perpetually engaging in Self-Paced Nature Photography. And the other is approaching the pinnacle of her 5-year-long project of Helping Others Through Rescued Horses.

And, yes, they’ll still be completing one math lesson a week and writing often… there’s the DIY blog, the just-for-fun blog, and the older sister’s business blog. But boy are we all happy to put away bookwork for a nice, long summer. Cause all the rest, well it’s so stinkin’ fun, it doesn’t even seem like learning. And that, my friend, is when they truly learn the most.



“In all toil, there is profit.” Proverbs 14:23

Some things our family does during our homeschool year to help us shorten the time it takes to complete the bookwork:

{{ find classes that follow a short school year }}

We try to only attend co-ops that start mid-September and end early-May. And for Bible curriculum, we have attended a local Community Bible Study for 9 years now, and we love it. These classes also start mid-September and end early-May, yet my daughters’ daily readings and introspective work, along with their 2-hour weekly classes with homeschooling peers, more than equal a full credit’s worth of Bible study.

. . .

{{ skim the math review in leaps and bounds }}

For math, we’ve always used Saxon (well, once they’ve mastered the elementary school fundamentals–for those we never use a textbook). We like Saxon, except for the tedious, oh-so-boring review that takes up about 20 lessons at the beginning of every school year. To overcome the repetition, we complete only 80% of each textbook and whiz right through the review lessons at the beginning of the new book, skimming about 10 lessons in a sitting with Mom, just as a review. Then the student starts up with whatever lesson we hit on that she and I agree is a good spot to start. It’s also very rare that we actually reach the perfect ending spot each school year. We simply start the new book the next day after finishing the last book, regardless of the date.

. . .

{{ complete only the meaningful history projects }}

We love Mystery of History. But it took me a few years to get over my guilt that I never could do all the projects suggested. I don’t even try to do half of them any more. Instead, I skim the options at the beginning of the week and choose one that would be the most meaningful for each student. Even then, I’ll be honest, many weeks pass that no extra project is completed. But we keep on track with our daily readings, no matter what. I used to stop all progress through history until specific projects were done. Now I realize they will definitely complete the projects that revolve around their favorite people or topics, and those are the only projects that are likely to really make a lasting impact on them anyway. On the other hand, in elementary school my daughters spent an entire year on colonial times and another on just Civil War through 1900. And we were almost completely project-based those years. So do what works for your students and your school year plans. For us, at this stage in our homeschool, we have a set goal of covering specific time periods in the course of each year.

. . .

{{ elongate your bookwork time on the rainy, cold, or snowy days }}

Nope, we’ve never taken a snow day. Mind you, we spend all afternoon playing in the snow, but when it’s cold and windy in the early morning hours, we snuggle up inside with our bookwork. Then we enjoy our snow time in the afternoon sun even more.

. . .

{{ don’t take off the obscure holidays }}

Who needs to celebrate Columbus sailing the ocean blue or birthdays of other historical men we could learn about instead? A May summer is much more appealing to us than sporadic 3-day weekends.

. . .

{{ combine students in subjects whenever possible }}

To encourage your sanity more than any other reason, I highly recommend you combine your different-grade-level students in the same-level subjects whenever possible. If the younger one isn’t quite ready for the challenge of their sibling’s full class, then loosen the expectations on the younger one, while expecting the full workload from the older student. But by teaching history, science, health, and/or grammar only once in a given school day (or a few times each, depending on your number of children and age ranges), you free up your time a little and face less chance of burnout. Burnout will definitely require you to take longer Christmas and spring breaks, which will certainly commit you to a longer school year.

. . .

{{ get a jumpstart }}

The summer before my then-9th and -8th grader were going to take on Apologia Biology together, we were all 3 very intimidated by the thought. It was by far the most text-booky textbook we ever even considered tackling. We feared we could never get through it all in a 9-month window, so we decided to complete Module 1 over the summer. That was the best decision we ever made, a precedent that has since become the routine for how we approach science textbooks. We start every school year with Module 1 under our belt. (Mind you, after that first year, we never again had to do science over the summer, we were always far enough ahead to complete the next year’s first module before summer.)

. . .

{{ change it up once in a while }}

Oddly enough, taking days every now and then to take OFF time from the typical bookwork can rejuvenate you and your children, allowing you to actually stay on track better than if you never have an off day. Do an interesting project, or make a homemade game about something you’re learning about, or spend the day watching documentaries on line about the historical time period you’re studying.


Do you have some tips on making the school year extra productive? Please share!

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My hands (and days) are filled

My 12-year-old gave me a beautiful belated Mother’s Day present yesterday, posting this note to her blog

Dear Mom,

I want to start off by saying I’m sorry. I’m sorry we didn’t do much for you yesterday (Mother’s Day)…. We really were going to! But we all were too tired Saturday night because your eldest daughter came home from college at 11:30 pm. (The college “trouble maker,” even though we all know she’s a good girl, because you raised her well.)

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Filling Today’s Minutes with Passion

The sun rose earlier than I this morning, as she has for many weeks now, dancing through my open window in calm, warm snipets of promise, blowing between the poplar branches.


Realizing I had missed watching the sun yawn over the tree tops outside my window, I wished I could hold every fleeting minute of the morning’s promise that I had missed. Cradle them like delicate, warm, farm-fresh eggs in my hands.

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A flower awakens. A circle closes.

Our move to NH has officially come full circle.


One year ago today marks the end of an almost 6-year process that led our family to our humble New England homestead. One year ago today we became NH residents. We’re still learning our way around the state. We’re even still learning our way around our rocky, forested 14 acres. And we’re still learning our way around the New England dialect. Just last week I couldn’t decipher where someone lived–“at the end of the t-ah road.” (A phrase that is extra confusing for this southerner who has always used the phrase “blacktop” to refer to roads that were made of tar.)

But I’m thankful for the simpler, quieter life… the life that, indeed, often takes a turn onto a dirt road.


Last summer, down back roads and up winding trails, I met a joyful plethora of new wildflowers.

Having always been intrigued by botany, I felt like a giddy child introduced to new forms of sugar as I discovered unfamiliar wild flowers on every mountain hike. Although I grew up in the same time zone where we now life, I was 2 plant zones away. (If you’re curious what plant zone you live in, check out this great interactive gardening zone map.) So we added entries to Our Backyard Book often. You see, as my daughters have grown over the past 15 years of homeschooling, with my youngest now being 12, we still have a few staples that we love having randomly pop up in our days–taking school to the sand for impromptu beach days, baking instead of math once in a while, and adding to Our Backyard Book when the occasion rises.


Many new botany pages have been added about New England wild flowers, but one flower never made it in last summer or fall, because we hadn’t yet seen the bloom.

We had been intrigued by the plant’s 3 large blankets of leaves that seemed to be one with the stem, providing a green, growing canopy for leaves and ladybugs.


The canopy was topped with bright red berries. But somehow we were too busy unpacking boxes, painting, turning over and planting a garden, and refinishing our wide-planked pine floorboards to notice this intriguing plant before its flower’s ovaries swelled into berries and tossed its vibrant petals aside. I had not seen its green sepals symmetrically surrounding its vibrant burgundy bloom. Until today. The 365th day of living on this land and walking these woods.


I still almost missed it.


But once noticed, the sweet trillium–or “Wake-Robin”–can’t be ignored.


And it can’t help but have its own Backyard Page. We used this helpful site to help us identify the wildflower then did a search for additional information.

We learned that a few rare Wake-Robins do grow in our native state, but since there are less than 20 known populations of them, we had never seen one before. Here in our woods, the beautiful flowers abound. The plant earns its name “Wake-Robin” by analogy with the Robin, with its red breast, because both act as heralds of spring. Unlike the Robin, the flower requires a scent to attract pollinators. Since the Wake-Robin is pollinated by flies, well, it’s safe to say it doesn’t smell like roses. In fact, it emits the smell of rotting meat. Thankfully, it’s not an odor one will notice, unless they have their nose to the ground.

To learn about some flowers in your backyard with your own children, feel free to print and use this blank ID page.

Now I’m going to spend the rest of today–the anniversary of the day this 215-year-old homestead became our own–reveling in God’s goodness, planting my family one year ago today where we are deeply rooted in signs of his love and discovering beautiful new ones every day.


“Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you!” Luke 12:27

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All-Natural Easter Eggs

She wanted to try something new this year. She gingerly placed a dozen eggs in the old silver pot and covered them with tap water while talking of Easters past. Recalling that NaNa would always be the one to do this part of the Easter ritual, she decided since we now live 400 miles away from her grandparents we would dye the eggs a little differently. She was hoping the newness would soothe the sadness.

So we scrounged around the kitchen gathering what we thought might be fun natural dye material. In the end, we were shockingly pleased with our results.

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Welcoming the rain

Spring rains are never such a dulcet melody as when they follow a cold, harsh winter.


Although our first New England winter was beautiful, and most days were graced with a fresh white powder making everything magically new again, I will admit I was relieved to hear it was not a typical winter.

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