3 Activities for Earth Day 2014

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In our homeschool, we celebrated Earth Day this year with three activities:

1. Trash pick-up around our neighborhood.

It rained on April 22, so we could not pick up trash in our neighborhood. We did it today, two days later, after the ditches dried up. The kids love to get into the ditches to pick up trash and I would prefer not to have to clean up muddy boots. Boy and girl pick up trash in a ditch

We filled up five shopping bags or 13 gallons worth of bottles, cans, plastic pieces, Styrofoam cups, Subway sandwich wrappers, candy bags and bits of papers. Some paper was pink, which delighted my daughter, who loves all things pink. Pink trash!

Boy and girl with 13 gallons of trash they picked up for Earth Day

One would think we live in a trashy neighborhood, but we don’t. Most trash was around overnight rentals, which are about six homes down from our house.

2. Coloring a Crayola page with an Earth Day theme.

We talked about the Earth being a gift from God, its Creator. I gave them envelops with their names on them, which contained a picture of the Earth. I told them God gave the Earth to them and all of us as a gift, so we can enjoy the plants and animals and air and mountains and seas. As such, we should take good care of it. It’s called stewardship.

The envelop idea came from Horizons Preschool, a curriculum I am loosely working through with my daughter. The whole thing went along nicely with our Apologia worldview curriculum called “What On Earth Can I Do?” – review coming up in May, by the way.

3. Planting an AeroGarden.

Somebody gave us this amazing contraption about a year ago. I kept it in the garage, thinking I would start this indoor water garden during the long winter months. Well, I never got around to it. I almost gave it away at one point.

We finally put it together and it’s looking good. Some of the seeds are already germinating. We can see them through the domes. It turns itself on for 16 hours and it shuts off for eight hours. A light comes on when I need to add water. Another light comes on when I need to add nutrients. For city girls like me, this is the perfect garden.

Speaking of gardens, we need to re-plant our small veggie patch. Two days after we planted our tomatoes and peppers, we got hail and snow. Even though I covered them, they shriveled up and died. If that’s not a metaphor for putting children out of their homes at an early age, when they are not yet prepared to face cold shoulders, teasing, competition, bullies and all the other harsh realities of a school setting.

Pepper plant shriveled up because of snow

Yes, everything brings me back to homeschooling.

By the way, my kids loved picking up trash and my son said he would like to do it every day. That’s probably because I told them that every day is Earth Day. Every day is our birthday. Being alive is a privilege worth celebrating. I told him we could plan on a weekly trash pick up around our neighborhood.

Isn’t homeschooling wonderful? We get to change events based on the weather without having to fill out paper work.


Cattail Nature Study And A New Series

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Last week I came across a cattail nature study on the inspiring Handbook of Nature Study blog. It totally rekindled my desire for nature studies with my children. Now that nature seems more friendly, with rising temperatures, I feel ready to take them outside for observations of the natural world.

Boy with winter cattails

My son with a winter cattail

My husband helped me so much on this project. We live in the mountains. This is not Louisiana. I was positive we had no marsh lands and cattails in Gatlinburg. I was thinking I might have to drive one hour, to Knoxville, where they have a few lakes and ponds.

Then, as we drove back from church, my husband spotted cattails – five minutes from our house! We have been driving by that road every week and I never noticed cattails. That’s what nature study does for you. It improves your awareness of natural things.

I read the recommended pages from Handbook of Nature Study. I took a camera and not much else.

As it turned out, both my children slipped into the creek. But we had fun. I laughed it off and learned to bring a change of clothes next time, even if I think they will not follow me down there. Which, by the way, was the plan. Daddy said there might be snakes, so I was going to be the only one to go down to the creek and marsh land to collect a cattail.

Children playing by a creek

My children playing by the creek next to the cattails

We noticed the cattails were dried up and the fluff had completely exploded – winter cattails. Right in front of them, we noticed green stems and leaves – spring cattails. So we got two seasons in one visit. How cool is that?

Cattails in Gatlinburg

Spring and winter cattails along Glades Rd. in Gatlinburg, TN.

At home, I had them fill out a notebooking page by drawing. They are too young to be expected to write about the experience. I wrote a few things for them, but they enjoyed drawing the creek, the sky, and the cattails. Looking forward to our next adventure.

Cattail Notebooking Page

My son’s cattail notebooking page. He drew and I wrote.

We also found a nest of some sort in the ground. It felt pretty hard. It looks like the perfect home for a snake, don’t you think?

Snake hole around cattails

We found this on the ground around the cattails: a snake hole maybe?

This post is the first in a new series on Homeschool Ways, about our nature studies. We will call it Wonderful Wednesday because the natural world, God’s creation, is wonderful.


Mom Monday Week 16 – Dealing with Disappointment

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Disappointment is part of life. It’s one of those emotions that one experiences daily in small doses. Sometimes the doses get really large, of course. Hopefully, not daily. So, in our homeschool, it’s not like we have to make a lesson plan about it. Opportunities for disappointment abound at any given point in the day.

My kids want to do something that should be done only after we finish school, for instance. The answer is, “Yes, we can do that, after you finish school.” If they ask why, I usually explain, “Devotional first, then school, then recess.” We try to make many things fun during our devotional and school times, but recess is fun by definition.

mom monday series on Homeschool Ways - Dealing with Disappointment

Disappointment hurts and one cannot prepare for the pain. But, one can learn (1) the steps out of it and (2) that there is life after disappointment. As Christians, we know that God’s answer to our prayers may be “No” or “Later” at times. As we trust Him, hope replaces disappointment.

The other day, as we were coming home late from our classes in Knoxville, we planned a Taco Bell drive-through run for dinner. They had a 30-minute wait. I said, “Forget it,” and drove off.

My son was so disappointed, he cried and screamed all the way home – about 15 minutes – asking me to turn around. I thank God I was kind and patient with him, explaining several times and from different angles that we have food at home which we can fix faster. That I was also disappointed, but it would not make sense to wait that long.

He would not listen. He got a consequence for being loud and crabby – we removed one of his privileges for a time. Ever since, he has been more polite and understanding of limitations and changes of plans.

Did he resent me? Not at all. That night, before going to bed, he apologized and wrote me a card. It said, “I ♥ you.” I will always treasure the card as a reminder to stand my ground when my kids get emotional and demand something irrational. It’s so easy to give in just to stop their tears.

Homeschooling allows for lots of time spent together – it’s the main reason I chose this educational path for my children. As I spend quantity time with them, quality time pops up here and there. That’s when you can influence your children the most. I think the Taco Bell incident above was one of those moments for us.


3 Points for Homeschool Planning

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I just came from our monthly parent support night and, as usual, I feel energized. I have written here before about how great these meetings are. The family who shared with us graduated a daughter from high school last year and another daughter will graduate this year. Both daughters were accepted by multiple colleges on full scholarships.

The mom shared 12 points for homeschool success, but she said the three most important ones are:

1. Get involved in 4-H – the opportunities for growth and learning abound in 4-H. Just in case you are wondering, 4-H is no longer about raising pigs and chickens. It is public speaking, government, history and many other projects. The kids get to lead out for most projects, with adult counselors supervising.

And, to quote from the 4-H philosophy, there are no failures, only learning opportunities. Children learn to lose, not just to win, as they get involved in all these projects.

Which is great preparation for when they get overlooked for a promotion as adults, for instance. Or when they don’t get picked for a team. Or when they don’t get the girl. Learning to lose gracefully is just as important as learning to win.

2. Keep good records – the homeschooling mom who shared with us said this was THE most important point on her list. She said, “You can either plan well or you can keep good records. I was never good at planning, but I kept good records.” I think she has a valid point. If I had to choose between making lesson plans and keeping records of what we actually did, I would prefer the latter. It would be more useful, too.

She recommended a three-inch binder per child, per year, with a few notebook pages in the beginning: “Activities,” “Field Trips,” “Books,” and whatever other list you can think of. You need columns for the date, how many hours, the name of the activity and whether it was a solo or a group event.

Use sheet protectors for your museum brochures, tickets and show programs, so that you have a better idea of what you did that day. If you can, get a letter from the organizers that your child was there – this could be, for instance, if your child sang at a political rally, or cleaned a portion of a city street.

3. Take advantage of dual enrollment courses – graduating from high school with an associate degree or, at least, with many college credits, presents so many advantages. Financially, it makes a lot of sense.

Socially, the students get to experience college for one hour a day, then they come home. Then, they can discuss all the college stuff with their parents. They see kids dropping out, failing because of procrastination, relationships that mess up lives or alter the course of somebody’s future, they learn what it’s like to be in a classroom with others and so on.

Academically, they get challenged, but they also get helped. High school courses tend to be harder than college courses. It takes double the time to get an English high school credit than a college one – as crazy as that may seem. Also, just like with 4-H projects, your kids get to be accountable to somebody other than mommy.

The homeschool dad who shared with us summed it up like this: “It goes by fast, it does not last, so make it a blast.” He encouraged us to make it fun. So thankful for homeschooling parents who share their wisdom.


Mom Monday Week 15 – Bring Sunscreen!

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This school year is drawing to a close – our first official homeschool year. We have only forty more days and then my son’s kindergarten experience will become a memory. Surreal.

And, it’s spring. I take that back. It’s summer already. After several days with temperatures in the upper 70s and even 80s, I feel like it is summer. Somebody on Facebook was telling summer she was not ready for it yet. She wanted more spring. Living in the South (of the United States) certainly has taught me spring and fall are short. Summer and winter seem long.

Bring Sunscreen! Mom Monday Week 15

So, as we head into the summer months, the one thing to remember is to apply sunscreen. I know you know that. I’m bringing it up because I recently had to see my dermatologist for a spot on my arm that did not look like any of my moles. She decided to remove it right then and there. It was small enough, but different enough.

My children were with me, so they got to watch a small operation. First, I received two shots to get numbed. My daughter made a face when she saw the needle come out. Then, the doctor cored the black spot – as one would an apple, with a round knife. Finally, I received one stitch.

The kids watched silently and learned a lot, I am sure. They asked me if it hurt. Then, every day, as I change my band aid and apply Vaseline to the spot, they ask me how I am feeling.

If I did not homeschool them, they may not have had the chance to witness a small surgery. To think that some people believe homeschooling means keeping the kids in the back room…

All this to say, keep applying sunscreen this sunny season. Apparently, I missed a spot. We get the lab results this week. (April 15, 2014 Update: it was benign. It’s called a blue nevus – a different kind of mole – and she had removed it all anyway.)


A Bad Homeschooling Day and What To Do About It

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Oh, such a dreadful day,

I’m glad that I spent it with you…

Such a dreadful day,

You just keep me hanging on…

Sorry, folks, I am paraphrasing a British song from a few decades ago. Sometimes we have a bad day in our homeschool. If I sent them to school, they would have a bad day there or I would have a bad day on the job and the same scenario would repeat itself. Frustration, anger, questioning how we got here, why we must endure such hardships. Blah blah.

On such days, I take a deep breath (or many) and just hang tight. Or loose. Things have a way of working out. We have everything we need to live a comfortable life – and beyond – and we have no reason to complain. See, I knew there was a reason God wanted me to live the first years of my life under Communism. I used to stand in line to get our ration of bread as a child. Surely I can handle a bit of adversity and pressure in the land of the free and the home of the – what was that? – brave.

The thing is, I have started transitioning my children from picture books to chapter books. It’s more than just good news. It’s momentous news. It’s a great beginning to a process that will last at least a year, I think. Or more. My daughter is only four. I suspect we will read picture books for many years to come.

But the thing remains, I started reading to them from Heidi and Lassie. At night, after they already had their picture books read to by daddy, after they have changed into pjs and brushed teeth and grabbed a stuffed animal to go to bed with, I go to their room and sit on a large pillow on the floor in front of the closet and read to them.

One chapter. Sometimes more, sometimes less. It depends on how willing the little one is to pay attention. It depends on how patient I am with their behavior.

They love it. My son probably more than my daughter. He is older and can handle new words. She likes hanging out with mommy.

So I’d rather focus on this than the way this day went.

I could also focus on the fact that I planted my garden this week. It’s not finished, but most of it is there. It’s a new beginning. A fresh start. Another chance to learn how to grow vegetables, how to tend to their needs, how to put my laziness aside in the morning and water the plants no matter how I feel.

I could also focus on the fact that I gave my son his first math speed drills today and he did very well.

Or that we worked on music theory and ear training exercises and he loved it. After several pages, I asked him if he wanted to do more and he said, “Yes, more, more, more!”

Many positive things to focus on in order to look away from the dreadful day we had otherwise.

If I do have a bad day, I would rather spend it with my children and my husband – the people who love me the most and whom I love the most in this world.

I am learning to accept such days will happen. I am learning what to do about them.

What do you do when your homeschool day goes wrong?

Send me a message by pigeon carrier or, better yet, by leaving a comment below.


Mom Monday Week 14 – An Audience of One

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A few months ago, I heard a sermon about having an audience of One. We look for numbers to validate ourselves and our work. But, instead, we should consider that God alone matters – His opinion about our work counts more than anybody else’s. Have you ever been challenged by friends or family members about your decision to homeschool?

Mom Monday Week 14 - An Audience of One

It’s easy to get discouraged and feel dejected after facing ignorant attacks. The only question we should answer is, “Does God approve of my homeschooling my children?” Sadly, many of the questions we ask miss the point.

How many years did you spend on this important position? How many diplomas do you have? How much money are you making? How many children of yours still actively attend church? How many rows of veggies are there in your garden? How many friends do you have (on Facebook and offline)? How many homeschooling conferences have you attended? How many children have you homeschooled?

For those of us who blog, numbers talk. What is your blog’s ranking? How many followers do you have on Twitter? How many vendors contacted you last month?

That’s the wrong approach to anything in life, whether it is homeschooling, business, ministry, blogging, and anything in between. Working for man’s applause never brought peace of mind or lasting success to anybody.

The Bible says, “And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men.” Colossians 3:23

So, you see, we have an audience of One. Whatever we do, we should do it thinking only about God’s reaction to our action. Would He like this thing I am doing now? Would He approve? Would He be proud?


Sevierville Library Used Book Sale

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Recently, I came across this quote by Barbara Tuchman: “Books are the carriers of civilization. Without books, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill. They are engines of change, windows on the world, lighthouses erected in the sea of time.” Of course, we love books in our homeschool.

Stack of books bought at the King Family Library Used Book Sale

I bought all these books for less than $10 at the King Family Library Used Book Sale

Yesterday, I took the kids to the Sevierville Library to return some books. They had a used book sale going on, so we looked around. How can you go wrong when these books go for $0.50 or $0.25? I knew they did this twice a year or so, but had never taken the time to check it out. Wow! I have been missing out all these years.

We came back with an armful of books, many of them classics like “Heidi” and “Lassie” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” I spent less than $10.

I like the fact that they are used. They remind me of the books we used to check out as children in Romania – brown pages, corners turned, the name of a previous owner on the cover, stamps from various different libraries it used to belong to. These pages, worn out by many eager fingers, have offered adventures beyond the reach of many.

Many of the books I found are in like new condition, too. I found geography books on France and Sweden, a biography of Isadora Duncan written for children, classics by Mark Twain and Charlotte Bronte and anything in between.

The sale goes on for a few more days. The next sale starts on September 15. You want to be there, if you live in the area and like books. You never know what treasures you may find for your homeschool.


Media Talk 101 Review

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As a member of The Old Schoolhouse Review Crew, I recently had the opportunity to watch Captivated, a documentary about the plugged-in world we are living in, produced by Media Talk 101, a small company dedicated to informing the public about the dangers of a lifestyle that takes a bit too much advantage of the digital age.

From the very beginning, I was impressed with how professionally the documentary was put together. The script is well written, too. The producers brought in a series of leaders in modern Christianity, as well as medical doctors and family therapists, to analyze the proliferation of screens in our lives and its effect on relationships.

This DVD costs $16.95.  The shipping is free. If you wanted to order a second one for sharing, it’s only $5. If you have teens, they should definitely watch it with you. I have small children and I did not show it to them. If you have middle school age children, it’s your decision. The movie has been approved for all ages.

I liked the images of the film’s creator in Times Square – the epitome of our fast lifestyle – in the beginning and at the end of the documentary and how they tie the message together.

Another telling image is that of a man on his cell phone in the middle of a corn field. “Where can I go to flee from your presence?” exclaimed David toward God. That might as well be our cry towards screens, which surround us no matter where we go.

The documentary begins with a bit of history and it zooms in on the advent of the telegraph. It was a significant moment in human history because, for the first time, the message could travel faster than the messenger. For the first time, people could be connected remotely without needing to walk, ride a horse, a car, or a train.

I met my husband online, so I was delighted to hear that people met vicariously as early as 1890. “Wired Love,” a love novel from that era, was inspired by a true story. Two people who met via Morse code finally met in person. Since they could not really communicate with each other and it all seemed awkward, they walked in two separate rooms and he proposed via the telegraph. How romantic, right?

The documentary is divided in five parts: Media Consumption, Content, Captivity, Battleground, and Freedom.

Want some startling stats? Today, we have more TVs than children in our homes. In some homes, there are more TVs than people in the home. American children spend over 53 hours per week in front of a screen.

Captivated Movie Review

We wonder why our youth seems so passive and unmotivated. All that screen time tricks the brain into thinking you have done something, when, in fact, you have just wasted your time and accomplished nothing.

The youth seem to think they can multi-task. That they can study while watching TV and monitoring their cell phones which, besides text messages, alerts them instantly of any social media updates. Experts agree that nobody can multi-task.

This life spent plugged into some sort of virtual reality is slowly but surely changing the definition of what it means to be a human.

The documentary recommends a series of books for further study: “Distracted” by Maggie Jackson, “The Dumbest Generation” by Mark Bauerlein, “Amusing Ourselves to Death” by Neil Postman – among others. I thought the word “amuse” spoke volumes: amuse = a + muse, where a = not and muse = think. So next time you go to an amusement park, think again. I have never liked amusement parks and now I know why.

The documentary introduces the idea of a media fast. You know how Jesus mentioned there are some type of demons that can only leave us alone with praying and fasting? I believe that is true for the mind, as well. You try to go on a day media fast and you will see how hard it is not to reach for the cell phone or the iPad. Try a week or a month. Are you already coming up with excuses describing how legitimate your need is to log into your Facebook or email account? There’s your answer.

“Captivated” lists the physical downsides of technology: obesity, sleep interruption, hearing problems, eye strain, carpal-tunnel syndrome, just to name a few. What is alarming though is the reality that media addiction is worse than a drug addiction.

The documentary also shows a case study from a school where the parents complained their children had ADD. The principal said, “It is your decision as parents to put your children on medication. But, before you do, please take a month and do the following:

  • give your children three nutritious meals a day
  • put them in bed by 9pm
  • limit their screen time to 30 minutes per week
  • have them play outside one hour per day
  • have them play outside three hours on weekends

Then come back and tell me what you have found out.”

The parents agreed and, at the end of the experiment, came back to the principal to report that their children did not have ADD symptoms anymore.

Captivated Movie Review

The documentary also shows Shepherd’s Hill Academy, a residential facility where teens go to overcome their media addiction, which has made them out of control. Their testimonies were touching. I used to work in a similar place and it brought back memories.

Parents need help discerning what kind of content to put in front of their children, if they decide on allowing screen time at all. We are so bent these days on not censoring anything, that we have forgotten the Bible teaches we are to take every thought captive to the obedience of Jesus Christ.

Let me paraphrase another great quote from the documentary. They said television was a vast wasteland in 1961. Well, if that is true, television now is a toxic dump. These are words from television executives and people involved in the Parents Television Council.

Ever wondered who is behind the uber-useful website PluggedIn.com (run by Focus on the Family), where you can read reviews on pop culture products from a biblical perspective? I did. Well, his name is Bob Waliszewski and he appears on “Captivated.” He encourages parents to remember that it is OK to deny ourselves and our children. We are called to take up our crosses and follow Him.

The documentary manages to present our challenge as Christians and parents today without being too preachy. I thoroughly agree with the message of this documentary. We limit our children’s screen time to 30 minutes per day. But here are some things they could do better:

  • the documentary should be heavily edited for length; do we really need to spend 107 minutes in front of a screen which tells us about the evils of sitting in front of screens? That’s an irony which will not escape those who oppose the message. My husband gave up on it after about 45 minutes. We did not show it to our young children.
  • the families portrayed in the documentary have six or more children; that’s unusual to those of us who are not of the “quiverful” persuasion; it can be a turn-off to the mainstream American family.
  • the ladies on the documentary wear very long skirts; I understand conservative circles will watch this DVD and may have paid for the making of this DVD, but mainstream Americans do not dress that way. They might feel as if they have stepped into some kind of back country compound bordering a cult sub-culture.
  • if you propose we turn off the screens, please give us more ideas about what to do with ourselves, besides reading the Bible, foraging, playing an instrument and learning new skills. Not everybody is excited about foraging and the documentary spends a good ten minutes presenting this family’s new found passion. Not everybody is musically inclined. Not everybody can read the Bible for an hour at a time. As for new skills, when one has small children, online courses are the golden ticket but oops, that’s more screen time.

For sure, as parents, we need discernment in every aspect of our parenting ministry to our children. Media is a huge one and “Captivated” will help you focus and find some solutions for your particular situation.

For all their bashing of social media, the producers have accounts there:

Facebook  https://www.facebook.com/CaptivatedTheMovie
Twitter @CaptivatedMovie

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Mom Monday Week 13 – Pretty, Stinky Flowers

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Depending on the weather, I take a walk in the morning. Our neighborhood is 10 minutes away from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park – a perfect place to homeschool.

Mom Monday Series on Homeschool Ways

I did not learn the concept of a nature walk until two years ago when I was researching homeschooling and fell in love with the Charlotte Mason approach. Nature walks are my time to be by myself, with God and His creation. I ask for clarity on certain issues. He delivers.

Three pine cones, small, medium and large

Pine cones in different stages of development remind me of the growth process we all go through

The other day, I found some treasures that reminded me of a few lessons about life in general and homeschooling in particular.

First, I found three pine cones, each a different size, each perfect in its stage. Perfection does not mean the end of growth. It simply means organic matter, in its different stages of development, contains everything it needs to function well and continue to grow to the next level.

Children are that way. Perfect at every stage, they have all they need to continue their process of growing, learning and maturing. Are we faithful, like God, who sends sunshine and rain on His creation, to oversee our children’s development?

Small white flowers which smell awfully

Beautiful, stinky flowers from a neighborhood tree

Secondly, I spotted a twig covered in small, white flowers. It had fallen from a tree. I brought it home and my children put it in a small container with water. While having breakfast, my daughter kept saying something smelled bad. I could not smell anything, but children are always right.

I decided to smell the twig. Wrong move. These horribly smelling trees may look glorious in spring, but their flowers reek. Appearances can be deceiving. Let’s make sure that our homeschools look good and smell good, too. Literally and symbolically.