Story of the World, Vol. 3, Chapter 17

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Chapter 17 dealt with Russia’s Peter the Great. I have mixed feelings about Russia. I grew up in Romania and Russia influenced our culture in a very tangible way. I do not like Russia because they brought communism to Romania, but I like Russia for its art and literature.

Foam medal craft

We used foam sheets with sticky backs for the medals.

Russian history explains a lot about its art and culture, so I am curious to learn more about all the details that have shaped this country.  Continue reading »

The temper of Peter the Great gave us an opportunity to discuss our own tempers. Homeschooling families spend a lot of their time together. We have more opportunities to get on each other’s nerves than families who send their children to school for seven hours a day.

Foam medal

One of the medals made by the kids out of sticky foam sheets.

Thankfully, we do not get as ugly with each other as Peter the Great did, but we have our moments when our tone with each other could use some modulation. I call it our “meek voice” and I am the first one to admit that I need a lot of help in developing my meek voice and using it more often.

Foam sheets with design drawn

First we drew the design onto the foam sheet.

For our craft, we used foam sheets to create medals. When Susan Wise Bauer wrote this curriculum, the foam sheets she recommended did not have sticky backing. Well, this made our craft a lot easier. We did not have to apply glue. Our foam sheets are like stickers.

#1 Place Medal Craft

The other medal my children made

You just remove the protective cover and voila, you have a sheet ready to be stuck onto another foam sheet. So first we drew the shape, then they cut it out, then we removed the protective cover and stuck the pieces together according to the design shown in the book.

We used different color foam sheets, but then the kids decided to color them with markers anyway. Oh well. Whatever works. You will notice that one of my children is still learning how to spell “place.”

Story of the World, Vol. 3, Chapter 16

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Chapter 16 dealt with people like John Locke and Isaac Newton – fascinating discoveries and advances in the sciences and philosophy. I really enjoy a chapter which speaks about people (or events) I have already studied for myself. Not that I don’t enjoy learning new things. But I have a frame of reference and it intrigues me to see how Susan Wise Bauer covers the topic.

Gravity experiment

The children took balls into the tree house to see how they fall to the ground.

Besides, I am kind of ready to get out of the Dark Ages and move on with human civilization. I am ready for early modern history to actually happen. Bring on the scientific revolution! Continue reading »

For the activity, we went to the tree house and dropped balls of different sizes and weights to the ground. Isaac Newton’s a-ha moment changed humanity in so many ways. It is inspiring to share things like that with the children.

We found some simple biographies of Newton and Locke at the library. In all honesty, I have given up trying to locate the exact titles suggested in the history curriculum. I found some of them to be too long and others to be too advanced. And our librarians make the effort of ordering these specific titles through ILL, which is time consuming.

I end up not reading all of these titles to the kids and then I feel guilty. I am that mom who has to finish the book to feel like she has gotten the job done. And even though now they can read lots of books to themselves, I still prefer for us to read at least one history book out loud.

2017 Solar Eclipse Lesson Plan

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On August 21, 2017, the US will experience a solar eclipse. Some places are in the path of totality, but even if your location is not, you will still get to experience some darkness or partial darkness for a few seconds and up to a couple of minutes.

Solar Eclipse Glasses

Our children’s aunt bought us solar eclipse glasses. Hurray for aunties!

What are you doing to prepare for this rare event? This is the perfect excuse to get out the physics books and a space encyclopedia and teach your homeschooler about the Sun and the Moon and how they fit together with the Earth.

Here’s a lesson plan if you need one. Continue reading »

Or click to download a 2017 Solar Eclipse Lesson Plan PDF.


Solar Eclipse Lesson Plan

August 21, 2017

A. Devotional with Bible verses about celestial bodies. Here are just a few:

1. God created the Sun, Moon and Earth – Genesis 1; Psalm 8:3-4

2. God holds the Earth in space – Job 26:7; Isaiah 40:22

3. God knows the stars by name – Psalm 147:14

4. Space proclaims God is the Creator – Psalm 19:1-6

5. God will re-create Earth when Jesus returns – Revelation 21

B. Solar eclipse breakfast – pancakes with your favorite topping; get creative and make three different sizes to represent the Moon, Earth and Sun; melt chocolate/carob and cover up the Earth with “darkness” etc. The sky is the limit (get it?).

C. Read from your space encyclopedia/science textbook/library books about solar eclipses. Words to look up: orbit, totality, umbra, penumbra, corona, eclipse, atmosphere, lunar, solar. For older students, prepare a handout with these words and have them copy the definition from the encyclopedia (or use the second page below).

D. Watch NASA live streaming: some libraries will have a public event of the four-hour broadcast but, of course, you can watch it from home if you have access to NASA TV or the internet. You don’t have to watch it all, of course. One hour will probably be enough to give your children an idea of what is going on across the nation.

E. Solar eclipse lunch. Tostadas with black beans (the Sun covered by the “dark” Moon). Definitely have chocolate/carob cake for dessert. Use a round pan.

F. Solar eclipse art and/or craft. Here are three ideas, all simple and cute.

1. Have the children draw what they saw or how they would imagine a total eclipse would look.

2. Using play dough, have them make a model of the position of the Sun, Moon and Earth during a solar eclipse. You could connect the three celestial bodies with toothpicks and make each in a different color: white play dough for the Moon, yellow for the Sun, and blue or green for the Earth. Set it on a paper plate and take pictures of it for your science binder/portfolio/lapbook (so you can discard the actual project later and not feel so guilty about it).

3. Have the children paint one paper plate yellow, red and orange to represent the Sun. They can then paint another one black to represent the Moon. Have them use sponges or small circles from a pool noodle for a great texture, instead of brushes. Once dry, they can simulate the eclipse by slowly moving the Moon over the Sun.


Plan ahead

1. Buy solar eclipse glasses if you plan to look at the actual event. We got ours from the Sugarlands Visitor Center in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Many physical or online stores have them.

2. Get all your food made the day before.

3. Gather all books and supplies.



Talk Like A Scientist

Look up these words in a science encyclopedia. Copy the definitions in the space below.

  • orbit =
  • totality =
  • umbra =
  • penumbra =
  • corona =
  • eclipse =
  • atmosphere =
  • lunar =
  • solar =

Stay safe! Do not look at the Sun without special eclipse glasses. Sunglasses are not safe.

Back to Homeschool 2017

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August remains a strange month for me to think about going back to homeschool. I grew up in a country where school always started on September 15. August – all of August – was a part of the time we called “summer holidays.”

Boy and girl going back to homeschool

The last year I have both of them in primary school

In fact, the summer holidays lasted for exactly three months: from June the 15th through September the 15th. When you do this for thirteen years during your most impressionable life stage, it is rather hard to think of August as the month when school starts and May as the month when school ends. But, I live in the US now and have to get over myself. Continue reading »

Back to homeschool we go, and August has barely started. Oh well. It will clear May for some traveling before most people start their summer travels. We like traveling in May and September, when most people are in school.

Boy starts fourth grade

My oldest is in fourth grade. We started homeschooling five years ago. What?

We took some fun pictures in our yard to mark the occasion. Do we dress up for school like this every day? Nope. In fact, I remember when I used to buy them school uniforms and I smile. It was fun at the time. But then I realized they do not wear them but three times before they outgrow them.

When we went on field trips, people assumed we were from some private school because the kids were wearing school uniforms. As cute as these uniforms are, I realized I had to give them up. Sigh.

Girl holds sign for back to school

My youngest is in second grade. I have no idea how that happened. She used to be in preschool.

A shout out to all the bloggers who share beautiful back-to-school signs with us as free printables. It is a pleasure to go on a hunt for the latest signs on the web. Design is not my cup of tea, so I am thankful for creative, artsy people. I would give credit to the blogger who shared these signs, but I can’t find her anymore. I have just been through so many.

One special thing that happened in church the week before school started: the pastor asked all educators to come up front so they can have a special prayer for the upcoming school year. At first, he mentioned the teachers from the church school affiliated with our local congregation. Then, he extended it to church members who teach in public schools, universities, or any other programs for children. “If you are an educator at any level, in any school, please come up front so you can be recognized and so we can pray for your ministry to children. Education is a ministry.”

Mom and children

My husband prefers to stay behind the camera and take pictures of us.

I realized he meant homeschool educators as well, so I went upfront. It was very special. Come to think of it, I can’t recall a previous pastor doing this for all the educators in our congregation. It feels good to know that a spiritual leader recognizes the ministry of homeschooling parents.

The pastor said a few encouraging words about the importance of preparing the next generation and shared how teachers do not receive remuneration commensurate with their efforts. If it was well-paid, a lot of people would be doing it. But it isn’t. As such, teaching is a calling. And, as such, all educators are missionaries in their own right. Even in public school, a Christian teacher can be such a great influence for good through kindness and positive interactions. How much more then in a Christian homeschool.

Library Story Time

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For several reasons, we have been inconsistent with our library visits. Back in January, we bought a lot of books because our house got damaged by wind and water the night of the Gatlinburg wildfire and we lost 40 books from our collection. So I took them to Barnes and Noble and let them choose lots of new books.

Andy Armadillo visits the library

Andy Armadillo from Texas Roadhouse came over to Story Time at our local library.

In retrospect, I wish I had been more careful with our choices, but that’s another story and hindsight is 20/20. I must focus on the fact that they are reading, learning new vocabulary and seeing how stories are put together. All this to say, we have been busy reading books we own, too busy to go borrow books from the local library.

Continue reading »

The other reason is that we found more of the books from the list I wanted them to read at the Pigeon Forge Library. And, get this, if they did not have them, they bought them for us. Since January, we have listened to unabridged classics like The Trumpet of the Swan, Charlotte’s Web, Heidi, and Little House on the Prairie series (all seven volumes of it) – from the Pigeon Forge Library.

So yes, we have neglected Story Time at the Gatlinburg Library. It is more for preschool age anyway, I thought. We are transitioning toward chapter books and away from picture books and it is a weird little dance we are doing between longer books we read over a week or picture books we finish in two minutes.

This summer, I have come to the conclusion that one of my goals for the upcoming school year is that the kids read one book a day. My son is capable of reading a 150-page book on his own in one day. It takes him 4-6 hours but he loves it and he is learning a lot. For instance, he read The Terrestria Chronicles in a week. I have yet to read that series for myself. It came recommended by a mom I know and trust (and who is more Conservative than I am when it comes to reading standards) and so I purchased it for him.

I like the Charlotte Mason approach, but I am not a purist. Ms. Mason spoke against books that she called “twaddle.” Several people have tried to explain what that means. I bought the Boxcar Children series only to find out afterwards that Charlotte Mason devotees do not approve of it. Oh well.

Come to think of it, my own children got tired of it in volume 2. We set it aside. I plan to dust it off and pull it back out soon. They are older and maybe can handle the stories better, who knows? Or maybe it is not worth it, after all. You never know until you try it. If they reject it again, then maybe there is something wrong with these stories, although I love the values espoused by the children in this series.

My thing is, let the kids read what they like. Sure, they need guidance and there should be a standard in place as to the subject matter and how appropriate it is for a Christian child. But as long as a child is reading and you are praying for him to learn and grow and get wisdom from the books he reads, I have to count my blessings and move on in confidence that we are doing a good thing.

I still follow suggestions from Susan Wise Bauer’s classic “Well Trained Mind” as well as Jim Trelease’s Read-Aloud Handbook. I have a couple other books with book lists by ages, stages, and topics. Sometimes I Google “book lists for children” and find interesting ideas.

Back to my reading goals for the next school year: one book a day – picture book or small chapter book. If it is a longer chapter book, even a week is fine. But they need to read at least 20 pages per day in it. I usually end up reading to them these longer books because, frankly, I have not read them, and I want to know what is in them for my own benefit. But I don’t have time for all the chapter books they read. Only for the ones that end up on “classics for children” lists.

In order for us to be more consistent with this goal of “one book a day,” I have decided we shall attend Library Story Time every week. It is called “preschool and early elementary.” The librarian makes an effort to choose a longer book besides a shorter book which is “young” in its theme. There is a craft, but she does not mind if my children do not want to do it. Usually, they do not.

They sit in these great armchairs and read to themselves. Sometimes my daughter asks me to read to her. So we end up spending a great hour at the library, picking out books and reading to ourselves. Story Time is just an excuse to make it there weekly. Besides, everybody likes a story read to them.

I pick books for them, too. I gravitate towards nonfiction and make sure I choose from several categories: history, biographies, animals, space, math, science, geography etc. This will broaden their horizons beyond their normal realm of interests. So while they read, I walk around the shelves and pick things that catch my eye. I also have several lists I pick from, as I mentioned above. Looking forward to a year of great reading!

Homeschooling As A Group

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While I am not ready to join a co-op any time soon because we have tried it and it does not fit our family, I know many homeschooling families love the idea. If you do not have a co-op nearby or if you want to start your own, here are some tips to help you in that endeavor.

A homeschooling co-op is made up of families choosing to team up with other local homeschooling parents and teaching their kids together as a unit, taking it in turns to run lessons.

There are many benefits that come with this kind of small group teaching, such as that different parents with different skills can focus on different areas of education. For instance, parents with a strong mathematical knowledge can teach math, while parents with good grammar skills can teach English. Moms who love sports can teach sports education, while dads with a passion for travel can teach geography. Continue reading »

There’s no getting away from the fact that homeschooling as a group can be highly beneficial for parents and children alike. However, there can be some teething problems to begin with. That being said, if you take note of these tips, hacks, and pieces of advice, you can make the process of adapting to homeschooling as a group much easier and less stressful.


Put a plan in place

The first step is to put a plan in place. What you need to do is sit down as a group and talk through how it will work teaching your children together. Will you separate the week into different parents for different days or will you choose to separate up the subjects with different parents teaching different topics depending on their skills and knowledge?

You need to think about this and work out what you want to do. Say, you opt to give each parent a different topic to teach, consider suggesting that each parent undergoes some training for their topic. Say, for instance, you are assigned the role of guidance counselor, you might want to look into doing a master of education school counseling online. Ambitious, I know, but many parents already have the desire to go back to school for themselves. It’s just a matter of finding the right man for the job.

Or, say you are going to be teaching English, you may want to do a course on the English language. Your kids deserve the best education possible, so taking some courses could be worthwhile. It doesn’t matter how you choose to work things out in terms of who teaches what, just as long as everyone is happy and your children are getting the high-quality education that they deserve.


Create a curriculum everyone is happy with

As for the curriculum, it’s important to put together a plan that everyone is happy with. As a group, discuss the important aspects that everyone would like included in the curriculum, as well as what the law says you must include. If there’s anything that an individual parent wants their children to learn but no other parents are keen for their kids to learn about it, then they can teach them that separately. The key is to create a plan that ensures each of your children will learn everything that they need to know to keep them on track with other children their age in terms of their knowledge and skills.  


Focus on the children

It’s important to remember that when it comes to homeschooling your children as part of a group, that it’s the kids who are most important. Make sure that you ask them what they want, such as if there are any subjects that they would like to learn, for instance. It’s also important to talk to them about teaching methods, to ensure that the ones being used they find effective and are able to learn with them in use. Don’t forget to find ways to reward them, such as by planning group trips to local attractions, for instance.

Homeschooling as part of a group could help to make the process of home educating your children easier, as you will give you the help and support that you may need.


Simple Ways To Make Moving Home Easier

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I have a friend who is moving this summer. She told me how stressful it was and we talked briefly about it. Homeschoolers are people and people move around. So maybe we should touch on moving a bit.

Luggage on top of car

Make moving day less stressful with these tips

Moving is one of those life situations which everyone has to go through from time to time, a kind of rite of passage. Yet, it is often also one of the more stressful things which we have to do in our modern lives. Continue reading »

If you are about to move home, it is possible that you are already experiencing some stress in relation to it, and you might be wondering how you can deal with the situation in a way which will reduce that stress. In this post, we are going to take a look through some of the best things you can do to make moving home a little easier on yourself and your family as a whole.


Start Packing Early (But Be Careful About The Order)

It is usually the case that we leave packing until it is almost too late. Everyone is guilty of this, and yet it is the most common reason that the move itself is so stressful. If you are looking to have a less stressful time of it, then you will probably want to consider packing your things up a little earlier.

At the very least, you can start to pack up, and this will surely make it easier on moving day itself. But when you are starting to pack up early, be careful about what you pack. You don’t want to make living in the current home more difficult by packing away essentials, after all.

Start with those things which don’t matter so much, the things you don’t need to live from day to day. Keep essentials until last, and this alone will make a huge difference to how stressed out you get.


Get Professional Help

On the day itself, it is likely that you will want to find some kind of help. There are a number of places you can look for this. Most people will go to their family and close friends for help. This is certainly a good start, and it might prove to be an essential way to get the day moving in a much faster fashion.

But you will also want to keep an eye out for any professional help which you might be able to benefit from. Having some local movers on board on the day can mean that everything is just that little bit easier – and it will probably be much faster too. This is worth thinking about if you want the moving day itself to go off without a hitch.

Move On A Weekend

It might be a good idea to keep moving day for a weekend (that’s what my friend did). This will enable you to spend as much time as you need to on the move, which can really make a world of difference when it comes to wanting everything to be as easy as possible.

You might even find that it is worth taking a few days off work after the weekend too. This gives you the chance to unpack and spend some time in your new home, which can be really useful for starting to feel at home in it.

First Family Hike After Fire

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It has taken us more than eight months to get back on the Gatlinburg trail for a family hike after the November wildfires. It was therapeutic to be out in nature again.

Family hike and bike in the Smokies

Family hike and bike in the Smokies

So many things have kept us from hiking. In the winter right after the fire, the last place we wanted to visit was the park – even though not much actual burning actually happened on this particular trail. The sheer nature of a busy spring schedule precluded us from going there while school was in session. Then summer rolled around with its whirlwind of camps and tourist traffic. Continue reading »

We have also had some health challenges for the past six months. My husband had a mowing accident last month and he has had to be in bed with his leg propped up for weeks. I have had an upper respiratory infection for weeks. Our daughter has been struggling with a mild form of asthma. It seems that only our son has been healthy and fully operational lately, but even he struggles with the occasional growing pain in his legs or wrists.

Dad and son looking at the river gage on Gatlinburg Trail.

Dad and son looking at the river gage on Gatlinburg Trail.

The humidity here in the South can be forbidding to outdoor exercise, not to mention the mosquitoes and ticks. So yes, plenty of reasons to avoid hiking. Until today. All of the sudden, I found myself proposing to the family that we go on a hike. The children protested, but we ignored them. We know what they said after every hike: “That was fun!”

Gatlinburg Trail wooden bridge

Gatlinburg Trail wooden bridge

And off we went. I took some random pictures of a few burned trees – for those of you who want to see some of the damage. I know it’s in the back of everybody’s mind: “What actually burned?”

Burned trees on the Gatlinburg Trail

Burned trees on the Gatlinburg Trail

I have mixed feelings on the subject. On the one hand, I want to show non-residents the devastation, on the other hand, well, this is our hometown. People died. People lost their homes. This was a national disaster. Can we please stop treating it like it is a tourist attraction?

It has been sad to hear people ask for directions to the burned down cabins. “We just want to show our kids. Can you direct us to the streets where the most devastation happened?” Seriously, folks. Is there any sensitivity left in the world?

Math Camp At Home

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The other day I found an announcement about a math camp for homeschoolers taking place in Knoxville. I was ready to take my kids there and then reality set in: driving daily for two hours both ways, trying to entertain one while the other is taking the class, and for what? “Fun math activities.” I think we can do that at home.

Grape geometry - edible math craft

Grape geometry – edible math craft

So… I did what everybody does in such a situation – I Googled “math camp at home.” Thank God for generous bloggers who share their ideas with us… I found some wonderful ideas for math games and crafts and unleashed Operation Stealthy Learning.  Continue reading »

My children loved the concept of Math Camp at Home. In fact, they started adding their own touch on everything we did and then asked me if we could organize this for other children. My daughter wants to be a Junior Assistant. My son just wants to be “one of the kids.” Are you smiling like I am? Their personalities shine through in everything, including this.

Subtracting game

Subtracting game – they learned quickly how to avoid being stuck with the last yellow tile

I started a Word Document with five days of camp and copied and pasted different ideas and links from the web. I came up with at least one link to a short but fun math video, a math craft (preferably edible), one game and one activity on paper. They love snacks at camp time – probably because we do not snack around my house, so that is one compromise I have had to make in order to make Math Camp at Home more palatable (get it?).

Shake and add with pom poms

Pom poms are a hit, especially when used as counters in a shake and add game

In all honesty, I have begun to think and pray about organizing a Math Camp or STEM Camp or STEAM Camp here in Gatlinburg. I will open it up to all students, homeschoolers or not. As such, it will have to happen during the summer, which gives me an entire year to plan and organize. My husband has given me some interesting ideas of linking with some of the business owners around Zoder’s Inn so that we could take the campers to an alpine coaster or mini-golf courses. There, we can calculate angles and the speed of the river and the length of the coaster course etc besides having fun playing on the rides.

My husband’s hotel has a conference room and a pavilion with picnic tables so we could do all sorts of activities regardless of the weather and there is plenty of parking. Plus I have several friends who put their children in public school and who have shown a lot of interest in this idea. They will be my marketing team in that sector of the population.

Anyhow, until then, we have been playing with math concepts to ease them into the new school year and my children love it. They ask for more every day. More math camp. Isn’t that a breath of fresh air as opposed to frowns and groaning at the mention of math on paper?

App Attack Camp

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The University of Tennessee in Knoxville organizes a summer program for children called Kids U. I suppose “U” stands for university. This program is comprised of many different individual classes which can be taken separately or together, depending on your goals, budget, and schedule. The youngest children involved are rising third graders. A rising third grader is a child who just finished second grade and who will attend third grade when school starts again.

Boy attending App Attack

Our son on Day 1 of App Attack, at the UT Conference Center

Our son chose a class called App Attack. As a rising fourth grader, he qualified for this class. As a rising second grader, our daughter was too young to attend Kids U, so I took her to different other places while we waited for him to be finished with his class every day. Continue reading »

App Attack seemed like a great fit for our budding computer programmer. He was very happy every time I picked him up, because he was learning new things on the computer. He worked with a partner but midway through the class his partner quit the class altogether, and so they gave him a new partner – a young lady. Apparently, she called the shots, which is funny, because this is how the real world works. Girls call the shots, right?

They built an app together and he suggested a couple of ninjas in there. She did not even want one. He also suggested some other things related to war and fighting and she would have none of that. It is funny to me to see how he had to work with this girl to please her. He is learning teamwork.

Girl feeds giraffe at the zoo

Our daughter fed the giraffe at Zoo Knoxville

One other good thing that came out of it is that he saw children who mocked the teacher and messed with the teacher by intentionally acting stupid. Our son said one particular boy kept asking the same question, claiming he did not get the answer. Finally, our son asked the boy, “Are you trying to create trouble?” The boy nonchalantly replied, “Yes, that is exactly what I am trying to do.”

Oh, and on day 2, the teacher gave them a lecture, a stern lecture, about their behavior. Apparently, too many of them were horsing around and not paying attention. I listened to his description of this situations and I emphasized to him that this is what regular school would be like. There would be 25 other kids in the class, each with their personalities and issues and the learning would be very slow because of discipline issues.

He understands. He knows homeschooling gives him more time for the things he really likes. I don’t think I have to worry about him asking to go to regular school any time soon, if ever.