Search & Win

Planning Ahead

Campster likes to think ahead.  She has already "picked out" the house she wants to live in when she grows up.  She asked,  "But how will I get anywhere, since I don't have a car?"  I explained that she will need to save her money to buy one.

She asked, "Do they make pink cars?"  "Yes," I laughed, "But you will need to pay extra for that."

Then she wondered, "How will I get to the car store to buy my pink car?  Will you give me a ride?"  I said that I thought I could do that when the time came.

A couple of months ago, Campster wanted to know if she would be expected to cook for her husband and family.  "Of course!"  I told her.  She worried that she doesn't yet know how to cook.  But I pointed out to her that, actually, she did know how to make a few things.

"I don't think my husband and children will like eating mac and cheese all the time."  She reasoned.

"Would you like my help to learn how to cook so that you will be able to cook for your family?" I offered.  I always try to frame my instruction not as "teaching them" but as my "helping them".

Together, Campster and I bought and decorated a three-ring binder (it's pink).  We are working on recipes that she is mastering, and then writing out to put in her binder.  I explained that if we do a recipe every couple of weeks, she will have a binder full of recipes she knows how to do by the time she is married.

Wish you were here!


When I woke up this morning I had no idea what the day held in store for me.  There were things I intended to do - too many for one day.  I spent a while lying in bed, talking with God, and asking for His peace, wisdom and company throughout the day.  

I was surprised to find the whole house still asleep when I got up at 8.  Usually we are all up around 7, with Big Dad getting up between 5 and 6 am.  But this morning everyone slept in.  I woke Big Dad up, and he mentioned that he remembered that we had doctor appointments for the kids this morning.

I had forgotten.  Appointments for all three at 9 am - and the doctor is 45 minutes away!  So Big Dad grabbed us some fruit and I woke all three kids and told them they needed to get dressed and in the car immediately.

Off we went - and made it there in time - Miraculous.  We were there to discuss the kids' anemia issues.  (Did you know that Restless Legs Syndrome in children is often misdiagnosed as ADD or ADHD and/or growing pains?  And RLS can be caused by low normal ferritin levels.)  I wanted to get to the root of the problem.  Turns out the pediatrician used to work with a hematologist - long story - but such a blessing!

Doctor also mentioned that his wife coordinates the education program at the Mahaiwe Theater - and is interested in connecting with homeschoolers.  I will be looking into their schedule.

Next off to the hospital for blood tests.  The woman at the registration desk asked if I knew the so-and-so family?  I didn't.  But, I explained, I don't know very many people in our small town because we homeschool.  She told me that the family she was referring to home schooled also - that it was her pastor's family.  Wait!!!  A Christian Homeschooling Family in our town?  I honestly thought we were the only ones.  Wow.  So we exchanged info, and now we have a new family to get to know.  We have been praying for more friends.  I also shared with her that our family has been asked to coordinate the National Day of Prayer in our town.  She said they'd love to help.  Yippee!  And I just thought we were going for a blood test.  :)

When we returned home, I found I couldn't shut the slider door on the minivan.  Neither could Big Dad. I called the Toyota dealer, and they got us in that afternoon.  That's another 45 minutes in the other direction.  Back into the car we went.  Thankfully, we are listening to C.S. Lewis' "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader" on CD, and didn't mind more time in the car.

Now we are home with a loaner car.  Too tired to make the homemade pizza I had planned.  What a day.  Thanks for being there with me, Lord.  I can always count on you to make a crazy day an adventure in your blessings.

Wish you were here!


This is a picture from a couple of years ago.  Jor Man is reading to Campster out of a book about Sharks.  She really looks up to him, and admires his reading.

I remember my mother helping me to learn to read.  There was a phonics program offered through the Chicago Tribune called "Shortcuts to Reading", and my mother read it with me.  When I went to kindergarten I could already read.  So could Cathy Harris and another girl named Carole, who later went to Catholic school.

The school wanted to put a gifted program into place.  From my morning kindergarten class, the three girls were asked to come back in the afternoon for first grade.  I went to Kindergarten in the morning and first grade in the afternoon.  It was 1970.

By the end of the year, we three had completed not only the kindergarten work, but most of first grade as well.  The first and second grades had a combined class, so we just stayed in that class for first grade, and finished second grade in that year, also.  Cathy Harris was promoted to third grade.  My parents decided not to allow me to "skip" second grade.  So I took second grade again that next year.  No matter.  At that point, I still loved school and loved learning.

I would go home every day and "teach" my little brother what I learned in school.  He was brilliant and an eager learner - so I convinced myself that I must be a fabulous teacher.  And so my love affair with teaching had begun.

When it came time to "teach" Jor Man to read, I was undaunted.  After all, I had taught my brother to read when he was three and I was five - so how hard could it be?  We worked our way through Phonics Pathways (a wonderful phonics program), and he was reading at a fourth grade level by mid year of first grade.

By the time Campster was "of age" to begin reading, I had a slightly different philosophy - I was no longer willing to force a child to sit by me and read for 10 minutes a day against their will.  I must admit - Phonics reading, while I think by far the best way to learn to read, has its moments when the child may become frustrated.  And the parent (that would be me!) failing to realize that learning to read now seems easy to me - but is still like learning a foreign language (Russian, anyone?) to the child - gets impatient.  Time to set the phonics aside!

Reading is fun!  When it stops being fun - it is torture for parent and child.

I have been much less diligent and heavy-handed with helping Campster to learn to read than I was with Jor Man.  And somewhere along the way, Sher Bear has gotten very excited about reading.  She will get out her phonics book (she prefers the smaller, Abeka phonics books that a friend gave us) and read to herself for fun - even on weekend.

So where Jor Man was reading chapter books by age 7, Campster is still sounding out three letter words. And Sher Bear is nearly caught up with her.  Hmmm.  How do I feel about that?!  I suppose it could be far more convenient to practice with both of them at the same level!  I guess I worry about Campster's self esteem if Sher Bear reads better than she does.

Campster says that she wants to read - and we have a long talk about it.  She doesn't think that she reads yet because she doesn't read chapter books to herself (like Jor Man).  But I explain that she does read.  And I tell her that if we work on Phonics Pathways everyday for 10 minutes, by her next birthday, she will be able to read chapter books, too.  She doesn't believe me.  She asks Jor Man.  Thankfully he concurs with my assessment.  Campster asks me to please work with her every day.

I wonder how long this will last?  Already I see a marked improvement from just several days of consistently working on her phonics.  I hope she begins to feel the progress and we gain some momentum from that.  But there will always be moments that are more challenging or require "toughing it out" to get to the next level.

Wish you were here!

Throw out homework, let kids read comics

Please, you've got to read this article.  Thanks to my friend Julia, who posted this on her Facebook page:  Throw out homework, let kids read comics .

That's fantastic!  I love it when I read something that encourages me that we are on the right track, and haven't lost all our marbles.

Wish you were here!

Better Late than Early

Today was pay day for the children, and we went to the bank.  Jor Man has filled out his deposit slip several times, and does quite well.  Campster wanted to fill hers out today for the first time.

The date went in the first space.  I told her what to write, and it was illegible.  Then I suggested that we throw away that slip, and start over.  I filled out Sher Bear's slip with the date, and I asked Campster to copy my numbers.  Nope, everything was still backwards and a mess.

I was surprised to find out that she does not know how to write her numbers.  Her printing of letters is quite good.  We began unschooling before she learned to write numerals.  And until today, she had not had any desire to write numbers.

CalcuLadder 1: Basic Addition & Subtraction (A Learning Vitamins Unit)So I suggested that maybe she might want to learn how to write her numbers.  And she agreed.  I made plans to break out my Calculadder, that I used with Jor Man to practice his numbers.

But then I thought about it.  And I realized that she is able to do addition and subtraction in her head.  She understands the idea of numbers - the concept.  That is far more challenging to learn than the simple act of writing.

So I asked Campster, "Do you want to learn to write numbers now?  Or do you want to wait awhile until you are older and it is easier?"  She decided to wait until she's older.  I know that my handwriting got much better around 9th grade, when I really wanted my handwriting to be lovely.  By that time, I had the  desire and the ability to focus my attention in that area and improve rather rapidly.

I don't expect that Campster will wait until 9th grade to work on her numbers.  But, so what if she did?

Wish you were here!

The Butter Battle Book

The Butter Battle Book: (New York Times Notable Book of the Year) (Classic Seuss)
You already know how much I love my library.   Today, we were there for Wacky Wednesday. The children's librarian, Erin, served up a story time reading of "The Butter Battle Book" by Dr. Seuss, in honor of his birthday this month.  After the reading, Erin showed us how to make butter.  She poured cream into plastic containers and taped them shut.  Each child shook, and shook and shook the cream until it was butter and buttermilk.  Then we had bread with butter and buttermilk.  Heaven.

"The Butter Battle Book" is a favorite of ours.  We've read it many times.  And as I type, I can hear Big Dad reading it to the kids for bedtime story.  Yes, they wanted to hear it a second time today.

But my hands down favorite part of the whole day was back at the library this afternoon.  When Erin had finished reading, Jor Man announced, "That book is really about The Cold War!"  My jaw dropped.  And then I smiled - one of those great homeschooling moments when the kids make me look better than I really am.

I'll let you in on a secret - we haven't "studied" the cold war, at all.  So how did he catch the allusion? -because he was, in fact, correct.

War Games (25th Anniversary Edition)About a month ago, I was searching Netflix for something fun to watch together, and I came across "War Games" starring a very young Matthew Broderick and Ally Sheedy.  I invited Jor Man to watch it with me (the girls were in bed already).  Funny what you remember about movies you haven't seen since you were a kid yourself.  There was a lot of cussing.  The kids do things that are out and out illegal and immoral (changing their grades, hacking into computers, changing phone bills), and there is some lip-locking between the two.

Although I don't want my child seeing pornographic images that will stay in his head forever, I don't mind a little cussing in a film (we discuss it). And people who make bad choices give us an opportunity to talk about such things without him actually doing them.

So we watched the movie, and I got a chance to explain the cold war to Jor Man - at least as well as I currently understand it.  And it stuck!!  He got it.  

When we got home, he told Big Dad about the connection he had made, and the girls asked "What's the Cold War?"  Jor Man shared his understanding of it - and I thought he did a fine job.  Go figure.  My kid learns best through movies, I guess.  Which is fine with me, since I love them, too.

Wish you were here!

The Edison

I'd like you to meet the Edison - that's what we call it.  I can't remember how old I was when we got the Edison from my father's cousin Jamie, but it has been in the family all along.  Its technical name is a cylinder phonograph.  It plays wax cylinder "records" specially made for it by Edison's Blue Amberol Record company.  

The Edison lives at my mother's condo now.  On our recent trip to Chicago, I showed my kids how it works.  Yes, it still works very well.  It is operated by a hand crank on the right side of the cabinet.  It uses no electricity.

My mother had the cabinet for the cylinders specially made.  My favorites are "Waiting on the Robert E. Lee" and "Harmony Bay".

Antiques are a great way to share family history, and ignite kids' interests in a subject.  Jor Man got very excited when I pointed out that Thomas Edison's company made it.  Campster wanted to know if Thomas Edison's germs were on it?  (LOL!)  Sher Bear just danced around to the music.

Being as old as I am (chuckle) I remember old 78 LPs.  Then 45s and 33 1/3s.  It must have been quite a leap to go from cylinders to disks.

When we were dating, Big Dad still had his 8-track player.  I used to record my favorite songs off of WLS radio onto cassette tapes.  And then CDs came along, and now mp3 players.  That's a lot of change in just my lifetime.  Imagine before Edison, people could only listen to music if it was live.

That's real history - how it affects people in their every day lives.  Share with your kids the changes that have happened in technology since you were young.  What was it like for your parents growing up?  Can your kids think of questions to ask their grandparents about how things have changed since they were young?

And what can your kids invent to change the future?

Wish you were here!


The day after vacation is usually a mixed bag.  Kids who are cranky and jet-lagged, too much laundry, and no food in the house is not a good combination.  On the other hand, we left the snow in Chicago and came home to grass and spring bulbs in bloom.

These are the days when I find unschooling most challenging.  There's something in me that wants to set a schedule, expect some "progress", insist on something "getting done".  Instead of following that impulse, however, I took advantage of the warmish day and the moist soil and went outside to begin weeding the very overgrown flower beds in front of the house.  The big kids had gone out earlier to play, so I told Sher Bear that we would head out to do some weeding.

Imagine my surprise when I found Campster, hard at work in the flower beds, weeding all by herself.  I actually asked her what she was doing.  (Duh!)  "Oh, Mom," she said with that sly smile of hers, "I want to help the flowers grow so that the butterflies would come back sooner."  She had made quite a nice dent in the weeds.  I bent down and hugged her, looking right into her eyes, and told her that it blessed me that she was weeding.  "Without being asked!" She added.

Jor Man joined us for some weeding as well.  But soon the lure of the "fort" he had built at the bottom of the fir trees was too much, and he was reenacting some Indiana Jones adventure.  The girls and I found a purple beetle (as yet to be identified) that Campster caught and put in one of her many jars.

We worked while it sprinkled lightly, until it really came down.  We finally went in, drenched head to foot.  Jor Man took a shower in one bathroom, while the girls and I had a bath in the "big tub".  Then everyone put on their pjs and sat down for lunch at 1:30.    Gotta love homeschool.

Wish you were here!

Chicago – Things I want to do differently next time

In the interest of continual process improvement, here are some things I want to differently for my next trip.

  • I will set up times to meet with friends and family before leaving for the trip.  For whatever reason, I wasn't into planning this trip much.  I thought I could do it on the fly while I was there, and it just didn’t work out that way.  We got to see lots of fun people, but not everyone I wanted to see.
  • I will ask family to secure passes to the museums I want to go to through their public library.  Turns out, lots of museums have FREE passes that you can check out with a local library card.  If I had asked my sister-in-law ahead of time to look into getting passes to the Shedd Aquarium for us, we could have saved $70 or so.  As it was, I showed them my HSLDA card to prove I was a homeschooler and got my ticket for free.  
  • I will schedule in alternating days of going out and seeing people and places, and staying “home” at Grandma’s and having a lazy day.  Too many days out and about wear us all out. 
  • I will look into the price of parking at the departure airport, and figure that in when I am comparing fares.  If you only have one airport available, that doesn’t apply, but usually there are several airports within a couple hours drive.  It can make a big difference in the airfare.  I use www.sidestep.com to compare the airfares from several airports and airlines at once.
  • I will consider flying on Southwest because they don't charge for bags (what a hassle).   We managed to pack everything in carry-ons, but my lovely sister-in-law gave me hand-me-downs (happy!!) and I had to ship them home because there was no more room in the carry-ons.
It is nice to be home.  The animals all did fine with our wonderful pet-sitter, and the house looks - well, like it did when we left!  LOL!  Tomorrow, Sher Bear has promised to help me clean so we can make our house "pretty like Grandma's"!

Wish you were here!

Count on it

Yesterday, while I was driving with the kids to the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, Campster said, "Do you want to hear me count to a hundred?"  And she proceeded to count.

I guess it's not amazing that a 7-year-old would be able to count to one hundred.  But here's what struck me as wonderful - I didn't teach her it.  I actually have no idea how she learned it!

Last year, when we did our lists, Campster wanted to learn how to read, how to tell time, how to count money, and how to count to 100.  I got her some workbooks, since she enjoys learning that way, and she has done some work in them.  But most of her learning happened just from noticing people around her using numbers.  She will ask questions like, "how many more minutes until so-and-so gets here?"

Numbers are all around us, and kids are fascinated by them.  Sher-Bear likes to push the buttons in the elevator.  The higher the floor, the more numbers to learn.

Setting the table shows one-to-one correspondence.  "How many people are in our family?  How many plates do we need?  How many cups?  How many forks?"  My brother plays a variation on this with his family.   "How many ears are in the room?  How many eyes?  How many fingers?"

Money is a natural way for kids to learn about place value.  Pennies, dimes and dollars show units, tens and hundreds.  While we were at the Shedd Aquarium gift shop, each kid had their money and wanted to know, "Can I afford this?"  Rather than give them the answer, I showed them how to figure it out for themselves.  Jor Man practices multiplication in figuring out how many weeks it will take him to save up for something.

Wish you were here!

Gone Bowling

My mom throws the best birthday parties.  We are in Chicago visiting family for her birthday.  She rented out a 4 lane bowling alley in a church basement (really!) for the afternoon.  We had intergenerational bowling, Grandma, aunts and uncles, and cousins.  So fun!

I had taken the Jor Man bowling when he was younger, but he barely remembers it.  And the girls had never bowled in person before - Wii bowling doesn't count.  

I noticed that in addition to being a Physical Education experience, bowling also was about math and physics.

But how does bowling help us learn math?  Thought you'd never ask!

1.  For Sher-Bear, simple number recognition of the numbers 1 to 4 which identified the lanes

2.  For Campster, counting the pins left after bowling

3.  For Jor Man, scoring of the game, which includes, addition and multiplication

Bowling also introduces physics in terms of force (if you don't throw the ball hard enough, it won't knock over the pins), gravity (you need to release the ball near the ground, or else it goes down more than forward), momentum (the ball goes farther if I move toward the lane as I release the ball, as opposed to standing still and releasing it), and friction (the lane is shiny because it is slick to help the ball roll faster).

We learned to take turns, and to stay out of the way when someone else is taking their turn.  We encouraged each other, cheered each other's victories and helped each other to improve.

Wish you were here!

Butterfly Blog - by Campster

Kids love to share what they know.  Campster wanted to share what she knows about butterflies with all of you.  So she dictated, and I typed.  Enjoy!

I am an expert at catching butterflies.  In the summer, I catch about 20 each month.

Nets are important utensils for catching butterflies - the main thing that you use, at first, to catch butterflies.  Try to get a net that you are comfortable with.  I like my wooden one.  It's very nice to have a new net each year.  If you get a hole in your net, don't try to sew it up - get a new one.  A nice new net is comfortable for you and the butterfly.

You can also use your hands to catch butterflies, although a net is much easier.  But, if you don't have one, cup your hands as though you are going to get a drink, but upside down, and gently place your hands over the butterfly.  Then put your fingers together and make sure there are no cracks.

For containers, look in your recycle bin.  You can find old jelly jars, or other containers.  Make sure that you have small holes in the top so that the butterfly can breathe.  If its a jelly jar without a top, you can put some old screen over it with a rubber band.

If it is a caterpillar you find, please remember to put on gloves.  If you hold a caterpillar for too long without gloves, they are poisonous.  Remember to put a stick or flower in the jar.  If you don't know what type to put in, use whatever the insect was sitting on when you caught it.  Or you can look on the internet. For the butterfly to drink, put in some gatorade, but put in a sponge or something to keep it from drowning.

You can feed butterflies by putting a Q-Tip in Gatorade.  Then hold the Q-Tip up to the butterfly's feet.  Butterflies taste with their feet.  Once they taste it, they will climb on.

Wish you were here!

Pat the Rat

We had dinner tonight with family - which was really fun.  After dinner, Campster's uncle asked her if she was reading, and she said "no".  I wonder if public schooled children get quizzed by family members?  No matter.  He was surprised and she went on to write several words in crayon on the kid's menu.  She wrote "bed" and then "mom" and "dad".  I explained that to Campster, being able to read means that you can read chapter books like the Jor Man.  So, she doesn't think that she reads yet, because she doesn't read books to herself.   He asked if she could spell his name, and she replied with "Sure, I read 'Pat the Rat'" and she wrote "pat the rat" with a big smile.

It got me thinking, does it bother me when people quiz the kids to see what they (as homeschooled students) do or don't know?  (And I realize that he might not have been quizzing her so much as making conversation.)  Yes and no.  I do fight those feeling of "they ought to know such-and-such by now".  But for the most part, I feel like what they learn is about them, and not about me.  If I needed for them to be able to read, write, spell, know their multiplication tables, or state capitals - or any other "measure" of their learning at a certain time, then I would just be "teaching to the test" in my own way.  And one of the reasons why I home school, and certainly why I unschool, is to avoid that very thing.

Teaching my kids what I think they need to know when I think (or anyone else thinks)  they need to know it is the opposite of giving them the freedom to learn what they want, when they want, and in their own way.

If their accomplishments are about me and my "superior teaching skill", then their "delays" are about my failure to teach them properly.

But what if we all learn what we learn at the right time for us?  Then we don't have to judge the learning process, we could just enjoy it.

After all, when Campster walked at 8 months, I didn't take credit for that.  That was all her.

So tonight was a good reminder for me that when people ask questions about what my kids are (or aren't) learning, it's a chance for me to be excited about HOW we are learning - together, as a family.  And if the kids want to show off their awesome learning - more power to them!  They learned it.    This is the homeschool version of peer pressure - my feeling the pressure from others for my kids to perform like their peers.  We're not in it for the performance.  We are in it for the joy of learning.

Wish you were here!

Brown Baggin'

Sweet home, Chicago!  We are going to Chicago to see my whole family, and to celebrate my mom's birthday.  I am especially excited to meet my new nephew who was born to my sister this January.

The kids are great at packing their suitcases.  But this year, we'll be taking a plane out of New York City, which is a three-hour drive from our house.  So, just getting there is a full-day event for us.

In the past, we would have bought lunch on the way, and then bought dinner and snacks in the airport.  But buying all that food for five people is expensive, unhealthy and takes a lot of time, too.  And I'd rather spend my money on other things, like traveling.

So we are packing our dinner bags to take on the plane.  On the menu we have, crackers, salami and cheese slices, trail mix, Emergen-C packets to mix with the free airplane water bottles, and Cliff bars (Chocolate Brownie and Peanut Butter flavors - in case you were wondering).

Each child had a different job in getting the bags ready - Campster separated the salami and cheese slices, Sher-Bear put the crackers in the bags, and Jordan allocated the trail mix and Emergen-C.  It's a shame that you can't see very well how I wrote out everyone's names on their bags, and stamped them with stars.

For lunch we're eating bagels with cream cheese and ham slices on the road.  That keeps us from having to make an extra stop.

Wish you were here!

Get it in Writing

We have a problem in our house.  The kids think that I said "You can do such-and-so," when I didn't.  I know my memory is not great, but there are certain things that I just would not agree to do.  Also, they often misinterpret my saying that I'll think about it, for agreement.

So I've told the kids to get it in writing.  If they want something out of the ordinary, they must submit it in writing.  Here's Campster's requests for her recent birthday.  Obviously her spelling needs help.  But I've been told that the important part of getting kids to write is not to worry about spelling.  Get them excited about writing, and then when they are older they can work on spelling once they are loving writing.

I had to ask Campster to "read" me her list.  I wrote the words out for my own benefit next to them.  Then I signed the list that I agreed.

Recently, Jor Man wanted to write out the menu for breakfasts for the week.  So I told him that he needed to get agreement from the girls - literally get them to sign off on the menu.  It was really fun watching him negotiate and get buy-in from the girls.  In the end, he got everyone to agree, and even had Beauty Mom and Big Dad sign his menu.  The kids reveled in "their" breakfast menu that week.

We use writing every day for leaving notes for each other, making requests and even writing stories.

Wish you were here!

An Ode to the Library

I LOVE my library.  Really, really love it.

As an unschooler, I see my "job" as being a resource person, a librarian, if you will, rather than a teacher.  So the library is a place of great value.

It just so happens that my library, Scoville Memorial Library, was the first public library in the nation.  Isn't that so cool?!  It was originally a children's library (how wonderful!) and has the best collection (in my humble opinion) of children's books around.  I have lived in big cities with big libraries - and really, there were so many bad books in there (books of questionable literary value and twaddle) that it made the good books hard to find.

We take a weekly (sometimes more often) trip to the library.  I find a weekly trip to be helpful, because then you are returning the books on the day they are due, and not needing to go back a few days later because you checked things out on different days.

The other thing I find helpful, is Library Elf.  It's an online program that emails me three days before my books are due with a list of what is due and when.  It can even combine multiple library cards, in case you have kids with their own cards.

I also have a library shelf.  This is a shelf on our bookcase that is only for library books.  The kids all know that they must put their library books back on that shelf so that they are easy to find when it's time to collect up the books.

Librarians are a wonderful resource for helping you to find books that are appropriate for certain ages and books on specific subjects.  They can request books from other libraries in the area, or even in the state.  They can show you how to locate resources on the internet.

Many libraries also have movies, music and books on CD available to checkout.  Since these all tend to have differing due dates, Library Elf really helps me keep it all straight.

Libraries are also a great opportunity to practice good behavior in public.  I practice talking in a "whisper voice" with the children before we visit the library.  We also talk about how many books they may check out (so they don't pull them all off the shelves) and not to run in the library.  Occasionally, we may need to leave the library early when children aren't obeying or behaving properly.  It's a lot easier to leave a local library and come back and try again tomorrow, than it is to leave a museum or some other place for which you have paid an admission fee.

Our Children's Librarian, Erin, is wonderful.  She has many programs for the kids, including story hours, crafts and parties.  She even hosted a sleepover for the kids' stuffed animals.  We've had the opportunity to read to a dog, play dress up with "Fancy Nancy" and participate in the Nutmeg Awards.  Check with your children's librarian to make sure you are on their email list and know about all the great things going on at your library.

Libraries often have books for sale or even free.  Most of the books on my shelves have been gleaned from libraries.

Lastly, don't forget to check out the libraries when you are on vacation.  That's the great thing about libraries - they are open to anyone, and you don't have to live there in order to go in.  They are a welcome reprieve from the heat or the cold.  They have bathrooms!  They have books, movies, and computers.  And while you probably can't check anything out while you are on vacation, there's nothing quite so settling as snuggling up in a big comfy chair and having mom or dad read you a book when you are away from home.

Wish you were here!

Brain Food

An old post that I was reminded of today. I would not like to live in a world were everyone thought the same thoughts and were all taught the same things at the same time in the same way. How about you?

People often ask about curriculum in regard to home schooling. They are shocked and a little outraged when I tell them that in Connecticut we are not told what to teach, and no one reviews our curriculum choices. I see real fear in their eyes - "How do you know that you are teaching the right things?"

I don't. As each child unfolds, and the gifts that God has given them become apparent, we reevaluate. Are there "right things" to teach?  

It amuses me to compare my freedom in choosing what to teach to my freedom in choosing what to feed my children. No government person oversees the food that is consumed in my house. Yes, there are guidelines. (Misguided and wrong USDA guidelines.) But for most of us, we wing the whole nutrition thing. Some things we do better than others.  (See Nourishing Traditions for information on whole food, traditional nutrition that we follow in our home.)

But if I were to vote for which area I would prefer the government to stick their noses into my private life, it would be food over education. I'm glad that they don't. I think I do, frankly, a much better job than the government would in feeding my family. But I do think that most of America could use a good primer on nutrition. We are a country full of overweight, nutrition starved people -- kids, sometimes, especially.  Yet no one seems offended by this apparent lack of authority in our lives in the area of food. Why then, are people so convinced that they would be unable to choose wisely for their children what to feed their brains?

Post Script: When we moved to New England, we knew that we could live in either New York, Massachusetts or Connecticut. I called the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), an organization which helps to protect the rights of parents to homeschool in America and beyond. I asked them which state of the three we should live in. They told me Connecticut - because it is the most simple and straightforward to home school in.

In Connecticut, it is recommended (but not required) that we print out, fill in and sign a short form each school year that indicates that we are taking full legal responsibility for the education of our children. This form is then sent to the Superintendent of schools in our area, who signs it and returns it to us for our files. That is all there is to the process.

If we were to live in Massachusetts, we would need to have our curriculum plan for each child approved by the local school each year. Some schools are very helpful and welcoming towards home schoolers, and others are more difficult and make my Massachusetts friends jump through hoops.

If we were to live in New York, we would also need to have our curriculum plan approved as above. But in addition, our children would need to be tested or evaluated.

So, if you want to homeschool, or you are thinking about moving, it would be a good idea to look into the state requirements. HSLDA is a great resource for this.

Wish you were here!

The Great Southwestern Mooching Tour

We are truly blessed.  Every year for her birthday my mom flies us out to spend time together with her, and with my brother and sister and their families.  Last year was in Phoenix.  So, wanting to make the most of the opportunity, I asked my mom if she would mind if we flew into LA, and slowing made our way down to Phoenix, meeting the family there at the scheduled time.  We found flights that were the same price as simply flying to Phoenix and back, so it didn't cost my mom any extra.

Then I started to plan our trip.  Using Sidestep, I found a great price on a minivan rental for a 10 days.  We used to live in LA and San Diego, so we have friends in those places that we wanted to see - here comes the mooching part!

By staying with various friends, for one or two nights each, we were able to visit with far more people, and we didn't have to pay for hotels or meals.  We stayed with three different families while in LA.  It was so much fun getting caught up with old friends.  And with the money we saved, we splurged for one night at a hotel near Disneyland, and tickets.  Great fun.

Next we were off to visit friends in San Diego.  There we stayed with two families for three nights each.  Such fun we had, visiting museums, and just playing and relaxing. We also attended several larger get togethers with friends.

In Tucson, we stayed with friends who have teenagers.  They were so wonderful and welcoming of our kids.  Everyone had a great time.

And finally we arrived in Phoenix, where my mom put all of us up in a beautiful hotel for another few days.  Much fun at the pool, and seeing the sights.  Mom arranged for a tour of Kartchner Caverns which was breathtaking.  On the way we all stopped at Mission San Xavier del Bac, a beautiful spanish mission.  On another day we took in a preseason Cubs baseball game.

The benefits of staying with friends go far beyond saving money.  As Christians, it's incredibly encouraging to see what God is doing in the lives of our friends, and to pray with them.  I was so filled up with God's love for me on this trip.  It was helpful, because things became difficult following this, and God knew I would need to be encouraged before hitting a rough patch.

Our kids had the wonderful experience of having so many great new playmates around.  They still talk about the friends they made and the fun they had "Summer Sledding" with the Schaupp family.

Big Dad and I also noted how much we learned from other parents.   By staying with people, you get to see the routines and processes of their parenting.  This is something that is often hidden from each other. How often do you get to see how another family really home schools, does devotions, or puts their kids to bed?  We learned so much - we called it "Best Parenting Practices" because every night we would comment to each other "Wow, did you see how they handled that?  That was great." Or, "I really want to remember that when we get home."  I also mooched some wonderful recipes off of my friends.  They are wonderful cooks!

We could have never gone on such an extravagant and long vacation if we had paid our way.  Thanks to my mom, and our dear friends, we have wonderful memories and were refreshed and encouraged.

Wish you were here!

Vacationing on the Cheap

Are you wondering how we can afford to take a family vacation once a month?  Well, a number of things make that possible.
  1. Big Dad works hard and makes money so that we can do what we do.  We are thankful to God for his job that allows him to work from home, make lots of money, and have flexible hours so as to take time off to go with us when we go out of town.  He often will work the Saturdays on either end of the week we go out of town to make up for missing Monday and Tuesday.  Also, most hotels have internet, so he spends time each night and morning checking in.
  2. We are debt free.  Except for our house.  We have no car payments, no school loans, no credit card bills.  We operate on a cash only system – except for hotels.  You need a credit card to book a hotel.  If you use a debit card for this, you will tie up your money for a week or more.  We found this out the hard way.  So we budget our money ahead of time (about $30/week) and pay cash when the credit card bill comes for the hotel stays.  Everything else, gas, groceries, gifts, going out to eat, etc., we pay cash.  If you’d like to learn more about going debt free, we recommend “The Total Money Makeover”, by Dave Ramsey.  That is how we did it.  It works.
  3. It’s all about budgeting.  Everyone (even the richest person alive) has a finite amount of money they can spend without going into debt.  A budget isn’t about saying “You can’t spend money on that!”  It’s about deciding what you want most to spend your money on, and making sure you have enough money to do that.  We love travelling and spending time as a family, so we make it a priority when we budget.
  4. We save money in other areas.  By cooking and growing our own food, we save money.  We don’t buy the things that we could make cheaper (and usually better) ourselves.  We make our own yogurt, cheese, and bread.  We have chickens and they make us eggs.  We are planting a garden for “free” fruits and vegetables.  We cook from scratch whenever possible and avoid buying premixed, premade foods which cost much more money.  This was a process.  We started with one thing we make, and keep adding.  This month, I made toothpaste and it was great.  Won’t be paying money for that anymore!
  5. We shop for deals.  When I was looking for a hotel to stay in, I checked several and had them in a bidding war.  The Holiday Inn won out.  Not only did they give me a great price, but the kids eat free!  When comparing hotels, be sure to check on parking prices.  Many hotels in big cities charge for parking, and it’s not cheap.  Be sure you know what your costs will be before you go.
  6. We bring our own food on trips.  Eating fast food is extremely expensive and bad for your health.  We bring home made crackers and bread, and top them with cheeses, hummus, chicken, salami, tuna, PB and J, whatever!  The kids love this picnic food.  I fill up the cooler before we leave, and we refresh it with hotel ice if needed.  We usually eat breakfast and lunch on the road, dinner in the hotel room, pay for only one breakfast at the buffet (the others are free), and eat lunch in the car.  We try to get home in time for dinner.  That way, meals only cost us about $15 for the whole trip. 
  7. Museum memberships are a great deal.  Most museums have a membership that is good for the whole family, and has reciprocal  membership in other museums around the country.  We found last year that when we bought a membership at the Mid-Hudson Children’s Museum in Poughkeepsie, NY for $99, we could go to New York City, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Diego and see many museums at each for no cost.  What a deal!  Also, museum memberships usually get you reduced parking, meals and gift shop prices.
  8. And my last and best idea for “Vacationing on the Cheap” is Mooching.  But that deserves a post of it’s own. 

Wish you were here!

The List

Forgive me.  I've lent out my copy of "Teach Your Own" by John Holt, so I can't run and check if that is the book where I first learned of the list.  But I think it is.  Okay, so now that you know this was not MY idea here it is:

I sat my kids down one at a time, and made a list.  For each child, I took a piece of paper and made three vertical columns.  I labelled the first column "Keep Doing", the second "Need Help" and the third "Never Again".

Then I asked the Jor Man:  "What are you doing now that you want to keep doing?"  He looked baffled.  I gave him some suggestions:  "Do you want to keep going to the Library and reading Nutmeg books?"  Yes.  "Tae-Kwon-Do?"  Maybe.  Cub Scouts?  Yes.

Second column - "What would you like to do or learn, but you need Mom or Dad's help?  Either to help you with something or to buy something you'd need for it?"  Lots of suggestions.  Chemistry sets.  Building a fort in the backyard.  Making a hot dog stand at the Lake to make money this summer.

Third column - "What are you doing now that you never want to do again?"  Math.  "Anything else?"  Cursive writing.  Word Roots.  Editor in Chief.

Now for the shocker.  I said "Okay."  Okay?  "Okay.  You never have to do any of those ever again."

He didn't believe me.  Several days later, he wanted to add to the second column.  Calligraphy.  Robotics.  "Okay."  I said.

It took two months for Jor Man to believe that I really wasn't going to MAKE him do any math ever again.  And then it happened.

I was selling the Saxon Math books on Ebay.  Jor Man saw them and got suspicious.  When I told him I was selling them, since he would never be using them again, he was amazed.  After a few minutes, he came over and asked me NOT to sell them.  "Why?"  I asked.

"Well I was thinking, " he said,  "That if I am going to be rich someday, I'd better be good at math.   And it wasn't THAT bad.  I just hated that I had to do it."

So I didn't sell it.  And it sat in his room.   When I asked him about it, he said he didn't feel like doing math.  "Well,"  I said, "really, are you EVER going to FEEL like doing it?"  "No."  He admitted.

So we negotiated.  He wanted to learn math, but wanted it to be fun.  I wanted to not spend money unless he was really going to use the curriculum.  He chose Teaching Textbooks.  I said that I expected that he would finish the curriculum, or pay me back for it, by the end of the school year.  Well, he needed some help in terms of not leaving it all to the last minute.  So we negotiated again - that he could chose to do math that day or not, but he could not play on the computer or watch a movie until he had done his math.  His math is done by 7 am these days, without my asking, with rare exception.

I am finding that the list my children made for themselves is far more vigorous than what the state recommends.  For example, Jor Man didn't want to learn cursive, but he suggested calligraphy.  His writing is neat and legible, despite never having any formal instruction in it.

Our Aquarium School and Animal Academy classes are far more interesting and at a higher level than 4th grade science would be.  Our travels teach him geography and history.  He is an avid reader, reading much higher than grade level.  He sometimes spends the day reading.  He is writing reports for his classes - and is always writing some adventure story or comic strip on his own.  I must spell words for him all day - and his spelling is getting better and better, because he knows I will say "How do you think it's spelled?"

I have personally found that leaving my children to choose what they want to learn has been far more interesting and rigorous than if I had chosen their curriculum.
Wish you were here!


Meet Stella.  Stella is a very important member of our family.  She joined us for Christmas 2008, a gift from my mother.  (Thanks, Mom!)  Stella is our GPS.  Specifically, she is a Garmin Nuvi 250w.  We call her Stella, so that when we are lost, we can yell, "STELLA!!"

When we first got Stella, we were not sure how much we would use her.  After all, we live in the country.  But now we use her all the time!  The kids enjoy the feature which tells when you will arrive at your destination.  No more "Are we there yet?"

Jor Man has noticed the feature which tells how much further until the next turn.  He figured out that the amount of time to the next turn, could be figured by the speed and the distance.  I tell you, these kids find ways to learn and use math all the time.  Really keeps me on my toes, trying to explain it to them.

Stella comes in really handy when we are on the road and someone needs a bathroom break.  In Illinois, where I grew up, you can see at each exit what is available because of the tall signs.  But in New England, the trees often obscure the view so that I can never tell whether the next exit is rural and nothing to see, or a regular hub-bub of activity.  With Stella, we can ask her where the closest bank, library, hospital, grocery store, or gas station is.

Sometimes we mess with the voices.  There's an Elfin voice, that is very grating!  He yells at you, and tells jokes about the reindeer and Santa.  The kids love it.  My favorite is the British voice.  She's much more polite and patient than the American voice!  Sometimes we test our knowledge of different languages.  But only when we are willing to get a bit lost.

Having Stella with us enables me to go places with confidence.  I don't risk our safety trying to look at a map and drive at the same time.  And for city driving, it's really helpful.

The cons:  Sometimes in the city it can take 10 minutes to register the satellite because of the tall buildings.  It also has a harder time on cloudy days.  However, this is only a problem at the beginning.  Once she has the signal, she's good to go.

One last GPS suggestion:  Stella is a wonderful help when parking in a large, or unfamiliar parking lot or town.  Once, when visiting Yale, we parked the car on a side street and just began to wander about, looking at the buildings, going where our interests led us.  When it was time to head back to the car, none of us had any idea where it was.  Except for Stella.  I had marked the location of the car, turned Stella off, and slipped her into my pocket.  When we needed to find the car, I simply turned her on, and told her to take us to the most recent place.  Very helpful!!

Wish you were here!


It's a high-finance world around here.  Last month, we decided to give the kids the opportunity to make some real money.  They have always had chores to do (we call them "Helping Hands").  But we wanted them to take a bigger chunk of the housework and responsibility.  And they wanted to have more spending money.  We offered it to them as a possibility, and they were really excited.  (So were we!)

The new arrangement is as follows:  Jor Man is completely responsible for the dishes.  In the past, Campster had the job of unloading the clean dishes and putting them away.  But she wasn't really tall enough, and we didn't want her to be climbing on the counters.   Jor Man loads and unloads the dishwasher, sometimes 2 loads a day, and hand washes anything else.  What a joy to cook when I know I don't have to clean up!

Campster is now in charge of the laundry.  Jor Man used to have this job, but I was not happy with the job he was doing.  I chalked it up to this being a boy thing!  But Campster is very into clothes, and, I reasoned, might do a better job at both the folding and the sorting of the clean laundry to it's respective persons.  I was right.  She does a great job.

Sher Bear is in charge of sweeping the floors.  She sweeps after each meal, and whenever I see the need.  I often will follow behind her, but she is learning.

Thursday is "Pay Day".  On Thursday we go to the bank and I give them each their earnings for the week.  Usually they have also done some odd jobs to earn extra.  After I give them their cash, we figure out what 10% is, and they deposit that much into their savings accounts.  It's not much, but it adds up.  They are learning to fill out the deposit slips themselves.

They are also expected to tithe a minimum of 10% to church on Sunday.  And they do that happily.  At least they don't have to pay taxes!!

Math is easy to learn when you want to learn it.  Money always is exciting to kids.  They have all saved up for rather large purchases.  The girls have ordered their Just Like Me dolls from American Girl.  And Jor Man bought himself a Nintendo DSi.  It was quite an accomplishment for them to plan, and budget for such a large purchase.  There was the weekly adding up of all their money and asking "How much more?" and figuring out how many more weeks until they would be able to order.

When there was the inevitable, "How about we buy it, and I pay you later?"  It gave us an opportunity to discuss credit and debt.  In this process, we worked on addition, subtraction, identification of money, multiplication, division and percentages.   And they begged me for the instruction.  :)

Of course this also teaches about work.  If they did a subpar job or had to be reminded, they didn't get paid for that day.  Although, for real illness, we did cover for them and not dock the pay.  Apparently we offer sick pay, and benefits!

So many moms I know are stressed out, trying to figure out how to cook, clean, teach, etc.  I have it so easy!  And my kids know how to do the things that they will need to do when they have their own households.  I will not have a 35-year-old living at home while I do their laundry and cook their meals! I'd love to hear what chores your kids do, if you want to share.

Wish you were here!

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