art with the simpsons

September 15, 2015

For now we’re exploring art with the television show, The Simpsons. Really, it’s just an excuse to watch one of my favorite shows with the Bug and do fun projects together. What we do:

  • watch an episode and play I-spy art (yay! somebody already compiled a list of art references in the show)
  • read books about the artist whose work was in the episode we watched (Uncle Andy’s by James Warhola, Linnea in Monet’s Garden by Cristin Bjork, and all sorts of other books we’ve picked up from our public library)
  • look at digitized copies of original works by the artist (several larger museums and Google make these accessible for free!) and explore them with close-looking, open-ended inquiry (MoMA has an awesome class about how to do this)
  • do an art project focusing on similar methods/media as the artist  (we’ve used Discovering Great Artists for most of our project ideas)

Artists we have studied include Andy Warhol, Claude Monet, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, and René Magritte. We’ve really been wandering all over the art history map.

I loved all the projects we’ve done with this–so many new experiences and media–especially doing them with her.

  • We went on a field trip to the river with our watercolors and painted our impression of the river

watercolors at the river

  • used the copier and colored pencils to create pet portraits

Lucy cat

  • played exquisite corpse

an exquisite corpse

  • cut and arranged paper to create bright, colorful collages

paper collage

  • made use of my stash of discarded books to make surrealist collages

my big box of discarded books came in handythings got creepy

  • mixed paint to make all kinds of blue to use in our moody paintings

moody blues

a preview

August 23, 2015

Lily gravitates toward wanting to know more about women in history. Like when we studied the presidents, and she wanted to know why there weren’t any women presidents.

I thought it would be fun to combine that interest and her love for science to do a unit study of women scientists.

the scientist

The unit will follow along with our regular science curriculum, Elementary Science Education; after learning about botany, we’ll study a woman botanist. For each scientist we study we’ll read or watch a documentary about her, do a project related to her work (some include field trips!), and then make a trading card to summarize learning. Lily will also choose a scientist and design a study about her. To wrap it up Lily will also share her learning with a science party, where she shares the study she designed and/or her favorites from the unit overall.

Specifically the unit will include:

  • Rosalind Franklin–extracting and building models of DNA
  • Beatrix Potter–microscope observation and art
  • Elsie Quarterman–cedar glade field trip to id plants
  • Women aviators–paper plane design
  • Cynthia Breazeal–classifying robots and making bristle-bots
  • Rachel Carson–watershed education and service project

I look forward to reporting back on how the unit goes.

4th grade, here we come!

August 15, 2015

Yesterday we wrapped up the first full week of 4th grade. Even with all the messiness of learning and the ‘tude from the pre-teen it was pretty great.

This year we are continuing with some of the same things we have used in previous years including Brave Writer and the next level of Buildings Foundations For Scientific Learning. We have also added several new things, including Beast Academy for math, entry to art history with The Simpsons and Discovering Great Artist for projects, cobbled together curric of US social studies, and digging into information literacy more intentionally.

This week was:

reviewing the times tables because she didn’t review nearly enough over the summer,

fighting about independent reading,

starting a paracosm writing project,

meeting Shakespeare,

learning about camera techniques in film and then watching My Neighbor Totoro,

science class “failure” due to improper lab equipment,

art field trip to paint our impressions of the river like Monet,

nature study about cats, including starting a diy field guide,

rock climbing (it’s her new favorite thing).

A hodge-podge of my favorite resources/activities from this week that I would like to share:

Partnership Writing from Brave Writer–This is a step by step language arts plan that includes 10 monthly projects. With how we fit it into our homeschool it is taking us 2 years to complete. I love the philosophy behind it, and Lily has enjoyed each of the projects she has completed so far.

The Worlds and Works of the Nelson Brothers–This website shares the original works and history of the Nelson brothers who lived during the late 1880s. I used it to explain what paracosm is for Lily’s current writing project, but I also have taken great delight in pouring over the imaginary world the brothers created.

Handbook of Nature Study–This has been a standard resource book for us for several years now, right along with our field guides. It includes studies on several different nature topics with an engaging description and several activities/observations for each topic. I was hesitant to use it at first due to the age of the work, but for the most part the information is still relevant, and I find Comstock’s activities and questions engaging.

Painting at the park–If you study Monet I highly recommend doing a landscape art project outside. Not only is it fun to change up where we do school, but it fit with what we learned about Monet perfectly (for example, the invention of more portable paint storage allowed him and other impressionists to more easily take their work outside).

Google Art Project–If you can’t get to a museum to see original artworks in person, I highly recommend this resource for viewing them. We have a few physical prints of famous artworks, but the Google Art Project can allow you a much finer level of detail–Lily said she could feel the paintings. And it’s free!

We are winding down now, with only a month left of school.



Some of my favorite things from this year:


All the Minecraft learning.

mam-made Stampycat doll


I think I have come a long way compared to the days when I was annoyed with all the MC Youtube videos the kid would incessantly watch. Now I watch them right along with her and sometimes even sneak an episode of Stampy in my own freetime. I no longer just nod my head when she throws all the gaming lingo at me but actually speak the speak with her. Ever since I asked her to share Minecraft with me, it is like a door was unlocked, and I love that I have a sweet, patient guide to this new world.

multiplication tower for math


Besides trying to do some of our work via Minecraft, such as her Lincoln exhibit and math lessons, it has also been a great platform for her to build an expertise and then share her knowledge with others. She has spent hours reading and watching about MC in addition to her time spent in game. She nerds out and exchanges knowledge with friends–I really do love it when she shows friends how to ride a pig. I am also inspired by how she shares Minecraft with me. She makes sure that I have a firm basis in the game, constantly sharing info, posing questions, mostly patiently answering all of mine, and challenging me to keep getting better (she makes sure I don’t just know how to build but also how to battle zombies and the like). Going through this process with her has also provided a space for us to discuss how she learns best–a conversation that I look forward to continuing to watch grow…


Field trips with friends! I love that we have a homeschool group to go on field trips with, but we also enjoy going with regular old friends, too. So far this year our ventures included going to an Andy Warhol exhibit, cedar glade, basset hound rescue fundraiser, two horse stables, swimming pool, cemetery, petting farm, historic house (too many times for her taste, though), botanical garden full of bug sculptures, zombie walk, natural history museum twice, kids’ science center, camping with our Girl Scout troop, theater twice, park a million times, with still more to come (and I may have missed some). Really we can’t get enough field trips…

my little bug heaven for my horse loving girl the cutest teddy bear of a lamb


I love that for independent reading she chose to pick up Harry Potter again. The series was her first book love, and it makes my heart happy that the embers are still burning brightly…


All the new books we read. Besides The Borrowers all of our read-alouds were new to both of us, which I don’t always seek out. Usually I feel like I am introducing my favorites to her, so it is nice to discover new ones with her…


Watching and discussing movies with her. We haven’t watched many new things, mostly old favorites,  but I really do love experiencing movies with her. We probably talk more with movies than with our read-alouds, but I am perfectly fine with that. I am taking this as inspiration for next year to deepen the conversation even more…


I also love experiencing poetry with her. Until we started doing the Brave Writer poetry teatimes, I had not read much poetry beyond required reading in school and Lily had not read any. We don’t always drink tea with our poetry but carving out time to even if we only have just read a single poem to each other each week making it a routine has added to our homeschool in many ways. She gets practice in reading fluency; it’s another strand with which to enrich our language-arts tapestry; I get to make up for all those years with no poetry. By far her favorite is You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You written by John Ciardi and illustrated by Edward Gorey. My favorite is a vinyl recording of Dylan Thomas reading his poetry…

reading from her favorite poetry bookmy favorite

Outdoor education is also a favorite and a constant in our homeschool. This year she is taking a homeschool class from our local nature center. Besides providing a group learning opportunity, it has also served as springboard into our nature studies at home. Last year we didn’t use a formal science curriculum but had various kinds of science fun here and there. I love the depth of this for science study and plan to take it as inspiration for what we do next year…

checking out aqua critters in our creek

Also, adding bones to our nature collection was super rad.

deer bones

She’s not so interested in the work of cleaning them, but that is okay with me–more fun for me. I cleaned up a deer skull and vertebrae and will be working on a box turtle shell next…


Studying chemistry was really done on a whim based on a conversation about her interests. Until recently though I didn’t realize that her vision of chemistry involved explosions, meanwhile we had been doing a fairly boring Minecraft class about the elements followed by the curriculum, Inquiry in Action. While Inquiry in Action was not exactly the showy chemistry she was expecting, it was still an excellent curriculum, including not only activities to understand chemistry-related concepts but also to practice the scientific method…


I also love crafting with her.

This year we’ve done more sewing and a bit of knitting. She also got into making loom band bracelets. My favorite is working on projects with her for her doll, and I look forward to adding to her wardrobe over the next year, too…


I already reviewed our Lincoln study so I won’t repeat that. Right now we are studying fashion history, which started out with us following a timeline. Now I just ask her what she would like to look at each week using the Survey of Historic Costume textbook I held onto from my own studies and various Youtube videos as inspiration. Lily said she wanted coloring sheets, but I couldn’t find one comprehensive resource I liked so we used some of these paper dolls from Practical Pages and I also made some of my own using my geeky prowess. We also had discussions about technology and social history, which were a nice bonus for this history nerd–more history, yes please.

As part of our study we also went to an exhibit of wedding dresses owned by women from our community. It was one of the best museum experiences I have ever had. Another visitor, an older lady, started a conversation with us by asking Lily where she went to school. Lily answered that she homeschools and the lady actually had a supportive response, which was refreshing in comparison to our other exchanges with strangers on the topic. She shared about her experience in attending a country school (I ‘m assuming one-room school based on her description). She also shared with us that her wedding dress and her husband’s suit were in the exhibit and talked some about their wedding story. Then she told us about his experience in World War II and about a documentary that included his story, which brought their family an opportunity to visit sites where he had fought. When we got home I watched the documentary and realized I may have missed out by avoiding military history in my studies; it’s about more than just military tactics and engagements…


Recently we also decided to do more Girl Scout badges independently from our troop to complete any remaining ones she is interested in before she bridges to Juniors at the end of the year. Right now she is working on the Make-Your-Own badge. Her topic is books, and she has decided to make a PSA about book care, make a poster showing the parts of a book, learn more about her favorite author, and learn how to and then construct a book. She can earn one of these badges each year so I think we may do it again next year as part of school…



All in all, I am really glad that I have stopped planning solely based on what I think she should learn and instead that she takes the lead more. I am also taking joy in being inspired by what we do to take up in my own learning. I think this is my favorite year so far…




One of the many ways we have added Minecraft to our homeschool this year was through building a museum exhibit about a historical figure. Bug chose to learn about Abraham Lincoln who she says is her favorite person in history.

The way we went about the Lincoln study was exploring questions she had and resources that I found, which I thought she would enjoy. I really had to reel myself back because history is my favorite, and I didn’t want to overwhelm her.

The first thing she wanted to learn about was his hat. We found specs on the size of hat and made a paper replica. We also checked out the real thing thanks to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library’s interactive and engaging website that shares primary sources related to him. For all the primary sources we look at we go into greater depth by analyzing them (a great resource if you are interested in trying this is the Primary Source Analysis Tool from the Library of Congress).We also read Abe Lincoln’s Hat by Martha Brenner.

We also found out how tall Lincoln was and made a life-size drawing of him.

lily and lincoln

Another aspect we explored was photographs of Lincoln. We looked at several of photographs from the Library of Congress. (We also followed a bunny-trail to learn about the daguerreotype process.)

Most recently we delved into the childhood of Lincoln. We started by reading Stand Tall, Abe Lincoln by St. George, Judith; it helped us to connect to the story of his childhood, which was heartbreaking and inspiring. We also did several other activities related to his childhood, including playing a game about pioneer survival, making a  lifestyle comparison, analyzing and discussing the ax in relation to his childhood chores, and making a batch of pumpkin butter to represent a food he may have eaten.

Miss Lily decided that was enough for her so she set to work creating her exhibit.

Abe ExhibitAbe Exhibit

She included a statue of Lincoln and model of his hat. The hat is large enough to walk inside of and shows how he kept important papers in it. This is the first time I have had her do a culminating project like this, and it is a great first try.  While her grammar and spelling are not strong, which I could see in her labels and books that she made with the exhibit, this format gave her a chance to also work in something she excels at, building in Minecraft.



In January we will embark on a study of fashion history combined with clothing and accessory crafting for us and Lily’s American Girl knock-off. I might even whip up some patterns to share for the latter.





October 2, 2014

We’re a couple months into the school year. I wanted to share about what we have been up to lately. It took us a bit to get back into the rhythm of things after taking the summer off. I think we are finally at a point where we have a routine that allows us to get some work done, but it isn’t the end of the world if we abandon our plans to go to the park or on some other fun venture. Our routine looks something like this:


  • Minecraft math lesson, plus extension activities (games, related books, etc.)
  • Movie (documentaries, movies based on books we’ve read, etc.)


  • DIY chemistry study with a Minecraft class about the elements as the core for now (next will be the Inquiry in Action curriculum from the American Chemical Society); we also do a fun activity or two each time (we are def using our fair share of vinegar and baking soda)
  • Poetry


  • Nature study, our old favorite!
  • Prep for her nature center class, which so far involves lots of non-ficition reading (something we don’t get nearly enough of), research, some worksheets, and field study


  • Minecraft project (self-directed)


  • Lincoln study looking at primary sources, reading picture books, and doing some projects related to his life and legacy
  • Art narration–sometimes tied into the Lincoln study or from favorite artists/artworks


  • Read aloud (we are currently reading Redwall) study using the Arrow from Brave Writer
  • Independent reading where she chooses the book
  • Copywork related to the current read aloud or writing letters (an idea she came up with)
  • Art and craft projects
  • Games
  • Minecraft lessons for me (a recent addition to our routine where she gives me a lesson and assignment in Minecraft)


I am happy that we are doing more of a block schedule where we spend a day to focus on a topic (in addition to our version of the Brave Writer Lifestyle), rather than having a little bit of everything every day or so. I feel like this simple change has greatly added to the learning potential in what we do–before I felt like sometimes I was just glazing over some topics to get to the next thing on the list.

Minecraft is obviously a big focus for us this year, which is something she requested at the conference-of-sorts we had before school started this year. I really want to make an effort to give her more choice, which is also playing out in her choosing to study Lincoln, chemistry, which read alouds we read, and to go with the Minecraft math classes instead of the textbook route. This has made for a happier homeschool and the bonus of her being motivated to dig in deeper.

So far third grade is pretty stinking great.


Nature study is something we picked up several years ago

kindy nature study











and which Bug continually asks for, though it has taken on a different shape this year. This year we have raised tadpoles and butterflies, put her green thumb to use, taken an Audubon Adventures class, learned with our co-op, explored the woods and creek by our home in more depth, and continued to take inspiration from the  Handbook of Nature Study Blog.



Last summer we had tadpoles to observe their metamorphosis.We had six that kept growing and getting bigger, until one day we noticed there was one missing and another day, then two. Bug was disgusted to learn that some species can be carnivorous; she had no interest in caring for the remaining monsters. Lucky me. I also found out that if you feed them too much their cycle of metamorphosis can be slowed. I was hoping to get the last tadpole out of the house before winter but it seemed like it would never grow. Finally, mid winter it started to sprout legs.

All together it was a failed experiment survival-wise, but we did have a chance to learn more about frogs during the process. When we raised caterpillars Bug was much more interested and was able to release five butterflies into the spring sun. Our next project of this sort will probably be vermiculture, which I have already made a bin for.

While I have good intentions as far as gardening goes it is something that I really have to work at and usually ends with dry wisps of plants. The little miss though seems to have a green thumb. She has managed to keep alive  a geranium for nearly three years.

photo by Mandy Jones

photo by Mandy Jones












She is always starting seeds from our kitchen and those she finds outside. I decided to play on her interest in plants and gardening this year. We have explored a bit more with garden related experiments and projects before the weather was right for planting,

testing soil pH

testing soil pH











and now she has started some marigold, cantaloupe, and cucumber for her own little garden. Maybe she can help me keep my garden alive this summer, too.

dreaming of radishes













I have written about the classes at our local nature study before but it has been awhile since we have participated in one. She is at an in-between age–too old for classes she has taken in the past and not quite old enough for the homeschool class they offer. A few months ago though we found out that she could take a new class they were offering–an Audubon Adventures class. The classes took place over a course of several weeks, each focusing on a different bird. With this class, Bug had an opportunity to read  non-ficiton, research, birdwatch, and do various kinds of projects. It was also a great chance to be with homeschool and nature center friends.

This year is the first that we have been part of a homeschool co-op, and we love it. Last semester there was a class about trees, where the kids learned how to identify trees by leaves and other fun. This semester there is a bird class where they read a story and then do a craft about birds, which has paired well with our other birding ventures.

Each Wednesday, like clockwork, she asks to go on a nature walk. These are usually informal; we go wherever she leads. Her favorite spot continues to be the creek, the same creek I loved to explore as a girl.

exploring the creek last fall











I am really enjoying discovering it all over again with her. We usually keep to one section that is easy to traverse without having to wade through the thicket of brush the grows all along the banks of the creek.

The blooming of the daffodils draws us into the woods that are momentarily free of the dense brush, which usually deters us from entering. At our house the daffodils usually bloom in the woods near the creek so when she wanted to pick flowers this spring she also noticed other little things. She found a natural seat in a tree.

her seat by the daffodils













She also found a new place to enter the creek and since the woods were not as thick with brush we decided to follow it and found some new favorite spots in the creek. Now if only we could figure out how to develop a few trails so we don’t have to fight the thicket.

Another thing we revisited several times for our nature walks was a deer skeleton in the woods. I found it last summer in an area where the creek had flooded. The dry bones were covered with some soil, and grass had started to grow over it. At first we only moved the skull so that we could observe it more closely.

adding bones to the nature collection











Somehow though we ended up leaving the woods and ending our nature walk one day with a bag of bones. Suddenly this nature study thing seems very intense. Bug has decided to add some vertebrate, ribs, and the entire skull to her nature collection. Now to clean them.  Luckily I had heard of Jake’s Bones through my museums classes; he offers some very helpful guidance for cleaning bones.

Bug’s  favorite nature study from Barb at the Handbook of Nature Study Blog has been the Cat Nature Study. The morning we were going to start the nature study I was scolded for spooking one of our indoor kitties, Lucy.  I thought the girl had been eating her breakfast, but she was actually spying on the cat. We decided to observe our outside cat, Sirius, up close because he is the only one that would be tolerant of that. Bug had her magnifying glass and was checking out Sirius’s paws and face while I read selections from the Handbook of Nature Study about cats. After this we tried to observe his behavior but mostly, he just wanted some love.

Sirius wants some attention

Sirius wants some attention











Even though this was months ago she is still fascinated with the cats.



All together I think our nature study has been well rounded this year, and I look forward to seeing how we continue to grow with it.



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