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.


This year is such a stark contrast from the previous, and I really want to do a better job of sharing what we do on here. I updated the 2013-2014 page with what we have actually done for the most part so far. Here is a look at a day when we are at home together. These days seem rare what with Girl Scouts, soccer, and co-op fun.

I typically get up around 7, do my daily information gathering, etc. I also take this time to write her to-do list on the whiteboard and finish any preparations that I need to make for the day.

Bug gets up around 9 and usually fixes herself breakfast. I have found that she works best in the morning so we get to work right away. She chooses what she wants to do from her list. She usually chooses games first. She has complete choice with this so it could really be anything. We have games like Rat-a-tat Cat, Math Dice, Jr., Cranium’s Cadoo, and Monopoly, but she is just as likely to make up a game.


One of my least favorites, but she can talk me into if she agrees to be the banker.

Other favorite things on the list is anything to do with science or Minecraft. Currently for science she is taking a Minecraft astronomy class. I have added a few hands on activities, related interactives and readings, and notebook pages to add to the class content offered. After gathering the info she needs she works on a model assigned to make on the class server, such as the surface of the moon.

moon surface

The surface of the moon that she built in Minecraft.

We are also doing a garden project. We had been working on different activities to learn about gardening, but now that spring is here we are starting to get to work on our garden. She started seeds for her garden bed a few weeks ago–cantaloupe, cucumber, and marigolds.

Lily's garden plan

Her sketch of her garden plan including some cucumbers, cantaloupe, and a bunch of flowers.

Bug is currently reading a Goosebumps book for her independent reading. After she reads I have her draw and narrate about something from the day’s reading.

Cuckoo Clock of Doom

She loves spooky things so I wasn’t surprised when she choose this for independent reading.

Handwriting had been something that caused much gnashing of teeth, but I found a copywork book of jokes, which she loves. I enjoy that she gets in some much needed handwriting practice and seeing her illustrations for the jokes.

handwriting practice

I love her sweet little brains.

For read aloud this whole year we have been working through the Harry Potter series. We are on book 5. I usually read a chapter, and we talk about the story as I read. Each time we finish a book we also watch the movie. This all started by reading the first book on vacation over the summer. I had intended to stop after the first one so we could read one book every summer, but I couldn’t say no to her wanting to keep going. These books are her first book love, and I am enjoying see that love grow.

LEGO Harry Potter game

Her owl that delivers messages to me, or rather is hurled at me with a note tied to it.

She was Hermoine for Halloween.

Sporting her Harry Potter related garb.

She named the new cat, Sirius Black, of course.

(Just a few of the ways she shows her love of Harry Potter.)


We also follow the Brave Writer lifestyle where we rotate through nature study, poetry reading, art narration, and film watching. Recently we watched Frankenstein (1931) and Frankenweenie for comparison.

This spring we also started working on Partnership Writing. She is currently working on the personal timeline project; we are working on captions to go with all of pictures she chose.

For math we have finally come to place where she doesn’t complain quite as much. We are using Math Mammoth, and she seems to be doing well with this. I decided earlier in the year to add to this with a kind of BWL for math, which has made things better. We do math-specific projects, games and taking in mathy books and videos.

We are usually finished with all of this by early afternoon.  Afterwards Bug has freetime for the rest of the afternoon and evening. She spends a lot of time playing outside, playing on a Minecraft server or on her own, and watching movies/tv. We eat around 6 pm and she gets to bed a bit after 9.

The other morning when I was doing my daily information gathering–scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed–Lily spied an article about the new Harry Potter stamps from the USPS. We clicked over and she read it. Until the last few months getting her to read has been like pulling teeth.

For reading we had been working through Progressive Phonics. At the end of last year she had not completed her phonics program so I was under the impression she would be behind; I planned to review the intermediate level before moving into the advanced level of Progressive Phonics. She seemed completely bored with the program though, and I noticed that she really already knew the material. We are reading through the Harry Potter series as our read aloud. One day she asked to read it and curious to see how she would do, I let her. She only missed one or two words in two pages, and she read those pages aloud fluently.

We have stopped doing Progressive Phonics. For now, she reads independently for at least 20 minutes a day. I have gently pushed her to read outside of her comfort zone, which is still with beginning readers. We have some picture books and chapter books in our collections that I think are more her level so she is working on those. I generally have her do an oral narration of what she reads so that I can check her comprehension.

After reading the article about the stamps, she said she would be interested in more of the like, which would work well to supplement what we have at home since we have primarily fiction books. I pinned a few articles and blogs on a Pinterest board for her so that she can choose as she likes. Here are some of my favorites:

When she gets to reading them I will post what she likes.


Hello. Long time, no see.  Homeschooling here in the big woods has been going well lately. I thought I would share a bit about what we have been doing in math.

I had planned for Lily to work through Grade 2 Math Mammoth, but a thread on inspired me to do more with math this year. Lily is good at math, but it has been one of her least favorite subjects, especially after our experience with online school last year. The Brave Writer Lifestyle consists of activities to create a language-rich lifestyle. Applying the the Brave Writer Lifestyle to math seems like a great way to learn and support a healthier relationship between Lily, me, and math.  

In applying the BWL to math, I have created a routine of various math-y activities. In addition to working on Math Mammoth everyday, we generally do math games 2-3 days a week, read a math-related story at least once a week, and work on a math-related project once a week. Occasionally, we also look at math-related videos. I have also made a point of talking about the math she encounters in her play. And of course, there is always cooking and baking.

Here are some of the ways she has enjoyed learning and playing with math:

Minecraft pocket edition, app

building with LEGO

Math Dice Jr., game

Greg Tang interactive books

Vi Hart, on YouTube

Bedtime Math, daily math problem

Numberphile, on YouTube

Marley’s Math Farm, app

making smoothies

Building a geodesic dome

Building a geodesic dome

Rat-a-tat-cat , game

Reading Alice in Numberland

Setting a goal in soccer and charting her progress

starting fresh

August 3, 2013

We started back on the first.

I was a bit anxious about how it would go considering how oppositional and down she was on anything that could be perceived as especially schoolish.  I am happy to report though that she had a really great first day back to the point that upon waking the next day she was excited about embarking on her second day of school.

Those first two days were filled with lots of reading, including Matilda, math dice, the start of a geodesic fort, math placement test, which she did without complaint, science (not surprisingly her first choice of lessons both days), the yearly self- portrait, learning about rough green snakes, and some art talk.


Lily, reading to me


We also went to a park day for the co-op we’ve joined. Lily had kind of a sour attitude on the way there, but once we got there she got right in there with the others kids, ran rampant, climbed things, and generally had a grand old time. When I talked to her afterwards she said she had not looked forward to it because she thought we were going to something where she would have to sit and listen to grown-ups talk to each other, not where she could play with kids.

The way things have gone this so far has certainly lifted my spirits.  Even though I know there where will be bumps along the way, I am looking forward to this year of learning at home.

new toy

July 21, 2013

We  used  the computer frequently to do online school last year, but I also have allowed her to use it outside of that–she has her own account on our computer with access to some kid friendly software and internet pages that I have bookmarked for her. She is allowed free reign but doesn’t take gross advantage of that–she  spends maybe 30 minutes to upwards of an hour in a week on the computer.  I have been interested in getting a tablet for her–I love how they are portable and their ease-of-use–but I could never justify spending what it costs for new or even older models of the iPad (the only brand I had been considering). Then I saw an android-based mini tablet on sale for under $100 and went for it.

When we first got it she spent considerably more time on it than she ever had on the desktop computer but her usage has finally leveled out in the last month to a couple hours per week. I plan to use it rather than the desktop for her school–for capturing stories, for ready reference, etc.  I also would like it to be one more way to strew things for her; this means searching for good apps, e books, etc. which I have realized is a bit more work for android-based devices.  So far I have only installed free things but those that we like I will likely upgrade.

Here are some of the favorites–

BrainPOP Jr. Movie of the Week

Moby and Annie were introduced to her through the online school. The videos are little bites of information about a given topic. They would be a good way to introduce a topic because I found many times that the info presented has lead her to ask for more.

KIDO’Z Play Mode-Safe For Kids

This is how she accesses the tablet b/c I’d rather her not buy me any 1962 Austin Healey Sprites. It comes with some preloaded games and videos but you can also add approval to any apps you have on your device, remove games you don’t want, add YouTube videos, remove and add links to web pages. I have really taken advantage of the ability to add YouTube videos and web links, adding things for fun and learning.

Eggy 100 HD

She laughs so much when she plays this. They have a 250 word app but I wish they had more.

Marley’s Math Farm

The favorite math app so far; it’s for doing addition and subtraction with money.

Minecraft – Pocket Ed. Demo

This is by far what she spends the most time on–on the building portion not the survival b/c the monsters are too creepy. I have to admit that I have had fun building, too.


I really don’t see a need to buy any e books. These are classic stories with beautiful illustrations, interactive features, and are narrated, too. Right now they are just right for where she is in her reading level.

Princesses Learn Spanish

She has fallen prey to the princesses. The app blends English and Spanish in story format and has coloring pages and interactives to go with each story.