Google The Unplanned Homeschooler: 2015

Thursday, December 17, 2015

When love is the only thing under the tree

Today I read a post from a mom who just wanted to turn off her computer and stay offline until the new year. The joy and expectation of Christmas had simply become too much for her to handle when her own family was broke and there was no money to spend on gifts for the kids.

Her post was only one of dozens of similar threads I saw on Facebook this week, and they broke my heart because this time last year, I could have written the same thing myself.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/tyger_lyllie/67737360


At the beginning of last December, my husband lost his job. He is an engineer, and had been working in the hard hit oil and gas industry. It was the beginning of a long, hard time for us, as it was for many in the same industry. Christmas came just weeks after he cleared out his desk. With uncertainty looming, we had no money to spend on gifts whatsoever.

Like so many families, at one time or another in their lives, we had to face a not-so-merry Christmas, where the only thing under our tree and in our stockings was the love we had for one another. But we were fortunate, because we still had our home, the power was still on, and our kids had coats that fit and food to eat. We knew some families had things much worse than ours.

At the time, though, I was terribly depressed, and I will admit I had a hard time getting over the feeling that we were unable to give our kids a "good Christmas" because we couldn't afford to give them gifts. But looking back, I realize that they might have received the best gifts we could have possibly given them, even though things weren't working out at all the way any of us had wanted.

The gift of fortitude


By pulling together during our greatest financial struggle, and leaning on one another, we drew strength. We worked hard to find my husband a new job and to stay on track with the kids' schooling, all while scrimping and saving in whatever ways we could. We got through the hard time together, and if later in their lives, our kids face struggles of their own, they will know they can make it, too.

The gift of humility


Our kids saw us reach out to our bank to save our home. They saw us apply for assistance when my husband's unemployment lasted longer than a few weeks. They learned that humbly and graciously accepting help from those who love you can be hard to do, but is a blessing not only to your own need, but to the ones who give you aid.

The gift of faith


As the weeks of unemployment stretched into months - something we'd never experienced before - and it became tempting to give in to feelings of despair, our children watched as we continued to place our faith in God to see us through. We continued to be thankful that we never went hungry, we never became homeless, and although many wants were unfulfilled, our basic needs were always met.

The gift of perspective


There are much worse things than not getting the toys on your Christmas list. Our kids were never really greedy, and we'd done our best to teach them the difference between wants and needs over the years. But going through a Christmas of financial hardship taught them in a very concrete way that missing out on the things you want is not the end of the world.

This year, we're doing much better. My husband returned to work a few months ago, and this Christmas, although our belts are still tightened, there are a few packages under the Christmas tree. But the best gift this year is the renewed spirit of gratitude and helpfulness that each of my children are filled with, having spent a Christmas with nothing under the tree but love.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Fun Fact Friday: How to store leftover onions

Don't onions make your home cooking taste delicious? I love them, but sometimes recipes call for a little less than a whole onion, or a little more. What do you do with the leftover onions?

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Well, this is a perfect opportunity for you and your kids to research the veracity of a popular internet meme. As it turns out, contrary to widely circulated internet rumors, cut onions are not dangerous to store and use later. They aren't bacterial super-magnets, and you aren't going to die if you eat them, as long as you store them properly.

According to the National Onion Association, an organization chock full of helpful onion-related knowledge, you can store cut onions in your refrigerator in a sealed container, like a bowl with a lid or a storage bag, for up to a week to 10 days. 

So go ahead and make some Tex-Mex, a batch of your favorite soup, or whatever onion masterpiece you're craving, and save the leftover onion for later in the week!

Monday, December 7, 2015

Favorite games for homeschoolers

We play a lot of games in our house. We always have. Not only are games great family fun, but they can be an excellent way for kids to learn. Once our closet was full of the all the children’s standards, like Candyland, Memory, Cooties and Twister, I found myself looking for new and better games. 

I wanted games that would be fun for the whole family, and challenging enough to keep the kids playing for a long time. I looked beyond the shelves at my local discount store, and found a whole array of games that are both fun and educational. 




After a while, I discovered that these lesser-known games are the ones my homeschoolers prefer, and the ones they still play with after years and years, while Candyland and Memory have been pushed to the back of the closet.

Here are a few of our favorite games that stand the test of time.

Friday, December 4, 2015

It's National Cookie Day - get a free cookie at the mall!

Oh, guess what! It's National Cookie Day! And I just happen to be taking my mom and the kids to the mall today to do a little bit of Christmas shopping, so we'll be stopping in at the Great American Cookies store to get free chocolate chip cookies.

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Yes, you read that right. FREE COOKIES! Get 'em while they're hot! Well, I don't know if they'll be hot, but I do know they'll be yummy. All you have to do is stop by the Great American Cookies store today, December 4, 2015, and ask for your free cookie, and you'll be celebrating National Cookie Day in style!


Update... YUM!

We got our cookies, and shared the news about National Cookie Day with a bunch of other thankful families. It made the mall madness a little more bearable. Thanks Great American Cookies!




Tuesday, December 1, 2015

THE UNPLANNER, 2016 Do-Over Edition is available now!

Okay, homeschoolers, let's hear it. Who needs a fresh start?

As I've shared before, my first year of homeschooling, my planner was a disaster. It had too many blanks to fill in, leaving me stressed out. I messed up and planned ahead - in pen - and hated how messy everything looked as I had to scribble through my best laid plans and start again. And basically, I just gave up on it by the end of October.

I would have loved to have a crisp new planner to start again, without having to look at all those messy pages. But homeschool planners can be so expensive.



That's why I decided to publish a Do-Over Edition to The Unplanner this year! You shouldn't have to wait until the fall to start over with a brand new organizer and a fresh start, and at just $6.99, The Unplanner, 2016 Do-Over Edition, it's as affordable as a stocking stuffer.

Whether you messed up your homeschool planner, discovered that the one you purchased in the fall was not a good fit, or simply started homeschooling late in the year and want an organizer that won't waste months of calendar pages, I've got you covered!

Get a copy of The Unplanner, 2016 Do-Over Edition in my store for just $6.99 today. The calendars start in January and run all the way through a full 13 months, so you'll get your money's worth whether you use them the full year or just until the fall.

You deserve a fresh start!

Friday, November 27, 2015

I'm a homeschooler, I can do anything!

I wasn't planning on going out shopping on Black Friday, but thankfully there weren't any lines at Locke Supply when they opened at 7:30 this morning.

I had to run down there first thing to get a part to fix my furnace. The furnace quit working in the wee hours of the morning the night before Thanksgiving. I was still in the kitchen, putting the finishing touches on the baklava I had decided to make for the first time this year when my daughter tiptoed in and said, "I think there is something wrong with the furnace. It made weird noises and now it won't turn on."

I checked the breakers, but they were fine, so I flipped the power switch off and back on, to reset the unit. I could hear the blower start and the gas come on, but there was no familiar whoosh of ignition.

I took the cover off the unit, but couldn't see an obvious problem, and never having worked on a furnace, I took the safest route and turned off the gas and the power supply until I could figure out a solution.

It wasn't just the middle of the night, it was Thanksgiving! Even if I could somehow find a repair person to come out on Thanksgiving in a small town, I worried about how much that would cost.

So, I wrote down the model number of the furnace and set to work, trying to figure out what might be wrong with it, to minimize the cost if I could. At least if I narrowed down the problem, it might help save a little time, and when you're calling for HVAC repair on Thanksgiving, time is money.

As I researched the issue, educating myself about furnace parts and how they work, I learned that the most likely source of this particular problem was the ignitor. But I didn't know where mine was, or how to change it.

Enter YouTube! You can learn anything on YouTube. So far this year, I have fixed a toilet, replaced a keyboard on a laptop, fixed a refrigerator, and now, repaired a furnace using tutorials from YouTube. But I am getting ahead of myself.

I pulled an all-nighter, reading everything I could find and watching tutorials, but by mid morning, armed with knowledge, and confident that I could find the ignitor and at least check to see if it was cracked or damaged in some way, I returned to the furnace. While my sweet potato casserole was baking, I found the ignitor and managed to carefully release it's bracket from the frame so I could see if it was indeed the culprit.



As you can see here, the old ignitor, on the right, was clearly damaged. It was cracked so badly that once I had it fully removed, it virtually crumbled in my hand. But the good news was, I knew without a doubt that this was the source of the problem, so I put off calling a repair person and decided to hope the temperatures outside wouldn't drop too much by the next morning.

Thanksgiving in northeastern Oklahoma was mild this year. It was rainy, but unseasonably warm, and the cloud cover helped to keep temperatures up through the night. By morning on Black Friday, it was starting to get cool outside, but inside the house was still comfortable, and for that, I am so thankful. I might not have been able to put the repair off until the store opened this morning if not for the nice weather.

At 7:30, when the doors opened, there I was, perhaps the only early bird shopper that particular store would see. But I got my new ignitor and headed home to make the repair.

I handled the new part carefully, making sure not to get any oils from my skin on it, because the tutorials said that could increase its chance of failure.

 
Installing the ignitor was challenging, because of the tight fit, but I took my time and put in in place gently. Once I replaced the screw that held the bracket in place and hooked up the wires, I turned back on the power and the gas.


The ignitor glowed bright red before igniting the gas. You can still see it faintly glowing in the photo above.



And then, whoosh, all the burners were lit and there were beautiful blue flames once more! I did it! For just over $33.00, tax included, I fixed my own furnace and didn't have to call a repair person at all. I'm not going to lie, I'm so proud of myself I still can't stop smiling!

But here's the best part. While teaching myself how to fix a furnace, I couldn't help thinking this is exactly what homeschooling is all about. My kids watched me tackle this repair, and they were proud when I told them I could fix it, but I'm going to teach them how I learned what I did, from finding the model number on the unit to researching parts. I'm going to use this as an opportunity to demonstrate that we can do anything as long as we are willing to put in the time and effort to learn, and of course, take the appropriate safety measures to do the job right.


Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Thanksgiving tips for picky eaters

I love Thanksgiving dinner. It’s full of some of my favorite foods, including the slow roasted turkey, traditional cornbread dressing, sweet potatoes just about any way you want to serve them and a nice side of tart cranberry sauce. Oh, and the pies. I love the pies.

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My youngest daughter loves all the same foods, and it’s a lot of fun to watch her dig into a home cooked Thanksgiving dinner with enthusiasm. But my twins really aren’t fans of the traditional Thanksgiving meal. In fact, about the only thing they really like are the freshly baked hot rolls, turkey and mashed potatoes. So what do I do to make sure my kids have enough to eat on Thanksgiving while everyone else feasts on foods that they really don’t like.

Have your kids try just one bite


Tastes change over the years. Also, some people may make a traditional dish in a new way your kids will love. I didn’t much care for sweet potatoes growing up, but now they are one of my favorites. I began to like them when I tried a sweet potato casserole with marshmallow topping and nuts. Instead of forcing picky eaters to choke down a whole serving of something they dislike, have them try just one bite of lots of foods, just to see if they find a new favorite this year.

Add some kid friendly foods to the feast


Whether you are cooking at home or visiting family or friends, an extra dish is almost always welcome at the table. Maybe your kids can’t stand turkey, but they like thinly sliced ham and pepperoni, fruit and cheese cubes like they might eat for lunch. Go ahead and bring a deli tray to share, piled extra high with the meats they like.

Or try making a bunch of homemade appetizers, like sausage balls or pigs in blankets. Just make sure to bring something your kids will definitely enjoy.

Repurpose the ingredients


Maybe your kids would be more likely to eat a turkey slider than a serving of turkey and gravy. Try repurposing some of the Thanksgiving ingredients already on the table in a creative way that your kids will enjoy. A hot roll topped with some thinly sliced turkey and a bit of cheese with just one or two small sides is more kid friendly than a plate mounded with unfamiliar foods.

Give kids their own space


There really is something to be said for the kids’ table at big dinners like Thanksgiving. Not only does it give youngsters a chance to eat with people their own size, it gives adults a chance to enjoy a meal with other grown-ups. Besides, your picky eaters may be more likely to try a new food if they see their friends enjoying it.

Don’t make a big deal


Thanksgiving dinner is just one meal out of the year. Seriously, it’s only as big a deal as we choose to make it. If your child sees that you are stressed out over their picky eating, they may have an even harder time finishing what is on their plate.

It’s far better to enjoy your own Thanksgiving feast and let your child eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich if that’s what they want than to stress out and ruin the festivities for everyone.

Don’t make a big deal out of dinner, and don’t let others make your child feel bad, either. It’s no one’s fault that they don’t like certain foods, even at a meal as yummy as Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Why haven't I been doing this my whole life?

This weekend I made barbecued pulled pork for the first time ever. Although I am a serious bacon enthusiast, I never liked pork roast and I figured the folks who made the barbecued pork I loved had some secret method I could probably never master at home.

But after having some at a birthday party a couple of weeks ago, my youngest asked me if I couldn't make it for her, so I said I would try. I asked one of my friends for instructions, bought a good sized pork butt, some onions and barbecue sauce, set my slow cooker and went to bed.

I woke up hungry the next day, after smelling that delicious pork cooking all night long. By lunch time, I could barely stand it. We had plenty of food for our family, my parents, and lots of leftovers, and all for less than we would have spent on pizzas.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/stevendepolo/3617787771


Sometimes you have a moment when you can't help but wonder, why, oh why haven't I been doing this my whole life?

It occurred to me later that homeschooling is sort of like that for a lot of people. You see other people doing it, it looks good, you're kids want you to try it, but you figure that's not something you could ever master at home. Those other families must have some secret method you could never learn.

But the truth is, like barbecue, there are a million paths to homeschooling, and each one can turn out wonderfully in its own way.

What's the best way to learn how to homeschool? Ask around. Homeschoolers are eager to share their secrets, and happy to encourage you along the way to success.

When it comes to trying something new, too often we let our fear of failure keep us from experiencing something truly amazing.

I didn't know if I could homeschool, either, until I tried it. And although getting started wasn't quite as easy as making some phenomenal pulled pork, it was every bit as satisfying. By the time my first year as a homeschooler was over, I had to ask myself, why hadn't I been doing that from the beginning?


Wednesday, November 18, 2015

When did all my friends become homeschoolers?

I first noticed it when a few of the moms in my homeschool group started hosting parties for things like Usborne Books, Thirty-One Gifts and Mary Kay. Several offered me a chance to host my own party, at home or online, and earn free gifts. But nearly all the people I might invite to a party had already been invited, because we were all in the same circle. All my friends were homeschoolers!

Had I managed to sleep through a social revolution, whereby homeschoolers had taken over the planet? Sadly, no, but just think about how much fun that would be. Alas, I knew that homeschoolers were still a small but growing minority in our society, so I had to ask myself, when did all my friends, at least the ones I see on a regular basis, become homeschoolers?

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The ever changing friends list


If you are like me, you've probably noticed that your friendships have changed as your life has evolved. In college, your friends seemed like they'd be a part of your life forever. But graduation came, you got jobs, everyone moved off in different directions. I still have a few close friends from college who I really love, but it's hard to stay close when you're literally hundreds of miles apart.

Sometimes it's hard to stay close even when you're living right in the same small town. But as marriage, parenthood, work and other commitments take up time, you end up choosing who you'll spend your time with, often based on how much you have in common.

Homeschooling is a major lifestyle choice. It tends to put families on a different schedule than their public schooling peers. It shines a light on those who are critical and disapproving of your choices, and challenges those who feel threatened or judged by the fact that you chose something different for your children than they chose for theirs.

As shallow friendships fall to the wayside, the door is opened to new friendships, often with other homeschoolers who share much in common with you. You may miss the friends who've gone their own way, or you may even be relieved to be rid of some of them, because you've changed so much you just aren't compatible with one another anymore.

The change is gradual, but one day you look around and notice, like me, that you are surrounded by other homeschoolers... and you like it!

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Everyone Matters: Mourning the loss of an online friend

Last week, I found out I'd lost a dear friend who I never had the chance to meet in person. Melissa Matters had started writing a few years ago on the now defunct Yahoo! Contributor Network the same time I did, and we both became friends with the same bunch of writers, eventually engaging in a supportive community on Facebook where we read each other's work every week and encouraged one another.

When Yahoo! decided to shut down this branch of their business, dozens of active writers held onto the ties we'd made and encouraged each other as we built blogs, like the one you are reading and like Melissa's blog, "Wading through Motherhood."Each of us followed our individual interests, and though our blogs were diverse, we continued to stay in touch, reading the work produced by the friends we'd made in our months or years writing together.

Then, one morning, messages on Facebook, tagged with Melissa's name, gave the indication something was terribly wrong. Looking a little deeper, it was clear. My friend had died, suddenly and unexpectedly, leaving behind her husband, her two small children, her parents, and many, many other family and friends who loved her dearly.

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I didn't know any of them. I'd read about Melissa's family in her own words, and I knew how much she adored her husband and her children. She loved being a mother more than anything. But even though I had shared many chats and messages with her, I'd never written a word to her husband or anyone else she knew in person. I had to reach out to a stranger, a friend of hers who had posted a sorrowful goodbye and seemed to have known her for many years, to even find out how she died.

And I cried. And the other writers who knew Melissa cried. We mourned, and we felt helpless and sad, whether we lived nearby or half a world away. We'd known her, we'd loved her for her sweet and generous heart, and now we'd lost her.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

So long, monarch butterflies

It's been about a month since we first found our monarch caterpillars in the back yard, and a couple of weeks since we released the butterflies back into the wild. 


What an exciting experience it was to watch the caterpillars eat voraciously as they prepared to enter their pupa stage and then observe each day as we waited for them to emerge from their chrysalis.

As the first caterpillar's chrysalis began to turn transparent, and we could see the markings of the butterfly inside, we put a couple of zinnia blossoms from my mother's garden inside the terrarium.


After the butterfly emerged, late in the evening while we were out of the house, we gave it time to rest in the terrarium overnight.


The next day, we carefully transferred the butterfly to a portable carrier, being as gentle as possible so we wouldn't harm it or disturb the other caterpillar, still in its chrysalis in the terrarium.



Then we took the butterfly to my parents' house so that when it was released, it would be in the middle of a flower garden with lots of blooms, a perfect place to prepare for its long journey south.


The second butterfly emerged a couple of days later, apparently in the wee hours of the night. We went to bed and awoke the next morning to find it hanging from its chrysalis, gently turning back and forth.

We didn't disturb it for several hours, giving it plenty of time for its wings to dry before moving it to the carrier so we could release it in the garden. It flew up into a tree and sat there in the afternoon sun, fanning its wings.



We were able to tell by the markings that both of the monarch butterflies we raised were male. You can read more about determining the sex of a monarch butterfly here.



By now, I am sure our butterflies are well on their way to their southern destination. We hope that their journeys are safe and that their offspring return to our area for many years to come.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Don't skip the word problems

I recently read a post from a new homeschooler, who said that her daughter liked math, but hated doing word problems to the point that it was often a battle just to get her to do them. She asked whether word problems are really necessary, or if her child could skip them, since she knew how to do the math anyway.

I say, emphatically, don't skip the word problems!

I know, your kids may hate word problems, and you might be wondering why they really matter, especially if you are confident that your children already knows how to do the math required to solve them. But here's the thing. Word problems require different skills than simple equations, and your students need to master both types of skills for a few good reasons.

Preparation for real life scenarios


Word problems require students to first determine from the information provided what math is required in order to find a solution. This is a completely different skill than being able to complete math problems laid out as simple equations.

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In real life, we're seldom presented with problems that are already laid out in an equation. Instead, we find ourselves answering questions like, how many pizzas do we need to feed our son's hungry baseball team if each of the nine boys can eat three slices of pizza and the pizzas are cut into eight slices.

We need added skills in order to parse out the information provided by a scenario like this and then determine how to come to a solution. That's the main reason why word problems are so important, they prepare you for real life math.

Preparation for exams


You'll want to pay special attention to word problems, especially if your child is college bound, because exams like the SAT, ACT and PSAT all have them. And if your child is not adept at solving word problems, their scores will suffer.

There may be no worse feeling for a student than freezing up on an exam question, knowing that the timer is ticking and the problem doesn't make any sense. Precious moments tick away, as you sit there, confused and frustrated.

Being unprepared for tricky word problems may cause your child to not only lose points on those questions, but also other math problems that they are unable to complete because they've run out of time.

Scholarship money is at play


I've told my own kids, who dislike word problems as much as any average middle schoolers, that these types of problems really are what separate the good math students from the great, especially with respect to scholarship contenders. Everyone competing for scholarships will have learned the basic math required to do well on the tests. But that added skill, of being able to read a complicated word problem and deduce what solution is required, is what will set the best scorers apart.

If you've neglected word problems, it's not too late. You can always start building your child's problem solving skills. Start with word problems that require math your child is already proficient at doing, so they can become confident at looking at math outside of neat little equations. Help them learn to think like a detective, and hunt for clues within the word problem that will tell them what question is being asked and how they'll go about solving it.

As the word problems get easier for your child, move along to more complicated math. Your goal is to help them learn to solve word problems confidently and in a timely manner, without confusion and frustration standing in their way.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Very hungry caterpillars head toward the pupa stage

The two large monarch caterpillars we found earlier this week are doing well. We couldn't spot the tiny one today, but we hope it is just hiding and growing. I wanted to post an update on the larger two, though, because things are definitely moving along quickly.

It has been two days since we brought the caterpillars inside and put them in the terrarium. The bigger caterpillar has entered the J stage of development, attaching itself to a stem in preparation for forming its chrysalis.



The smaller caterpillar is still a virtual eating machine. Overnight, it had devoured most of its leaves, so we added fresh leaves from the plant in the back yard. If it has not entered its J stage tomorrow, we'll have to hunt in nearby fields for fresh milkweed, because almost all the leaves from the original vine are now gone.



In the meantime, you can see how much the hungry caterpillar munched out of this new leaf in just a minute or so after we replenished its supply.

Here's a link to another blog, the Texas Butterfly Ranch by Monika Maeckle, and her post all about raising monarch butterflies. She has some gorgeous photos and lots of helpful advice. I love that there are so many great resources where knowledgeable folks have shared their experience and families like ours can not only get a great homeschool science lesson, but also learn what we need to know to successfully help a few more monarch butterflies survive.

Friday, September 11, 2015

What kind of caterpillar is that?

Tonight, just before the sun went down, my younger daughter made a fantastic find in our back yard. She spotted a large caterpillar on a vine that was wrapped in and around the hibiscus that stands at the corner of the house. 


Thankfully, I hadn't been very good about weeding our flower beds this year, because if I had, that vine would have been removed early in the summer, and the monarch butterfly that laid her eggs its leaves would have had to search for someplace else to reproduce.

If you look closely at the leaf my daughters brought inside the house, you'll notice that not only was there a large monarch butterfly caterpillar, there was a tiny baby caterpillar as well!



The girls were so excited to discover that they'd found monarch caterpillars, we decided to see if we could gather some more leaves and let the caterpillars grow safely inside the terrarium we'd used earlier this summer to keep Jackie Chan, the ninja-like tree frog we'd raised from a tadpole. We had released Jackie Chan in a tree outdoors a few weeks after he completed his metamorphosis, so the terrarium was ready for a new inhabitant.

We found more of the same type of leaves, from a vine in the milkweed family, and on them we found another monarch caterpillar and a whole bunch more caterpillars we couldn't identify.

"What kind of caterpillar is that?" asked my daughters? "Will they hurt us?"



I didn't know, but the fuzzy creatures in striking black and orange, with funny white tufts sticking out here and there certainly looked alarming to me. "Don't touch," I answered. "Let's look them up."

Using the same research skills we practiced when we identified the strange fungus growing on our walnut tree this spring, we looked for information online that would help us identify the unknown caterpillar in the back yard.

We found a caterpillar identification tool that let us check distinguishing characteristics to help identify our species, and discovered in just a few clicks that the caterpillar sharing the vine with our monarchs was none other than the milkweed tussock moth, which is commonly found eating the same vegetation as monarchs.

We left these caterpillars alone, and took the other monarch inside, along with several fresh leaves, so they would have plenty to eat. Then we set about researching monarch butterflies, how to raise them, and how they live in the wild.

We can't wait to see our caterpillars change and grow into beautiful monarch butterflies, and release them to help maintain their population. And you can bet we won't be removing their vine of choice next summer. In fact, we might even give it a little trellis beside the hibiscus, so the butterflies will have a place to lay their eggs next year.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Celebrate 1000+ likes with a free copy of my e-book, for a limited time

I'm so excited to announce that the Facebook page for The Unplanned Homeschooler now has more than 1000 likes! Thank you, all of you, for helping me to reach that goal.



The Unplanned Homeschooler blog began just over a year ago, in July 2015, and in that time I have had so much fun. I have been able to talk with many of you, both online and in person. I published my first book, followed by "The Unplanner," a unique and affordable organizer for homeschoolers who don't like planning. And I even had the opportunity to speak at a homeschool convention, which was both exciting and a bit scary.

Celebrating a fantastic first year of blogging and my first 1000 Facebook likes, I thought it was the perfect time to give back to the homeschooling community. So, for a limited time, I am giving away free copies of the Kindle version of my book, "The Unplanned Homeschooler: My Disorganized Path to Homeschooling Success" on Amazon.

This free book promotion will begin on Tuesday, August 18 and run through Thursday, August 20.

Please feel free to share this promotion with homeschooling friends, and encourage them to follow the blog and like The Unplanned Homeschooler on Facebook. Also, please consider leaving a review on Amazon if you enjoy the book. Thank you!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Road trip tips for homeschoolers

One of the best ways for children to learn anything is to get out there and experience it for themselves. Whether you're learning about art, science, math, history or any subject at all, a first hand experience can make all the difference. But depending on where you live, you may find that the things you want your kids to see and do are not in your own back yard. That's when it's time to consider a road trip!

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Road trips can be a fantastic learning experience for all kinds of families, but for homeschoolers, especially. That's because most homeschoolers have greater freedom to explore, and at different times of the year than their peers, and they have the ability to work learning adventures into their curriculum at any point in the course of their studies. 

Here are a few tips to keep in mind to make the most of your homeschooling road trips.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

I'm not gloating over back to school this year

Tomorrow marks the first day of school in my home town. Some other schools in the area have been in session a week already. It's hard to believe the summer is over for so many kids. 

Back to school can be a very happy time for homeschoolers. Although we have to deal with some of our favorite attractions, like amusement parks and swimming pools, closing much earlier in the summer than we wish, we do get to enjoy weeks of pleasant weather at the parks, beaches, zoos and museums with practically no crowds after the other families in our towns plunge back into the school year grind.

I'll admit, I have been guilty of gloating a bit over back to school in the past, posting pictures of my kids in the pool having fun in response to the many first day of school pics dotting my Facebook wall and cheerfully announcing how much fun we'd be having at a Not-Back-to-School bash with our homeschooling friends.



But this year, I don't feel like gloating, for several reasons. I wanted to share them with you, and encourage you to join me in praying for the kids who are returning to public school, that they will be safe, that they will be able to learn, and that their spirits will not be broken. And pray for their parents, that if they desire an alternative to their local school, for whatever reason, they will be able to find it. With that said, here are the reasons I am not gloating over back to school this year.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

An open letter to neighbors of homeschoolers in the wake of tragedy

This summer, in a quiet neighborhood populated mainly by older residents, the unthinkable happened. Two teenage brothers, Robert and Michael Bever, allegedly murdered their parents and three siblings, ages 12, 7 and 5, and critically injured their 13-year-old sister fleeing the family home. The police found the youngest member of the family, a two-year-old girl, unharmed.

This happened in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, a suburb of Tulsa less than an hour from my home town. News of the tragedy jarred the community, the state, and thanks to extensive media coverage, the world. But one of the groups of people who were most shaken - excluding the family and friends of the victims, of course - were homeschoolers. 

What did homeschooling have to do with it?


The fact that the Bever family homeschooled their kids was featured prominently in every report, some including quotes from neighbors who blamed homeschooling for isolating the kids. Comments from every corner of the internet vilified the parents and cast suspicions about abuse and neglect, largely because they chose to homeschool their children.

But no one can know for sure why the Bevers' oldest sons committed this heinous crime. Millions of students in America are currently homeschooling without incident. It's not right to blame homeschooling for an isolated crime among millions of successful students, any more than it would be right to blame public schooling every time a public schooled teen commits a violent act.

What really shook me up the most, though, was the thought that my own neighbors might not answer any differently than the folks in the Broken Arrow neighborhood if, God forbid, anything awful ever happened in our home. So I wanted to address some of their potential concerns, and those of other neighbors of homeschooling families, right now.

Just because you don't see us, doesn't mean we're not out


A while back, my elderly next door neighbor caught my dad and asked if we had moved, "Because I never see them." Part of me wanted to laugh, but I was also upset because the kids spent time outdoors almost every day, and that conversation seemed accusatory and threatening to me.


I wanted to tell her that most of the time when the kids go out in the yard during the summer, they usually stick to the back yard, not the front, and often wait until the evening when it is cooler and they don't have to put on sunscreen. During the day, when the neighbors occasionally come outside, we are usually inside where it is cool or out at the pool with friends or splashing in the creek at Grandma and Grandpa's. 

Our schedule doesn't match public school


When my neighbors happen to notice my kids out playing in our yard during the day, they probably think we should be doing school. But if we're spending a weekday afternoon at play, it's because we take advantage of pretty days when it is not too hot or too cold, to just enjoy the weather. 

And that's okay, because we homeschool year round, on our own schedule, and we complete more than the 180 days required of public school kids. Sometimes we're doing school on Saturday, or in the evening, or even on the 4th of July. Maintaining our own schedule is totally legal and very common among homeschoolers.

My kids have lots of friends


My neighbors probably haven't seen other kids hanging around our house, so they might naturally think my kids don't have any friends. But the real reason they seldom see other kids hanging around is because we have so many friends it's much easier to meet at the park, or at the library, or to rent a space big enough to hold us all. 

More than 90 people showed up at our last Halloween party, and our normal park day averages more than 20 kids. I wonder if the neighbors would really want all our friends parked up and down the street every week, because that's how often we meet on average.

We're not crazy, but we are weird


Yes, we are Christian and we are homeschoolers, but we're not crazy fanatics hiding in a bunker downstairs waiting for the end of the world. We chose to homeschool, like many families regardless of faith, because we feel that it is the best educational option for our children.

Our kids, like most homeschoolers according to recent standardized test data, are working at or above grade level. They're learning all the same subjects that kids in public school study, although with lots more hands on learning opportunities and field trips.

We are different, though, and some may even say weird. We're okay with that. My kids are a little old-fashioned in their values, a little out of touch with the hottest fashion trends, a little uncomfortable with typical junior high social behaviors like bullying, and a little behind the times in their musical preferences. But they're masters of kindness and the ability to get along with people of all ages.

Don't judge homeschooling by its worst examples


Please don't look at a tragedy like the one that happened in Broken Arrow and judge all homeschoolers just because that family happened to be homeschooling. No one knows that homeschooling had anything at all to do with the motives of those young men, and even if it did, that doesn't mean that all homeschooling is bad.

If you have homeschooling neighbors, and you are really concerned about how often you see the kids playing outdoors, why not take the step to introduce yourself and get to know the family. Chances are, the mom or dad who stays home with the kids would welcome a friendly chat, especially if you come bearing a plate of brownies, and you might discover that the family is a lot more socially active than they first appear.

Please remember the millions of homeschoolers, like my family, who are happily educating their kids the best way they know how, and who are perfectly content with their friends and activities, even if you don't notice them hanging out in their front yards and playing with the neighbors.      

Friday, July 24, 2015

Improving memory work with music: A review of Cross Seven Classical Education

One of the most common questions homeschoolers ask is how to teach math facts to their kids in ways that will actually stick. It's so frustrating to go over and over the material, only to discover that your children have not retained much, if any of it. Unfortunately, this is often the case when it comes to basic math facts, like sums and multiples, and it's enough to make many new homeschoolers want to throw in the towel.

Sometimes it's just a matter of finding the right way to present the material, though, that makes the difference and finally allows the information to register in your child's long term memory. Worksheets and computer games may not be doing the trick, for instance, because your child may be an auditory learner.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/34547181@N00/6023268510


Auditory learners, and almost all students, really, can benefit from having material presented in ways that stimulate more of their brain. Combining music, rhythm, and visual cues can give your child's brain more ways to process and store the information, and to remember it later.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Summer nights and cicadas

I love the sound of cicadas in the trees in the summertime. That cacophony of cicadas, tree frogs, crickets and rustling leaves in a soft summer breeze may be just racket to many, but it's a sweet music to my ears.


https://www.flickr.com/photos/ptrktn/4974195006

Sometimes the rhythmic buzz of the cicadas rises to such a crescendo that I can hear them through closed windows and over the sound of the television. They call to me, beckoning me to come sit outside and listen to their hypnotic song.

Summer nights and cicadas go together in my mind. What sounds mean summertime to you?



Thursday, July 2, 2015

What inspires your kids?

As homeschoolers, we have a unique opportunity not given to other educators. We get to spend time with our students, around the clock and for years on end, getting to know them as no one else can.

We're not like ordinary classroom teachers. We don't have a new class full of students every year, all coming from widely varied backgrounds, about whose home lives we can only guess. Our time with them is not limited to a scant nine months, a veritable blink of an eye in which to make an impression.

We're not like ordinary parents, either. We generally don't have to rely on a muttered, "Fine," or "I don't know," to glean a bit of information about our children's day in the few hours between the time they get home from school and bedtime. Our days are largely spent with our kids, learning together and socializing with families we are able to get to know one on one.

So, as homeschoolers, we might expect to have a better insight into our own kids than most, if only because of the gift of time we're able to spend with them, both on a daily basis and over the years of their childhood. But still, many of us wrestle with the question of how to effectively inspire our children to learn.

The magical key to learning


Wouldn't it be nice if we could find the magical key to learning and just unlock every bit of potential in our kids? If only we could hone in on that one amazing thing that inspires them like no other.

But in truth, most kids don't seem to work that way. They're remarkable individuals whose interests and fascinations change continually. It's okay if for a while they seem obsessed with one thing, be it dinosaurs or Barbie, Minecraft or bugs. And it's okay if suddenly, they're completely over that interest and on to something else.

Whatever excites your children's imagination, whatever gets them motivated to play, explore, practice and learn, those things are our keys to more inspirational learning experiences.

Building on inspiration


I've used lots of my kids' interests to enhance our homeschool experience. A few years ago, when my twins were raising a pair of fancy mice, Cocoa and Fluffy were frequent features in their art and writing samples. More recently, when I realized that they were filled with passion for Minecraft, we enrolled in a few sessions of Minecraft Homeschool to incorporate their love of the game into studies of creative writing and ancient history. And when my son discovered an enthusiasm for roller coasters, we used that to study physics and descriptive writing techniques.

My youngest is seven, and her greatest inspiration at the moment is our puppy, Loki. Loki makes her happy, and like many homeschoolers, she enjoys school more with her dog by her side.





He even inspires her school work. Take for instance the haiku she wrote last week.


LOKI

Loki is a dog
He won't give me his red ball
Because he loves it



As a homeschooler, you have the gift of time with your kids; time to see what truly inspires them and encourage them to follow those inspirations and learn more. Don't overdo it by painting their whole world the color of their current passion, but build on their inspirations, in simple ways, as if you were adding splashes of their favorite colors to a room. Look for ways to incorporate what they love into their learning experience, and you will make homeschooling that much more memorable and exciting for them. 

Monday, June 15, 2015

A review of 'Beware the Blackness! A Jellywonker Adventure'

When my friend, author Rebecca Black, asked me to review her latest book, I was thrilled. She sent me a free copy of the e-version of the book to share with my kids, and we sat down with it before bed one night to read the story.

"Beware the Blackness! A Jellywonker Adventure" is the second in the Jellywonker series created by Black. It follows the adventure of a little Jellywonker named Ted, who loves nothing more than cleaning the ocean and traveling around, learning about his big underwater world.


Ted the Jellywonker is joined on this adventure by his friend, Humphrey, a humpbacked whale, and Maud, a motherly pelican. What begins as an ordinary day turns into a long journey, north to Alaska, where Ted learns all about a major underwater mountain range, an unfamiliar habitat, and the effects oil spills can have on local wildlife.

Much like the combination of real photographs and whimsical illustrations, the book combines a fun and adventuresome story with real facts and lessons about ocean life and structures.

My homeschoolers like stories that give them enough information about the setting that they can go to a map and learn more. This book does just that. It also provides lots of opportunities for further research, on topics such as sea mounts and underwater volcanoes, aquatic birds, and how people can help address and prevent pollution from oil spills.

I liked that the book could be taken simply as a bedtime story for little ones, or read more in depth, as a learning prompt for older students. We look forward to reading more Jellywonker adventures in the future!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Pond biology: Who's afraid of a little muck?

Last week, my girls had quite an adventure with their best friend. We took a little drive out to the country to visit our friends on their farm. The girls played with the dogs and cats, followed the baby chickens around the yard and helped feed the goats. They even got to watch two young foals playing in the field.

Before we left, though, we got out our nets and buckets to get down to the business we'd come to the farm to do. We were there to learn about life in the pond.


Pond biology was always one of my favorite subjects to teach as a naturalist, mostly because kids were always astonished at just how much life lurked under the surface of a still pond.

In our short time collecting specimens, we found at least two different species of tadpoles, including the leopard frog below and a tree frog that lost its tail the day after we brought it home. We also found a leech, a salamander and several species of aquatic insects. Who knows how many microbial life forms we brought home in our buckets!



Ordinarily, we would catch and release wildlife after observing it for just a little while, because most wild things belong in nature, not in captivity. But I felt comfortable keeping the tadpoles and frogs for a while, because I have experience caring for those creatures, and it will be an incredible learning experience for the kids to see them complete their metamorphoses.


I love these photos of our brave girls, wading in the muck searching for wildlife. It was a hot and sticky afternoon, and they got tired, but they had so much fun looking for just one more good sized tadpole before calling it a day.




Friday, June 5, 2015

Fun Fact Friday: Daddy longlegs aren't spiders

You're undoubtedly familiar with daddy longlegs, those incredibly long-legged arachnids commonly found around the outside of houses, among other areas. More than 6000 unique species of daddy longlegs throughout the world, but did you know that they aren't spiders at all? 

https://www.flickr.com/photos/rittysdigiez/889027787

Daddy longlegs certainly look a lot like spiders, with their eight legs and their fangs, but the similarities pretty much stop right there. Daddy longlegs are of the order Opiliones, while spiders are of the order Araneae. Both are arachnids, but their many differences make daddy longlegs more similar to other arachnids, like scorpions, ticks or mites.

A few key differences include the number of eyes, daddy longlegs have just two, while spiders generally have eight. Also, the lack of venom or silk. And perhaps most important, daddy longlegs have just one body part, whereas spiders have two, with an abdomen separated from the cephalothorax.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/ian02054/3934784369

To add to the confusion, though, there are some spiders that have gained the name, daddy longlegs spiders, due to their long legs. These species, also known as cellar spiders, do have a separate abdomen and other true spider characteristics.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

How to make your own homeschool planner on CreateSpace

It seems like so many people today are dissatisfied with the homeschool planners on the market. Yes, the most popular planners work for many homeschoolers, but for others they are a nightmare. Bulky books full of pages you don't want to fill out, blanks you'll never use, and price tags that make you wonder what exactly you're really paying for.

That's why the free, printable planners found online have been such a tremendous hit. Because you can customize your planner, with just the pages you want and for just the number of students you have. But those can also be expensive, after tallying up the cost of printing all those pages and having them bound.

It occurred to me this spring, after publishing my first book, that CreateSpace would be the perfect place to print planners, too. Professionally bound paperback books in a range of sizes, easily formatted to include just the pages you want, printed and shipped to your door for a fraction of the cost of most planners on the market today!

Here's how to publish your own homeschool planer on CreateSpace in a few easy steps.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Homeschooling is the best!



I've shared before that I was a wildlife biologist back before, you know, I chucked all that aside to be a full-time mom and the Unplanned Homeschooler. Well, a post I saw today in one of my favorite Facebook groups really caught my eye.

Fellow homeschooler, Kara Alysce, shared photos she'd taken when she and her daughters went for a walk and happened upon one of the most awesome unplanned learning adventures I have seen in a while.

Kara and her girls happened across this gorgeous turtle. And guess what she was doing...


Laying her eggs! Look closely and you can see one of the eggs about to emerge from the cloaca.



And here's the best part. Kara didn't stop with just observing the turtle. She called a Turtle Rescue hotline to learn more, and shared that information with her girls and with all of the homeschoolers on the Facebook group!

Here is the post she wrote, shared with permission...

  • The girls and I went for a walk and we found this Mama Turtle laying her eggs! Homeschool is the freaking best! We learned that these Painted Turtles are on their own from now on. The Mama takes off and the father(s) only serve one purpose. His sperm can stay inside her for 5 years and each baby could have a different father! They will hatch under ground in 60-90 days. When they hatch, they will stay under ground all Winter. They freeze! Their hearts stop beating and freeze and when Spring comes, their hearts start beating again and they thaw. They come out of a hole the size of thumb and go on their way. Incredible.


Homeschooling really IS the best! Keep having those unplanned learning adventures, everyone!

The Unplanner is available now!

THE UNPLANNER is not like other homeschool planners you may have seen. Brought to you by the Unplanned Homeschooler, this organizer will help you record all of your amazing learning adventures without overloading you with pages and blanks you'll never fill in.



I understand that too much planning can lead to stress, anxiety and even feelings of guilt, especially for new homeschoolers. You don't need that!

What does THE UNPLANNER include?


In addition to helpful advice, you'll get attendance sheets for each of your students, Month at a Glance pages to help you track your appointments and upcoming events, Year in Review pages to help you record all the work your kids have done as you go and do a little light planning, and Learning Adventures pages to record the field trips, experiments and other special experiences you won't want to forget.


I designed THE UNPLANNER to cover a full 13 months, from July 2015 all the way through July 2016, because I know how frustrating it is to procrastinate and not get your new organizer in time. And priced at just $6.49, it probably costs less than what you would spend to print your own planner pages and bind them yourself.

THE UNPLANNER is professionally bound in a convenient 6x9 inch paperback, perfectly sized to toss in your bag and carry with you wherever you go. It has all the pages you need, and none of the ones you don't.

You can do this! You'll never feel like you're a failure at planning again. So relax, place your order, get your pencils ready and let's get started.


How to purchase THE UNPLANNER

It's easy! THE UNPLANNER comes in six versions, customized for 1 to 6 students. You can order the version of your choice from Amazon and take advantage of free shipping or order directly from CreateSpace by clicking one of the links below.

THE UNPLANNER from Amazon - $6.49






THE UNPLANNER for 6 Students - $6.49


And don't forget to check out my first book, The Unplanned Homeschooler: My Disorganized Path to Homeschooling Success. It's available in my store on Kindle or paperback. 

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Not one more day

Today I watched one of the saddest videos I have ever seen. In an excerpt from the Champion of Choices DVD, bereaved mother, Amy Briggs of New York told the world about her son, Daniel.

Daniel was a loving and caring young man, who had been bullied horribly at school for most of his life. His mom talked about how he helped a neighbor who had cancer until he died, then carried on assisting the man's wife after she was widowed. He was, for all accounts, a good kid.

But like so many good kids, he became a target for bullies at his school. And when he could no longer take it, he decided to take his own life.


Briggs wept as she told of how her son lost hope, and after a particularly awful text message from a classmate, decided to end it all. She shared how her son told people at school, and even the bus driver on his way home, but no one listened. No one did anything.

This bereaved mother told her son's story, begging viewers not to let the same thing happen to anyone else. "Do something," she said. Don't just stand by and let someone you know become a victim of suicide.


I see so many posts, at least a half dozen every single week, from moms whose children are being tortured by bullies at school. They are on the fence about homeschooling, asking for advice about whether they should pull their kids out of school.

I don't know if homeschooling might have saved the life of Daniel Briggs, or so many other young people who have committed suicide after years of being bullied in school. But I think if your child is being bullied, and you are worried about them, you should follow your instincts and do something. Don't depend on classmates, or teachers, or even counselors at school to save your child. 

Don't wait. Not one more day. Do something before it is too late. 

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Sneak peek at The Unplanner, available by June 1

I've been putting together organizers for myself for years, including the pages I need to record all the important information about what we did, and leaving out all the superfluous blanks that I knew I would never fill out anyway. These streamlined organizers allowed me to do a little light planning, but not so much that it bogged me down and left me feeling defeated. 

My Unplanners, as I called them, gave me a place to write down what we did each day, in brief, and to record attendance. And I always included extra space for writing about our many field trips and adventures, because that's the part I want to remember the most.  

This year, at the regional homeschool convention, several moms told me that if I were to customize an affordable Unplanner for the number of kids in their families, that they didn't have to print out and have bound, they would buy them in a heartbeat. I thought, why not?

So here's a sneak peek at the cover of The Unplanner, this one customized for one student. I'll also have customized versions available for use with two to six students by June 1. 



The Unplanner covers the months of July 2015 through July 2016. That's right, I included a whole extra month because I know we're not all organized enough to have a new planner ready to go the day the old one runs out.

I understand that too much planning can lead to stress, anxiety and even feelings of guilt, especially for new homeschoolers. You don't need that!

The Unplanner has all the pages you need, and none of the ones you don't, so you'll never feel like you're a failure at planning again. Look for it in my store or on Amazon by June 1!

Monday, May 25, 2015

Free video lessons on the periodic table

You're going to want to share this post with all your homeschooling friends, especially those who are about to start teaching physical science or chemistry.

I was a bit of a chemistry nut. I spent the summer of my eighth grade year auditing a chemistry class at the local university, and the next summer volunteering as a lab assistant for a professor who knew how to get students excited about science.

http://www.freeimages.com/photo/1266636


I think most kids like chemistry, because its fun! Things change colors and explode, liquids become solids or gases, and everything happens right before your eyes. It's like magic, but with the answers right there at your fingertips if you're just willing to learn the secret formulas.

Parents are often afraid to teach chemistry, though, and this can lead to their kids being scared to learn. You don't want your kids to be afraid to learn about chemistry. You want them to be excited. Well, I just stumbled across a free tool that can help both you and your kids get excited about chemistry, one remarkable element at a time.

A team from the University of Nottingham put together a set of videos and lessons on the TED-Ed platform featuring the elements of the periodic table. They're called Periodic Videos. Starting off with a boom, you and your kids can learn all about hydrogen, the smallest element, and work your way through the periodic table one at a time until you've learned about them all.



I just finished watching the videos for hydrogen, oxygen and carbon, three of the most important elements in our world, and even after years of chemistry classes, I actually learned a thing or two I didn't know before.

If you register on TED-Ed, you and your students can take quizzes and learn even more after watching the videos. And it's all free! This resource would be a great way to introduce young kids to the periodic table, even before they are proficient readers, and a terrific supplement to any chemistry curriculum you are using for older students.

Please share this free resource with other homeschoolers, especially those who are feeling nervous about teaching science. It's just one of the many ways they can have fun with chemistry while educating their kids at home.