Google The Unplanned Homeschooler: May 2016

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Don't let unplanned adventures pass you by

Sometimes having an unplanned learning adventure is as simple as taking a spontaneous turn down a road you've never traveled. Or following something amazing that catches your eye. 

Stop at that scenic overlook and read the plaques. Take the exit marked by the brown signs. That's exactly what has led to some of our most memorable adventures.

Follow the road less traveled

I know it's cliche, but sometimes adventure does lie just off the beaten path. Driving back and forth to St. Louis, while my husband was working there a few years ago, we passed a brown sign near Springfield, Missouri several times. One day, when we the weather was nice and traffic was light, I decided to take the turn at that sign and we ended up at Wilson's Creek National Battlefield.

We'd been studying the Civil War, so I thought we might see some interesting things. But the field trip actually ended up being something the kids would never forget, as it stirred feelings inside them, standing in the very fields where thousands of men died. 

Chase unexpected opportunities

Once, on the way home from a birthday party when my twins were just preschoolers, we spotted a hot air balloon that appeared to be landing less than half a mile off the main road. I persuaded my husband to follow the balloon, and we ended up at a little farm house with a wide open field. We pulled into the driveway to turn around, but the owner of the house was outside, so we waved and told them we had just been following the balloon to see it land.

He invited us to park the car and come on out to the field with him, so the kids could take a closer look. It was so exciting! We'd, of course, seen hot air balloons before, but the kids had never been so close to one. 

That day, my small children were filled with wonder as they saw up close just how big the balloon was, and even got to touch it. But best of all, they were invited to roll around in the billowing fabric to press out the air so the balloon could be packed away. It was an unforgettable hands-on lesson about one of the most beautiful ways to fly.

Leave time for adventures

You'll never have time for unplanned learning adventures if your schedule is packed so full that you can't take an unexpected detour once in a while. Homeschooling gives you freedom, but only if you claim it. Don't be afraid to stop the car and go tilting at windmills.

Leave yourself time to spend with your kids, chasing butterflies and exploring trails, diving into experiences they'll remember forever.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Review of 'Home for School: The Twins Learn about Homeschooling'

As more and more families decide to pull their kids from public school and give homeschooling a try, there is a need for children's literature that can help them understand and get excited about the experience. That's why I was so excited when I found out that my friend, Gail Nelson, the editor of Learning Tangent Homeschool Magazine, was writing just such a book.

Based in part on her own experience homeschooling her twin boys, "Home for School: The Twins Learn about Homeschooling" shares the story of a mom and dad who decide to begin homeschooling after the end of their sons' school year. Letting the boys finish out the year and enjoy the class field day with their friends, the parents in the book surprise them with the news that as of the end of the school year, they will officially be homeschoolers.

The boys have some concerns, like how exactly the whole school at home thing is going to work, but those concerns are addressed in exciting ways, as they learn that they will be able to spend more time researching the things that interest them, taking field trips, and meeting other homeschoolers. And then the giant box of books and science experiments arrives!

I really enjoyed my sneak preview of this book, and I think it will help a lot of new homeschoolers transition more easily from public school. The watercolor illustrations are fun, and kids will definitely be able to relate to the characters, and see that they are not alone in this exciting adventure. If you are new to homeschooling, considering withdrawing your kids from public school, or know someone who is, this book might be a perfect and timely purchase. Pick one up at the Learning Tangent store.

Plus, if you act before May 30, 2016 you can enter a drawing to win one of five free copies of this book in a giveaway from Goodreads. Good luck!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Thanks for the great times, Disney Infinity team!

My kids took a picture this week to send to the developers on the Disney Infinity team. They just wanted to say thank you for all the work they put into the game over the years, and that they are sorry that they lost their jobs. 

I'll be honest, I wasn't entirely sad to read the announcement earlier this month about the death of Disney Infinity, but that's just because it had become such an obsession around our house since the release of version 2.0.

Our family had completely missed the first wave of the wildly popular gaming phenomenon. We never stood in long lines, anxiously snapping up figures from the original platform, and my kids really showed no interest in spending the kind of money it would take to join in the craze.

But then came the release of Disney Infinity 2.0, with figures from Marvel's Avengers. And Christmas and December birthday gifts from their uncle started them off on a collection that would be hard to resist.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

My kids are addicted to McCormick seasonings

I made Mexican crock pot chicken and a pot of brown beans for dinner tonight because I knew I was going to be busy with the Build Your Bundle - Homeschool Edition sale for much of the evening and I wanted something easy. We had to run out for a bit in the afternoon, so I set the beans on simmer and when we got back, the house smelled just like our favorite Mexican restaurant. The onions and spices in the chicken filled the air with such a savory aroma, anchored by the heavy scent of the simmering beans.

It took no time to shred the chicken and turn it into enchiladas. My son ate three plates full, but he's 14. He can handle it. I joked with the kids, saying, "I'm a GOOD cook!"

My son replied, "Grandma says her mom was a good cook, too."

I agreed, "She was!" And then I noted that she used McCormick, too.

McCormick seasonings are kind of a thing around our house.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Review of 'Brick Themed Activities for the Year' by Gypsy Road

This month, I was privileged to review a copy of "Brick Themed Activities for the Year," a bundle of unit studies to do throughout the year with your little Lego fans. All three of my kids are Lego fans, so I was excited to try out some of the lessons with my youngest.

If you like holidays, and you like Lego, this is definitely a product meant for you. With holidays from New Year's Eve through Christmas, and even selections for birthdays and back-to-school, you can truly use Lego blocks and minifigs to learn through the whole year. 

It's springtime now, but my daughter wanted to check out the Halloween activities. There were clever writing prompts, math pages that related to real world situations, coloring pages and more. Best of all, they featured some of her favorite minifigs and included ideas for projects she could build. 

Pick up a copy on the Gypsy Road homeschool blog.

The Unplanner, 2016 - 2017 Edition is available NOW!

Are you looking for an organizer that won't overwhelm you? I was suffering from serious planner anxiety, brought on by homeschool planners with an excess of pages and blanks that I never seemed to be able to fill out, and schedules that too often went awry. That's why I created The Unplanner, a homeschool organizer that helps users record what they did more than what they plan to do. 

Are you looking for an organizer that won't overwhelm you? I was suffering from serious planner anxiety, brought on by homeschool planners with an excess of pages and blanks that I never seemed to be able to fill out, and schedules that too often went awry. That's why I created The Unplanner, a homeschool organizer that helps users record what they did more than what they plan to do.

With an attendance log for up to six kids and both a Month at a Glance calendar to schedule important events and weekly calendars to record what you did each day or week, The Unplanner can keep you organized just enough to stay on track without overdoing it. With easy to use pages for recording the curriculum you use, the books your kids read, and those special learning adventures like field trips and experiments, you'll be able to remember all the good stuff, too!

You can get your copy of The Unplanner for just $7.99 in my store, shipped directly from CreateSpace or Amazon. That's less than most printable planners would cost to print and bind, and way less than most other professionally bound planners on the market!

A review of 'Famous Artists: Renaissance to Surrealism'

One of my most memorable experiences as a homeschooler was taking my children to see the traveling exhibit of Claude Monet's water lilies triptych at the St. Louis Art Museum. These three massive paintings, each canvas 7 feet tall and 14 feet wide, are owned by three separate museums in the United States. They had not been shown together since the 1970s, and the chance to see them as they were meant to be was an opportunity we could not miss.

Claude Monet's Water Lilies from the St. Louis Art Museum

I was awestruck, standing in a darkened room with a limited number of guests, silently taking in the beauty of an artist's work I had only seen in pictures and prints. I took my glasses off and looked at the canvases as Monet would have looked at them, or close to it, as my vision is not quite as impaired as his was when he painted these masterpieces in his old age. As the colors converged in my blurry sight, the images took on new life and I could almost believe that if I reached out my hand, it would permeate the water. I felt deeply connected to the art and the man.

Not everyone has a chance to see incredible art up close and have this sort of moving experience. I know, growing up in rural Oklahoma, my opportunities were limited, at least as compared to those who live close enough to stop in at a major museum whenever they'd like.

Maybe that's why I am so impressed with the Famous Artists Volume 1 online unit study by Beth Napoli of Techie Homeschool Mom. This interactive unit study introduces kids to artists like Monet, daVinci and Picasso, whose work they probably already recognize, but also includes artists like Klimt and Dali to introduce forms which may be less familiar.

Gustav Klimt's Kirche in Cassone

With several artists to study, each representing a different and unique style, students can become familiar with a wide range of artistic movements, spanning more than four centuries. And the interactive elements in the study will help kids feel more in touch with the art than just flipping through the pages of a book.

Your students may not have a chance to see the work of these great masters in a museum any time soon, but they are sure to get excited about building and sharing their own virtual gallery. Having completed a unit study like this one, your whole family will have a more complete appreciation of the experience the next time you get to visit a museum in person.

Look for the Famous Artists Volume 1 online unit study on the Techie Homeschool Mom blog.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The hidden costs of free virtual public school

You've heard the saying, "All magic comes with a price!" That's what I think of every time I hear about a family choosing virtual public school because it is free.

Yes, the state-run online public school options are usually free of charge, come with a full set of curriculum and certified teachers to instruct your kids. Many even include money to spend on extracurricular activities or computers for your kids to use at home. It's hard to ignore the extensive prize packages that accompany enrollment in a virtual public school.

But like magic, all education comes with a price, and what appears to be free always comes with strings attached. Here are just some of the hidden costs of virtual public school.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Best urban hiking in St. Louis

St. Louis may be one of the greatest cities in the world for urban hiking. You don’t even have to leave the city to find a great hike with lots of interesting things to see. One of the great benefits to urban hiking in St. Louis is that most of the best locations have a variety of paths from challenging inclines to flat surfaces, and can provide both cardiovascular and mental stimulation to the hiker. 

Even better than that, you can visit each of the following locations for free. So lace up and let’s go.

Best hotels in Oklahoma City for families of five

Before my youngest daughter was born, traveling was a lot simpler. There were just four of us.  Flying was fairly easy, as my husband could sit with one child while I sat with the other. Booking a hotel was simple, because rooms for a family of four are always easy to find.  Even dining out was a breeze, since we all fit nicely into a standard sized booth made for four. But when our little one came along, our family of four turned into a family of five, and suddenly traveling together was anything but easy.

Recently, my husband had an important meeting in Oklahoma City. We decided to make a long weekend of it and take the kids along. But when I started trying to book a room online, I ran into rejection after rejection as our family of five exceeded the limits of one hotel after another. Inspired, I decided to seek out the best hotels in Oklahoma City for families just like mine. 

Residence Inn by Marriott in Bricktown

My family was invited to stay at the Residence Inn in Bricktown, the only hotel directly on the Bricktown Canal. I let the general manager know that I was interested in trying their hotel because it was very easy to book a room for a larger family and was in the middle of a historic district of the city frequented by many visitors each year. 

We stayed in a two bedroom suite, plenty big enough to sleep a family of eight if needed and more than adequate for my family of five. Our suite had two bathrooms, a kitchen with six, yes six place settings in the cupboard, and a living room with a sofa bed and fireplace. We also had a wonderful view of the canal and the city lights. Single bedroom suites are also available, with two queen beds and a sofa bed and enough room to comfortably sleep five or six.

We were so satisfied with our stay, I wrote to tell the manager that my kids said it was the best hotel we’d ever visited. And that’s high praise, considering my children’s favorite amenity, the large outdoor pool, was closed for the season.

Hampton Inn and Suites in Bricktown

Speaking of pools, the large indoor pool with water features for the kids was definitely one of the biggest draws for our family when I contacted the Hampton Inn and Suites in Bricktown about booking a room there. The manager graciously invited us to stay a night in their establishment during our weekend in Oklahoma City, and I am glad he did.

Besides offering comfortable accommodations for a family of five, the Hampton Inn and Suites offers covered parking, a delicious breakfast and many rooms that overlook the Bricktown Ballpark, home of the Oklahoma City RedHawks. It’s like having your very own luxury box.

Our room included two queen size beds, a sofa sleeper, and plenty of space so that we weren’t falling all over each other as we moved around the room. The kids slept well after enjoying an hour in the pool, which stays open late.

Other area hotels

While these Bricktown hotels offer fantastic amenities and easy access to the myriad of entertainment options in the downtown area, there are other hotels around the city which also offer comfortable accommodations for a family of five. Here are a few that I discovered while poring over ratings on TripAdvisor and checking to see whether larger families could easily reserve rooms online.

Close to the Will Rogers World Airport and just outside the hustle and bustle of downtown, you’ll find the Cambria Suites. This hotel offers accommodations for families of five along with an indoor pool, free Wi-Fi and an on-site restaurant with a variety of Cheesecake Factory desserts. Yes, they had me at cheesecake.

·         Also near the Will Rogers World Airport, you’ll find the SpringHill Suites by Marriott.  Offering rooms large enough to accommodate five or six, including two queen size beds and a sofa bed, this hotel gets high marks from travelers. Want to stay closer to the north side of the city? Check out the SpringHill Suites location at Quail Springs for easy access to Oklahoma City, Edmond and more.  Pets are welcome with a deposit.

·         The Hyatt Place on Northwest Expressway comes highly recommended by reviewers on TripAdvisor, perhaps because of the Gallery Menu of fresh and delicious meals available 24 hours a day. Central to the city and within a short drive of many attractions, this hotel can meet your family of five’s needs in style.

Three good reasons to renew your driver's license

When I presented my license at the last local election, the volunteer who checked it reminded me that I was due for a renewal soon. With the extremely volatile Presidential election looming, I don't want to miss my opportunity to cast a vote because I let my driver's license expire. 

In Oklahoma, as in several other states, a valid state or federally issued photo ID, such as a driver's license, must be presented in order to cast a ballot. And in Oklahoma, valid means not expired until after the date of the election.

Preserving my right to vote is a very good reason to make sure and renew my license, but four years ago I discovered an even more important reason, when my recently expired license caused unexpected trouble for both me and my daughter.

Monday, May 9, 2016

What's in the Fine Arts Bundle from the 2016 Build Your Bundle - Homeschool Edition?

When you ask homeschooling parents what they have the most difficulty teaching, many of them reply with fine arts. There are highly recommended, tried and true resources out there for math, language arts, history and science. But great resources for art are like well-hidden gems.

That's why I am really excited to be a part of the Fine Arts Bundle in the 2016 Build Your Bundle - Homeschool Edition sale. The Fine Arts Bundle is one of 15 bundles in the sale, and priced at just $20, it's quite a bargain.

I think the real test of any bundle sale is whether you will actually use the products in the bundles. Are they resources your kids will enjoy, and do they cover topics you'll want to teach? As one of the authors included in this year's Fine Arts Bundle, I think the answer is yes.

My own product, The History of Rock and Roll, took weeks of hard work and research. I created the unit study for a co-op class I was teaching, and meticulously collected samples of representative work from rock and roll artists from the birth of the genre in the 1940s to modern times. With videos, graphics and lessons parents can read aloud or give to older students to use independently, this is an extremely user-friendly music appreciation course your students will actually enjoy.

A few of the other products in the bundle include a detailed coloring journal, much like those you would find in art stores and a book with dozens of lessons on drawing horses. These are two products I know my older daughter would love. Also, there are unit studies on famous artists and two art appreciation introductory books by a well known publisher you are sure to recognize. These are solid resources that may spark an interest in the visual arts.

This bundle also includes notebooking pages on dozens of the world's greatest poets, and I know many parents struggle to introduce poetry studies in their curriculum.

There is so much more included, in both visual arts and music. If you have been looking for resources you will actually use in your homeschool, you'll want to see all the products you get for just $20 in this bundle. Make sure and click the link to pre-register for this sale. You'll be entered for a chance to win ALL the bundles, and you'll get a coupon so you can save even more when the sale starts!
(Affiliate links)

Build Your Bundle 2016 - Save 86% - 96% on #homeschool #curriculum! #BYB2016

Win ALL the bundles in the 2016 Build Your Bundle - Homeschool Edition sale!

Oh my gosh! I have been so excited to share this news, and finally, I can! I was chosen to be one of the contributors in this year's Build Your Bundle - Homeschool Edition sale. I'm so excited to be part of such an incredible sale! There are so many great products, more than 200 in total, by a carefully selected group of authors and publishers, and everything is discounted - up to 96 percent off retail.
(Affiliate links)

The sale starts on May 16, but you can get a sneak peek at some of the awesome products and the many bundles available right now. Even better, you can enter for a chance to win ALL the bundles! Click the link above to go, go, go and get registered right now for this year's contest and see the different bundles available for 2016!

I almost forgot, you get another bonus for registering early for the sale. It's a coupon you can use to get an even better deal on the bundles you want!

Get your homeschool curriculum shopping done early with the 2016 Build Your Bundle - Homeschool Edition sale, and don't forget to check out the Fine Arts bundle. That's where you'll find my History of Rock and Roll unit study! I'm really proud to have been included with such a great group of publishers, and I can't wait to shop for my own selections at this incredible sale!

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Helping an Infertile Friend Survive Mother’s Day

If you know me at all, outside of this blog, you know that my journey to motherhood - and by association, homeschooling - did not come easily. This Mother's Day, I would like to share one of the first articles I ever published, originally on Yahoo about four years ago. I hope that you will find it of some value today. Happy Mother's Day to those who are celebrating, and much love to those who are just making it through the day.

I suffered through almost a decade of infertility before giving birth to my twins. By far, the hardest day of each year for me was Mother’s Day. I remember with vivid clarity the last Mother’s Day I ever went to church. They asked all the mothers in the room to come and line up at the front of the church to receive a rose and a thank you from the congregation. The elderly assistant pastor who had never married was the only other woman left standing in the pews besides me.

I felt so conspicuous and left-out, and I vowed never to put myself through another Mother’s Day service again.

If you have a friend or loved one who is dealing with infertility this year, you may be wondering how to delicately handle the holiday. Of course, Mother’s Day is a happy day for most people, and one to be celebrated. But the fact is, infertility makes the day insufferable to many women. Thankfully, there are a few things you can do to help them make it through a particularly tough time.

Cut her some slack

If your friend does not want to go to church on Mother’s Day or join the family in taking Grandma out to brunch, don’t push the matter. Leave her alone and let her have some space. For an infertile woman, Mother’s Day is like a day of loss, of mourning the child you do not, and may not ever have.

She is not being selfish, and she does not need to be pressured to join in. Mother’s Day is just too emotionally charged for many infertile women to handle in the public eye, and that’s okay.

Show her a good time

Earlier or later in the week, or maybe even a week or two before, do something especially nice for your infertile friend. Take her out to lunch, go see a movie, or spend the day out hitting the junk stores. Show her a really fun time, and do your best to help take her mind off the holiday and give her nice things to think about.

If you are going out before the holiday, don’t make a big deal about Mother’s Day being around the corner. Just get out and have fun together. But do be prepared to listen if she wants to talk.

Let her talk if she wants

Follow your friend’s lead. She may need to vent about how she is feeling, or she may want to keep her feelings to herself. If she decides to share her pain with you, let her talk. If she doesn’t open up the subject, then just let it be.

Don’t be flippant

Women who are dealing with infertility need people around them who are caring and supportive, not people who are flippant or worse, judgmental. Don’t minimize her desire for a family by telling her she can have your kids, that she should get a dog, or that maybe she is just not meant to be a mom.

Also, don’t tell your friend that she should just give up and adopt. Adoption is very personal choice, it can be extremely complicated, and it is not something people "give up" and do. The wait to adopt a child is often years long, not everyone is accepted, and it can cost far more than most people realize.

Whatever you say, just try to be supportive and offer your hopes and prayers.

Stand up for her

If you notice other friends or relatives giving your infertile friend a hard time, stick up for her. It is bad enough that she is dealing with a pain that many people do not understand, but it is even worse when others choose to kick her while she’s down. Your friend will appreciate it more than she can express if you stand up to the bullies on her behalf.
I am so thankful to be a mother after so many years of infertility. I still prefer celebrating quietly at home with my family rather than making a big show of things out in public. I think a part of me will never truly get over thinking of Mother’s Day as sort of a cruel joke on the infertile women of the world.

I feel blessed every single day of the year to be a mom, and I don’t really need a big party on a greeting card holiday to make me any happier or more fulfilled. I hope every mom-in-waiting gets a lot closer to her first Mother's Day this year!      

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Don't worry about cursive

I am about to take the most controversial stand I have ever taken as a homeschooler, maybe even more controversial than taking sides on the great vaccination debate or publicly endorsing a presidential candidate. I know it's risky, but I trust you to take in what I have to say with an open hear, so here it is:

Teaching cursive writing doesn't matter.

Oh, gasp! I know, I know. Please read on, though, and I will explain why I have come to this shocking conclusion.

"If you don't teach your children how to write in cursive, they will never be able to read the documents our nation was founded upon, or letters from their great aunt Sarah, and civilization will surely come apart at the seams." Those are the grave concerns I have read over and over since becoming a homeschooler. 

Some parents, in fact, list the failure to teach cursive writing in their local schools as one of the reasons they started homeschooling in the first place. 

I'll be honest, I wasn't excited about teaching cursive when I became a homeschooling mom. I hated writing in cursive when I was in school. It hurt my hand, and it took me three times as long as printing. As soon as I was allowed to go back to printing, I happily did so and never looked back. But, as a student educated in the '80s, I learned to write in cursive as part of the standard curriculum, like it or not, and I figured I would teach my own kids in due course.

As it turned out, though, I didn't teach my children to write in cursive, other than to sign their names. I put it off, in favor of other learning opportunities, thinking I would eventually get around to it. When my twins turned 14, and we had still never made it past the letter B in their cursive book, I admitted to myself that it might never happen. 

But that's when I made an amazing discovery. My twins could read cursive with no difficulties! Out of curiosity, after one too many of the scary doomsday cursive conversations on Facebook, I brought out samples of cursive writing, from handwritten notes in a scrapbook made by my kids' great grandmother to copies of historical documents. With very little hesitation, my 14-year-old twins read everything that I put in front of them. 

Now, my younger daughter was not able to read the cursive samples, but that was because she was not yet a fluent reader of print. My older two, who could both read printed English fluently, had no trouble recognizing the letters that look similar in both print and cursive, and could easily decipher the unfamiliar letters through context. 

I, of course, rejoiced, not only because I now realized I did not have to teach cursive formally after all, but because I was confident that my failure to do so would not doom America! Hooray!

So, although the sample size of my little experiment was small, I am confident that anyone who can fluently read printed English can, with just a little effort, read the same words in the many varieties of cursive used over the previous generations. 

And with that knowledge, I tell you, you don't have to worry about cursive. Teach it, don't teach it... do what you want. Either way, your kids are going to be just fine.