August 01, 2014

What's On Your Homeschool Shopping List?

This will be our fourth year of homeschooling.

I have been making a list of items that I'd like to buy, and making myself wait until the back-to-school sales are in full force, but oh man, it's been difficult.

My list looks much different from previous years. When I first began homeschooling, it included a full literacy/science/math curriculum and subscriptions to many, many online resources. I was just leaving my job as a public school teacher, and had never heard of the term "deschooling". As it turned out, I needed to deschool myself, which has happened gradually over the past few years. I have ordered less curriculum over time, listened to the interests of my girls, visited the library more often and discovered free, authentic ways to learn. I found repeatedly that the more expensive items were the least likely to be enjoyed, that the lessons on their own were fought against or quickly forgotten. If we need to label our schooling, we have become "relaxed homeschoolers" or even (gasp) "unschoolers". I plan a little, follow a lot, and the girls learn more every day than I could possibly teach intentionally.

 I have been watching closely and keeping track of what is actually used, and what we often wish we had, and this is what we will be purchasing for now:

  • lots of construction paper and cardstock
  • tissue paper
  • paints
  • plain white paper
  • notebooks
  • tape - scotch and packing
  • markers, crayons, colored pencils
  • binoculars
  • microscope
  • beginner pre-made slide set and blank slides
If I can talk myself into it, we will splurge on MagnaTiles or Zoob. I really want some Snap Circuits too, but perhaps I'll wait until next year for those.

After previewing BrainPop this summer, I've decided to go ahead and buy a subscription for the year, and see how much we use it. Homeschool Buyers Co-op has a promotion for up to 25% off now through 9/1, which makes it much more affordable. We have tried Discovery Streaming (not free) and PBS Learning Media (free) in the past, but had a difficult time incorporating them into our day. BrainPop seems to be much kid-friendlier and easier to navigate. I have heard great reviews from others who use it, so hopefully it will be a good purchase!

We will continue working our way through Life of Fred for math with Delaney. We still have about 6 months of our Dreambox subscription left, which did not turn out to be a good fit for her, so I think I will have Sophie try the beginning lessons and see how she likes it. The Sassafras twins have been waiting patiently all summer to finish their Zoology adventures with us, and we are all looking forward to finding out what happens to them next. Our recent trip to Florida piqued Delaney's interest in marine life, so we will be studying that until she is finished. The Sea Life Aquarium in Phoenix happens to have a homeschoolers week the week of August 11, so perhaps we will make a little trip there as well.
We have memberships to local museums and nearby National parks, lots of hiking and camping and exploring nearby, and a big backyard. I am excited to see what this year holds, and how we change during the next 12 months. 

It doesn't seem like much of a shopping list, compared to previous years, but if I have retained anything from our experience so far, it is that life happens, kids grow, and interests change. What may sound like a great idea in July may be completely boring by October. If we save money, spend it on true learning experiences rather than fancy curriculum, and get out of the house to explore the world around us, the whole thing falls into place and is enjoyable for all!

Where do you do your homeschool shopping? Any deals that you can share with me? What's on your list this year?

July 25, 2014

Learning How to Sew with the Sew Cool® Machine

Delaney has been interested in learning how to sew for some time. That is one area in which my skill level is in about the 3rd percentile, so I am of no help. I read about the Sew Cool Sewing Studio originally on Girl's Gone Child, and it sounded perfect - a sewing machine that a young child can use independently for under $60. I was patient and able to find one with a damaged box on Amazon Warehouse for $35, just in time for Delaney's birthday. (Have you seen at Amazon Warehouse? Some fantastic deals!)

She was excited to try it out. I thought about having her sit down and read the directions about cutting out the patterns, etc., but she picked up her pre-cut pieces and was on her way. About 10 minutes later, she was the proud owner of a handmade pillow just the right size for her favorite stuffed animal.

After making a few pillows, she got around to looking at patterns. She looked them over a few times, and set about to making her first purse.

 She was absolutely successfully, my only assistance being to help her keep Sophie out of her way.

After using just about every piece of Sew Cool Fabric on the first day, making all sorts of fun things, she didn't want to wait for me to track down more fabric*. She found some purple scrap fabric in the garage that a friend had given me, and set to work.

She cut the fabric to be a side high-low dress with no sleeves. She "sewed" it together by cutting small slits in the sides and the tops of the straps, and threading it together with yarn.

It's a bit difficult to see in the picture, but it is a super cute dress.

The following day, she dug through my felt and fashioned an outfit for her favorite stuffed animal. Again, she cut small slits and sewed it together with yarn. It fit her toy perfectly.


I believe it is time to start researching a real sewing machine and find someone to answer this girl's questions...she'll be making my wardrobe in no time.

*I have only been able to find the fabric for the machine in the Toys-R-Us stores and on Amazon, whose price is double that of  Toys-R-Us. If anyone has tips for me alternate material that will work with the machine, I'd be ever so grateful to hear it! :)

July 18, 2014

If You Give This Girl Some Paper, She's Going to Ask for Some Glue...

Delaney is constantly making things at home...drawing pictures, putting fabric and paper together, any number of random art projects. I didn't realize how perpetual her creating is until we were away from home for a week for my sister's wedding, and she began to get a little desperate for materials.

She began small, drawing self portraits and other random pictures.

She snagged some ribbon from our wedding materials, found a paper clip somewhere, and fashioned it into a fishing line. She found a discarded box and turned it into a fishing hole.

Then she found her uncle, who was able to discuss fishing and catching worms with her for awhile.

She wrote a recipe for "Banana Swirl", and convinced me to let her make it, then eat it with Sophie.

This recipe later included an ice cream sandwich blended in, and an assortment of other random kitchen goodies.

She made a castle out of drawings of hands and feet, that she cut out and assembled, then drew and cut some dolls to play inside of it.


And this was all by the fourth day of our trip.

The last three days were filled with wedding fun and lots of driving, and zero time for her to work on projects. When we arrived home, Delaney was so thrilled to have all of her supplies again. Within an hour, she had folded, cut, glued and colored a new masterpiece for her daddy.

This week, she is attending gymnastics skills camp each morning from 8am - 12pm. It has a Harry Potter theme, which is perfect for her, as she is currently reading the fourth book, and loving every moment of the story. I assumed that she would return home tired and hungry and ready to rest.

Silly me. She was tired and hungry and ready to create.

And soon, she was the proud maker of a new wand...
 I'm glad the back to school sales are coming up, because we don't dare run out of supplies! :)

June 10, 2014

Cake Decorators

We practiced a bit of cake decorating a few weeks ago. I am supposed to make Hannah's wedding cake in July, and it has been a long time since I have played with decorating materials. If I remember right, the last time I used fondant was Sophie's 1st birthday, at which point I was so annoyed that I swore "never again!"

I did a little internet research and found that since then, modeling chocolate, or candy clay, has become very popular for decorating. The girls and I watched a few YouTube videos, found a good recipe, and decided to give it a try on Delaney's birthday cake.

Wilton candy melts + light corn syrup = candy clay.

It has to sit for a day to harden, so we practiced with play-doh after we put our ingredients together.

This video was our favorite, and extremely helpful. 

Delaney got right to work.

Delaney's first rose...
My first try...
 Even Sophie was able to make them...
Though I had to hold her hand still for a picture... Smiley
The next day, we used the hardened candy clay. Our original recipe told us to add coloring once the clay was hardened, and knead it in, which worked just fine, however, our YouTube video suggested to add color while making the clay, and stir it into the liquid. This method would be much easier, and I think we will try it next time.

Sophie and I molded a bunch of little balls to be fashioned into petals.
Yes. She has quite a unique fashion sense.
We flattened them out as directed.
As we began to  make the roses, I found that it was a better idea to just make the balls and flatten as we used them. They dried out fairly quickly while waiting for us, and we had to soften them and flatten them again.

The clay was easy to use and we had 100% fun and 0% frustration, which was a HUGE departure from my fondant experience. It is also about 1,000,000 times less messy to make, and my kitchen was happy about that.
She's an expert now.
I continued to research tutorials while the girls fashioned roses from the candy clay, and found this fantastic website,  This baker is extremely talented, and I ended up ordering her book for future cake-decorating fun.

Once we finished making roses for the top of the cake, it was time to make some frosting. I found a marshmallow buttercream recipe and modified it a bit, using 10 large marshmallows and 1 tsp. of corn syrup instead of marshmallow creme. It turned out perfectly. It has a nice, springy consistency and is extremely easy to work with. It also is far less messy to make than my usual buttercream recipe.

It tastes good, too!
 Next, we added ribbon to the sides of the cake, since that is one of the styles that Hannah likes for her wedding cake, and Delaney thought it was pretty also. 

I cut strips of ribbon, and sprayed them with non-stick spray, which is supposed to keep the butter in the frosting from seeping into it. 

I carefully attached it to the cake, using bits of frosting as my glue.
Finally, I spread a layer of frosting to the top of the cake, and Delaney and I added the roses.
She did such a good job on her roses that I couldn't tell which ones I had made, and which ones were hers!

We had such a fun time making this (delicious) cake. Both Delaney and Sophie have been practicing making play-doh roses ever since, and pretending to own a bakery. 

We will attempt to make ruffles with the candy clay next, since Hannah's wedding day is quickly approaching and that was another of her favorite designs.  Our family doesn't have another birthday until October, though, so if you live nearby, you might just find that cake on your doorstep!

June 01, 2014

Learning with Sassafras Science

This spring, while looking up "living science books", I came across the Sassafrass Twins Science books. The books are adventure novels that explore different areas of science. Currently the authors have published Zoology and Anatomy, and Botany is due out this summer. The authors plan to publish eight volumes in total, with subjects ranging from geoscience to physics. The Sassafras Science website offers optional activity guides, lapbooking guides and logbooks that can be used with the novels to fit your family's needs/learning styles. Delaney's favorite way to learn anything is through a good story, and this looked interesting. I purchased the first volume, Zoology, and the activity guide, and our Sassafras adventure began.


The activity guide is an excellent resource. It offers science experiments, lists of related living books, encyclopedia readings, sample lesson plans and many other helpful notes. I started out with lesson plans, looked up related art activities on the web, and started a Pinterest page to save it all. I decided to try some low-key lapbooking-style pages with the girls, and see if their interest levels would maintain that method of learning.

The girls and I began reading the book together. I enjoy this approach to learning also, snuggled up on the couch in our pajamas. What could be better? Zoology introduced us to the Sassafras Twins, who have to spend the summer with their scientist uncle because they have failed science in school. The plan is for Uncle Cecil to catch them up to speed on their science knowledge, and perhaps teach them to enjoy science along the way. They quickly find that their summer will be filled with lots of unconventional traveling, adventure, and much learning about animals from various continents.

First, we read a section of the book, and looked up the focus animal in our encyclopedia. (We use the DK Encyclopedia of Animals, and the activity book offers page reference numbers for our convenience.) Then, we relocated to the table where the kids could draw a picture of the animal, make an art project if they wanted to, and write down at least three things they learned or found interesting about the animal. Delaney was able to do this by herself. Sophie wrote the name of the animal, dictated the animal details to me, then we "read" it together.

One of our early lessons...the mighty lion...
by Sophie
by Delaney
 The cheetah...

We have some white masks in our craft drawer that a friend gave us. The girls decided to make some cheetah masks...
We read about giraffes...
And the girls made a cute little giraffe craft from DLTK...
The camel...
The Sassafras twins travel to many different countries. I printed a map for each continent, and Delaney found the country on the map and colored it in. Then, we looked on our larger world map, and she found the country there also.

By this time, we were about four chapters in, and the story was getting exciting. Delaney said she'd rather not pause to complete our journal pages and do the art, she just wanted to find out what was going to happen next, and who is the man with no eyebrows??

I have continued to read the book to the girls, sometimes during the day, sometimes again at night for their bedtime story. We are currently close to the end of chapter 11, learning about Australia and koalas.  The more structured side of things has been put aside, but we still enjoy looking up the animals in the encyclopedia, and often Delaney will bring me a Magic Tree House research book that gives a lot more detail about an animal or a region, and we learn a lot that way too. (I say "we" because she teaches me as many animal facts as I teach her geography facts!)

As we used written work less and less, and the book became our story time, I had an internal battle about the journals. My former teacher brain asked, Should I be reading more slowly, making them write more? My homeschool brain said, No, let them enjoy the story, don't take away the will all come together.

And sure enough, it has.

Delaney found a caterpillar in the backyard and wanted to keep it. I told her about a book I read recently, The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, by Jacqueline Kelly (highly recommend!), and how Callie kept a caterpillar and recorded its growth and metamorphosis. Delaney decided to do the same.

We found a jar, added some fresh leaves, and Dad popped some holes in the lid.

Delaney looked up "caterpillar" in the encyclopedia, and started a journal filled with all of the information she had gathered.

She was very excited to read it to us.
Currently, the little guy/girl is looking really he about to form a chrysalis? Is he dying? We just don't know. But Delaney will write it down in her journal!

From a literary point of view, the story does have some big plot holes that might frustrate an older reader who has higher expectations of a story. Our copy has several typos, which can drive me a little crazy as I read. These issues are rather minor in our household for now. The story holds Delaney's attention, and has been a fun introduction to animal science for Sophie. The books are reasonably priced, and activities to supplement the chapters are easy to find online, or in the activity guide. We will finish Volume One soon, and most likely order the second volume, Anatomy, which Delaney is extremely excited about.

But for now, we have to go find out if Tracy makes it out of China safely, and why the man with no eyebrows is after them!


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