March 30, 2010


Has anyone else noticed that homeschooling is a journey that takes you, as the primary educator, on roads you previously thought were too wild to traverse?

I'll put it more plainly. I used to think most homeschoolers were loonies. Whacked. Crazy. Etc. I joined the homeschooling scene hesitantly--secure in my decision, but entirely skeptical of other homeschoolers. I was a "retired" public school teacher, for heaven's sake. And now, two years in, I still vacillate between joy at the incredible richness of experience available to those of us off the beaten path and a deep-seated fear that I am getting as loony as the looniest of the homeschoolers.

My decision to stop teaching math is a prime example. (That was a joke--prime, get it? That's about as good as my math humor gets.) I have noticed lately that my Miriam is starting to dislike math. She still loves her math analogies and problem solving strategy books--but the math workbook that goes over the same thing so many times that we both want to pull our hair out? That has to go.

I've been counseling people for years to ease up on the reading anxiety. That learning to read can't be pushed. That children mature differently. Provide a literacy-rich environment and the child will learn when he is ready. So why is it so hard to apply those same principles to math? Is it my fear that she'll fall dreadfully and irretrievably behind? Please. She's a smarty-pants. Is it my fear that my hubby will freak out? A little--but he usually comes around.

Okay, I'll admit it. It is my fear that I won't be able to provide a math-rich environment for my kids. It isn't that I can't "do" math. It's that I don't enjoy it. Creating a literacy-rich environment in my home is a joy. A delight. I can create an atmosphere so literacy dense you can taste the words when you walk in the room (and step on one of the 40 books scattered on the floor) without any effort on my part. It's as much a part of me as breathing.

Math is different. Math is . . . work. So much work. I don't know the best math children's books. I don't know the best math games. I don't know where the best resources are located online. I have no idea how to create a math-dense environment in our home. Work, work, work!! It would be so much easier to just stick with the math program we've been using. But I can't.

So here I am. Facing yet another of those dark, overgrown, tangled homeschool roads that I thought I would always safely avoid because only loonies walked it.

Any suggestions would be appreciated. I'll keep you posted on how it's going. I feel confident that shoving traditional math in the garbage is the right thing, but oh it is hard to inch myself onto this particular path.

March 29, 2010

Native American Unit Daily Lessons

Day One: Read A Picture Book of Sacajawea and talk about how her life was the same and different from our lives. Another idea is to go through Growing Up Indian and compare Sacajawea's life to a more typical Indian woman.

Day Two: Read The Legend of the Indian Paintbrush and write a list of talents people can have. Discuss: Do we need to be good at everything? What are some things you [your child] are good at? Can we learn to be good at things that don't come as naturally as others? Why are you glad people have a variety of talents?

Day Three: Read Grandma Maxine Remembers. Look through the photo album of my mom and dad (so the kids' grandparents), then read a story from great-grandpa Wilford's book and Grandpa Lloyd's book. Watch our wedding video. Talk about all the ways we can learn about our ancestors and our heritage. (I took several days to go through this material because the children were enjoying themselves and they have limited attention spans. You could also watch travel videos on youtube to showcase where your family is from--Denmark, England, and Germany for my side of the family, for example.)

Day Four: Continue with the previous day's activities and start building a family tree on the wall.

Day Five: Watch video about great-grandma Young and great-grandma Barney. Read funny things Grandpa Jack has done. Finish family tree (or keep working on it--it took us more than two days).

Day Six: Read Seasons of the Circle. Make our own Book of Months--what we do and what the world looks like for each month. I made little books for the kids and they decided what they wanted to emphasize in each month. Then they drew a picture of how Utah looks during that month or something relating to the main idea they chose. They loved this activity!

Day Seven: Look through book Native Americans: A Portrait : The Art and Travels of Charles Bird King, George Catlin, and Karl Bodmer by Robert J. Moore and discuss how each artist portrayed the Native Americans. Then paint your own picture in the style of one of the three artists.

Day Eight: Look through the book Spirit of the Harvest: North American Indian Cooking by Beverly Cox and discuss the types of ingredients found in Native American tribes of different regions and why they are different (for example, some tribes ate a lot of salmon and others ate no salmon at all). Then make something yummy (Miriam liked stuffing peppers).

Other ideas: if you have a university near where you live, you might be able to find a Native American club or organization that will have a list of powwows in the area or other major Native American events that are open to the public. Also, there are numerous awesome Lewis and Clark activities that can be done with this unit.
As the culminating event for this unit, I took my children to the Treehouse Museum in Ogden, Utah because it has a teepee set up with fun schleik Native American/west toys in it plus a drum and several costumes. We played in the teepee and read the books that were in the teepee (I love how many books are at the museum!) and had a great time.

March 24, 2010

Found: Library Treasure

I have a sister. A strange, red-headed, poem-lovin' sister who used to go around yelling, "O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!" For that reason, I'm fairly fond of the Lewis Carroll poem, "Jabberwocky."

I was delighted the other day when I was at the library and quite by accident happened upon Jabberwocky illustrated by Joel Stewart. It is delightful!! It is just the poem, illustrated with a bizzare collection of creatures and a knight aka the beamish boy.

My children are in love with this book. Here is what my five year old son, who didn't know I was there watching him look through the book for the umpteenth time, had to say. And I quote: "I love this book."

And you might too! You'll have to put it on hold at the Davis County Library and force us to return it, because I don't think my son is letting go of it any time soon.


March 22, 2010

Native American Books--My Favorites

I realize I usually have a lot more books to recommend. I'm afraid I just wasn't all that impressed with the Native American books we found. There are a lot of books about Pocahontas, but we spent a lot of time on her last year, so we didn't read any of those books again this year. Same with Squanto. With the amount of books about Native Americans available, I'm sure there are lots of gems I overlooked. Of the ones we read, these are our family's favorites.

This was a well-written book about Sacagawea. It supplemented what Miriam was already reading on her own, and the other children also enjoyed it. Plain and simple--she's an interesting person who lived a very interesting life.
I was a little hesitant about Tomi dePaola writing about Native Americans, but he does an excellent job. He has several, and they are all good, but this was the best.
This is a pretty book. Short, simple, great pictures. All the kids loved it.
Surprisingly, this was our favorite book of all of them. The kids loved comparing Grandma Maxine to Sacagawea. They were also glad that Grandma Maxine had a teepee, even if she didn't live in it. The story rotates around a young Native American girl who talks about her life and the stories her Grandma tells her about when she was little. It showcases just how much things change. This is a great one!

All of these books are available through the Davis County, UT, library system.

March 16, 2010

Native American Music (sort of): Running Bear Loved Little White Dove

We don't normally use costumes as small people are incredibly distracted by costumes and often forget to sing because they are wearing a costume.

But this was Running Bear. A legend. It needed a little something.
It needed a little bit of headgear.

It needed a little bit of feathers.

PS--All Emeline wanted for Christmas was a drum, so she got a drum. And even now, months later, she still sticks out her tongue each and every time she plays.
My sister-in-law Lindsay Ann and I threaded beads and feathers onto regular bracelet string then reinforced the feathers with some glue-gun glue, and then glued the whole thing onto a plain clip. It worked like a charm for the girls' hair. So cute!

My son insisted on a loin cloth. We compromised.

Miriam was the lead singer. She was awesome. And I'm not just saying that because I'm her mom.
That's Ty. He was very serious about his flute playing responsibilities. Trust me, during the practices of this song, he was never that solemn.

None of the children were solemn during the practices. This was, without question, one of their favorite songs we've ever learned.

I highly recommend teaching it to your children. The lyrics are easy to google and there are several good versions on youtube to listen to. Be wary of the ones that play the song while showing Native American pictures. The females in the pictures are often, ahem, scantily clad.

And if you have no idea what song I'm talking about--press play.

March 15, 2010

Native American Arts and Crafts

Making teepees is a whole lot of fun. Especially when you find a kit at the dollar store for . . . $1. I know, I know, you can easily make them yourself using kabob sticks, but you can also easily make them from a kit.

Regardless of where you get them or if you make them yourself--they are fun! My children loved painting their own teepee and putting the whole thing together.

PS Right now at Clearfield's Macey's grocery store there is a bag of plastic cowboys and Indians for $3. I thought it would be too junky for that price to even be worth it, but my children LOVE the whole set. It includes a covered wagon and several horses. It also comes with a plastic map looking thing that I thought my children would mangle and toss within minutes. Not the case. They use it as it was intended and set up their little town on top of the map thingy and have lengthy and involved interactions between the different plastic figurines. I highly recommend this toy--despite its junkiness. (My daughter just read over my shoulder and was deeply offended that I called one of her favorite toys "junky.")

We needed a few extra teepee covers, so we traced the one included in the kit.

I have never made any claims to being overly bright and incidences like the "shield incident" will prevent me from ever making those types of claims.

Did you know you could make a compass?? From things in your own home?? Any size you want?? I didn't. I was trying to find something circular in my house that I could trace to make a shield when my hubby asked me what I was doing. He shook his head in his normal, long-suffering way, and made me five shields. Using his homemade compass. He has some serious skills. Girls love men with skills.

After Timothy cut out the shields, I covered them with fabric and the students painted/decorated them. Very good time had by all.

Timothy also made me some spears out of dowels, cardboard, and duct tape. Eventually we duct-taped the entire cardboard portion of the spears so they would hold up better.

The kids used beads and feathers to decorate their spears.

Then Julie used a thick craft string to attach the decorations to the spear. She made it look awesome. It would not have looked awesome had I attempted it. That is why it is so nice to have found a homeschooling buddy with crafty skills.

My son, as you can imagine, thought the spear was the awesomest weapon known to human kind and played with it endlessly (with surprisingly few incidences of the spear spending some time in time out) until it broke. Despite it only lasting a few months, it was very beloved the entire time and well worth the energy Timothy and Julie and Cowen put into making it.

Miriam saw the ferocity Cowen demonstrated for the pictures and tried to look equally menacing. I can't help myself--I giggle like a maniac every time I see this picture. If ever there was a girly girl . . ..

Of course, there are many, many, many more crafty things you can do with Native American history and culture. You could make a totem pole or a dream catcher. You could make necklaces, bracelets, or hair things. You could whittle a canoe out of wood, or soap. (My kids love whittling with soap--you should try it!) You could make a drum for each child and have a pow wow. You could make a chief headdress. There are even more ideas on the internet--just google Native American crafts and prepare to be overwhelmed by possibilities.

March 13, 2010

Keeping Hands Busy

One day, I went to Savers (thrift shop) and purchased a tape player for $5.
I gave the tape player to my two oldest children, along with several screwdrivers and a pair of scissors.
The two children spent several happy hours taking apart the tape player. During those hours I did things. I don't know what, but things that needed to be done.

It was a happy day for all.

March 12, 2010

Why and When I Do What I Do

I had a great question in the comments that I thought was worth answering in a post. Lynette asked me how I choose what I am going to teach. Since my answer gives you a heads up of the units that will be appearing on the blog shortly, I thought more of you might be interested in the answer than just the asker. I started homeschooling last year (oldest is currently in 1st grade) and after much thought decided to teach using units and centering everything around history. I started last year with the settlement of the United States by immigrants from Europe followed by the Revolutionary War and then the Constitution. This year my overarching theme was settlement of the West, so we started with mountain men (to coincide with the rendezvous at Fort Buenaventura) then went to Indians, slavery, and now the Civil War. Next month is pioneers in general and May is Mormon pioneers.

I make history the focus three days a week, and the other two days we do a different unit on either health (I love studying manners and my children always need it!!), science, geography, or something else my children have expressed an interest in. We just finished up a unit about China because my son became obsessed with the Great Wall of China and the Huns, and before that we learned the names and locations of all the continents and oceans. Currently we're studying simple machines, or engineering (sounds fancier). While we study history chronologically, there is really no rhyme or reason to my additional units. But they're fun!

Next year I'm switching gears and studying ancient history because my children love things like pyramids and ancient legends and the Industrial Revolution and WWI seemed a little advanced for the ages of my children. If there is anything you want to study next year, let me know. If it sounds like something my children would be interested in I might schedule it in, and then we could help each other come up with good ideas!

March 10, 2010


Quest for a Maid by Frances Mary Hendry is one of the best books ever written. It has one of my two very favorite first lines: "When I was nine years old, I hid under a table and heard my sister kill a king."

Don't be misled, though, it isn't a terribly violent book. The main character, Meg, is the younger sister of a witch who decides to reach her ambitions by killing the king (you got the in the first line remember, not really a spoiler). The rest of the book chronicles the events that happen as a result of the king's death and how those repercussions affect Meg and her relationship with her favorite sister (the witch).

Really, the plot is fantastic, but the best part is the characters, especially Meg's fiance (they get engaged when she's nine or so--the setting is very long ago) and her other best friend. You become invested in all the characters--Meg's own parents, her fiance's parents, her sister, and later, the princess, because they are all fleshed out and believable.

If I could be any character in any book, I would be Meg. This really is a must read!

This book is available through the Davis County Library System.

Mountain Man Unit--Actual Unit with Lesson Plans

Mountain Man Unit

Day One: Find a book or website that talks about the uses of possibles bags. Glance through it with children then make/decorate a possibles bag. Make beef jerky, or get it started, so you can keep jerky in your possibles bags on all future hikes.

Day Two: go on a hike!

Day Three: Read part of Mountain Man: Cornerstones of Freedom and Audubon: Painter of Birds. Draw something in nature that you brought back from your hike, or that you remember, or something Audubon painted, or go outside and paint at a park.

Day Four: Read Mountain Men: True Grit and Tall Tales then write and illustrate your own tall tale. (Since my children are small, they told me what they wanted me to write down, and then they did their own illustrations.)

Day Five: Read books about grizzly bears, wolves, big cats found in the west, and wolverines. Have the kids decide which animal would be the most dangerous to mountain men and why. Make a list. (This activity ended up being stretched out over several days as my children wanted to spend a lot of time on each animal. I couldn't find any books at the library about wolverines so we just researched it online. Studying the animals ended up being my children's favorite part of the whole unit, which surprised me.)

Day Six: go on a hike!

Day Seven: Read Kit Carson book. Make a list of his good qualities. Make a book about how we can demonstrate good qualities (similar to the Who's Your Hero? books by David Bowman). One page would have something like "Kit was courageous when he . . . , Miriam can be courageous by saying, 'NO!' when someone asks her to smoke a cigarette."

Day Eight: Read about Jedediah Smith. Show kids a map of where Smith traveled. Let them draw the lines of where Smith traveled on their own map. (Just a tip--children love maps. I didn't know this until I started homeschooling.)

Day Nine: Look through The Art of the Old West and Albert Bierstadt and paint a picture in your art book that has to do with nature, or try to copy one of Bierstadt's paintings.

Day Ten: Go on a hike!

On other days we also went to the Hogle Zoo and the Logan Zoo. The Bean Museum in Provo would be another good field trip option. I didn't think about it, but watching the Disney movie about Davy Crockett would have been fun too.

March 8, 2010

Mountain Man Unit--More Ideas

I know, I know--most mountain men explored by foot. But. There has to be a good reason to go on a trail ride buried somewhere in the expansive and inclusive study of mountain men. Maybe not. However, these horses and this trail ride allowed us to explore a mountain. There, I knew I could make it work.

Logan in autumn.

A very happy Cowboy Cowen.
Our trail guide. See, yet another connection. Many mountain men later became guides to pioneers traveling west. We let Grandpa demonstrate his guiding prowess.

Emeline didn't go on the longer trail ride, but she did get a few lessons in horsemanship.
At the Logan Zoo looking at the camera. Just prior to this, though, we were looking at bobcats.
Possibles bags! Julie sewed them up (don't judge--our kids are young) and the kids decorated them. They LOVED those bags for a long time and on many hikes.
Making beef jerky. Another great (and disgustingly messy) idea by Julie!

Mountain Man Unit--Hikes

I'm sure it comes as no surprise to anyone that I felt a key element of studying mountain men should be wandering the hills.

And wander we did.

One day we tried a trail in Bountiful, above the temple, that was beautiful.

Another day we hiked a trail closer to home--the Bonneville Shoreline trail at the Fernwood Trailhead.

Utah has so many lovely hikes and they are all so close! Now that spring is springing, I'm itching to hit the trails again.

There's nothing like dirt to keep a family together.

Mountain Man Unit--Art

If you are studying mountain men, I highly recommend you include Audubon somehow. We read several books about him. I blogged about our favorite of those books here.

After reading about him we looked through several birdwatching books and tried to identify the birds that frequent our backyard.

Then we tried to paint like him.

Miriam was fairly successful. The rest of us . . . had a harder time.

Along with Audubon, we also studied Albert Bierstadt. Since painting and painters became such a huge part of our unit, I set up a field trip to an art studio of a local artist. It was not hard to do as I attend church with this particular artist every week--but I bet it wouldn't be hard to find someone through a community art center or a university art department.

Rebecca graciously showed my children how her easel works, how she mixes paints (she left oil paints out with my children in the room--so brave!!) what kind of brushes she uses, and the stages a picture goes through before it is done. It was so interesting! My kids, especially artsy Miriam, were fascinated. I thought it was a lucky happenstance that Rebecca was working on a painting of a horse when we arrived because that thrilled Cowboy Cowen to his toes. This is definitely one of my favorite field trips so far.

Toward the end of the unit, as one of our culminating activities, Julie (my homeschooling buddy) and I had the children do a melted crayon art activity. The idea was that the children would draw a mountain scene on waxed paper, fill it in with shaved crayon, then iron over the crayon to melt the wax to have a finished product similar to a stained glass window.

This is a fantastic project, but we did do a few things wrong. First, crayon art should be abstract. At least, that's my feelings on the matter. It is hard to be precise with melting crayon. Second, we shaved way too many crayons leading the children to believe that they needed piles of crayon shavings. With this project, less is definitely more. I would limit crayon shavings to an amount that allows you to see lots of the wax paper through the crayon. That would be more reasonable and allow more light through your finished product.

Overall, though, it was a fun project that everyone enjoyed. Other art ideas include making a paper mache mountain scene in a box and then adding little figures to it--like Kit Carson, or a buffalo. Whatever comes to hand or makes you happy. Julie did this and her children loved it. There are numerous western artists that we didn't study but would have been an interesting addition to the unit. If you have older children you can talk briefly about the western mystique and visit an art store or gallery and see how much of the art features a western theme. So many fun things can be done with mountain men and art!

March 4, 2010

Mountain Man Unit--Fort Buenaventura Rendezvous

If you live anywhere near Ogden, Utah, and you're studying mountain men, Indians, pioneers, or just want a fun time for a very cheap price, you should head to Fort Buenaventura during one of their two annual rendezvous.

The one we attended was Labor Day of 09, and I must say, it wasn't well advertised and there wasn't a nice outline of when events were taking place. We learned that it is best to not go the last day as there really isn't as much going on as the previous days.

Despite that, we had a great time. There was canoeing.

Indian impersonating.

Dock running.

Wildlife hunting.

Natural scenic beauty enjoying.

Skunk hat trying.

Picture posing.

Fort exploring.

And several other activities like canoe racing and cannon shooting and archery contests. We also paid $1 for each child to make a beaded necklace on a strip of leather and that was another huge (cheap) hit.

The rendezvous was only $2 per person and it was well worth it.

There's another one coming up in April. I'm pretty sure we'll be attending. I need to hunt me up another frog!