Thursday, January 18, 2018

Making Bread for Science

My kids have been baking bread to learn about science and satisfy their tummies.


We began our science lessons this year by learning about the microscope. Using the Ultimate Guide to Your Microscope, the kids studied an entire world of small things. Next we moved into hands-on chemistry.

In the past, I have had difficulty making good bread, while my dinners have always turned out fine. I'm a person who doesn't like to follow a recipe exactly as written, but rather use it as a guideline. While this works out fine for culinary dishes, it is a disaster with baking. Why? Baking is a science. It requires careful measuring and proportions. Ingredients must be precisely measured so the chemical reactions can take place. Improper proportions result in dough that falls, or doesn't rise properly, or doesn't cook properly. These are a few of the reasons we chose to learn to make bread for about 10 weeks this year as a small part of our chemistry program.


We followed the book Baking Artisan Bread by Ciril Hitz as a guide. The first section of the book lightly explains the science of baking and goes in-depth into the differences in ingredients. The author recommends weight ingredients instead of measuring with cups and spoons as it is a much more accurate method for proper proportions.

After the introduction section, the book contains ten main recipes for various types of bread such as brioche, baguette, bagels, and whole wheat. Each main recipe can be altered to make many more breads. Some breads can be made in one day, while croissants take three days to prepare.

By making the breads, the kids learned how adding yeast in different amounts at different times during the preparation process can affect the final bread. Making bread was a tasty experience the kids really enjoyed.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

American History for Middle School

This year I found a new history book to add to our collection.


I love history books that tell the story and explain reasons behind decisions. In the past I have discussed several history spine books. Books that give an overview of a time period which can spark deeper interest into historical topics and help kids to put more in-depth history studies into context. The majority of the books I have found provide overviews of world history, such as the well-known series Story of the World. Since we were studying American History this year, I was looking for something different.

That's when I discovered The Landmark History of the American People. There are two volumes separating American history around the time of the Civil War. The first is from Plymouth to the West and the second is from Appomattox to the Moon. Since we already studied Early American History, we only read volume 2.

The chapters did a good job at explaining causes and effects and discussed subjects that are often overlooked by other books. For example, the book had a sizable section covering mail order catalogs such as Sears and Roebuck, their reasons for coming into existence and how their being affected people. Since reading the book, my son has been asking a lot of questions on topics such as World War II. Yes! Finally he is curious about history.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Essentials in Writing - Our Writing Curriculum for 2017 and 2018

With a 5th grader and 8th grader learning at home, this is the first year we have followed a structured writing curriculum.


As I've stated in the past, I believe reading, writing and math are fundamental skills required for any education. Although we haven't followed a structured writing curriculum, we have worked on writing. The Brave Writer philosophy has had lots of influence on our past writing, and we have always placed value on working on writing 3 to 4 times per week.

So why now? This year my 11th grader is thriving in an AP Composition class at our local high school. Obviously, the lack of a writing curriculum hasn't had too much of an impact. Well, the main reason is that I finally found a curriculum I wanted to follow.

The Essentials in Writing program is very much in-line with our family's approach to writing. It covers grammar, but doesn't over emphasize it. Instead, it places a large focus on making writing interesting. There are many lessons on incorporating action verbs, descriptive adjectives, adverbs, simile, metaphor, personification, and onomatopoeia. The lessons begin by identifying literary elements and then teach incorporation through the use of writing short paragraphs.

In addition, I was drawn to the program because it was simple to implement. The book comes with video professor lessons which are between 2 to 10 minutes in length per lesson. We usually watch the lessons, and then work on the assignments in the book. Our family chooses to work on writing four days per week, one hour per day for a total of four hours per week. Most days we cover one lesson, but often cover one-and-a-half, to two lessons. I believe we are on-track to complete the book over the school year.

As with most curriculum, this one is far from perfect. I have found mistakes and a few questions that could have been worded better. Overall, I feel Essentials in Writing has been a good addition to our school day this year. It has kept our writing sessions short and focused, and made them a lot easier for me to implement. I'm still undecided as to whether or not we will follow the curriculum next year and at what level, but this year it has taught the kids a lot and we will continue to finish the book.

As a side note, this is not the writing program IEW, or Institute for Excellence in Writing, which is very popular but a different writing program.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

How does homeschooling work over the long-term?

Now that my kids are in 5th, 8th and 11th grades, we are seeing the results of homeschooling long-term.


We began this journey 10 years ago when my oldest was in 1st grade. As with any education plan there have been both high points and challenging moments. Now that my oldest is in 11th grade, we have come full circle as this year she is thriving in public school; back for the first time since Kindergarden.

Last year my oldest studied AP Chemistry, AP Calculus, AP Statistics, AP Music Theory, AP Government, and AP American History at home.  It sounds challenging and it was, but she didn't spend any more time studying than a typical high school student. In fact, I believe she studied less. Now she is a smart child, but by no means a genius of any sort. Homeschooling has simply enabled her to always be challenged at her level. These classes just happened to be the next in line.

Her 2016/17 course load was a challenge for me too. My main role as homeschool mom has always been to find the best resources for each child based on their learning style, interests and ability. With resources in hand, I put together a schedule/plan for each child to keep them challenged, thinking, and learning new material. Some subjects the kids study on their own, where as others I am very involved. There is always a balance.

Although my oldest studied AP Government, AP American History and AP Music Theory completely on her own. I was an integral part of AP Chemistry, Calculus and Statistics. Those being difficult classes, and I being her main person for questions resulted in a challenging year. When she had questions, I first had to understand the material and often, this was time-consuming. But we made it through and I am very happy with where she is now.

This year she is in the public school system. She is taking AP Physics, AP Biology, AP Composition and dentistry. Yes! She is studying lots of science and doing great! Her teachers say she thinks differently, often has different views and ideas on topics, but is mixing well with the other kids and doing a great job. I'm overjoyed to have more time to spend with the other two kids and a little extra free time during the day to complete the things I need to get done.

Next year when she is a senior, she will likely take two sophomore/junior level courses at a local university as she mostly beyond community college.

It's been a while since I've written on this blog. I suppose I haven't had much to say lately, but I am planning to write a post a week starting in January to discuss some of the curriculum and educational activities I have been doing at home with my 5th and 8th grader.

Happy Holidays.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Microscope Lessons for Kids

Using the book Ultimate Guide to Your Microscope as a guide, the kids have been captivated with specimens.

Our science lessons are scheduled twice per week for four hours each session. Four hours per week has enabled us to learn to create a variety of different slides for the microscope, keep a science journal and examine the world of the tiny. 

 The Ultimate Guide to Your Microscope begins with the different types of microscopes and moves into slide creation. From there, the book is packed full of activities. Each requires creating a slide and examining the slide under a microscope.

 Looking closely at newspaper comics, we saw dots that blend together to make color.

Raiding my mom's sewing room for thread samples allowed us to learn the differences in types of thread. Embroidery thread is different from quilting thread, and they are both different from sewing threads. There are also metallic threads, invisible thread, silk thread and disappearing thread. Some are fuzzy, some are smooth, some are twisted and some are synthetic. It was thought-provoking seeing the differences under the microscope.

In addition to thread and colored newspaper print, we have explored bugs, feathers, skin cells, coins and more. I highly recommend exploring activities with a microscope with kids. You will both learn a bunch!

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Super Art Lessons for Kids

I found an excellent source for art lessons.

With all the art resources available on the internet, it has always been time consuming to narrow down projects. So many choices makes selecting activities that the kids will learn from a challenge. In addition, with a limited art background, it can be difficult to choose projects that increase in difficulty. But I recently hit the jackpot!

With the internet still increasing in use, many schools are putting lessons on-line. The courses labeled Anderson Art at the Gilman school are proving to be a fabulous resource. The teacher has a years worth of lessons for each of the middle school grades. They are in power point format and are easy to follow if you have a little knowledge of art.  We have completed the abstract animal watercolor project and are working on abstract trees. I'm loving the simplicity of planning art!

Abstract Animals

 Select an animal that matches your personality.

 Sketch the animal using shapes.


 The website contains several more steps which include drawing organic and geometric shapes to divide the background.

 There are also instructions for beginning with primary colors and then mixing colors to form secondary colors and tints.

 We used our Zentangle book for inspiration in filling in the background with designs.





Saturday, September 30, 2017

Sports for Life

"Sports for Life" is a lifelong philosophy towards fitness which involves choosing sports that can be enjoyed for a lifetime at a level which can be sustained.

Throughout a lifetime, there are a large variety of physical opportunities available. They can range from participating in a soccer team, taking swimming lessons, cleaning a house, doing yard work, playing football, dancing, and oh so many more. Some of these activities have greater appeal to specific age groups, and some are much easier logistically to do at certain ages. One aspect of a Sport for Life philosophy is choosing sports and activities that can be enjoyed by a majority of ages groups.



Think about typical physical activities enjoyed by active adults. The list may include, biking, running, walking, hiking, swimming, dancing, skiing, and tennis. Most of these activities can be done individually with little special equipment. Kids can learn to do all of these things.

Team sports such as baseball and soccer have a definite role to play in the lives of children, but become more difficult to do on a regular basis as adults. These sports build camaraderie, are fun, promote fitness and should not be ignored. However, as we get older, we run out of time. Finding practice and game times that can accommodate all group members is near to impossible.

Another aspect of the Sports for Life lifestyle is participating in sports at a level that can be sustained. So often, people say, "I'm training for the X run. I really need to get in shape so I can complete it." Although it is natural to have periods of greater and lesser fitness throughout life, being generally fit is an excellent strategy. Instead of focusing on winning the race, the person with the Sports for Life attitude would focus on being able to complete it no matter the season. Depending on the person and sport, this could mean being able to run a 5 km race on any given day, or a 25 km race on a given day. The point is the sport and amount is sustainable for the participant.



Competitive sports offered by many schools are in direct conflict with this philosophy. Instead of training the kids to be fit for life and enjoy the sports they are mastering, kids are required to attend practices 4-5 days per week and train at high intensity levels. The short term desire to win is strong with both the kids and the leaders of the activities. Unfortunately, in addition to creating burn out, these levels can lead to injuries which can eliminate most fitness activities for months at a time. Over a lifetime, adults will look back on the days they played a sport and say, "I wish I was in good enough shape to do that." Where as if they were taught to enjoy the sport, they may continue to do it forever.




Participating in family athletic activities and behavior modeling are the two major components of training kids to enjoy sports for life. When kids are young, going hiking as a family is easy to do. Kids don't need 10+ miles of trails. They will be happy with a mile long trail through the woods. Likewise, they don't need 100 mile bike rides, but riding bikes as a family will teach them that biking is something to always be enjoyed. This doesn't mean that kids shouldn't run on the playground, or ride bikes through the neighborhood. These activities are excellent for kids, but it is important for them to see that their adults enjoy these activities as well. Training kids to adopt a sport for life philosophy involves participating in the target sports with kids.

In addition to doing these activities with the kids, it's important for the adults to enjoy fitness on their own or with other adults. This is behavior modeling. When kids see their parents exercising each morning before work, they will grow up to do the same thing as adults. Instilling these behaviors at a young age results in healthy adults who enjoy activity.

The Sports for Life philosophy means learning to love fitness activities as children which can be enjoyed the entire life long. It also means enjoying these activities at a level which can be sustained. Not at levels that ramp up and ramp down to achieve certain goals such as finishing a really long running race. If you need to develop a PE program for your school, or are looking for a way to teach kids to be fit, I strongly suggest a Sports for Life philosophy.
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