Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Invitation to Learn Eclipses

A Learning Lifestyle

My preschoolers are officially not preschoolers any more. As we step into Kindergarten and 2nd grade, and as a family new to "officially" homeschooling, I recently bought writing curriculum from BraveWriter and breathed a huge sigh of relief.

The guidance offered essentially advocates for 1) focusing on creating an environment filled with books, music, and experiences; and, 2) a language-rich lifestyle - one where you listen to your child, respond thoughtfully, and pursue ideas together. (This builds on what we know about how preschoolers learn, too. ) She, of course, weaves writing lessons into the day and provides structure so parents don't have to come up with everything on their own. (Whew!) 

Books, Music, and Experiences

Despite being regulars at the library, I often find myself scouring the catalog and shelves for books that might work to answer my child's question or delve deeper into the subject du jour. It is no wonder why lists are some of the most popular blogs in the world. You know the ones: "101 Books to Read Before Kindergarten," "10+ Children's Books to Inspire Kindness," and my own  "24 Books for Preschool Engineers."

A Smaller, More Approachable List

The problem is that sometimes we want a smaller, more approachable list. One with fewer books that includes other things. I just want a few good books, a CD, and a video, perhaps a toy. Something like a thoughtful little themed basket.

Invitation to Learn

It is in the spirit of having a small sampling of one topic that I am writing Invitations to Learn. Each invitation grows from our homeschool life and is a pint-sized unit of study for the DIY crowd. With this list, I am inviting you to learn alongside your child and giving you a small amount of guidance for creating a rich learning environment in your home or school.

Read a book one day; listen to an audiobook another day; watch a movie a different day; go on a field trip a different day. By offering one great thing at a time, you are inviting your child to learn with you and enjoy learning with you! Over time you and your child will consider the topic in several different ways, using different materials, have different but related conversations about it, and you will grow your knowledge in wonderfully robust ways.


I have found some of these at the library or for free online. For your convenience, I will also include affiliate links to Amazon when available.

This book looks at solar and lunar eclipses, providing background information about the Sun, the Moon and our planet. The book covers what an eclipse is, what eclipses can look like, how they happen, the effects on wildlife, what people thought of eclipses in the past, how they are studied today, and about eclipses on other planets. A fun activity is provided along with advice on viewing eclipses. Beautiful photographs and simple text help to engage readers and aid their understanding.

"Kii Leonard sits in his favorite juniper tree. While listening to the radio, Kii Leonard's grandfather, Pipi, announces that the sun has died. Kii Leonard saw a strange gloom all around him. Everywhere he looked, the deep purple and red darkness was there. Join Kii as he learns about the Naa'ach'aahii, or painters, who visit during this astronomical event."

The book tells how two curious children and their grandparents re-create eclipses in their living room using a lamp, a tennis ball, two Hula Hoops, and Ping-Pong balls. Later, in the backyard and around the house, the family explores safe ways to view a solar eclipse and ponders phenomena from sunspots to phases of the Moon. Written by the authors of NSTA’s award-winning book Solar Science, When the Sun Goes Dark gives children and adults hands-on techniques for learning the science behind eclipses of the Sun and Moon.

Every Soul Has a Star by Wendy Mass

And as streams of light fan out behind the darkened sun like the wings of a butterfly, I realize that I never saw real beauty until now.

At Moon Shadow, an isolated campground, thousands have gathered to catch a glimpse of a rare and extraordinary total eclipse of the sun. Three lives are about to be changed forever:

[Note: We are listening to this as an audiobook. It is not really a good fit for my son but my daughter is enjoying it.]

YouTube Short Videos with Bill Nye

The Planetary Society and the NPS also worked together on a web series called "Bill Nye & the Totally Awesome Solar Eclipse," which explores eclipse science and the connection between eclipses and national parks. 

For the first time ever, The Planetary Society has partnered with the U.S. National Park Service to create an amazing eclipse experience. The partnership includes a Junior Ranger Eclipse Explorer activity book.
Join Bill Nye and Junior Ranger CaLisa on their ecliptic path through this fun and educational book! Great for kids, teachers, parents, and everyone else, it’s designed to get people out of the house to learn about and safely view eclipses. Call or go to your nearest U.S. National Park and ask if they have the Eclipse Explorer book or click here to download a printable version.

Eclipse Viewers
The following telescope and solar-filter companies manufacture and/or sell eclipse glasses (sometimes called eclipse shades) and/or handheld solar viewers that have been verified by an accredited testing laboratory to meet the ISO 12312-2 international safety standard for such products. They are listed in alphabetical order; those with an asterisk (*) are based outside the United States.

There are many ways to view a solar eclipse. The safest (and most fun!) is to make your own solar viewing projector. This technique of using a small hole to focus light goes back to the 5th century BC.

Monday, August 14, 2017

The Secrets of a Happy Life. Homeschooling or Otherwise

It was spring and the days were getting longer. The sunshine seemed to bring with it healing energy - streaming in through our windows to wake us, inviting us outdoors and then warming us when we stepped into the light.

It had been two months since we disenrolled Tigger from public school and we were beginning to see him come back to his normal self. Over the course of six months he had completely changed from a happy and curious child to outwardly depressed, stressed, and lethargic. His zest for life and learning had been drained away by well-meaning but uninformed, distrustful, and overworked educators.

Back in the caring and self-directed learning environment of our home, he was slowly but steadily rediscovering his love of learning. And there was no more striking evidence of it than the day he picked up a book again.

The springtime sun was setting and we were moving toward bedtime. As I walked up the stairs to join my husband and our five year old daughter, I gazed over the banister. What I saw made my heart jump into my throat. Sitting below me was my son with a book in his lap.

That moment was big. In that moment I realized that he had not picked up a book of his own volition in five months. At once, I felt overjoyed that he was drawn back to books and furious that his love for reading had been poached.

In the weeks and months that followed that special moment, I made some important decisions that have allowed me to focus more on happiness in homeschooling instead of the anger toward the situation of how we got here.

1. Manage Expectations

How are your expectations formed?

Mine are not formed in a vacuum. Opinions from family, friends, doctors, and other professionals have shaped my expectations for what parenthood and childhood should look like. When and how to breastfeed, potty train, sleep train, discipline, educate, travel with, feed, buy pets for, socialize, et cetera, et cetera.

Social media doesn't help matters. Memes about young children doing chores, mothers taking care of themselves, and amazing fathers sometimes make me feel, well, feelings. Depending on which memes I see on any given day or in any given hour can play tricks with my self-esteem. I have thought "I'm doing too much for them!" as much as "I'm not doing enough!" and sometimes both of those thoughts in the same breath. Never mind seeing how amazing my mom friends are who have paying jobs that take them out of the house, children who don't stim and who aren't overexcitable, and self-confidence to boot. Comparing myself to anyone on social media only skews my sense of reality and what are realistic expectations that are right for my family.

My best ally in knowing what is right for my family is, and always has been, my Intuition. She (yes, I'm referring to Intuition as "she") has never been wrong. She has always paid attention, even when I haven't. She knows what is coming, what is happening, and truth in matters before I acknowledge things concretely.

In order to recognize and enjoy the happy moments in the day I have had to dig deep and re-set my expectations for a lot of things.

  • I don't expect my son to sit much. He does jumping jacks when he practices spelling. He paces at our homeschool Minecraft group when the children come together to summarize their work at the end of the event. Together, we go on "Walk-and-Talk"s to flesh out his ideas for composition.
  • I don't expect to sneak work in during the day. The day goes smoother when I rest during my down time instead of write. (It minimizes the likelihood that I will be interrupted.)
  • I don't expect that we will have a breakthrough with my son's self-care. It will be something we work on together and will require a LOT of scaffolding on my part, like this. (As an added bonus, it will fall under "Home Economics.")
  • I do expect to have leisurely days.
  • I do expect to be flexible, democratic, and meet our needs on a daily basis.
  • I do expect to have a routine that works for us all - my need to plan and check things off my list, my son's need to learn what interests him, and my daughter's need to work at her own drawn out pace.
  • I expect academic learning to grow organically from our life experiences.
  • I do expect some days to be hard for one of us, or all of us, and on those days we can curl up together and watch movies all day, eat ice cream for lunch and pancakes for dinner.

That entire list is formed entirely from my intuition, my knowledge of my family, and not a lick from what society tells me I should or should not be doing. And the reason I know my expectations are reasonable are because I have slowed down and taken the time to pay attention to myself, my children, my husband, and our life together.

2. Slow Down

When I first got married I always had WAY MORE on my to-do list than was reasonable. That, in and of itself, was not a big deal. What was a big deal was when I got upset that I didn't get it all done. My husband, bless his soul, caught on to my "problem" and helped me learn what a reasonable to-do list might look like. It was the first step on a long journey toward a slow life.

What he didn't know (well, maybe he knew), was that for YEARS I lied to him. He would ask me what was on my list of things to do and I would report a reasonable list - one that fit on a post-it note. My secret list, in fact, was much longer - like a scroll that would unravel for miles.

Fast forward several years. I have begun a dedicated Kundalini yoga practice (daily meditations plus once weekly classes with a teacher). I have two children. I want to slow down. I want to let go of my scroll of things to do and simply be. And I have. I do not allow the scroll to distract me, nor do I let myself become frustrated if I don't accomplish what I thought needed doing. I've slowed down and I like it....a lot.

That is not to say that I don't regress. My natural state is buzzing with ideas of things to do - make dinner, do lesson plans, blog, contact that children's book publisher, write science curriculum, start a completely unrelated hat business, and on and on.

But I have slowed down so much of my life that I notice the buzzing when it comes and I can know how important or urgent the buzzing is, set time aside for it, and manage my expectations for it. After all, denying my natural state of compulsive creativity would not be taking care of myself.

3. Self-Care

Homeschooling is not just a marathon, it is an ultramarathon. In order to sustain the role of homeschooling mom, I have had to bring a whole new level of commitment to self-care. This is my list of essentials for self-care:
  1. Set realistic expectations for my children. Part of this was to set a routine and know which part of the routine is flexible and which is not.
  2. Slow down. Slow down some more.
  3. Morning meditation.
  4. Evening walk.
  5. Daily creative work.
  6. Weekend recharge time (yoga, grocery shopping, longer walks, dates with hubby).

Those are the things I need to be (and to remain) patient, kind, flexible, and a good leader.

4. Child-Care

There are several differences between my son's public school experience and the homeschool experience but they can by boiled down to: caring and trust.

I trust that my son will learn. It might not be what schools define as the first grades standards - he might learn third grade math and pre-K social skills. But he will learn and learn in the most authentic way, the only way, learning happens. It will be self-directed and he learns/will learn what he wants to the degree he wants. It is the essence of self-directed education. My biggest job in this sense is to focus on his ability to learn and to express his learning in a way that makes sense for him.

Caring comes quite naturally to people who have the time and inclination to connect and build a relationship with someone else. For some people, nonviolent communication comes naturally (like my sister). For me, I had to learn about nonviolent communication and practice using it.

With Trust and Caring as the basis for how we homeschool, we then can search for and find a rhythm that balances our needs.

5. Recognize Happy Moments

The happy moments are not always overly animated. Here are some things I noticed this week and took the time to enjoy:

  • As my daughter walked slowly home from the pool she said, "Rain must take a long time to get down here, flow in the rivers, and get to the ocean."
  • After lunch my son cleared his plate without being asked. 
  • My daughter colored quietly for an hour in her room.
  • My son built LEGO alone in his room for an hour.
  • After eating without complaining about the meal, my children ran off together to play.
  • My kids left me alone for 15 minutes while I took a cat nap.
  • My son said, "My new friend..."
  • My daughter asked me, "How can I help?"
  • My son thanked me for doing the laundry.
  • My daughter wrote her name in cursive.
  • My son read all the words on a page of his Minecraft book.
  • We had LOTS of fun from splashing in puddles.


It has been a long time of learning about parenting and what works for my family that all these things can happen.

Because I have slowed down, I am able to be present in each of those happy moments and enjoy them....

6. Enjoy Happy Moments 

It has been a stressful year. In fact, in the fall I confessed to a friend that I really wanted to learn how to enjoy my children again. I could see my children in their best moments but I wasn't enjoying those moments. I was always caught up with what had to happen next...go to dance class, swing by the library, meet someone for a play date, gas up the car, cook dinner, baths and bedtime.

I am happy to say that since we disenrolled my son from public school his mental health and, consequently, his behavior has drastically improved. Our family life has improved along with it.

And since I re-committed to self-care, slowing down our lives, and setting reasonable expectations for our family, we are all better cared-for, happy, and dwelling in happiness.


For me, there is no single happiest, best, or favorite thing that stands towering above the rest. No holy grail of perfection. Only sitting with our lives as they are and accepting the opportunity and responsibility of teaching and learning with my child.

This was written as part of the GHF Blog Hop. Read more here...

Monday, July 17, 2017

Roadtrip - Summer 2017

It is time for our annual summer roadtrip! We will be using some of the same items from one of my previous posts about traveling - like the Artist Studio To-Go (stocked with scissors, tape, and fresh markers) and Goodbyns. But I've also been stashing away some new things for my kids.

There are plenty of ways to pass the time in the car. We play the "We're Going on a Picnic" car game; we make up stories; we listen to music and audiobooks. Before handing over the iPads and other devices, I like to give them other options. Plus, we have to have ways of engaging them with interesting things when they transition away from screens. Enter this year's shopping list:

Everything on this list fits in a grocery bag and leaves room to spare! You'll find everything you need to keep small children from losing their minds in the car. In fact, you will stimulate their minds!


Ribbon, Tape & Scissors

I learned a while back that Curling Ribbon, Tape, and Scissors can occupy my children for a nice long time in the car. So I stashed away a couple rolls of ribbon, a couple pairs of scissors, and bought some new tape (Scotch and Washi).

Markers & Paper

My kids also like to draw, write, and sketch. So we will need something with which to write. Pencils create shavings, crayons melt in hot cars, so markers are a sensible choice. Since my 5yo likes to tattoo herself, I was sure to get new Crayola Washable Markers (Broad and Fine Line). I'll throw in a pad of paper and we should be good to go.

Scratch Art

Scratch Art - It is that black paper that you scratch with a wooden stylus to reveal color beneath. It is still drawing but it sure makes for a great way to change things up. I grabbed some at the $3 bins at Target but you can usually find them at craft stores and, obviously, Amazon.

Wipe-Clean Books

Just so I have something that is reusable, I grabbed a couple Wipe-Clean Books by Usborne. My daughter is begging to learn to read so I got the Alphabet book for her. And I chose the Mazes because their a fun way to practice pen control, which my son desperately needs. Plus, the mazes can act as small worlds for imaginative play for small action figures.



Boogie Board

Because my kids gravitate to these things when we're out on the town.

  • Writing experience is comparable to pen on paper
  • Ultra-bright LCD writing surface is 50% brighter than previous models, Replaceable coin-cell battery
  • Integrated magnets allow for easy mounting to compatible surfaces
  • Built-in stylus dock provides convenient storage for stylus when not in use, refer user manual below
  • Stylus can be used as a kick-stand to display your written messages to family, friends and co-workers

Free Play Magnatab

A new sensory experience!

  • The magnetic stylus is your pen, the bead board your paper, your finger the eraser as you use your imagination to draw, design and create
  • Explore your creativity in engaging, sensory-reinforced play; the stylus brings the beads to the surface with an audible click revealing your creation
  • Push the beads down with a finger to erase and start over; the beads are completely self-contained and do not come out of the board
  • Made from the highest quality ABS, the new design (July 2015) improves performance and increases child satisfaction
  • For ages 3+


A new magnetic builder...one small enough that is can travel!
  • 80 wooden magnetic pieces and colorful design guide


Sold by Fat Brain Toys and Fulfilled by AmazonGift-wrap available.
  • Folding, clicking puzzle of arranging gears to match challenge cards; one side features colors, other side features black and white; 16 gears each shift up to 255 degrees for exciting flexibility
  • Fold and arrange gears to match images printed on 40 challenge cards; 4 levels of difficulty: easy, medium, hard, extra hard; feel the gears click as they fall into place – doubles as a great fidget toy
  • Great for ages 6+; exceptionally strong, safe, high-quality materials; BPA free
  • Strengthens visual-spatial skills, critical thinking, logic; detailed instructions, easy for anyone to learn and play; clicking gears soothe anxious nerves, helps kids focus
  • Includes Coggy, 40 challenge cards; chain of gears measures 14 inches long; made in China


Fidget Spinners are all the rage these days but don't let them distract you from the oldies but goodies like these gems I snagged...


I recently became an Usborne Books and More Independent Consultant. As part of my Welcome Kit, three books arrived that are perfect for our roadtrip because they are practically toys/crafts themselves!

Shine-a-Light-On the Rainforest

Discover the animals and plants that live in and around a kapok tree, from the colorful parrots in the canopy to the sleek jaguar on the forest floor. This engaging non-fiction title will stimulate a love of the natural world as the vivacity of the rain forest is revealed through the bold and colorful artwork, and clever “see-through” pages.

The Wild Garden

Decorate the scenes with beautiful wild flowers rub-downs in this lovely keep-sake book! There will be a card pocket in the inside back cover where the 7 sheets of rub-down will be kept. Half of the spread is colored, and one can add the rub downs, the other half is line drawings that one can color, and add rub-downs to as well. The names of the flowers will also be there, so that one can learn them. Perfect for a mother's day gift, for example.

This is Not a Math Book

Math and art, as different as night and day, right? Wrong! This is Not a Math Book shows how math can be beautiful and art can be numerical. Amazing patterns with a mathematical basis will be revealed as you follow the simple activity instructions. And you’ll learn incredible math facts as you draw the beautiful designs. A real eye-opener for kids of all ages with an artistic bent who think that math is dry and boring, while math enthusiasts will discover new ways to be creative.

Minecraft Handbooks

My eldest is becoming a Minecraft junkie. So I picked up a trilogy of handbooks.
You can make theme parks with incredible waterslide rides, or entire pirate coves complete with galleons! Is there nothing that can't be achieved in Minecraft? Here the experts talk you through amazing constructs which range from awe-inspiring cathedrals to wacky inventions--like the hilarious animal cannon that catapults cows out to sea! Find out which are Notch's personal favorites and get step-by-step instructions to fuel your own creative genius. Be ORE-some!

Since we're readers and always excited about time together for enjoying books read aloud, I picked up a couple new chapter books...they're classics.

Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

In 1865, Charles Lutwidge Dodson composed a fantasy tale for a trio of young sisters. His creative genius and childlike ability to imagine a universe like no other took form in one of the most treasured children’s books of all time. Under the pen-name of Lewis Carroll, Dodson’s tale of an intrepid little girl who discovers a surreal, beautiful, and dangerous land would has shared its magic with generations of readers. His Cheshire Cat, Mad Hatter, and Queen of Hearts have become cultural icons, to say nothing of the heroic young Alice herself.

Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks

Full of magic and appealing characters, this classic novel takes readers on a remarkable adventure. 
It's Omri's birthday, but all he gets from his best friend, Patrick, is a little plastic Indian brave. Trying to hide his disappointment, Omri puts the Indian in a metal cupboard and locks the door with a mysterious skeleton key that once belonged to his great-grandmother. Little does Omri know that by turning the key, he will transform his ordinary plastic Indian into a real live man from an altogether different time and place! Omri and the tiny warrior called Little Bear could hardly be more different, yet soon the two forge a very special friendship. Will Omri be able to keep Little Bear without anyone finding out and taking his precious Indian from him?


We will have a six audiobooks downloaded from the library and ready to go. Some of them are oldies but goodies from my list of 66 Audio Stories for Little Kids (like Ralph S. Mouse, the Disney Fairies, and The Magic Treehouse). We're adding a couple to that list and since we are newly Beyond Preschool, the audience for whom these books were written are decidedly also Beyond Preschool...

By William Joyce

We've read Nicholas St. North and the Battle of the Nightmare King aloud and enjoyed it immensely but we haven't heard the audiobook version. So we're going to give it a try.

Before SANTA was SANTA, he was North, Nicholas St. North—a daredevil swordsman whose prowess with double scimitars was legendary. Like any swashbuckling young warrior, North seeks treasure and adventure, leading him to the fiercely guarded village of Santoff Claussen, said to be home to the greatest treasure in all the East, and to an even greater wizard, Ombric Shalazar. But when North arrives, legends of riches have given way to terrors of epic proportions! North must decide whether to seek his fortune…or save the village. 
When our rebellious hero gets sucked into the chaos (literally), the fight becomes very personal. The Nightmare King and his evil Fearlings are ruling the night, owning the shadows, and sending waves of fear through all of Santoff Clausen. For North, this is a battle worth fighting...and, he’s not alone. There are five other Guardians out there. He only has to find them in time.

The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell by Chris Colfer

This is new territory for us. I'm not sure if it will be too scary for my youngest (5yo) but we've listened to the author's treasury of fairy tales when we studied The Frog Prince and, I think, we are ready to venture forth in the Land of Stories through the Wishing Spell.

Alex and Conner Bailey's world is about to change, in this fast-paced adventure that uniquely combines our modern day world with the enchanting realm of classic fairy tales. 
The Land of Stories tells the tale of twins Alex and Conner. Through the mysterious powers of a cherished book of stories, they leave their world behind and find themselves in a foreign land full of wonder and magic where they come face-to-face with the fairy tale characters they grew up reading about.  
But after a series of encounters with witches, wolves, goblins, and trolls alike, getting back home is going to be harder than they thought.