Friday, February 28, 2014

Science/Horticulture: Sprouted Seedlings, Week 1

Just seven days after planting seeds, look what appeared...

Tiny sprouts breaking ground

Exciting considering we had a light freeze! You can tell the marigold did not fare so well with freeze :)

My best guess is that the sprouts are radishes. They are usually the quickest to sprout and the quickest to harvest. 

Can't wait to see what the sprouts look like in another week. Nothing yet in the carrot or eggplant pots. 

Science/Astronomy: the Solar System {Printable Links}

Astronomy is probably my favorite Science unit. Growing up, NASA was a four hour drive away in Houston. Everyone wanted to attend Space Camp and become an astronaut. Pardon my moment of nostalgia, I'm imagining blasting off into space. Okay, I'm back :)

To supplement our textbook lessons, Madeline made this printable book from Enchanted Learning.

Solar System Front Cover

Each page has facts, a picture/cross section,
and comprehension questions

Madeline consulted her textbook to make
sure the planets were colored realistically

Yes, that is Pluto tabbed in there. I purposely included Pluto even though it's not technically a planet anymore. It's a great reminder that what we believe to be scientific fact can change. 

This planet wheel was fun to make. It spins to reveal each planet's picture and characteristics. No Pluto though! 

Madeline got a kick out of the brass brad. She thought it looked like the sun at the center of the solar system. Great observation, kid :)

To discuss why Pluto was included in one resource and not the other, we read Pluto's Secret: An Icy World's Tale of Discovery. I highly recommend it! It's part fiction {story format featuring Pluto's thoughts and feelings} mixed with scientific facts and historical events.

The book starts with the search for Pluto, it's discovery, and ultimately...why it is no longer considered a planet. Students learn the new criteria for planets as of 2006.

Next up, the moon phases. Still thinking on that one. Maybe making the phases with glitter playdough? We'll see...

Monday, February 24, 2014

Enchanted Learning Science Printables {Online Resource}

If your child loves Science, definitely check out Enchanted Learning. So many fun printable books, activities, and craft ideas to incorporate into your lessons! Even though they offer printables for many different topics, their Science ones are our favorite.

Front cover of our animal classification book
 insects, birds, amphibians, fish, worms, crustaceans, mammals, 
reptiles, and arachnids

Such a time-saver to just print and click. Last year I bought an annual subscription to their site, which was only about $20.

So worth it for the amazing variety of printable activities and books! No profit for me to recommend them either. Their site is just too good not to share :)

For the easier books, I create labels with textbook information to reinforce terminology, characteristics, or vocabulary. Then the labels get all scrambled up!

Madeline sorts through the labels and adds them to the appropriate pages. It's a perfect opportunity to apply what she is learning.

Animal classifications bird page 
{with extra characteristics added in}

Animal classifications insect page 
{with extra characteristics added in}

As you can tell, Madeline loves using her colored pencils! Now you know why we need an electric pencil sharpener :)  These pages were completed with our animal unit in the fall.

pumpkin book provided activities for our plant unit. Again, we added details in from our textbook. This time, it was to reinforce vocabulary terms.

Handwritten vocabulary terms pasted onto
our pumpkin life cycle page

After starting with the easier books, we tried some that were a bit more challenging. The first two pictures in the collage are from a butterfly life cycle book. Each page is tabbed according to a stage in the cycle. It was a hit! Lots of information and a quiz at the end.

Details from a Painted Lady Butterfly Life Cycle book
and The Elephant book

The other two pictures are from a book about elephant characteristics. Madeline couldn't wait to go to zoo and try to differentiate between the two types of elephants by their ears :)

These a just a few snapshots of what Enchanted Learning offers. There are too many items and subjects to mention, just go to the website! Anyone can look at their activities. If you are more of a DYI person, it will give you plenty of ideas. But to print, you'll need a subscription. Which is dirt cheap for their product quantity and quality.

Space and the Solar System is our current unit. I'll definitely post some of our activities soon!

What about you? What are your favorite online resources for Science?

Friday, February 21, 2014

Our Backyard Classroom ~ Has Spring Sprung? {Sewing Seeds and Horticulture}

The backyard is our outdoor classroom. There are so many opportunities for learning. Plants, weather, little creatures like insects and worms. A comfy swing to sit and write.

The weather has been awesome the last few weeks. As in 70-75 degrees beautiful! And then I saw this...

My peach tree is in bloom!

To be fair, my peach tree is in the front yard. But still ~ it's in bloom! Time to get the our backyard classroom ready for spring :)  It's just too gorgeous not to be outside.

When I opened my back door, a surprise was waiting for me...

Bright fushia camilla blossoms

Madeline was adamant we buy some new seeds. Every year, we try growing something new. It's a fun way to experiment with life science. Here are this year's selections:

Cherry tomatoes, fancy radishes, eggplant, colorful carrots,
and mammoth zinnias

Sowing seeds is the easy part. Trying to figure out what you planted...always a challenge. So we used rocks as plant labels. My trusty Sharpie should weather the elements just fine.

So excited to grow colorful carrots. A new experience!

Last year my hubby bought me an amazing hydrangea for Mother's Day. It was supposed to go in front of the kids playhouse in the shade. It died. Or maybe it went dormant. It was ugly. I threw it away.

That left a big empty pot. Not very attractive just filled with dirt. Empty pot, meet your new friends ~ Camilla and Hosta.

Newly potted red camilla + variegated hosta and grasses

And since my mosquito plant froze, I added a gardenia to its pot next to the camilla. Now the girls have their own little playhouse plants :)

Can't wait for fragrant, white blossoms

It's time to say goodbye to winter. Before our little trip to the garden store, everything was so brown and barren. Thus, a rush to buy whatever few flowers the garden store had.

But look! The butterfly bush is sprouting tiny green leaves.

Ranunculus flowers were pretty much all Home Depot had. They are so beautiful, but bulbs last such a short time. Luckily, the butterfly bush behind it should be vigorously growing by then.

So excited for Spring! Get ready outdoor classroom, here we come :)

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Flood and Fire: 9 Chapters Down, 32 to Go

Madeline and I are hooked on Flood and Fire. So far, we've not read less than 3 chapters a day. At the close of every chapter Madeline cries, "More! More!"

It's awesome finding exciting new books and authors through homeschool book club! My husband even congratulated me on gifting my daughter with the need to read :)

Starting with the first chapter, the story grips you! Oh, Lilly...out of the pot and into the frying pan. And poor Zeph, having to clean up his father's mess.

Unlike Raiders' Ransom, this second book is fast-paced from page 1.

Reading this book is bittersweet, since the third one {PLEASE let there be a third one} isn't published yet. Write fast, Ms. Diamand ~ we love your books!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

What You Need: My Top 5 Homeschool Supply List

Now that we are into year two for homeschooling, I've been able to see what supplies we really use! I made some mistakes, so learn from me and don't waste your money :)


Loving my vintage yellow sharpener, it works like a charm :)

Forget those plastic cheapies in the school supply aisle! You'll need a heavy duty pencil sharpener like the ones that mount to the wall or an electric sharpener.

We have a Panasonic electric sharpener but I know other homeschoolers that love the wall-mounted type. These are essential not only for sharpening #2 writing pencils but also colored pencils for science, geography, book club, and art!

Sharpening pencils has never been so much fun! Never a dull pencil again.


Try different brands of markers to see which ones you like best.
Quartet and Expo are my favorites.

Our dry erase boards get lots of use. They are awesome for demonstrating how to do math problems, for spelling lists, for making character diagrams for our literature books, and for so much more.

Instead of big ones, my favorite are the inexpensive dollar bin boards. Because they are small, they fit into our curriculum crate with no problems. If space isn't an issue for you or you have a dedicated room for homeschooling, having a larger one is nice.

If you buy the fine tipped markers, you can dual purpose them for tear sheets. Just slip your workbook pages in a plastic sleeve and let your kids use dry erase markers instead of pencils. Then you can reuse your workbook pages :)  Cost savings, cha-ching!


Spelling composition book and Writing  journal book

Composition books are one of my addictions. If your child is older, the wide and college ruled ones are available for just a dollar at the dollar stores.

Madeline still uses the primary ruled, and they have so many uses! One of the benefits of using these books is you see the progress through the semester. It's amazing to look at Madeline's writing book and see the difference! Cutting and pasting writing prompts to the top of your writing journal saves time, too.

Plus, you never have to worry about losing something important because everything is all in one place.


Our trusty plastic aqua clipboard

Homeschoolers can work anywhere! Madeline's favorite places work through lessons is outside, on the bed, or on the couch. Our trusty blue clipboard has worked more than 2 years and is still going strong!

Cheap, cardboard clipboards get so much use that they usually come apart. Or get stained. And then your papers get stained...and gross. Because that cardboard absorbs everything. Just don't do it! Get a good quality, portable work surface.


Tried to refill my inkjet cartridges with these. Not good results.

It seems like an indulgence, I know! But my inkjet printer was a major expenditure due to the ink. Haven't you noticed how cheap inkjet printers are? That's because manufacturers make money on the ink, not the printer.

With homeschooling, we used more than one inkjet cartridge a month and usually 2-3 color ones! Printing color pictures really burned though our colored ink cartridges.

And yes, I did try those refill bottles that you use to inject replacement ink into your own cartridges. I found they did not work well with my Dell inkjet at all!

All my copies had vertical lines running through them so they were hard to read. No matter what I tried or how many times the printer was 'aligned', the lines stayed.

Inkjet v. Laser Cost Comparison

Inkjet Cartridges
Per month/ Black [2 x $15= 30] + Color [2 x $25 = $50] = $80 
Multiply by 12 months = $960 a year

Laser Cartridges
Total per year/ Black $80 + Color $150 = $230 

Annual Laser Printer Ink Savings
$730 per year {$960 - $230}

It's amazing how ink cartridges fool you. It's not so bad, right? Just $20 here and $20 there. Well, all those $20 cartridges really add up over a year! The savings in ink has paid for my printer and then some.

Don't faint, but the same laser cartridges from last year are STILL going strong. I am willing to bet no one with an inkjet printer gets more than 12 months from the same black and color cartridges!!!! 

Friday, February 14, 2014

Raiders' Ransom: Activities and Discussion Questions

Having a blast with vocabulary bingo ladders at homeschool book club

After searching but not finding a Scholastic study guide for Raiders' Ransom, I made my own! If you find a link to the official study guide, please leave me a comment so I can link to it :)

[Enjoy my book review too.] 

The kids liked all the activities at homeschool book club, but vocabulary bingo was the favorite! It never hurts to have extra activities, but we ran out of time before the character comparison. So Madeline will work that in at home later as one of our writing assignments.

Discussion Questions

Why is Lilly’s boat spared from the raider attack?

Why doesn't the Prime Minister want to give compensation for Lilly's fishing town to rebuild their boats and pay for the raider damage?

Why does Lilly decide to steal the jewel? How does she disguise herself and Cat?

Is the jewel a gem or something else? Why is it so important?

Why does Zeph have to make friends with Lilly in London?

Why does Mr. Saravanan pretend to disown/cast Lilo out of their family?

What is a fill miner? Why are fill miners needed?

Is trial by knife a scientific way to get facts and truth? Why or why not?

If Roba had thrown the knife {instead Zeph} at the trialing wheel, do you think the outcome would have been the same for Lilly? Why or why not?

What secret is Aileen keeping from Angel Isling?

Why does Zeph show kindness to Lexy when she is summoned to the feast? Who does she remind him of?

How does Cat set free Lilly and Lexy from their shackles?

Does the Prime Minister seem happy to see Lexy during the truce? Does he protect her after they are reunited?

Do you think Zeph finds war as wonderful as he imagined it in the beginning of the story? Why?

When Roba is drowning, Zeph helps him by giving Roba a piece of wreckage to use as a float. Is Roba kind to Zeph in return?

During the fleet battle, Lilly has to make a choice to rescue Lexy or Zeph. How does she choose?

Jasper hired Medwin to get the jewel. Did Jasper get what he wanted? Why or why not?

Sail Design Activity

The raider Families used symbols and colors to differentiate themselves from each other. Zeph’s family used the color red and the symbol of the lion.

Design your own raider sail to represent your raider Family!

- Name your raider family
- Choose one or two colors for your sail design
- Choose a symbol for your sail to represent your family

For inspiration and symbol meanings, print/view Common Archetypes and Symbols in Literature and Animals and Their Symbolic Meanings.

Students can draw freehand or use this sailboat template to make a three dimensional boat.

Compare and Contrast Two Characters

Choose from either:
- Roba and Zeph
- Lilly and Lexy
- Medwin the Untamed and Prime Minister Randall

1. List two ways they are the same/similar.

2. List two ways they are different.

3. Which one of the two would you rather be? Why?

Vocabulary Bingo
Provide definition list and have children take turns reading a word and its definition. Fill in blank bingo cards with your vocabulary words and get gaming! Kids can earn extra points by providing synonyms and antonyms for the words.

fury:  extreme anger

sly:  smart in a dishonest way, hiding your true reasons

ruins:  remaining pieces of something that has been destroyed

projection:  creating an image on a surface from somewhere else, an image that can be seen but isn’t a real object {like a movie on a movie screen}

swift:  very fast or quick

lassie: a young girl

malfunction:  to not work properly/correctly or to fail to work

sterile:  without germs or other microorganisms

scabbard:  protective case for a sword, knife,  or blade

kinship:  being related to other people

loyal: complete support for someone or something

arrogant:  believing or acting more important, smarter, or better than other people

activate:  to turn something on or make it active

antiquarian:  a person who collects, studies, or sells valuable old things

rudimentary:  the most basic or simple

artificial intelligence:   the power of a machine/computer to act and think like a person

delinquent:  a young person who regularly breaks the law or misbehaves

plead:  to ask for something in a serious and emotional way

unfurl:  to cause a folded or rolled up item to open

tattered:  old and torn

vital:  extremely important or necessary

traitor:  a person who is not loyal to their friends, family, or country

duress:  when someone is forced or threatened to do something they don’t want to do

kindling:   lightweight and dry objects that burn easily and are used to start a fire {like twigs or paper}

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Book Review: Raiders' Ransom by Emily Diamand

It's officially finished!
Madeline LOVED Raiders' Ransom, but I had mixed feelings about it.

It's fast-paced with tons of action once you get past the first few chapters. The conversations with the talking jewel are hilarious. Madeline even fell off the bed because she was laughing so hard!

There are so many different topics you can springboard onto -- English geography and landmarks, English history, climate change, recycling, living without technology. More things to learn more about!

Amazon has this book marked as recommended for ages 8-12. However, this has some very mature themes including child abuse, slavery, war, underage drinking...well, you get the idea. Most of the reviews talk about how funny the book is, but there are just as many intense moments. The graphic description of corpses from battle could be disturbing to children aged 8-12.

Madeline, 5 Stars
She enjoyed this book as much as Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. When we had 10 chapters to go, she wanted to read it straight to the end. She begged every night to read more!

Mom, 4 Stars
I thought it mas a bit mature and maybe is better suited to more of a young adult {YA} audience. The story was great, but started off slow and depressing. There were even some in our book club who just could not get past the first few chapters and gave up {ages 8-10}. The aftermath of the fleet battle was a bit gruesome for younger readers. More of the talking jewel, please!

Will we continue with the series? Absolutely!
Onto Flood and Fire. Even though some to the themes are a bit mature, they do precipitate many good discussions with my daughter. And to me, that is one of the marks of a really good book!

Enjoy these extra resources to further learn about the setting and themes in Raiders' Ransom.
Madeline is having a blast comparing the book vs. real history and places.

- Games and activities for English, British, and Scottish history via the BBC
- View photos and videos of historical landmarks referenced in the book like the Thames River and Big Ben via National Geographic Kids
- Climate change videos, games, and activities via NASA's Climate Kids
- Free Activity Book: Discover Your Changing World with NOAA includes 10 activities to introduce the principles of climate science

- English folklore/ Young Guinevere by Robert D. San Souci
- Famous authors/ Charles Dickens: Scenes from an Extraordinary Life by Mick Manning
- London's historical landmarks/ A Walk in London by Salvatore Rubbin
- English theater history/ Tudor Theatre (Building History) by Gillian Clements
- English monarchs / Good Queen Bess : The Story of Elizabeth I of England by Diane Stanley
- Climate change/ The Magic School Bus And The Climate Challenge by Joanna Cole
- Climate change and the polar ice/ Waiting for Ice by Sandra Markle

Monday, February 10, 2014

Why We Homeschool ~ Schedule Flexibility

Why we homeschool is one of the most common questions we receive!
We never planned on homeschooling, but that is where our path has led. It just makes sense for our family. And right up at the top of the list is schedule flexibility.

The school day for 1st grade was so long! Madeline arrived at 7:40am and was not dismissed until 3:40pm. Additionally, she had 2-3 hours of homework per night. That didn't leave room for much else. And she was 6! Our child was tired, stressed, and downright miserable.

What we realized is that school was dictating our life. 
It dictated when my daughter woke up, what she did during the day, and what we as a family could do after school. As in, there was no time for anything -- no time for dance/art/enrichment of any kind, no time for family games or fun, no time for play, no time to relax -- because of the large homework load. Ultimately, that was unacceptable to us.

We took back control of our own life choices and family schedule. 
Now instead of waking up at the crack of dawn, my daughter wakes between 7am-8am. She's well rested and not a zombie! She can eat breakfast with her sister and start the day ready to focus. Lessons usually take 3 - 4 hours a day. And guess what, we still travel as fast {if not faster} through our curriculum than many traditional schools.

Portable curriculum means we can learn anywhere

Not being tied to a classroom means we can learn anywhere, anytime.
If the weather is nice, the backyard is our classroom. Little sister can play while big sister works through her lessons. Between the garden, the sand/water table, and the playhouse ~ there is always something for little sister to explore.

Roses, roses, roses!

Our much loved playhouse

Barrel plantings at children's level

Picnics are a big hit in the backyard. Sometimes we even pack a lunch or grab takeout and go to the park for an hour or two. Kids + mom + fresh air = happiness! 

The BIG rocket at Lake Cliff Park

Swinging at Stevens Park {a.k.a. Toddler Park}

Climbing at Klyde Warren Park

Little kids area at Lake Cliff Park

And when Dad arrives home, there's plenty of time to spend together.
Evenings are cherished family time. We read every night, usually some type of novel or the monthly homeschool book club selection. Alternately, we might read a shorter book relating to one of our subject units.

Our flexible homeschool schedule makes for a stress-free day!
There's plenty of time for learning and plenty of time for fun :)

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Animals Inside Out ~ Anatomy Exhibit

Madeline just loves science and animals, so we decided to visit the Perot Museum for a homeschool field trip.

We waited until after lunch to head to the Perot. As we were walking  in, all the school field trips were heading back to their buses. It is so awesome to tour exhibits and museums at the least busy times :)

Smiles at the start of the exhibit

The exhibit Animals Inside Out was very interesting. Each animal is painstakingly preserved by the Plastination process, invented by Dr. von Hagens

A post at the exhibit entrance stated that no animals were harmed in during the process. But they are all preserved in some fashion, so they had to die by some means...Nonetheless, it was an incredibly fascinating look at the anatomy of animals!

As homeschoolers, we could never hope to amass the collection of specimens in this exhibit. 

So we couldn't let this field trip opportunity pass! Madeline's favorites were the animals that were completely intact or just skeletons. But I found them all fascinating:



Giant squid

Squid detail

This exhibit was amazing, fascinating, and thought provoking! 

Our rating:  5 of 5 stars. Find out more information about the exhibit online at Animals Inside Out.

We just love exhibits, how about you? Isn't it a great way to enrich your homeschool learning? Please share your favorite exhibit you've seen this school year. 

Monday, February 3, 2014

All Dressed Up for the Dallas Opera

Who really knows how to throw a kid-friendly performance?
The Dallas Opera! Tickets were only $5/person, super affordable. Living so close to downtown, Dad dropped us off so we could avoid parking and walking in the cold weather.

The Winspear Opera House couldn't have been more beautiful. 
The chandelier is just stunning! Promise to get a picture of that next time. The individual lights ascended into the ceiling before I could snap a one.

Before the performance, kids could make opera masks, dress up in costume, and try various instruments.

Pictures on the red carpet at the costume station

A turn on the violin at the musical petting zoo

A whirl on the cello. So much fun, we are considering cello lessons!

Madeline was so excited waiting for the performance to start! Ever since she was a baby, she has loved opera music. Definitely inherited her fondness for opera from her Grandpa. He would be so thrilled to have been able to attend an opera with this smiling little face...

Excitement before the performance

My absolute favorite part was when the singers would belt out a crazy, beautiful, powerful, amazing note. And Madeline would turn to me, mouth open in astonishment. "Did you hear that?!?", she'd whisper.

Can't wait for the next family performance!