Tag Archives: homeschool

Dear Homeschool, I’m Trusting My Gut This Year.

Last August, I called almost every school within a 30 minute radius of our house. How much is tuition? What do you teach? How do you handle x-y-z? What’s your philosophy of education? Etc., etc.  The schools either seemed too conventional, too far, or too expensive to me. (Maybe I’m too much of a perfectionist!)

I was worried how my homeschooled kid would adjust to life in the classroom– not for social reasons so much as the fact that his entire routine would shift dramatically. I also didn’t want to turn his childhood into primarily a classroom experience. Not yet, anyway. I still have an idyllic vision of a beautiful childhood filled with natural play and learning seamlessly woven together. (Don’t laugh too hard.)

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I scoured homeschool curricula, unsatisfied with much of it. Montessouri, public cyber school, My Father’s World, Christopherus… there’s a lot of good in so many of the options out there. I just hadn’t felt like I found a good fit for us.

In reality, I think I was having homeschool panic–though since I’m so new at it I can’t say for sure. I was indecisive and worried about almost any choice I might make.

Finally, I stumbled across Oak Meadow, and as I perused their curriculum samples, I looked up at my husband and told him I think I found our answer for this year. Their curricula was Waldorf-inspired, nature-filled, literature-based, inclusive of music and art, and well-rounded.  It was a perfect fit for my little bookworm who loves to play in the dirt. (We are also adding in a home Bible time.)

It’s funny, because a while back we felt we discovered that J does so much better with “real life” learning than he does workbooks and conventional curricula. But for some reason, I forgot that last year and tried to build a Kindergarten year on workbooks. Some of it went well, but most of it was contrived, boring, and frustrating enough to spark a figurative headbutting contest.

I still worry some– is our choice too distanced from traditional teaching methods? Are we spending too much money on it? Do we really need a full curriculum for first grade? (Sometimes I wish I had never gotten an education degree. I think I’d worry less without it.) However, we’ve spent a lot of time praying and hashing out the answers to these questions. For now, our school decisions feel right to us, and we think we’ve found a good fit.

So this year, despite my regular doubts and indecision, I’m choosing to dig in wholeheartedly with the curriculum we chose. So far, it’s been little short of a miracle in the way it’s helping my son to come out of himself and try new things. I’ve been consistently surprised by the connections he’s making and how much he’s been able to do. Besides that, I really feel like we are exploring material together, and that’s been really lovely.

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Will I always use this curriculum? I have no idea. Will I always homeschool? Maybe, maybe not. But this year, I’m not going to worry so much about every little thing. We are going to just keep moving ahead, and be okay with changing the way we do school as our family needs change.

 

Spring Has Sprung! (An Update)

Spring Has Sprung

It’s officially spring, but it doesn’t feel like it too much this morning. I shivered my way over to the goat field for milking, and found all the animal waters frozen. Sigh. But I probably shouldn’t complain as we’ve had an extremely mild winter this year.

I wanted to give you a springtime family update. I’ve let the blog slow down a bit as we’ve been working on several big projects in our “real life.” We’ve had a lot of momentum going in our household as we work towards several goals, but also a lot of stress as we try to make it all happen. Progress is never easy, but at least you grow through it, right?


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First: homeschool. This whole year has been a search for balance and an exercise in trial and error. I suppose I’ll never come to a point where I feel like I’ve “arrived” with successful homeschooling, but it would be nice to not have to wonder whether or not I’m a massive failure as a mother and teacher. BUT recently I’ve been blessed with some encouraging talks with friends, other homeschool moms, and posts from bloggers I love (like this one) that have given me the courage I need to press on. So, despite a momentary cave and desperate calls to area schools for pricing and schedules, we’ve decided to carry on.

#sap boiling away in my husband’s #cinderblock #evaporator. #maplesyrup #sugaring #latergram

A photo posted by Abigail Zieger (@theyrenotourgoats) on

On the homestead: We cut our maple sugaring season short. It’s been a weird spring, with February temperatures getting up to almost 70, and mid-March temperatures getting down below freezing. We’ve also had too much other stuff going on to properly watch our sap, leading to another burnt syrup disaster. Sigh. You think we would learn after three or four years doing it.

And remember that seed starting post I just wrote? We still haven’t started ours. And NOW is the time to do it in our zone. So, today, I’m going to try to make a rough draft map of the plot, then hopefully team up with the hubby to get those plant babies growing. (I’m really a dreadful procrastinator.)

The hubby has been keeping himself busy with essentially re-building our garage. Off with the old cardboard siding through which we could see daylight, on with new sheathing and siding. We had a nice pavilion for a day or two:

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But now he’s really making progress:

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It’s been a bit of a construction zone around here, but it’s only for a time.

With the animals: We lost our first litter of baby rabbits. Five of them, dead, found in the cold early morning lying out in the run instead of in the nesting box. We lost another hen to an unknown cause. But, on the plus side, the goat has been unusually well-behaved as of late.

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With music: Oh yeah, remember that music thing? I do have an entire category devoted to music, but I write on it rather rarely. However, we’ve been working towards pursuing our music more now that I’ve finally gotten into a perfect routine, err, a manageable schedule, umm, now that I’m surviving having three kids. Kind of. Regardless, I’ve got some concerts to sing in this spring, I’m teaching more voice lessons, and the hubby and I have been accepting more gigs to play in together. It’s reviving to my soul to be singing together.

Here’s a spring haiku song, written by my husband, roughly recorded, and played with friends. What do you think?

And lastly, I’ve taken up therapeutic art journaling alongside my kids. I have NO idea what I’m doing, but it’s been keeping my hands busy and my mind relaxed while the munchkins are playing outside or working on their own art projects.

So that’s what’s been going on around here. My life is full, and while it’s sometimes hard, it’s been rewarding too. Not much good comes without some hard work along the way, right?. 🙂

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How to Make Recycled Paper

Is it just me, or is every other mother of small people drowning in a constant supply of scribbles, cut-up scraps, and crumpled construction paper piles? We always have so. much. paper.

How to easily turn your old paper scraps into recycled and plantable paper

Last week, I was reminded by some environmentally focused books my children checked out from the library of how much I throw out. These books- and, consequently, my son- are also reminding me how much more I really should recycle.


So, except for a few special drawings, much of my kids’ writing practice and early doodles go into what we call our “cutting basket” (as seen in this post).  The cutting basket is really just a catch-all container for any paper that we don’t want to save, but want to reuse in some other way. Recently, the cutting basket has turned into our recycled paper supplier.

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Making recycled paper is a simple, fun project for almost any age, and you don’t need much to do it. (This post contains affiliate  links.) Let’s get to it! Here’s all that’s required:

      • Paper
      • Hot water
      • Your favorite blending device (I love immersion blenders!)
      • A bit of screen or a screened dehydrator sheet (We have this one, but there are much less expensive options available.)
      • Flower seeds to make your paper plantable (Optional)

Here’s how to get it done:

1. Group paper into like colors. Rip or cut each group into small pieces and put in a wide-mouth mason jar, or other heat-proof container.

2. Meanwhile, boil water in a kettle. Once water is boiled, pour over the paper and let soak for at least 30 minutes. Try to have more water than paper in your jar- it will help to make a thinner pulp mixture, which spreads easier later on.

Making recycled paper!

3. Blend the paper and water to make a smooth pulp. I do this with my immersion blender right in the mason jar. However, you could easily pour your paper and water into a conventional blender.

More recycled paper a-coming. We’ve got no shortage of scribbles to supply us! #recycledpaper #recycling #gogreen

A photo posted by Abigail Zieger (@theyrenotourgoats) on

4. If you’re adding seeds, add them to the blended pulp mixture. This way, when your new paper is done being used, you can plant it to sprout wildflowers. 🙂

5. Place your screen either outside or over your sink. (Water is about to pour over it, so don’t do this step on your kitchen table!) Pour the pulp over the screen and spread in an even, thin layer, allowing excess water to drain through.

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(This pulp is on my dehydrator screen.)

Note: Avoid holes or thick clumps in your paper as much as possible. This part can be a little tricky. I often start by spreading with a spoon, but I’ve found working with my fingers to spread the pulp gives me a little more control as it gets thinner.

6. Let your new paper dry. This can be done in the sun, near a heater, or in the dehydrator. Once it’s dry, it should peel off the screen fairly easily.

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(A different batch drying out in the sun on an old screen door.)

Your recycled paper will be thicker, stiffer, and have more texture than the store-bought stuff. It will also have a lot more character! You can use it for making note cards or stationary that folks can plant instead of tossing when they’re done.

Some artful ideas to try:

  • Add flower petals or small leaves to your blended pulp.
  • Make designs with different colored pulp to create artwork.
  • Try blending different colors of papers to create custom colored pulps.
  • Play with different textures and sizes of paper pulp.

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(A par-blended paper pulp mix that dried in this crazy, thick, colorful collage. Not super useful, but a cool experiment nonetheless.)

And that’s it! An easy way to be green, and encourage your children to care for their earth while they recycle their creations.

 

Recycled Jean Pillows, Made by Kids!

I hate throwing out old clothing- even if it’s stained and holey, I just feel like it’s a waste. I’m always trying to think of ways to re-purpose them and give them new life- and you can only have so many dust rags.

I’ll admit, I have one too many pairs of old jeans stacked up in my craft room (a.k.a. guilt room because I don’t use it enough). I finally cut up a pair of them this past Christmas to let the kids try their hand at making gifts for our families. With only a little cutting and sewing help from mom, my kiddos made these recycled jean pillows.

Recycled jean pillows, made by kids!


This was a really easy project, and the kids were proud of their work. If your children are a little older, or if you’re a little more dedicated than I, you can make these cuter with buttons, appliques, ribbon, or whatever else your little crafty heart desires.

Here’s what we did to make our jean pillows:

I cut straight across the bottom of the legs of my old jeans, using one leg per pillow. We were left with fabric “tubes.”

The kids decorated the tubes with Sharpie markers. My son wrote “I heart Namy/Pa/Grandma/Grandpa,” and my daughter happily scribbled away at them. (Permission to use permanent marker is a BIG deal at our house!)

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Next, I turned the pants tube inside out and stitched across the bottom.

IMG_0142(The sewing machine I got in 6th grade is still going strong…. mostly!)

If you want to do this properly, stitch across the top as well- all but about 2-3 inches- then turn it inside out and stuff the pillow through the hole. I chose to leave mine open so it would be easier for the kids to stuff. (But note, it’s a bit trickier to close it up later once it’s full.)

Meanwhile, I let the kids cut up old socks for stuffing. (Because why buy Polyfill when we have free stuffing material all over our house? See, even more recycling. 😉 ) They LOVED doing this part because they had special permission to touch my fabric shears. Very exciting. They stuffed their pillows to varying levels of fullness.Cutting socks for stuffing

Then I did my very lazy and sloppy way of closing things. I rolled the top edge down about 1/2″, pinned it shut without pressing it, and zig-zag stitched the whole thing shut. You really shouldn’t do it this way because it’s a bit difficult to fit under the sewing machine, but hey- it worked. (Never mind the fact that I’m probably putting undue stress on my machine and I’m lucky it’s survived for eighteen years under this kind of abuse.)

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If you chose to stitch across the top earlier and just stuff through the small hole, now would be the time to close up that small hole by hand, instead of fighting with the machine as seen above.

Ta-da! You now have fun pillows that your kids can proudly give to friends and family members- and you’ve saved a pair of jeans and some socks from the landfill in the meantime.

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What Homeschool Looks Like for Us

My son, at the ripe old age of five, is currently working on “kindergarten light.” However, fleshing out- and discovering- our vision of the perfect homeschool is still a work in progress.

What Homeschool Looks Like for UsI haven’t quite decided where I land on homeschool philosophy yet. I went through all the education classes and student teaching when I became a PA state-certified K-12 music teacher. My husband teaches junior high and high school classes at a private classical Christian school. Between the two of us, you might imagine that we have this whole education thing fairly well nailed down.

However, we have both become disenchanted with the mainstream way of doing school. Between paperwork, classroom management, social pressures, parent-teacher relations, extracurricular school functions, and standardized testing, it seemed that there isn’t too much time allotted for actual learning. We wanted something different for our kids if at all possible.


Counting the vehicles in the parking lot.

(This post contains affiliate links.)

What kind of different? We were left floating somewhere between a serious classical education (a la Susan Wise Bauer and The Well-Trained Mind), a Charlotte Mason education focusing on lots of outdoors time and real-life academics, and an unschooling-bent education without actually losing all formal studies. If you’ve looked into any educational philosophies, you’ll know that there’s a good bit of variance between these ideas.

Since my son is too young to enter formal kindergarten, we decided that this would be a test year to figure out what worked best for our family. I started by ordering some kindergarten curriculum for reading, handwriting, and Bible. I purchased math workbooks from the dollar store and supplemented with games on Starfall.com. We take home a huge stack of children’s books from the library each week, and work our way through classic chapter books one at a time. (Charlotte’s Web, Peter Pan, The Chronicles of Narnia, and James and the Giant Peach are a few of the ones we’ve read together.)

After a couple weeks of focusing on these curricula, I was soon reminded that my son learns more quickly and amiably when it’s not out of a workbook. While I don’t discount phonics exercises and writing practice, I have come to value more and more the beauty of letting children learn like children.

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A five year old boy isn’t made to sit down to do abstracted subtraction problems for 30 minutes at a time. However, he can easily subtract apple slices as he eats them! Real life “stealth” learning is often the most effective: Baking is math and science, a walk outside can quickly become a nature study, and reading and counting can easily be practiced at the grocery store. If I am intentional in thinking about it, it’s simple to find valuable learning opportunities in everyday activities.

Of course, everyone is always worried about the socialization of those poor, cloistered homeschool children who never see the light of day. Never fear- my son does see other children, and probably has a much more balanced socialization than his conventionally schooled counterparts.

gymclassHe attends a weekly gym class at a local university and a weekly art class at a local movie theater/community center. We are also part of a homeschool cooperative that focuses on extracurricular activities and field trips. Our co-op is open to members of all beliefs and educational philosophies, and includes families of diverse ethnicities, age range, and walks of life. And that’s not even mentioning the cousins, church friends, and an elderly friend that my son sees on nearly a weekly basis.

(Who says homeschoolers aren’t socialized?)

Sorry, I think I got on a tangent there. Back to the topic!

While I’m still figuring out exactly how I’d like to structure our day (especially right after having a baby), we are working on developing a routine that works well for our family. Our days, in theory, go something like this:

  • Breakfast
  • Academic school time (sometimes with one of our curricula, sometimes more “real life” focused)
  • Activity for the day (gym, co-op, art, library, outside time, etc.)
  • Lunch
  • Reading together
  • Nap/quiet time
  • Outdoor play/creative play indoors before dinner

You should know that this is currently my goal for a routine, not a perfect schedule. I’m still working to get into the swing of things after baby- plus I’m going back to teaching a couple nights a week, so that will provide new challenges as well.

This year is definitely a trial year of schooling, but we are gradually finding what works and doesn’t work for us. One day, when I figure it all out eighteen years from now, I’ll write a post on how it would look for us if I could do it all over again. 🙂

What does your school year look like?

Alphabet Rocks

Who needs alphabet blocks when you have alphabet rocks?

Alphabet Rocks

We get tired of using the same old homeschool manipulatives and tools over and over, so anything that 1) is a little bit novel, 2) is something my kids can do by themselves, or 3) gets them outside is always a refreshing for us.


This idea doesn’t require a tutorial. You will find no long post explaining how awesome my alphabet rocks are. I actually probably shouldn’t even spend a blog post on this, but hey- I’ve got a newborn, so that’s my excuse. 😉

Just get some pebbles and write letters on them in permanent marker. Then carry on with all your phonics and spelling activities as usual.

Alphabet Rock WordsIf you’re feeling ambitious, you could make capital and lowercase sets, multiple sets, or number/math sets. As a bonus, they also make for fun sensory play for little siblings. We stored ours in a small wooden box when we finished with them.

That’s all, folks. Have fun!

Pile of Alphabet Rocks

Thunderstorm Weather Fun

Some mama friends and I tried to meet up at our local park’s water play area last week for some splashing and relieving the summer heat. We were there for about all of two minutes when what should happen? The skies opened up in a great downpour upon our previously dry heads.

Needless to say, our picnic was spent huddled wet and cold under the pavilion, instead of on the hillside on a sunny, humid day. But what DID come out of this play date gone awry was a fascination with thunderstorms.

Thunderstorm Weather Fun


The next few days were spent exploring various thunderstorm resources for kids, and trying to make the most of their curiosity and enthusiasm for violent weather. Here are some of the fun books and activities that we enjoyed together. (This post contains affiliate links.)

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1) Thunder Cake– This book isn’t so much educational as it is just plain fun. Patricia Polacco tells the story of overcoming her fear of thunderstorms as a little girl with the help of her grandmother. The pair races against the clock to get a delectable treat- “thunder cake”- in the oven before the storm really hits. Complete with a recipe for thunder cake, this story turns potentially frightening weather into a special event to be shared. Be sure to check out the additional resources and activities to go with the book on Polacco’s website.

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2) Wind and Weather I had this book as a young girl, and it was one that survived on the shelf until I had my own kids. It’s geared towards middle schoolers, but my four year old loves the different textured pages and variety of pictures. We just read a little at a time and talked about it together. It’s pretty much always a hit!

3) Weather Wiz KidsA free educational website for kids that covers all types of weather. We read up on thunderstorms, checked out the super-cool moving graphics (what is cooler than animated lightning flashes?!?), and tried the “how a thunderstorm forms” experiment. My guy was a bit too little to absorb everything, but the fascination carries him a long way.

4) Storms, Cyclones & Hurricanes– Okay, so this is one of those really dry educational videos that everyone in your middle school classroom would groan about. But my guy loved it. He was quoting it all day. Only ten minutes long and free on Amazon Prime.

Learning about thunderstorms helped to make those big booms more fun and less scary for my guy- plus now he has an inkling of what’s going on up there during a storm! How do you learn about and enjoy potentially scary weather with your children?