Wednesday, September 30, 2015

45 Things to do This Fall

    Each season I try to brainstorm some ideas of how we can make the most of that season.  Our list typically includes some family favorites but I always try to incorporate new things too.  Thinking of things to do this fall I thought I'd start making a list and see how many we can accomplish before the crisp fall air gives way to blustery snowstorms.

Here are some fun family ideas for celebrating fall:

  1. Pick Apples
  2. Go on a Hay Ride
  3. Find our way through a corn maze
  4. Rake leaves and jump in the piles
  5. Go hiking
  6. Roast Pumpkin Seeds
  7. Press leaves
  8. Bob for apples
  9. Make leaf rubbings
  10. Drink hot cocoa while watching the sunrise or sunset
  11. Go on a drive to see the leaves the changing colors
  12. Enjoy a fire outside 
  13. Make candy apples
  14. Make cider donuts
  15. Check out a fall festival
  16. Play football or field hockey as a family
  17. Make apple pies, crisp or cider
  18. Tell ghost stories
  19. Carve pumpkins
  20. Go to Salem, Massachusetts and check out some of the witch trial museums
  21. Go to Plymouth Plantation
  22. Make a blanket fort and read fun seasonal books together
  23. Make a Scarecrow
  24. Have a family game night in front of a roaring fire
  25. Have a carpet picnic one night
  26. Make pumpkin bread or pumpkin cinnamon buns  
  27. Host or go to a Halloween party
  28. Go on a scavenger hunt
  29. Watch a spooky movie with some popcorn
  30. Volunteer at the local food bank and make some extra food donations
  31. Plant some acorn seeds
  32. Make some "thankful" garland.  Write what you're thankful for on strips of autumn shaded paper and make a paper chain to decorate the house.
  33. Zoo Boo days trip
  34. Go on a family bike ride
  35. Walk through a Jack- O- Lantern spectacular
  36. Go to the Pequot Museum
  37. Visit a lumber mill
  38. Gaze at the stars
  39. Make apple prints
  40. Take a field trip to a farm
  41. Visit Pumpkintown
  42. Take a train ride up north
  43. Read the Headless Horseman and watch the animated movie
  44. Eat Mummy hot dogs and go trick or treating
  45. Decorate the windows with a collage like this one
Linking Up With:
Smart Mom Smart Ideas

Literacy-Musing-Mondays- Family-Friendly linkup where we celebrate reading!


Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Why I Don't Grade Our Homeschooling Work

There is much debate and talk about grading schoolwork in the homeschooling community.

I know moms who refuse to give grades, other moms who grade every paper.  Some moms only grade tests and others wont start giving grades until middle school.

I don't test or grade my kids at all.  Usually not even when they ask! 

Much like everything else in homeschooling, there is no one right way or wrong way to do it.

I think many homeschooling families grade because they're used to it having grown up in public or private schools themselves.  Other families have to find a way to satisfy state guidelines.  Yet, others do it because their kids ask for them.

I'm grateful we don't need to keep grades or much in the way of the records because I truly don't believe grading kids is beneficial or helpful.  My oldest son had so much anxiety over grades and testing by the time we pulled him out of school to start homeschooling that I purposely refused to grade anything-- EVER!

I know that may sound extreme... but... my kids are perfectionists and I found that grading and testing them actually had them performing worse, brought out anxiety and insecurity, and did not truly show me what they did and did not know.

Often even if they got most of the answers right on a test (when they were in school) they could not and would not recall the information weeks later.  So I started thinking long and hard about grades. What do they really show us?  When else do we ever get graded in life?

Think about it do you get graded on anything you write or do unless you are a student in a classroom?

Grades don't have any real world relevance and for me homeschooling is about trying to educate my boys while keeping the real world practices front and center.

  •  Yes, my boys need to know how to do math.
  •  Yes, my boys need to learn how to read, spell, and write.
  •  Yes, my boys need to learn how to communicate effectively with others.
  •  Yes, my boys will need to know history and science facts.

 But, my boys don't need grades to learn any of that.

Let's face it; grades are just a fancy name and way for ranking kids.

Sure it helps to see if the kids know the material but even without a number grade on the paper it is easy for me to see if my child understands the material or not.  Being home with only 3 students allows me to make sure they're mastering EVERYTHING.

If we're working on a workbook page or sheet and they get a few wrong we go over it, fix it, and they tell me the right answer.

If they're getting everything wrong than I know we need to cover the material again.

I don't need grades to see what they're learning and they don't either; and really isn't that the whole point of schooling anyway?  Why introduce something that would make my kids anxious and nervous about learning when we can focus on fun instead?
I know that if my kids are going to go on to college I will probably have to introduce grades, testing, and note taking but for now I can keep focusing on what does work for us and that's focusing on the subject matter at hand and not one the grades.

Linking Up With:

Homeschooling the Middle & High School Years


Link up your family friendly posts to the Hearts for Home Blog Hop

The Homeschool Post

Monday, September 28, 2015

Homeschooling When the Kids are Sick

While my kids are much healthier now that they're older and not in public school anymore we've been running a pretty ragged schedule around here lately and I think that has led, in part, to us all feeling a bit run down and miserable.

My younger two boys are stuffed up, coughing, and even running low grade temps off and on.

That's a sure sign that we need to spend a day or two at home resting and recouping.  But, unlike most public school kids, my kids don't often get sick days.

We may take a break from traditional work but there's still plenty of fun ways we can rest and learn.

Here are some surefire ways to keep the kids occupied, learning, and happy even when they're feeling a little under the weather:

  1. Movies!  We love watching movies when we're under the weather and there are so many that are educational as well.  Today, Ian watched Unbreakable; the true story of a US Olympian & World War II prisoner of War captive. 
  2. TV!  There are so many wonderful TV shows out there to teach the boys about science, history, reading/ pre-reading skills, etc.  We've watched Feth! With Ruff Ruffman, Wild Kratts, Magic School Bus, and Liberty's kids.
  3. Reading!  Even when my kids are not up to reading on their own they still enjoy listening to me reading.  Today we read another chapter in Cracker! The Best Dog in Vietnam.  I also sat with each boy for some quiet one on one time. 
  4. Board Games!  If my kids are feeling up to it we'll often play board games when they're resting.  They don't require much moving and they have their favorites; I feel that most board games are educational in some way and encourage them to play.  Other days, like today, we might come up with our own game to play.  Today Evan and Alec played sight word memory. 
  5. Computer Games!  My kids love computer games and since we have a laptop I can bring the computer right over to them.  There are tons of fun games on sites like Starfall, ABCYa, and Coolmath
  6. Video Games!  My kids love video games and I do find that they learn a lot from playing.  They are usually only allowed to play for a few hours each day but whenever someone is sick that rule is usually lifted and they're allowed more options.  
  7. YouTube! My kids love to watch YouTube videos and so many of them are wonderfully educational.  I absolutely allow them to watch videos during the day when they're under the weather; especially since they realized they could watch it on our TV through the Wii.
  8. Puzzles!  Another great, quiet activity for the boys that encourages problem solving and logic.  
  9. Lego Building!  My kids love playing with their Lego sets.  I'll often bring a few bins down to put on the coffee table so it's easily in reach if they're resting on the couch and they can play and build to their hearts content. 
  10. Coloring! My kids have lots of coloring books and a sick day is a great time to pull them all out and let them create; if they're up for it.
  11. Silly Band Bracelets!  My middle son in particular loves making silly band bracelets and since it's clean and quiet it's a perfect craft for him on days like today.
  12. Geoboards!  They love our geoboards and since I don't often think to pull them out of the cabinet they don't get used all that much.  But sit a kid on the couch with some elastics and a board and they'll happily set to work creating a masterpiece. 
  13. Tangrams! We have a few Tangram sets and the boys enjoy trying to make all the different shapes from their books.  There are many printable Tangram patterns too!  
  14. Block Building! My boys generally enjoy building with our Magna tiles or our soft blocks and while they do sit on the floor they still don't have to run around or have much energy to participate in block building.
  15. Cards!  My kids have just recently started enjoying card games beyond Go Fish! and we'll play card games to pass the time.  We've even played multiplication or addition war for added math practice.  
Linking Up With:

Dragon Party

We've watched the How To Train Your Dragon movies, listened to most of the books, and picked out a Toothless Dragon Halloween costume for this October, so I wasn't surprised when I found myself planning a Dragon party.  

The movies are not as popular as they once were and this made it a bit difficult to find all the party supplies but with a bit of luck and determination we pulled off a great party!

     Games/ Activities:

  • Each child picked/ made up a viking name for themselves; we had a few destroyers and crushers running around.
  • They each got to decorate their own shield.  I found black foam core at the $1 store and we just them into circles.  I then used duct tape to make the handles on the back.  We used stickers, metallic markers, crayons and colored pencils to decorate them. 

Decorating shields 
  • We used watercolor crayons to paint the kids faces for battle.  Most of them chose to draw lines or weapons on their foreheads.  
  • I put sidewalk chalk out in the driveway for anyone to draw a picture of their pet dragon
  • We hung paper dragon posters throughout the yard and gave each child a can of silly string to go hunt the dragons.  Of course they also had a great time spraying each other a few of the adults too.  

They found all the dragons and COVERED them in silly string! 
  • I made some yarn pompoms and glued a sheep face onto each one.  We then bought three $1 bins at the dollar store and set up a sheep toss station.  The kids all took turns trying to get the sheep in the buckets.
Our fluffy sheep. 
Our basket toss set up.  
  • I decorated our hula hoop with yellow and orange streamers to make it look like a ring of fire and offered to hold it up for the kids to see if they could get the flying Toothless toy through the ring.  They ended up deciding to just play with the Toothless toy; winding him up, letting him fly and trying to chase him/catch him.  It was a pretty cheap plastic toy where the kids had to wind up the elastic like a toy plane and it broke in no time (wish I had read all the reviews on-line before buying!).  It was a bit disappointing but the kids did have fun while it lasted. 
  • Mostly, though, the kids all had a ball running around the yard with their viking helmets, homemade shields and a toy weapon from one of the boy's toy bins.  

We bought these toys viking helmets for the kids in place of goodie bags.
Supplies and Decorations we bought:

On top of the few supplies we found at the dollar store, grocery store, and those already listed with Amazon links.  We also bought a few other goodies from Amazon for the party.
  • A How to Train Your Dragon Party pack 
  • Stickers for the shields that were also How to Train Your Dragon themed. 
  • We bought this Room Kit to use for the dragon cutouts and shield decorations for the sheep toss game.  We also used the large posters on our doors.  


I just love coming up with catchy names and fun names for party snacks.  I even make up little labels and try to stick to a color theme for the serving platters and plates. 

The cake was decorated to look like the ocean and we topped it
with a Hiccup and Toothless topper 

"fire balls"

The dragon poop was easy to make; we melted green chocolate melts (and
chocolate melts) added some mini marshmallows to it and then spooned some of
the mixture out onto wax paper to dry; sprinkling them with colored sprinkles before they dried. 

Dragon claws 

Dragon scales 

dragon blood and dragon spikes 

dragon drool 

Our completed table- scape.  
Linking Up With: Social Butterfly Sunday,

This Is How We Roll Thursday Party

I Choose Joy!

A Kreative Whim

Friday, September 25, 2015

Week in Review-- Week #5 Year 4

   I couldn't believe how busy we were this week!  I was even more amazed to realize our calendar looks pretty full for another couple of weeks too.  Had this happened a few years ago I probably would have been stressing over all the schoolwork we were missing but lately I'm just grateful for all the opportunities we're being given to learn outside the classroom.

Socialization- While at Great Wolf Lodge (you can read my review of the Lodge here) Alec met and made friends with another homeschooling family; turns out they don't live all that far from us!  He also helped another family with their Magiquest and had a wonderful time.  All the boys were friendly and happy and we were complimented more than once on their manners.  We had a party this week and visited with lots of family members.  We also had some friends over to play and went on two separate field trips; meeting tons of new homeschooling families!

Physical Education-- We all completed an aerial obstacle course at Great Wolf Lodge and again during our field trip to Soarin' Indoors.  We spent a lot of time walking all around the Lodge while playing the Magicquest and walked up a lot of stairs for all of the water slides.  The boys had karate this week and spent plenty of time riding bikes, scooters and playing on the swing set.

History-- We read the books Thomas Jefferson: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Everything and To Dare Mighty Things; the Life of Theodore Roosevelt, & The Camping Trip that Changed America,  learning a bit about some of our presidents.  We also started reading the book Cracker, the Best Dog in Vietnam.  It's a long book but so far we just love it!  It's written by the dog's perspective for the most part and it's very touching.

Math-- Evan  worked on a few more coin sheets this week working on adding up mixed coins too.  He still struggles to remember which coin is which and how much they're worth but had no problems adding them up once he's reminded of them.  I know that will come in time so I'll try not to push too hard just yet.  Ian and Alec finished playing Multiplication Squares and worked in their workbooks for a few days completing a few more pages.  After watching Evan shooting his sight words Ian used our Math Stackers to quiz himself on multiplication facts; stacking up the cups and shooting them down with his own Nerf gun.

Reading-- Evan and I read Fly Guy's Amazing Tricks, A Friend for Noodles, Fun at the Zoo, and Max and Mo Go Apple Picking.  Evan practiced his sight words using his new Nerf Gun.  We wrote the words on Dixie cups, he stacked them up, shot them down and read the words that he knocked over.  He also worked in his Star Wars Reading book and completed a page totally on his own while we were in the car one day. We finished up our week playing a game of sight word memory with his new 2nd grade sight words.  Alec finished up Seekers and read a few chapters of Confronting the Dragon out loud to Evan while they were having a sleepover.  Ian read a few more chapters in Divergent and read a book on bridges for his science fair project.  We all finished reading High Time for Heroes and listening to How to Cheat a Dragon's Curse.

Science-- We had a fun field trip to the apple orchard.  We learned all about how apples are grown, harvested, and used.  You can read all about it here.  We also went on a nature hike this week; enjoying a new trail and looking at all the various species of mushrooms we found.

shelf mushroom 

Linking Up With:

Weekly Wrap-Up

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Another Field Trip to the Apple Orchard?

We had a fun field trip to the apple orchard today.  Another homeschooling mom planned this outing and had such an amazing response that she actually ended up with a wait list of families!

We were looking forward to it but yet I couldn't help but wonder what they'd really learn while on a trip to the orchard.

We've been on many field trips to the apple orchard over the years and we've been to pick apples many times each year.  I figured they kind of knew everything that they were going to be taught today and wondered if I was kidding myself thinking that his was going to be an educational field trip.

I was even more nervous as we arrived and started through the trip; the man who talked to us about the orchard gave a pretty quick rundown on the place and then left us to pick apples.  I think he spoke for 10 minutes and I was feeling disappointed that this wasn't such an educational day.

So Imagine my surprise when 4 hours later on our way home for the day (after hiking and visiting my grandmother) all three boys were able to tell me quite a few facts they learned today!

Here is what they remember:
  • Apple/ fruit picking ladders are skinny on top so they can fit in between the branches of fruit trees.
  • There is work to do year round at the orchard
  • They only spray pesticides early in the spring before leaves or apples show up to prevent pests from taking over and to try and limit the pesticides on the apples
  • There are 23 varieties of apples
  • The orchard owns 200 acres of land and has more than 60 acres that they plant on and use
  • They also grow pear trees, peaches, tomatoes, potatoes, okra, pumpkins and gourds
  • They pick the apples by hand
  • They use a special bucket with soft sides and an open soft bottom to keep the apples from getting bruised
  • Alec learned to identify a few different types of apples.
  • They pick apples by turning the apple to the sky and letting it slip off the branch naturally 

 Not bad for a 30 minute lesson! 

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Unusual Homeschool Holidays

One really unintended perk of homeschooling is the ability to turn anything into a celebration or holiday.

Sure we celebrate the usual holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, and we get to really play up the other mini holidays like Valentine's day and St. Patrick's Day but I'm talking about making up our own holiday or celebrating holidays no one has ever heard of!

We celebrate our Homeschool Anniversary each year (the day we started homeschooling; with a look back at my blog, and re-creating a fun art or science project).

One year Evan declared that it was his stuffed animal's birthday and we planned a whole party for him on the spur of the moment (you can read about Otter's birthday here).  But our favorite things to do is turn all of our birthdays into holidays.

The kids enjoy having a day off from school and the birthday boy is put in charge for the day.  It's fun to be able to stop and really celebrate each child and make them feel extra special and it's not something we could usually do when they were in public school.

Some ways we've made birthdays special in the past:

  • Special breakfast-- I have time to prepare a big, fancy breakfast now that we're home in the morning.  I usually let the birthday boy choose his breakfast and often it includes waffles, french toast or pancakes with bacon, fresh fruit, whipped cream, sprinkles, and, of course, a candle!  I've even thought to serve them in bed but I have very early risers and have never managed to have the food ready early enough. 
  • They can pick a movie to watch during the day; even if it's sunny and nice out.  There are no rules about screen time on birthdays.  
  • We go on trips to the zoo, park, or any place that we can reasonably afford.
  • We have friends over!  If the birthday boy wants to get together with homeschooling friends we accommodate and set up some fun time with friends. 
  • They can have a pajama day.
  • They can ask to go out to lunch or dinner-- complete with dessert and singing restaurant.  Heck, even just going out for dessert and skipping dinner is a huge deal on a birthday! 
  • They get to plan a special dinner if we're eating in.
  • They get a day off from all chores.
  • As I mentioned above they don't have to do any schoolwork and as a bonus their brothers don't have to either.
  • Decorate with balloons, streamers or banners as a surprise for when they wake up in the morning... either the house, their room, the car; something unexpected that just lights up their faces with joy.
  • Write messages on the bathroom mirror.
  • Make up a coupon booklet for them to redeem throughout the weeks to come; extending their special day just a bit
  • Focus on the little things-- one year we dipped our drinking glasses in water and then colored sugar when serving drinks at dinner, one year I surprised the birthday boy by arranging to have his friends over without his knowing.   
   What types of things do you like celebrate as if it were a national holiday?! 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Great Wolf Lodge Review

We had the opportunity to spend two days at Great Wolf Lodge New England last week and we had a great time.  Never having been to any Great Wolf Lodge before, I wasn't sure what to expect.

I had read a few blogs about other families' experiences and we spent a day or two pouring over the website but I still felt like we walked in with little to no idea of what we'd find.

I knew it would be expensive but we had gift certificates and since it was the only family vacation we were going to be taking this year we decided to just enjoy it.  And we did!

While check- in is not until 4 you can arrive as early as 1 p.m. on the day of check- in and enjoy the water park.  Being there in the middle of September we had no problem checking in as soon as we arrived.  There were only about a dozen cars in the entire driveway and it was nice to be able to go right up to our room, drop everything off and change.

We walked around a little bit but headed to the water park pretty quickly. At Great Wolf New England there are two water parks across a short hallway from one another.  We headed into the side with the wave pool.
We were the only family in the wave pool and we had fun playing then we tried out two of the family water slides.  There were no lines anywhere and so we could ride them over and over and over again until we were dizzy and we had had enough.  It was fun and the water is kept pretty warm as is the whole building.  I still get a bit chilly but I'm one of those people that's always cold.

After a few hours we decided to walk over to the other water park room and we spent some time in the lazy river.

We, again, were the only ones in the river so we just kept going around and around until the boys were ready to try their hand at crossing the floating bridge.  This was a huge hit with my boys and they all spent a lot of time over the course of the 27 hours we were there trying to get across the bridge.  I tried too and while most of the kids make it look pretty easy I did not think it was easy at all!

The boys and I tried out all three water slides in this room as well.  There was one body slide and two tube rides that did allow single or double riders.  Again with no lines and no waiting we could ride as many times as we chose to climb the stairs.  We finished off our evening in the hot tub and Alec met up with another homeschooling family.  Come to find out they live pretty darn close to us!

We dried off and headed off property for dinner mostly because we saw a nearby restaurant we wanted to eat at.  There are plenty of places to eat on site too.  Once back at the lodge the boys were begging to check out the Howler's Peaks Rope Course.  It seems like our week to try our hand at new aerial obstacle courses and the boys really enjoyed this one.  They enjoyed it so much that Alec, Evan and I started our day with another go round the next morning!

After a wonderful night's sleep we spent a lot of time hanging around our room.  The boys watched TV enjoyed a lazy breakfast in the room and when we just couldn't wait any longer we decided to head out.  Unfortunately, my boys are such extreme early risers that nothing was open yet.  None of the attractions open up until 9 a.m.

We spent a half hour walking around the outside of the building checking out the grounds and waiting for everything else to open up.

Ian started his day with some arcade fun and the younger two boys asked to buy some wands and try their hand at MagiQuest.  Not a cheap way to start off the morning but I had told each boy they could choose one thing to participate in and since we still had money left on our gift card it was a great treat for the boys.  

Alec ended up spending 80% of his day playing MagiQuest; determined to finish every and all challenges (he would have to if the last interactive element of his last quest had not broken down).  We broke up the questing with some time in the water parks and really by 4:00 we were ready to leave having done everything that interested us.

We agreed that it was a great getaway, but for us one night was more than enough.

Overall it was lots of fun.  A little expensive, but fun.

However, looking around I was thinking that in another year or two there really wouldn't be much for my oldest son to do.  The resort is definitely geared more towards families and younger kids at that.

  • There are wonderful splash areas at both water parks with kiddie slides
  • All sorts of shops for buying toys, dress up clothes, animals that you can stuff yourself, etc. 
  • They have nightly bedtime stories in the lobby with animatronic animals and a costumed character with all the younger kids gather round in their pajamas and slippers to listen to the story.  
  • Each afternoon they have an activity or two going on in the lobby; the day we arrived they were painting faces and singing karaoke. On the day we left they had balloon swords for pretend fighting and a few workers dressed up in costume interacting with the kids.  
  • There is also a girl's spa with nail packages and treatments meant just for little girls.
My kids wanted nothing to do with the story or the people in the lobby; again saying that was for younger kids.

To give you some idea of cost:
  • Rooms start at $210 a night and go up to $430; prices include water park passes for each guest staying in the room from check in day to check out and also  includes unlimited turns on the rope course.
  • MagiQuest-- Wands start at $18 a piece and then you have to pay to play the game (it cost us around $70 for my two kids to participate with their own games and their own wands!).  You can save the wands and just pay to play the game on future trips.
  •  Lunch at Buckets-- the on-sight counter/tray meal at the water park cost us $65 for 2 hot dogs, 2 cheeseburgers, 2 orders of chicken fingers, french fries, chips and 5 drinks.  Not awful for "park/ resort" prices.
  •  Miniature golf course (which we did not do) was $6 person per game.
  •  You can not get to the water park without going past all the shops and through the arcade just to warn you.
  • *updated Feb 11th-- The ropes course is no longer included with a night's stay.  There is now a $6 bracelet to participate. 

Linking with: Travel Tip Tuesday
Awesome Life Friday