Thoughts on home schooling now that we’re doing it (well, sort of)

Oh, hello 2011. Yes, yes, I realize we are now more than half-way through the first month of this year and I haven’t written one blog post yet. I can’t say I have any good reasons other than perhaps because I’ve been obsessively watching the first season of Veronica Mars (via Netflix On Demand) vegging out just a bit and life happens. OK, I confess. I watched the first season finale of Veronica Mars two nights ago – WOW! Now that was a season finale! And now that I know who killed Lily Kane, I feel like I can take a breather for a few days and even write on my blog. Yay! :) (The next time I disappear, it may be because I’m watching season two. Just sayin’.)

I could have sworn I wrote a blog post about deciding to start home schooling Ava this past fall, but wouldn’t you know it, I can’t find it. The way my brain works these days it’s hard to say if I wrote it and just can’t find it or if it’s one of those posts (among many) that I always had the best of intentions of writing and never did. I’m betting on the latter. (I did write “Is homeschooling right for us?” back in 2008, so that’s something, right? *wink*)

Anyway, yes, I am home schooling Ava this year for first grade. We started back in September. I’d seriously considered starting in kindergarten, but after I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and trying to get that under control, the timing didn’t seem to be right so off to public school she went. Little did I know I would be dealing with a tragedy this past fall proving the timing to be off once again, but I’m still happy with my decision to home school and we are forging ahead.

Although I don’t feel that we’d yet found our home schooling groove, we were starting to work in that direction when my sister Carrie died in October. After Oct. 25, 2010, very little formal home schooling took place in our home for the next two months. I just couldn’t wrap my head around it. If I wasn’t busy planning a memorial service or two or traveling, I was grieving and trying to hold it together just enough to keep the kids clothed and fed. Admittedly there were plenty of days we stayed in our PJs all day. Hell, that still happens on occasion now! Ava continued to go to the part-time school she attends one day a week and continued with the Lego engineering class she was already signed up for, but that was about the extent of it. I don’t know if I would say that we were unschooling during that time or just taking a break. Yeah, I think it’s safer to say we were taking a break.

Fast forward to the past few weeks and now that the holidays are over we finally have been getting back into our groove again. I feel more equipped to take trips to the library, sit down with Ava and work on different subjects, go on “field trips,” sign up for different classes, attend home schooling functions, etc. We’re still far from finding exactly what our groove is, but we’re working on it. I’m working on it.

Quite honestly, I don’t think we fall into a specific “type” of home schooling family. Eclectic seems to be the best way to describe my “technique” so far. And that’s OK. I like that we/I have the freedom to explore what works best for us and to learn as we go. I like that we were able to take a break when we needed it, even if others might feel it was detrimental to Ava. I don’t think it was.

It’s true she’s not reading chapter books yet, but that’s OK too. We’ve been regularly reading to Ava her entire life. With Jody and I reading to her before bed, we’ve been through the seven novel series of The Chronicles of Narnia and the nine book series of the Little House books — twice — among many, many other books. Does it matter to me if she starts reading really well on her own at age 5, 6, 7 or 8? Nope. It just matters to me that she enjoys books and reading, and she does so far.

With the help of library books and the Internet, I think we have most subjects covered except for math. She knows her numbers and basic addition and subtraction, so I don’t feel she’s “behind” per se (and I try not to think of it like that anyway), but I’m still trying to find a good way to teach/learn math and welcome your suggestions. I don’t feel the need to sit down and drill her with addition and subtraction flashcards on a daily basis, but I do want her to have a good foundation in math — it’s just the figuring out how to best accomplish that where I could use a little help. It could be a curriculum you like, a web site with math games, or anything else really. I’m flexible.

That’s one thing I’ve learned is that it’s important to stay flexible when home schooling. I planned on using X, Y, and Z curricula and doing A, B, and C every day when we started out, only to decide those weren’t the best choices for us. Some days we use books. Some days we use the computer. Some days we do both. Some days we do neither. Some days we bake or explore nature or go to the library or do science experiments or dissect owl pellets or garden or do arts and crafts or play games or a number of other things or all of the above or none of the above. Some of the best learning experiences happen when we just go with the flow.

Oh, and if you are wondering what I’m doing with my 4-year-old with regard to school, he’s currently in a Waldorf-inspired preschool (though not the one Ava attended). I really like preschool for my kids and think it benefits them in a lot of ways. He will likely, however, start home schooling once he’s in kindergarten (which is still nearly 2 years away because of his late birthday). And he participates in some of the things Ava works on now so he’s really already home schooling. (Aren’t kids pretty much home schooling from the day they are born?)

I like that the world is our classroom and I like being with and learning alongside my kids. I don’t subscribe to a particular schooling philosophy. Instead, we do a little bit of this and a little bit of that and that is what works for us for now.

Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.
– William Butler Yeats

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Eco-friendly upcycled holiday crafts for kids

Green or eco-friendly crafts for children using recycled or upcycled (repurposing a waste material into a product of higher quality materials) are plentiful this holiday season. In addition to being better for the environment, crafting from items found around the house has the added benefit of being economical.

No Time for Flashcards is one of my favorite blogs for finding activities to do with young children. No all posts are green, but three posts that do fit that category include recycled Christmas tree using paper from an old catalog, A “Bow”tiful Christmas tree made out of a grocery bag and misshapen present bows, and a Bell Christmas ornament made from an Easter egg. All three are great crafts for toddlers and preschoolers. My kids, ages 3 and 5, and I made some of the recycled Christmas trees using magazine pages earlier this week.

Photo credit: No Time for Flashcards

For little ones who like to paint, why not try painting holiday cards or making your own wrapping paper using paints made from berries and beets! The Green Art Project has a tutorial for making your own natural paints using fruits and vegetables you may already have in the house.

Over at This and That, there’s another idea for making your own gift wrap. Money Saving Mom also suggests having the kids help make homemade wrapping paper.

Here’s a beautiful and easy craft from Maya*Made to hang on the tree – a “snow”-covered pinecone ornament.

Photo credit:Maya*Made

There are a lot of fun ornaments that can be made with a burnt-out incandescent light bulb. It’s upcycling at it’s finest! There’s a snowman face ornament, Rudolph the recycled light bulb, the light bulb penguin, and there are some more cute ideas over at Keep’n the SunnySide. You could also keep it simple and let your child paint and glue whatever they want on the light bulb.

Photo credit: Crafts by Amanda

Summer at Wired for Noise suggests embroidering pictures on old pillow cases and had fun teaching her son the handicraft.

Another craft idea that we’ve tried in our house is transforming old, broken crayons into new crayons. The Red, White and Green says you don’t need to spend $30 on a Crayola Crayon Maker (made of nearly four pounds of plastic) to do it either. If you want to make holiday-themed crayons, you just need some holiday candy molds. Zakka Life has a tutorial on how to recycle old crayons into new crayons using candy molds. You can also just use muffin tins for round crayons. Raising Maine also suggests making the recycled crayons into ornaments.

Photo credit: Raising Maine

Older children may enjoy stringing popcorn or cranberries on wire or thread as garland to be hung on the Christmas tree. When the tree is taken down, the edible garland can be strung outside for the birds or put into your compost bin.

Another fun idea for a craft and/or gift for older children from Little Birdie Secrets is felted soap. “You cover a bar of soap with this fabulous wool fiber, then felt it, and you have a soap and washcloth in one!”

Photo credit: Little Birdie Secrets

Celebrate Green Blog recently came across some eco-friendly holiday crafts from Family Fun magazine using upcycled materials, including retro ornaments made from toilet paper rolls, Christmas carolers made from toilet paper rolls, holey socks and old sheet music, and a Flame-free menorah.

Photo credit: Family Fun

Lastly, there are some creative recycled craft ideas over at Monkey See Monkey Do including a milk carton nativity or Christmas village and a mop-head Santa, as well as coat hanger snowmen and reindeer and a trash bag wreath.

Looking for more green craft ideas? Check out Books make great gifts for green crafters over at Crafting a Green World. She suggests Green Crafts for Children: 35 Step-by-Step Projects Using Natural, Recycled, And Found Materials by Emma Hardy especially for green mamas and their green girls.

Have more eco-friendly holiday craft ideas for kids? Please share them in the comments.

Cross-posted on BlogHer.

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A naturally beautiful rainbow of colors

For the second year in a row, I made our Easter egg dyes out of foods and spices. This year’s dyes were made from the following ingredients:

Pink – canned beets
Orange – chili powder
Yellow – tumeric
Green – spinach with tumeric and purple cabbage mixed in
Blue – purple cabbage

I have to say I’m quite pleased with how they turned out. :) Yes, it was another year of mommy having more fun dyeing the eggs than the kids. But the kids had a great time finding the eggs (over and over again) in our Easter egg hunt, so it all evened out. ;)

Here’s my best shot for this week – a rainbow of eggs:
2009's batch of naturally-dyed Easter eggs

Want to know how I did it? Check out my tutorial on dyeing Easter eggs naturally.

I’m also fond of this picture, which isn’t my usual style, but I liked the motion blur of the kids off to find more Easter eggs while daddy paused to recall exactly where he hid them all. This so perfectly represents life in our home on most days.

The kids look for more eggs, while daddy ponders where he hid them all.

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Easy-peasy playdough recipe

On Sunday morning, I whipped up some homemade playdough for the kids. It took maybe 20 minutes from start to finish and was so easy it left me wondering why I never made it myself before!

our playdoughPlaydough

1 cup flour
1/2 cup salt
1 cup water
2 tablespoons oil
2 tablespoons cream of tartar
food coloring

Mix flour, salt, cream of tartar and oil, and slowly add the water. Cook over medium heat, stirring until dough becomes stiff. Turn out onto wax paper and let cool. Knead the playdough with your hands until of proper consistency. Use as is, or divide into balls and add a few drops of the food coloring to make various colors.

I love how soft it turned out and the unique colors. If the kids didn’t love it so much, I think I could spend hours just playing with it myself. :)

Julian and Ava reaching for the playdough

Here are some variations of the playdough recipe.