growing up good

mothering, homeschooling, and me


Monster (0f a) Thursday

Today I had a plan of a fun, creative monster-themed morning.

We had a monster themed morning, alright.

We read three monster stories. The each made a monster. We did our lessons- Saxon math, phonics, fine motor skills, letter recognition, sight words, MCP math, mazes, and even watched a few Sesame Street videos on youtube. They watched part of an episode of Scooby Doo, I made leftovers for lunch, took a quick shower when Kyle came home, and then Elliot and I made 5 more monsters and then he decorated a man into “Elliot’s Electric Bug Person” and now he’s coloring a pirate scene.

Two of my children are napping, and my oldest is happily coloring next to me and appears content while I type this.

So what’s the problem? The problem is that my ideal plan for the day, and how it was carried out are 2 different things. I have this expectation that my children will listen to me the first time I tell them to do something, and will not be naughty in between activities. Is that too much to ask? (that’s a bit rhetorical). I get frustrated, and I yell. And then I get mad at myself for yelling. And then I feel guilty.

I’ve anaylized my morning, and the source of frustration stems from two incidents:

1) Putting Edison down for his nap. Apparently Elliot and Mary can not get along for 5 minutes if I’m on a different floor of the house. Will need to separate before I do this again.

2) That half-hour before lunch. I’ve got the pizza in the oven reheating, I’m reheating Edison and Mary’s spaghetti in the microwave. I’ve gotten out plates and silverware, but I’m also trying to add more info into a spreadsheet I’m working on while I’ve got a few moments before the pizza is done. Again with the sibling squabbles. Sent the older one upstairs, and that was another battle. He’s old enough to pick on his sister until she cried, but not old enough to go to his room by himself? Hmmmm.  Trying to teach him the lesson of listening the first time. Reminded (ie nagged) him of the times I asked him to do something else.

Sigh. I’ll figure this out.

We got a lot done today. We did. The lessons actually went great. I’m learning how to motivate Mary, who is VERY different from Elliot (I’ve never had to worry about motivating him).  Elliot’s decoding skills are blowing my mind. And, Elliot and I had fun creating monsters again while the other 2 were sleeping. So, I’m going to focus on the good here. I NEED to focus on the good.

So, to end on a good note, here are few pics from our morning:

Monster #1

Mary, working on tracing some letters, numbers, and words.

Elliot, working on counting and writing the number.

Mary, matching letters.

Edison, eating like a champ, sitting like a big boy up at the table!

Monster #3 (#2 was camera shy)

My 2 monsters!



Exploring the Grove

Last Saturday, my photography class met at the Grove in Glenview, IL for an outdoor field trip. Though it’s only 20 or so miles from where I live, I had never heard of the place, much less been there before. When my instructor told us it was a park, in my mind I had pictured manicured lawns, a pond, a playground, and maybe some sidewalks. In reality, I was taken out of busy suburbia and transported to a magical place where nature is allowed to be…real. Where paths lead you through soaring trees and prairie grasses, chipmunks scampering out of your way and birds calling out your intrusion, and you stumble upon a scenes from another time: a teepee and long house, a cottage and garden, a log cabin, which happens to be bursting with live turtles, fish, snakes, and even an unstinky skunk, and 2 beautiful estate houses.  After about 5 minutes, I knew I had to come back…with the kids. They would LOVE it.

The weather is about to change here in my neck of the woods. We only have a handful of days left where the temps will hit 70. Fall, and all it’s glory, is upon us.  I happen to love winter, but that’s a post for another day. Right now though, I know we’ve got to get outside and enjoy it while it lasts.

After a couple of cooler days, the forecast showed that Tuesday would be beautiful. THAT would be our day to visit the Grove. However, Tuesdays are usually days where we do the bulk of our lessons for the day. Hmm….I KNOW…let’s do our lessons AT the Grove!

So Tuesday morning I packed us a nice mediocre lunch: over-ripe bananas, the last peach of the season, cheese sandwiches, granola bars, string cheese, and trail mix. Yum, right? Hey, I’m working on cleaning out our pantry, fridge, and freezer. We don’t need to be gourmet all the time. I threw the kids’ journals (ie collections of scribbles, stickers, and ticket stubs and brochures from places we’ve been the last 1.5 years), crayons, and a few nature-themed stories, a memory game (just in case), and some toys for Edison in a backpack, grabbed my camera, and a blanket, and the stroller, and some water bottles, and a washcloth in a ziploc, and their sweatshirts, and some bug spray, and board books for Edison, and finally MY sweatshirt…and we were off. No…wait…Mary had to go to the bathroom again. And then insisted that I NOT help her get her pants up. Then insisted that I did. But first Elliot, who wasn’t watching tv during breakfast, decided that he needed to watch Scooby Doo on the playroom tv instead of getting his shoes on. Then Mary couldn’t find her shoes. Then Elliot found them, but she didn’t want to wear those shoes, but decided they would do, but she had to put them on herself. I about cancelled the trip.  It can’t be worth all this, can it?

But I resisted the urge to just stay home. Figuring the worst case scenario, I could either listen to them bicker at home, or somewhere outside on a beautiful day.  I’m glad I resisted. Experience has taught me that 99.96% of the time, if we can just get out of the house, as chaotic as it is, our outing will be worth it.

It was.

Mary said, “It stinks in here!”

Elliot, always running ahead, eager to see what’s next.

Look, Mom! Look what I found! (it’s a button)

An attempt at a “nature talk” about decomposition. They’re thrilled, can you tell? He did perk up when I reminded him of the “Decomposers” bugs we saw and read about at the Field Museum last month.

Mary usually sticks close to me, but sometimes she’ll venture ahead, too.

This is Mary, being whiney. When she doesn’t want to walk anymore, she suddenly has a whole list of ailments, from, “My hip hurts.” to “My whole body hurts!” to “My elbow hurts.” And then, she’ll spot something she wants to check out, and suddenly she’s fine.

There were some really cool, really old gnarley trees. I thought Elliot added a nice perspective on their size.

A prairie schooner? A conestoga? a buggy? I won’t pretend to know the difference. Whatever it is, they checked it out, but noticed it was, indeed, missing the horses.

Can you see the “A”? Elliot pointed this out. 🙂

Then we headed inside to the “Interpretive Center”. Elliot was in bug heaven.

See that little head by the wood frame of the case? Yeah, that’s a snake. Mary was mesmerized.

Blowing it kisses? ugh. Of all the things! This mama, she don’t like snakes!

More snakes. Uh, Elliot, can you please not put your hand up there!


They won’t smile, but they’ll be goofy!

The Kennicott Estate. From what I’ve read. Mr. Kennicott was a doctor and naturalist, and these ground have been preserved in his name.


We found a quiet place (a pavilion of some sort), and read some stories and drew some pictures. Mary is tracing a walnut she carried with her for 1/2 the day.

Edison wanted to color, too.

But when Mama lets him out of his stroller (or the ergo), he won’t sit still for long!







Elliot, concentrating hard on his drawing.

We were there for almost 3 hours before I knew my happy excursion would turn sour: it was approaching naptime. We didn’t even really explore the Kennicott estate grounds much due to a school group being there, and we had taken the trails around the teepee site and little cabin, so we’ve still got more to explore next time we go. It was a great day out with my munchkins, and even though it disrupted naps and was a whirlwind to get out the door, it was totally worth it.










Letter A

We are going to work our way through the alphabet this year, and is there a better place to start than the letter A? Actually, I’m sure there are some literacy activists out there who would argue that you shouldn’t start with a vowel…but for simplicity’s sake, we’re starting with the letter A. On Tuesday we matched upper and lower case letters, sorted our picture cards, and Elliot and I did a little lesson about Long A and Short A. Yesterday we used our special sword (a toothpick) and poked our way on the A trail through both Big A and little a, and we searched all over our big map of letters to find all the As with a do-a-dot wand (you’ll see them below).

Like the stuff I used today? You can find them at Confessions of A Homeschooler, whom I can’t believe I didn’t discover until recently!

Here are the activities we did today:

Mary’s laced-up letter A.

Then it was Elliot’s turn to do big A (they switched, but I don’t have a pic of little a being laced).

These are texture letters. The letters are a soft, almost fuzzy material. They trace the letter with the finger, following the path they’d take if writing.Special thanks to a friend of mine who gave me a set of these last month! I’ve wanted a set forever!

Mary traces the letters with her little fingers.

Then Elliot traces the letters. Seems SO simple, right? Both of my kids, Elliot especially, are very sensory-oriented kids. If I can involve their hands in some sort of tactile activity, they can sit for longer, pay attention better, and will do higher quality work.

And finally, dot-painted As.

Elliot said, “Hey look! A pyramid!”

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Play dough fail…

So Tuesday was National Play Dough Day. Or so a dozen people on facebook told me.  We had no morning plans, so I thought it would be a great day to make playdough. Yes, make it.  It’s actually quite easy to make, but I’ll admit it’s been awhile since I’ve made it, like since before Mary came along while. I happen to just love the smell of the real stuff, and it’s pretty inexpensive, especially when you get it on sale during the holidays. But on National Play Dough Day I thought it was only fitting that I make it myself. So  I gathered my materials and 2 munchkin helpers, and we set out to make two separate batches of play dough. The recipe I use is as follows: 1 cup flour, 1 cup water, 1/4 cup salt, 2 tsp cream of tartar, 1 tablespoon oil, and food coloring. Mix, cook, knead, cool, and play. Easy peasy, right?

I had a pan for each batch, and let each child measure (or help measure) the ingredient and choose their color.  You can see all the ingredients, except water sitting out on the counter.  Notice what I’m missing?

We didn’t even notice that we hadn’t added the oil. I didn’t even remember, even when our dough ball looked a little ragged, like this:

When did I realize I had left out the oil? When I was scraping it off the table with a BLADE later.  Holy cow. Add the oil, people! I was too frustrated to remember to take a picture, but trust me, most of the dough ball ended up in a thin layer on my kitchen table. And it dries. Fast. As frustrated I was with the clean up, my kids didn’t notice. They were happy to help me “cook” in the kitchen, got to play with play dough with tools and bug stampers, and they didn’t have to help me scrape it off the table.


MN Adventures, part 1 Visiting a Produce Farm.

I am a Minnesota girl. I love my home state. LOVE it. So whenever I get the chance, I will take my kids back for a visit.  This summer was my first time driving solo. Unfortunately, Kyle doesn’t have oodles of vacation time to spend on a leisurely visit, so I got to take the kids without him. We spent almost 3 weeks in the land of 10,000 lakes, and man, were we busy! It was a great, great visit, and I’m excited to share some of our adventures.

First up, we visited my Aunt’s farm. My Aunt Joyce is one of my favorite people in the whole world. She’s been an inspiration in my life and is just an all-around amazing person. I try to see her every time I’m back in Minnesota, and this summer I was lucky enough to get to bring the kids out to visit and see her gardens. We had tried the year before, but it was a record high day- 102! Of course, the day we visited the heat index was creeping up, again! I believe it was in the upper 90s the day these pics were taken. Joyce was gave us a fabulous tour of all the plants they had growing. I was excited to have the kids see a real, live garden and see where food comes from.

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Grocery Shopping With 3

I know many moms out there who hate grocery shopping with their children. I have to admit, I don’t love it. Especially since my 5 year old has learned how to beg. Begging has got to be one of the little things of childhood that drains my patience faster than..well, a child who doesn’t beg.

I have managed to make it bearable, but it takes planning. And extra stops. I can not, will not do an I-haven’t-been-to-the-store-in-three-weeks-and-we’re-out-of-everything trip with all three children unless my husband is also along for moral and divide-and-conquer support.

Three things that make my grocery shopping bearable:

1) I plan my menus, and make my grocery list in the process. I also clip coupons for items I use regularly or would like to try. If, when I’m making my list, I come across something that’s on sale that I have a coupon for, then I clip it to my list and put an asterisk by it on my list.

2) I break up my trips. I learned this lesson out of necessity. I have yet to find a grocery store where I can do all of my shopping. I have three places I usually shop: Costco for much of our produce, all of our milk, bread, and cheese. Super Target- for any non-produce staple I can’t get at Costco,deli items (usually just lunchmeat), plus diapers (I stack coupons and sales),  and another grocery store for for produce items I can’t get at Costco (my current favorite- Mariano’s, their produce section is awesome!).

3) Go in the morning, don’t be in a hurry, and involve the kids in the process.

That’s when I came up with these:  Paper Plate Scavenger Hunts! I’m pretty sure I was inspired by something I saw on No Time For Flashcards, but adapted it to fit this occasion: I had too many items on my list to make a my usually quick trip. So…I knew I needed help. I made one for each of them, and as we went through the store they had to look for each tabbed item. Mary’s was simple: colors, numbers, and the letter of her name. Elliot’s had a few words I knew we’d find in the store- like “sale”- some numbers, and words of items to find (like corn).  It went over well, and I wish had taken a picture while we were in the store, but hey- I had three kids and a long list, I’m still happy I made it OUT of the store! We were there a long time, I had to stop and help them with their hunt numerous times, but they didn’t get as antsy as they usually do when the trip takes a long time.  I call that a success!




Why Homeschool?

Elliot and Mary, working on the “fun stuff” after a phonics lesson.

Warning: this is long. It’s a topic I’m very passionate about, so I get a little….wordy.

I’ve wondered whether or not I needed to do a post on why we homeschool. Do I need to explain myself? Do I need to justify why we homeschool to anyone? The short answer is no. But I also consider the chance I have to do a little explaining. Homeschooling is a completely outside-the-box option that many, many people don’t even consider.  My purpose is not only to explain the reasons why we homeschool, but to hopefully clarify- at least to the people who know me, but are not familiar with homeschooling- some misconceptions people have about homeschoolers.

Before I explain our reasons , it’s important to understand that it’s not a simple answer. (and I will probably say “my reasons” a lot too. Kyle and I have made this decision together, but I’m the one who has done the research, and I’m the one who is doing most of the teaching at this point, so saying “my” or “I believe” is just a reflection of the work I’ve put into this, but not an indication that Kyle has no say whatsoever)

So first, I need to explain the concept of homeschooling.

Not everyone homeschools the same way.  At one end of the homeschooling spectrum are the school-at-home families. They run their homeschools like a school, but at home. Schedules, classes, grading systems, desks, etc. They just take what works in schools, but bring it home.  The other end of the spectrum is the unschoolers, and their more-extreme neighbor, the “radical” unschoolers. They believe (and I’m generalizing here, so unschooling friends, please forgive me if I have over-simplified your philosophy, it’s for the sake of time, not to short-change your style) that life itself teaches us lessons, and parenting is about creating opportunities for children to learn in an unstructured, self-guided journey.

In between those two styles- the school-at-homers and the radical unschoolers, there are many, many approaches to homeschooling that fall in between. You’ll find those that follow Waldorf or Montessori philosophies, Charlotte Mason, Classical, Unit Studies, and Eclectic. Some families buy all their curriculum from one place and follow it exactly. Other families enroll their children in online classes. There are co-ops and extracurriculars and field trips and activity days and play dates and park days and community college classes. Some families find that they are a mixture of several different philosophies, and sometimes what works for one child doesn’t work for the next and so they have to try something else. I have yet to meet two homeschooling families that school the exact same way.  Most families that I know have a solid grasp on what their children need and just do what works for them- whether it’s one philosophy or a mixture of the above.

So, now that you know that there are different ways to homeschool, it’s also important to know that there are different reasons for homeschooling. Many, many different reasons. Many of them valid, a few of them a bit…uh…paranoid, but in general, most families I’ve met have taken the decision to homeschool very, very seriously.

So, I can’t testify as to why any given family chooses this path, I can only speak to the reason my family has made this choice.

Before I begin (can I get on with it, already!), my choice to homeschool my children has NOTHING to do with what any other family chooses to you. It’s not an editorial on the school system here or public education in general. It does not make me a better-than-you at anything. It does NOT mean I have more patience than you or more organized or that I am smarter than anyone.  Why do I say this? Because it seems like whenever I mention homeschooling to someone who doesn’t homeschool, immediately I get barraged with reasons that person can’t homeschool. I never said you should. If you want to, that’s great, but it’s really your choice. If you don’t want to- that’s totally fine too! Me choosing to homeschool my children has nothing to do with your choice to send your child to school. I am assuming that you made your choice based on what’s best for your family- as you should- and I’ve done the same. Our families our different, why should we all make the same choices?

So. Next. How did I get to this point?

If you’ve known me for any length of time, you probably know that I’ve been talking about homeschooling for what seems like forever. Well, since Elliot was young. But the idea was planted in my head long before I had children. Way back in 2005, when I was working at a library in NW Ohio, I met several homeschooling families that came in regularly. They were quite nice people, and my discussions with them were interesting, but I couldn’t help but to think, “Man, the schools here must suck.” I laugh at myself a little bit now, because that was my fresh-from-the-classroom mind talking, not my parenting mind. Flash forward a couple of years, and introduce children in my life, and my mind came back to the idea of homeschooling.

I did a little research online, and looked for books that were recommended from homeschooling message boards. I read many books on starting out homeschooling, homeschooling young children, etc. The more I read, the more I got excited about the idea. The more I read, the more I also realized how many misconceptions there are about homeschooling. My own ideas of homeschooling changed. I realized that I could, indeed do it. And it would be really, really fun.

But why? Why would we want to choose something that is so counter-cultural just about every non-homeschooler you meet either is dumbfounded by your choice or insists on telling you how much you’re going to screw up your children? Why deny them the experience that our society clings to as necessary for success?

There are many reasons. Some complex, some simple. Some are more significant reasons than others, but I can guarantee you that every single reason for and against homeschooling has been thought about, discussed, and carefully considered. Some of my reasons may challenge your way of thinking. They may go against what you believe to be true about education. They may piss you off. Make you defensive. Keep in mind that I have some rather strong opinions on this matter, but I’m trying to write this in a way to not be offensive to those that don’t homeschool. My hope isn’t to persuade more people to homeschool, but to help my friends and family understand why it works for us.

Reason #1 (and by far, the biggest reason): time. Simple as that. Time. I want time with my children. They are young for such a short time, and school takes up SO much of their time. Why should I give them (schools, teachers, etc) the best of my children- 60% of their waking hours, 5 days a week, 180 days of the year? And, as the years go on, school will take over much of their home time as well. Hours and hours and hours of homework.  Is it selfish of me to want more time with my family? I don’t think so. I just want time to be able to enjoy my children.

Reason #2. FREEDOM (also a popular reason). Can you imagine a life where your life didn’t have to revolve around a school year? I can. Family vacations? We can take them any time. Picnic lunch at the beach, on a Wednesday in October because it’ll probably be the last day of 70 degrees and sunny of the year? We can do it. We can go to museums during the week (and the zoo, too), and Disney (or DC) in September, you know, when they’re not crowded. If my husband goes out-of-town for a few days for work, we can too! We can either go along, and visit museums/parks/attractions in that city, or we can take off and visit the grandparents for a few days. We don’t have to be accountable to the school and teachers, don’t have to coordinate make up schedules or do-ahead assignments, and my kids won’t have to worry about missing instruction (because we can take it along!).

Reason #3. It’s in my blood. Teaching. When I was a teacher, it was my life. My students meant so much to me. Encouraging them, guiding them, helping them to find their interests and strengths and turn their weaknesses into gifts. I spent a lot of time and effort getting my degree in English and Education, and then my master’s in Curriculum and Instruction, so to me it just makes sense to use what I know about children and learning with my own children. Teaching comes so naturally to me, it’s’ just what I do.

Reason #4. I know my kids. No one else will ever love my children or have their best interest at heart like I do. No teacher is ever going to be as motivated as I am to teach my kids. I also know that my kids, both of them, are a bit quirky. At this point in time, I’m certain school is not the safest, most supportive environment for him.

Reason #5 Love. I am going to homeschool because I love my children. I love being with them, watching them grow and learn, and being there for them. *I* want to be the one to teach them, to help them learn as much as they can, to give them opportunities. I think that if I send my kids to school, I’m going to miss out on too much of their childhood (which goes back to #1).

There. That’s basically it. I had a few others listed, but I took them off, because once I thought about them, they’re not my MAIN reasons for homeschooling, just added benefits.

I’d like to reiterate that our decision to homeschool in no way is a referendum on the schools here. I’m not anti-schools or anti-teacher. I’m not trying to isolate my children from the world we live in or brainwash them to thinking all outsiders are evil and cannot be trusted. Our decision to homeschool is not a judgement on your parenting or choice to send your child to school. I don’t think that everyone should homeschool, not at all.

At the end of the day, I’m just a mom who wants the best for her kids. And right now, this is what works for us.