Archive for the ‘math’ Category

On 5 Kids and a Dog, there’s a series called the ABCs of Homeschooling.  This week’s letter is “Q.” 

Alphabet ATC or ACEO Available - Needlefelted Letter Q…is for Quilting.

For over four years, Sophia and Olivia have been learning how to quilt. They started hand-sewing a bit before machine-sewing to get comfortable with a thread, needle, and fabric.

One of the first projects that the girls did was a simple patchwork quilt. They picked fabric from what I had on hand (a lesson in itself of resourcefulness and making do).

For some of their first sewing projects, they traced squares onto the back/wrong side of the fabric and then cut them out. They moved onto measuring and marking lines on the fabric. Sophia now can use a rotary cutter to cut fabric.

Assembling the Quilt
Olivia arranging squares for her first patchwork quilt.
She’s about 4 years old here (2007).

One of Olivia’s favorite quilts that she made was one using fabric she found at a quilting store in Pella, Iowa. The girls, my parents, and I traveled to Pella in the spring to see the tulips. There was a wonderful quilting store right off the main square.

Olivia liked a printed fabric with dogs on it. From that pattern, she picked several other fabrics to coordinate with it. She cut, arranged, and sewed all the pieces together to create her quilt.

Olivia with the Quilt She Made
Olivia made this quilt using fabric she found at a quilt shop on a trip.
This quilt holds special meaning and memories for her.
She was 6 years old when she made this quilt (2009).

Olivia entered her quilt in the county fair in the youth open class division. She was competing with children up to the age of 16 years old in her category.

She won first prize… a blue ribbon (there are only 6 ribbons – 1st through 6th place – awarded in a category). Needless to say, she was thrilled!

Olivia - Blue Ribbon on Quilt
Olivia with the quilt she made
that won her a blue ribbon!

For 2010, at 7 years old, she wanted to challenge herself to do something different. She looked with me at pictures of quilts on Flickr and saw one that she liked. It was a circular quilt made from a variety of fabrics.

The quilt she saw was done in rainbow colors with a white center. Olivia wanted to do hers in all blue fabrics with a white center. Since there was no pattern, we had to create a pattern for the blue pieces and center white piece.

Olivia chose a variety of textures also for the blue pieces which posed a bit of a challenge since each had a different “pull” to it. She had to try sewing different types of fabric together which was a good skill to learn.

Another skill she learned was doing free-style quilting. On the white fabric, she moved her presser foot around in a random pattern to secure the top, batting, and backing together.

Olivia Working on Quilt
Olivia working on her blue and white circular quilt.
She’s doing some free-motion quilting to secure the top, batting, and backing together.
Olivia was 7 years old when she did this quilt (2010).

Sophia started making quilts in 2006 (when she was 5 years old) and did a simple doll-size patchwork quilt from a kit she received for Christmas. The nice thing about the kit was that the squares were already cut for her. She simply had to sew them together and then create the quilt.

Once she learned how to do that she wanted to create another quilt using fabric that she picked out from what I had on hand. She used the same method as I used with Olivia (tracing of the shape on the fabric and then cutting it out).

By 2008, she was enjoying quilting so her grandma gave her a quilting kit in her favorite color: pink. The kit came with the fabric and pattern, but Sophia had to cut each piece for the quilt.

The fabric was a variety of textures – cotton, satin, and minky.  It was delightful to feel (from a sensory perspective). In terms of sewing…a bit more challenging, especially for a beginner quilter.

She patiently worked on the quilt and was so pleased with how it turned out. She used the quilt and enjoyed how it felt with the different textures.

Sophia in Bunkbed Camping with Quilt She Made
Sophia in a bunk bed in a camper cabin.
She wanted to bring her quilt on her first camping trip.
Sophia was 7 in this picture (2008).

By the following year, Sophia set a goal of making a quilt for her bed. She wanted a quilt in colors that she liked. We checked out some books from the library and she found a pattern that she liked. After a visit to the fabric store, she was ready to start making her quilt.

Sophia Laying Out Her Quilt
Sophia placed the pieces for her quilt on the floor.
She would pin the pieces she needed to sew as she went along.
Sophia is 8 years old in this picture (2009). 

She was happy with how her quilt turned out; and has used it on her bed since she made it.

Sophia's Finished Quilt
Sophia holding her finished quilt.

She entered the quilt in county fair and received a red ribbon on it (second place). At 8 years old, she was in the category with children up to 16 years old. 

Sophia - Red Ribbon on Her Quilt
Sophia by her quilt at the county fair.
She was 8 years old.

When Sophia was 9 years old, she tried a different form of quilting. Her grandma gave her a pre-printed image on fabric. Sophia quilted around different parts of it to give it texture and definition. She added sequins and beads to embellish it, and then finished off the quilt. 

She entered it into the county fair for one of her 4-H needlework projects. In 4-H, the children talk with a judge who asks them questions about their project and determines how much they understand about their project area. Sophia received a blue ribbon for her project which made her happy.

Sophia Talking About Quilted Wallhanging
Sophia meeting with a 4-H judge to discuss her project.

During the 2010-2011 homeschool year, Sophia took a sewing class at the homeschool co-op. One of the projects she worked on was learning quilting patterns.  During the spring, she learned six new patterns. She chose to sew the squares together to make a little lap or doll quilt.

Sophia with her Quilt
Sophia holding a lap or doll quilt that
shows six new patterns that she learned.
She’s 10 years old (2011).

Quilting has been an important part of homeschooling for the girls. In addition to art/creative expression, quilting helps with math and reading. I’ve also integrated geography and history when doing some of the quilts.

With a back-to-homeschool trip to New England in September to celebrate the start of a multi-year/multi-disciplinary geography study, the girls are excited to visit a quilt shop in New Hampshire that has over 5,000 bolts of fabric.

They each want to pick some fabric so they can make a quilt when they return home. Having a tangible reminder of this special time together is something that I hope they look back on with good memories in years to come.

Peek-a-Boo with the Sewing Machine
Looking back….
Olivia at 4 years old working on her first quilt.

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Welcome to the Fun in the Summer Sun event!

Each Monday until September 7th
Mama to 4 Blessings along with Harvest Moon By Hand,
Adventures of Mommydom, Sweet Diva, and Sweet Phenomena
will be hosting Fun in the Summer Fun link up events.

Here’s the line up:

1st Monday of each month: link up your “Kid-friendly summer activities”
2nd Monday of each month: link up your “Kid-friendly summer crafts”
3rd Monday of each month: link up your “Kid-friendly summer recipes”
4th Monday of each month: link up your “How to stay cool in the summer heat”


This week Sophia and Olivia did two different crafts that they enjoyed: embroidery and beading.

Sophia embroidered a pillowcase with a horse and foal design. The supplies were all ones that we had on hand: a pillowcase, embroidery floss, and an iron-on pattern. I never have used iron-on patterns, though they were something that I wanted to try after seeing the selection at Joann’s.

Sophia’s embroidered pillowcase.

Sophia worked during the week on the design and was very happy with how it turned out. She’s 10 years old, and has being doing embroidery now for several years.

Sophia used the backstitch
to do her embroidered pillowcase.


Olivia enjoys doing arts and crafts – anything that lets her creatively express herself. She picked out a loom that can be used for both beading and cotton-floss weaving.

Olivia working on her beaded bracelet.

She chose to make a bracelet with red, white, and blue beads. I set up the loom for her; and then Olivia beaded the bracelet. She followed a graph-paper chart that I did based on a picture of a bracelet pattern she liked that came with the loom.

Olivia used a sewing needle to secure the beads
in place on the bracelet.

It took a lot of concentration and patience, but she completed the bracelet within a half a day. She’s happy with it, and wants to do more beading…but not right away. “My hand needs a break. It’s tired,” she said.

Olivia wearing the bracelet she made.
Now it’s your turn! What are some fun ideas for crafting with kids?

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On 5 Kids and a Dog, there’s a series called the ABCs of Homeschooling.  This week’s letter is “M.” 

Alphabet ATC or ACEO Available - Needlefelted Letter M…is for Math.

I remember sitting in a college calculus class and one of the students asked, “When are we ever going to use this in real life?”

The professor gave an answer that I wished some of my junior high and high school math teachers would have said when I was learning algebra and trigonometry, “Chances are, you’re never going to use this in your daily life. This level of math isn’t so much about using it in ‘real life.’  It is more about being persistent and disciplined, and finding the answer to a problem.” 

Math comes down to simple problem solving; and training one’s brain to be able to think through a variety of situations and get to the right answer or come to a conclusion. Math, to me, means essentially fostering a sense of determination and commitment to finish something you’ve started.

Because math goes beyond just learning numbers, functions, and concepts, I try to give Sophia and Olivia opportunities to learn math through a variety of methods: traditional/book learning, singing, learning tools, games, and real-life application.


The girls learn core math concepts and facts by using their math books.  I use Rod & Staff books since both girls say they like them.  At the last homeschool conference I attended, I looked at a variety of math books. Some had a lot of color and impressive graphic design; some used the computer; and others used DVDs to teach math.  After looking at the variety of resources, I decided to stick with Rod & Staff.

Rod & Staff isn’t fancy – the text and images are all in black and white.  However, the majority of examples they use all tie into agriculture, farm animals, and cooking/baking – all things that are quite applicable to the girls’ life right now.

Sophia's Math Book
Sophia’s fourth grade math book. 

There seems to be a lot of repetition with some of the fundamental concepts and facts (e.g., addition and subtraction facts, skip counting by 2s/5s/10s, multiplication and division facts). However, knowing these facts by memory is critical to forthcoming math skills, so I think that’s valuable.

That being said, once the girls have “mastered” a skill, I don’t make them continue doing pages of the same thing. They can move onto the next skill. That’s one of the benefits of homeschooling – adapting the lessons to the each child’s skills and knowledge.

Olivia Doing Math with Shells
Olivia likes to use manipulatives to help her visualize
some of the math problems she’s doing.
For this lesson, she chose to use shells.


The girls both enjoying singing and seem to retain information much better when they learn it by listening to and singing songs. 

Some of the CDs that the girls use for math.

Some of the CDs for math that they use include:

Shiller Math Songs – this was a CD that Olivia used a couple of years ago when using the Shiller math curriculum.  There are a variety of songs that had her moving about while listening to instructions on the CD.

Addition Songs by Kathy Troxel – this CD comes with a songbook/workbook, and has helped Olivia learn counting from 1 to 20 as well as all the addition facts from 1+1 to 9+9. There are sing-along songs as well as echo-style songs for self-testing.

Multiplication Songs by Kathy Troxel – this CD also comes with a songbook/workbook, and has helped Sophia learn all the multiplication tables 2 through 12.  There are sing-along songs as well as echo-style songs for self-testing.

  One Hundred Sheep by Roger Nichols – There are nine songs on this CD that teach counting by 2s, 3s, 4s, 5s, etc. This skill is known as “skip counting” and is used in every math process from multiplication to algebra.  The songs use stories from the Gospels as a basis for the lyrics.  Both the girls use this CD.

Sophia singing along with the
One Hundred Sheep CD.



Olivia playing with some of the math dice.

One of the ways to learn and/or review the basic facts is by using dice. 

Basic math equation that Olivia put together
using three different types of dice.

I have a variety of dice that the girls can use.  Some have the basic six dots representing numbers on them (white ones).  Others are special ones:

– Blue dice with the numbers 1-6 on them.
– Green dice with the numbers 7-12 on them.
– White dice with different symbols (e.g., plus, minus, times, divided by).
– Yellow dice with Roman numbers.
– Big red and orange dice with little white dice inside it. Both the dice have the traditional 1-6 dots on each side.

A variety of dice to use with math games.

Electronic Flash Cards

Learning Resources has a Minute Math Electronic Flash Cards in which the girls are presented with different facts (e.g., 2+9, 8×7) and need to type in the answer. The “game” is based on speed and accuracy. There is a voice that tells the player if she typed in the correct answer.

Sophia testing herself on multiplication facts.

Sophia likes this “game,” but Olivia finds it frustrating.  So, when Sophia needs/wants to do something different for math, she’ll use the Electronic Flash Cards.  

Learning Wrap-Ups

Both the girls learn best when there is a hands-on component to the lesson.  One of the things that I found at the last homeschool conference was a set of Learning Wrap-Ups. Each Wrap-Up focuses on a different process (e.g., addition, subtraction, multiplication, division). 

Olivia testing herself on addition facts.

To use them, the girls start with the first number on the left side and add/multiply it by the number in the middle of the key.  Then they find the answer on the right hand side and bring the yarn to the other side and wrap it around the backside before bringing it to the second number on the left side. They repeat the process until all the numbers and answers have been wrapped.

Olivia with the finished Wrap-Up.
The string was where it should be on the back,
so she got all the answers correct.

The Wrap-Up is self-checking on the back. The key has a raised pattern to show where the yarn should be. If the yarn matches the pattern, then all of the answers were done correctly.


The girls have many games that they enjoy playing that have a math component to them:  Horse-opoly, Life, and Farm-opoly.

Farmopoly - Homeschool Math Lesson
The girls playing Farm-opoly.

In addition to purchased games, we’ve also made our own math games.  For Thanksgiving, we made a turkey racing game (see below) that involved counting and probability.  The girls had fun making and playing the game, and having it be a part of Thanksgiving activities in the future.

Turkey Racing Game
Homemade math game.


Bringing math into everyday activities provides the girls with a learning experience in a real-life setting, and helps enhance comprehension of what they are learning.

Counting by 5s and 10s
Sophia learning to skip count
by 5s and 10s using buttons.

An early math skill is sorting, although it is one that people use in their daily lives. One of the ways that sorting was incorporated into homeschooling is through stamp collecting.  The girls each have their own books for stamps, and have enjoyed sorting them into categories (e.g., horses, flowers, pandas, wild animals).

Olivia Working on Her Stamp Collection
Olivia sorting through stamps when she was very young. 
She still has and adds to her stamp collection.

Another way that the girls have used math is when they have sorted items to donate.  Each year we do Operation Christmas Child.  The girls enjoy choosing items to put in the boxes, and then dividing and sorting them at home. 

Olivia and Sophia Sorting Operation Christmas Child Items
The girls sorting items for Operation Christmas Child boxes.

Of course, each October the girls look forward to sorting candy they get when they go out for Halloween.  They will compare what each one got, and often will trade candy.

Olivia Sorting Halloween Candy
Olivia with candy she sorted.

Math also is used when studying science. 

Sophia Measuring the Jaw
Sophia measuring the length of a bone.

One of the easiest ways to tie the two subjects together has been when we have been able to measure something tangible (e.g., feathers, depth of a woodpecker hole in a tree, the circumference of a tree, the length of a bone).

Sophia Measuring Snow Depth
Sophia measuring the snow depth.

The girls enjoy cooking and baking.  Reading a recipe and then measuring the ingredients is something that I have involved them in well before they were doing their math books.

Making a Strawberry Smoothie
Sophia measuring and adding an ingredient
to make a fruit smoothie.

I’ve had a food scale for many years, and it seems like in the past few years that it has been used more frequently by the girls – whether they are making food in the kitchen or weighing an item for a science lesson.

Girls Putting Mushrooms on Scale
The girls were weighing some mushrooms they found
on the nature trail.
Sophia Measuring and Weighing  Rhubarb
The girls are cutting and measuring rhubarb
to make dessert.

Money is something that the girls have enjoyed learning about in math.  Rather than just using pictures in math books, the girls receive a bit of money for doing some chores.  They also receive money periodically as gifts from grandparents and relatives. 

Originally, I had the girls set up save-spend-give jars and a percentage of each amount they earned or was gifted was divided into the three jars in a 50-40-10 percent ratio (respectively).  Now, I have them do a 50-50 split – save half/spend half.  Of the spending money, some they use as donation money. 

The girls have their own wallets with money and gift cards, and have learned to interact with cashiers; and vendors at craft shows and farmer’s markets. They have to learn to use only the money they have available (no loans or borrowing money). This has taught them the value of budgeting and patience (especially if they need to save for a larger item). I’m hoping that they carry this into their adult life and save half of what they earn.

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On 5 Kids and a Dog, there’s a series called the ABCs of Homeschooling.  This week’s letter is “K.” 

Alphabet ATC or ACEO Available - Needlefelted Letter K…is for Kitchen.
When I think of homeschooling, one of the places that we spend a considerable amount of time in is the kitchen.  The girls and I enjoy cooking and baking, so incorporating a culinary aspect into homeschooling is a natural fit.
The girls have been helping in the kitchen since they were about 18 months old.  As they have gotten older, the new skills they learn match their developmental and physical abilities. 
Both Sophia and Olivia will look at recipes as I’m planning meals for the upcoming few weeks.  When I’m doing this, they often will look at the pictures that accompany the recipe (the majority of my recipes come from cooking and women’s magazines).  They’ll see a picture of something that looks good and will ask if they can make it. 
Trying a new recipe, having it be a part of the meal, and seeing what it tastes like is something that makes the girls happy and proud.
Olivia with Pumpkin Pie
Olivia holding a pumpkin pie she made.

During the past few years, I created an ABC Journey Around the World in which the girls learned about a different country in alphabetical order (e.g., Australia, Brazil, China, Denmark, Egypt, France, and so forth until ending with Yemen and Zambia). 

One of their favorite parts of learning about other countries was seeing what people would eat in different parts of the world.  I found recipes on the internet as well as through recipe books from the library. We tried anywhere from one to six recipes per country (some were easier to find recipes for than others).

Making Mexican Hot Chocolate
The girls made Mexican hot chocolate
using a recipe found in a children’s cookbook.
They also made Mexican scrambled eggs
that morning for a complete breakfast.

French Green Bean Recipe
Sophia is holding a green bean sidedish
using a French recipe. 

Olivia Making Swedish Rolls
Olivia is making Swedish cinnamon rolls.
The recipe came from a local church cookbook
that had a whole section on Swedish cooking
(we live in a community that was founded
by Swedish immigrants).

The kitchen is more than a place to cook and bake food.  With homeschooling, the kitchen also becomes an area to do science experiments and hands-on activities.

One of the science lessons that the girls did focused on marine life and pelicans. Apparently a pelican can hold 13 1/2 quarts of water in its pouch. The water drains out, leaving only the fish which the pelican then can swallow and eat.

Sophia Being a Pelican
Sophia trying to catch a marshmallow
as part of a science lesson about pelicans.

In the photograph above, there are 2 marshmallows in the sink representing fish. Sophia’s job is to catch the marshmallows. It’s harder than it looks.

The girls learn best when they can make a hands-on, tangible connection with the subject about which they are learning.  This is so important when the concept might be more difficult for them (e.g., electricity) or would benefit from a visual example (e.g., lung capacity).

Lung Capacity Experiment
Olivia learning about lung capacity.
She took a deep breath and then blew air through the tube
that led into the water-filled 2-liter pop bottle.
The air would push out the water from the bottle
and show how much air was in her lungs.

Sometimes when we’re cooking, the girls learn new words or make a connection between what they’re cooking with something else they’ve heard or learned.  For example, when we were making cheese, the curds separated from the whey.  They immediately made the connection with the nursery rhyme they had heard many times:

Little Miss Muffet sat on a tuffet
Eating her curds and whey,
Along came a spider,
Who sat down beside her
And frightened Miss Muffet away.

Cheesemaking - Curds Separating from Whey
Learning to make cheese.  In the process,
the girls saw the curds and whey separate; and
made the connection of a nursery rhyme they heard.
(The curds are the white part; the whey is the liquid.)

For one nature study, we focused on learning about dandelions.  In addition to the science part of the study, we added a culinary component where we made dandelion cookies, dandelion vinegar, and dandelion oil/salve.

Making Dandelion Oil for Salve
Olivia making dandelion oil.
The oil can be used as a base to make salve.

The kitchen also is a place where the girls create things for the holidays and different seasons. 

Borax Snowflake - Step 3 - Sophia
Sophia making borax snowflakes.
Homemade Marshallows for Valentine's Day
Olivia holding homemade marshmallows
she made for Valentine’s Day.

Gretel Waiting for Pumpkin Guts
Sophina carving a pumpkin while Gretel looks on.

An important part of our time in the kitchen is when we make food to help others.  We have made many meals and desserts for people experiencing medical/health challenges; and have chosen to donate some of our food to those in need. 

Cereal to Donate
The girls packaging up some of food to donate
to an organization that serves people who are homeless.

We also make food for animals – treats for the dogs, cats, and horses; and for wildlife.  Making food for the hummingbirds to drink during the summer and suet for the birds during the winter are regular activities. 

Sophia Helping Make Bird Suet on a 25 Degree Below Zero Day
Sophia making suet for the birds on a
very cold 25 degree BELOW zero day.
Needless to say, the birds needed the energy
and were constantly eating the homemade suet.

Seeing how excited the animals are to get a treat…and to see the variety of birds that now visit the feeders is a lot of fun.  Being able to observe animals up close (especially birds) is such a highlight of homeschooling.
So many subjects are covered in the kitchen beyond home economics – reading, math, science, community service, and geography. The kitchen truly is one of the centers of learning for homeschooling…and one of our favorite places to learn! 

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On 5 Kids and a Dog, there’s a series called the ABCs of Homeschooling.  This week’s letter is “I.” 

Alphabet ATC or ACEO Available - Needlefelted Letter I ….is for Investigation. 
When I think of homeschooling, a lot of what the girls and I do relates to investigation.  Every day there are many ways to learn through investigation.  Below are some pictures of how the girls learn by investigating.
Investigating the Environment
Girls Playing in the Pond
Sophia and Olivia exploring the pond.
The  girls enjoy exploring the pond, pastures, and nature trail on an almost daily basis.  Seeing a variety of birds, toads, and frogs – sometimes ones we’ve never seen before – leads us to identification guides to help us figure out what we’ve seen. 
We use the Handbook of Nature Study (both the book as well as the blog that offers Outdoor Hour Challenges) which has been a highlight of learning about the environment.
Investigating New Ideas through Reading
Nice and Comfortable Doing Homeschooling
Reading outdoors in the early fall.
A key part of homeschooling is reading, and the main curriculum that I use (Sonlight) offers a wealth of high quality, “living” books that cover history, geography, literature/reading, and science.  We make at least one trip to the library per week, sometimes as often as two or three times, to check out new books as well as books on CD. 
Reading aloud, listening to audio books, and reading independently happens on a daily basis.
Investigating Wildlife and Anatomy

Sophia Exploring a Jaw with Teeth
Sophia examining parts of a skull
using a disposable fork and ruler
(having more “scientific” equipment would be nice).
Living in the country provides many opportunities to discover living wildlife – eagles, hawks, foxes, minks, deer, pheasants, and owls.  By traveling to different parts of the state and country, we also have seen birds and wildlife that we normally would not see here which is exciting.
We also have seen plenty of wildlife that no longer is living.  Going on walks with the dogs has provided close-up views with some animals that walked too close to the road. 
Sometimes, after winter, an animal’s bones remain in the ditch.  Although this is kind of gross, I have used plastic bags to pick up the bones and lots of bleach to clean them.  In that way, the girls have been able to learn about the anatomy of different animals (like a coyote, for example) – something they would, at best, only be able to read about if they didn’t live where they do.
Investigating the World Through Geography Lessons and Travel

Olivia Balancing on a Rock
Olivia balancing on a rock in
Grand Marais, Minnesota.
A major part of homeschooling is learning about the world.  We are wrapping up a multi-year ABC journey around the world where the girls learned about a different country for each letter of the alphabet (with the exception of “X” since there is no country that begins with that letter).  Starting this fall, we will be starting with a multi-year study about each of the 50 states which we’re very excited to do! 
Traveling – within the state, throughout the country, and to foreign countries – plays an important part in homeschooling.  Learning about different cultures and ways of life; different types of land; and food all help the girls appreciate the world they live in.
Investigating Math and its Connection to the Natural World
Measuring a Worm
Sophia measuring the length of a worm.
Learning math facts is one thing…but when the girls can apply math skills that they’ve learned to real life, the facts and skills make even more sense.  The girls enjoy measuring things – for example, how long something is (like the worm shown above), the distance between an animal’s tracks, or how deep a woodpecker’s hole in the tree is (see the photo below). 
Measuring Depth of Woodpecker Hole
Sophia measuring the depth of a hole
made by a woodpecker.

Investigating Science and How Things Work

Learning about Switches
Learning about electricity and circuits;
and getting a lightbulb to work.
Both the girls enjoy science and doing experiments.  When I was in elementary school, I don’t remember doing many science experiments.  In junior high, I recall dissection lessons (worm and frog) and using bunsen burners.  In senior high, there were limited experiments as well. 
It’s too bad because the highlights for science for the girls (and me) have been the hands-on experiments we’ve done which have enhanced the lessons and reading materials.  For topics that were a bit more challenging (e.g., electricity), doing the experiments made all the difference for the girls in terms of comprehension and retention.
Investigating History and Cultures

The Girls and a Mummy
Sophia and Olivia taking a look at a mummy
when studying about Egyptian history and culture.
From the start of homeschooling the girls when they were Kindergarten, history has been a fascinating subject for them.  A few years ago, we read the entire American Girl series and Little House series (both which focus on American History).  When we began using the Sonlight curriculum, the girls were introduced to world history. 
Sophia has moved onto learning about American History at a much deeper and broader level than she did when she was younger.  She will continue with American History next year before learning more about ancient cultures and world history.
We covered some of the ancient cultures when the girls were much younger.  Learning about Egypt and the ancient Egyptians was very interesting for us all.
Investigating Music and Creative Expression

Wrench Xylophone
Sophia playing a wrench xylophone
at the Minnesota History Center.
Music has played a central part of homeschooling.  In the early years, music was focused on listening to CDs of various types of music by a variety of artists.  The girls also enjoyed playing child-size percussion instruments at home, and large-scale instruments or unique instruments (like the wrench xylophone pictured above) in public.
Currently, the girls are both taking piano lessons, and Sophia is starting to learn to play the harp.  Olivia wants to play the guitar or the piccolo (though she has to learn how to play the flute first).  In addition to playing instruments, the girls also sing in a children’s choir and perform at least once a month during the school year.
Olivia Making a Handprint Christmas Tree
Olivia painting a tree with a paintbrush
and her handprints.

Creative expression is also done through painting, drawing, coloring, handiwork, pottery, ceramics, and sewing.  Having ways to express oneself through the arts is as critical of a component to homeschooling for us, as is any core subject (e.g., math, reading, science). 

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Welcome to the first of our Fun in the Summer Fun event! Each Monday until September 7th
Mama to 4 Blessings along with Harvest Moon by Hand,
Adventures of Mommydom, Sweet Diva, and Sweet Phenomena
will be hosting Fun in the Summer Fun link up events.
Here’s the line up:
The 1st Monday of each month: link up your “Kid-friendly summer activities”
The 2nd Monday of each month: link up your “Kid-friendly summer crafts”
The 3rd Monday of each month: link up your “Kid-friendly summer recipes”
The 4th Monday of each month: link up your “How to stay cool in the summer heat”

Here are Harvest Moon by Hand’s
“Kid-friendly Summer Activities”

This week, the girls and I did some fun activities as a kick-off to summer.  Since we homeschool year-round, many of these activities tie into different academic subjects – like math, science, health, physical education, and reading. 

Make a Summer Activity Bag

Before we get started with any outdoor activities, I wanted to make a Summer Activity Bag that would have things that would make our time outside more enjoyable.  The idea came from a past issue of Family Circle.

I picked a bag that we weren’t using.  It’s one that I got from a craft fair several years ago; and it’s made from a felted sweater (a great way to reuse).  

Summer Activity Bag.

The girls and I collected the following items from around the home for the bag:   
– bug spray (handmade using a combination of essential oils from Wyndmere Naturals and water),
– all-natural bug lotion (no chemicals that are harmful to people or the environment),
– sunscreen (Burt’s Bees makes one that is chemical-free),
– anti-itch cream,
– bandaids,
– antiseptic wipes,
– insect after-bite care,
– lotion, and
– ice-cream or special treat money.

In another water-proof bag, I put swimming-related items:
– spare flip flops
– towels
– swimsuits
– small broom, and
– baby powder.
The broom and baby powder are great for getting sand off feet and bodies. 

By putting together these bags, we can simply grab them on our way out the door and have everything we need for spur-of-the-moment fun. 

Start a Change Jar

We started collecting change in a jar on the first day of June.  On the last day of summer, we’re going to estimate it, count it, and then plan a special purchase.  (Hopefully there will be lots of quarters…and significantly fewer pennies!)

The jar is simply a clean salsa jar.  I spray-painted the lid green, and added a hand-written label with the words “Spare Change.”

Jar to collect change during the summer.
At the end, we can do something fun
with the money saved.

Create a Retreat or Fort

The July/August 2007 issue of Country Home had a picture of a hideaway in a forest of pine trees. 

Summer hideaway.
Photo from Country Home.

As you can see from the picture, red and white fabric was hung between the trees, and the ground had a variety of red and white throw rugs.  There were pillows, low chairs, and a table with a picnic set atop.  The girls thought this looked like such a fun idea, and they wanted to make something like that here.

Country Home explained, “To make a hideaway, either choose a location that has trees, use canopy poles…” or use an existing structure with at least three or four sides.  “Tie clothesline around the trees, and hang fabrics (e.g., blankets, quilts, tablecloths) on all sides using curtain clips or clothespins.” 

The pine trees in the backyard have boughs that almost touch the ground.  So, we decided to use the arbor instead since it isn’t being used for anything else. 

Arbor that we thought
would make a good fort/retreat.
We have the volleyball/badminton net set up
next to it…hopefully the ball or birdie
stays in the right area.

As much as I would have liked to go to the fabric store and purchase nicely-coordinated fabrics and curtain clips, I thought a more important lesson for the girls was to learn to make do and be resourceful with what you have on hand. 

So, I went through my fabric and found some rather large pieces – all in the blue/green/purple color range.  Rather than using clothesline that we didn’t have on hand, we used twine since that was an item that we had a surplus of (thanks to bales of hay).

Sophia attaching two pieces of fabric
together with clothespins.

With a large piece of soft flannel, I made four pillows for the girls stuffed with wool from sheep I raised many years ago.  With the leftover fabric, I made a matching ground cloth/tablecloth for picnics, reading, or relaxing outside.

The girls wanted to use the pillows and ground cloth I made
as soon as I brought it out. 
When the pillows and ground cloth aren’t being used,
I put them in a bin that can be left outdoors. 
This will protect them from the rain and sun.

Of course, once we had the hideaway set up, we had to do something fun…like have a an ice cream treat on an 82 degree evening. 

The girls enjoying their ice cream treats on a hot evening
in their new hideaway.

When it’s cooler outside, the girls thought of some other things we could do in the hideaway:  have a picnic, play a game of cards, or read a story.

Hang Up a Hummingbird Feeder

We enjoy watching the hummingbirds that visit us; and providing food for them is a wonderful way to observe them up close and for longer periods of time.  According the May 2007 issue of Family Fun, “With wings that beat up to 80 times per second, these little birds literally buzz about searching for nectar.” 

Hummingbird in Flight
Hummingbird in flight at the feeder
that we put up in the backyard.

Although there is pre-packaged hummingbird food (which I choose to use at least for a few times at the beginning of the season), you also can make your own by stirring 1 part of white cane sugar into 4 parts of water.  If the hummingbird feeder has red on it, there’s no need to add red dye to the water-sugar mixture. 

Go on a “Mystery Trip”

My parents use to coordinate “Mystery Trips” with a senior group to which they belonged. About a month before the Mystery Trip, they would go on a drive to explore different sites that they thought the seniors would enjoy. 

I thought this would be a fun idea to do with the girls, except I don’t have the luxury of going (without the girls) a month ahead of time to plan a trip.  So, I told them on a Saturday morning that they had a half hour to get ready because we were going on a “Mystery Trip.”

“A Mystery Trip? What’s a Mystery Trip?” Olivia asked.

“It’s like a surprise…I know where we’re going, but you don’t.”

“That sounds like fun!  Do I need to bring my swimsuit?” she asked.

And so began the many questions from the girls:  Have I been there before? Is it far away? What should I wear? Do I need to bring some money? And so on.

The first stop was at a bakery that we use to go to periodically.  It reminded me of times when I was growing up and taking a walk to the bakery a few blocks away on a Saturday morning.  It was always such a treat to pick out something special for breakfast. 

First stop on the Mystery Trip:  the bakery.
The girls enjoyed a treat for breakfast.

After that, we did a few errands (living 14 miles away from the closest town makes it necessary to group errands and activities together).  Then, we began driving on a road that we normally don’t go on. 

“Where are we going?” Olivia asked. 

“To the next surprise,” I answered.

“Is it far from here?” Sophia asked. “Have I been there before?”

“Maybe…maybe not. And, yes, you went here many years ago,” I said. 

They had no idea where they were going.  Even pulling into the Wildlife Science Center for their annual Canine Carnvial didn’t immediately bring back any memories since the girls were only about 3 and 5 years old at the time (they are 8 and 10 years old now). 

By the time we walked in, however, parts of the previous visit did come back to them.  “Oh!  I remember this!” Sophia said.

The girls examined pelts from different animals
including this wolf as well as a black bear, and mountain lion.

However, it was what they saw at this visit that interested them even more:  a spotted skunk (who was descented), a fox, gopher snakes, wolves, wolf pup, coyotes, bear cubs, red-tailed hawk, and screech owl. 

The girls were able to observe the animals up close,
and the animals watched them closely as well.

They enjoyed watching the Minnesota Search and Rescue’s dogs go through an obstacle course; and met one of the dogs named Olive. 

Olivia picked Olive’s information card (kind of like a baseball trading card), and thought she recognized her as one of the dogs at the event. She asked the handler if his dog was Olive.  Sure enough, she was Olive.  Needless to say, Olivia was very happy to be able to pet the dog on her trading card.

One of the Minnesota Search and Rescue dogs going
through the obstacle course.

The girls learned some new facts about wolves.  One they they learned was that wolves are inefficient hunters (thus, being part of a group is a good thing, even though they have to share their food).  On the average, a wolf catches only 6 in 100 deer.  Not a high success rate.

Five week old wolf pup at the Wildlife Science Center.
It was very playful…and
looked like it had incredibly sharp teeth.

The girls both had a lot of fun, and got to see some wild animals they normally wouldn’t encounter on a daily basis.  It was interesting to see the screech owl and red-tailed hawk at such a close distance.  Normally we see them flying overhead or perched somewhere. 

So, to be able to see the patterns and colors of the feathers; to have the owl follow the girls as they moved slowly around it, and to see their size up close rather than seeing them in the distance or in a picture in a book…it was a real treat for us all.

A screech owl. 
It weighs about as much as a stick of butter.

Doing a monthly “Mystery Trip” to some place within a 50 mile radius of home would be fun to do.  Next time I’m going to add a few more surprise destinations within the trip and stretch it out a bit more.

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This week – during the break between the thunderstorms, heavy rain, and hail plus a tornado less than 10 minutes from here – we were able to do the Outdoor Hour Challenge Spring Series #4: Wildflowers-Dandelions.

Throughout this post, three different typefaces are used:
– Bold – are words from the Handbook of Nature Study website.
– Italics – are words from the book titled Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock.
– Regular – are my own words.

Before heading outside, I read pages 531-535 in the Handbook of Nature Study about dandelions.  In this way, I could point out different things about dandelions as the girls were looking at them.

Here are some facts from the book that I found interesting:

– The taproot, which lacked only an inch of being a foot in length.  It was smooth, whitish, and fleshy, and, when cut, bled a milky juice; it was as strong from the endpull as a whipcord; it also had a bunch of rather fine rootlets about an inch below the surface of the soil.

– Dandelion leaves [have] edges [that] are notched in a peculiar way, so that the lobes were, by some one, supposed to look like lions’ teeth in profile; thus the plant was called in France “dents-de-lion” (teeth of the lion), and we have made from this the name dandelion.

Dandelion leaves…or
 as the plant was known in France:
“Dents-de-lion” (teeth of the lion)

– The leaves are bitter, and grazing animals do not like to eat them.

– The hollow stalk…may be made into a trombone [by children].  [This is a good] lesson in the physics of sound, since by varying the length the pitch is varied.

– If the plant is in the lawn, the stem is short….It will blossom and seed within two inches of the ground; but if the plant is in a meadow or in other high grass, the stalk lifts up sometimes two feet or more. 

Dandelion stems can grow to be up to two feet tall.
This one was over one foot tall.

– Before a dandelion head opens, the stem, unless very short, is likely to bend down, but the night before it is to bloom it straightens up; after the blossoms have matured it may again bend over, but straightens up when the seeds are to be cast off.

– It often requires an hour for a dandelion head to open in the morning and it rarely stays open longer than five or six hours; it may require another hour to close.

Unopened dandelion in the morning.
The involucral bracts can easily be seen covering the flowers as well as
near the stem where they make a frill.

– The involucral bracts, in the row set next to the flowers, are sufficiently long to cover the unopened flowers; the bracts near the stem are shorter and curl back, making a frill. 

– In the freshly opened flower-head, the buds at the middle all curve slightly toward the center, each bud showing a blunt, five-lobed tip which looks like the tips of five fingers held tightly together.

Dandelion in the process of opening.

– All the flowers in the dandelion head have banners, but those at the center…have shorter and darker yellow corollas.

Fully-opened dandelion.

– On dark, rainy days and during the night the little green house puts up its shutters around the flower family.

– [Dandelions] awaken long after the sun is up in the morning; they often do not open until eight o’clock.

– After all the florets of a dandelion head have blossomed, they may stay in retirement for several days, and during this period the flowerstalk often grows industriously; and when the shutters of the little green house are again let down, what a different appearance has the dandelion head!  The akenes with their balloons are set so as to make an exquisite, filmy globe.

Dandelion akenes make a silver globe.

– The balloon is attached to the top of the beak as an umbrella frame is attached to the handle, except that the “ribs” are many and fluffy.

Four akenes on my shoe.

– This blossom-bald head after all the akenes are gone…is like a mosaic, with a pit at the center of each figure where the akene was attached.

Dandelion head minus the akenes. 
Notice the mosaic pattern.

– Before the akenes are fully out this soon-to-be-bald head is concave at the center; later it becomes convex, and the mechanism of this movement liberates the akenes which are embedded in it.

Akenes ready to fly off.

– Each freshly opened corolla-tube is full to overflowing with nectar, and much pollen is developed; therefore the dandelion has many kinds of insect visitors.

– The following are the tactics by which the dandelion conquers us and takes possession of our lands:
~~> It blossoms early in the spring and until snow falls, producing seed for a long time
~~> It…fourishes on all sorts of soils.
~~> It thrusts its long taproots down into the soil, and thus gets moisture and food not reached by other plants.
~~> Its leaves spread out from thebase, and crowd and shade many neighboring plants out of existence.
~~> It develops almost numberless akenes, and the wind scatters them far and wide and they thus take possession of new territory.
~~> Many insects visit it, and so it has plenty of pollen carriers to insure strong seeds.

Hand covered in pollen from picking dandelions.

Outdoor Hour Time:

Spend 15 minutes outdoors this week in your own backyard or a near-by park. As you walk along, keep your eyes out for dandelions.

Suggestions for Observations

See if you can find several dandelions in various stages of growth.

This was easy to do since we have so many dandelions growing in the yard.  During the mid-day we observed various stages of growth.  In the late-afternoon, we could see the dandelions in various stages of opening-to-closing.

Dandelions in various stages of growth.

Look at the leaves and collect a few for sketching later in your nature journal.

We will be doing an entry in our nature journals this week.

If it is growing in your own yard, you might like to dig up the complete dandelion plant and observe the roots.

Didn’t have a chance to do this, but will do at a later date.

Measure the height of several different dandelion plants and compare them.

This was something that the girls enjoyed.  Their idea was to do a race to find the longest stem. 

Running to get dandelions and
bring them back to measure.

For the first round, Olivia found one with a 6″ stem and Sophia’s was 5 1/2″.  The second round, Sophia found one with an 11 1/2″ stem and Olivia found one with a 10″ stem. 

Olivia measuring a dandelion stem with
Montague standing behind her.

As noted above, dandelions can grow to be over two feet tall.  The girls wanted to see how tall this would be, so they put two rulers together. 

Imagine a dandelion growing this tall! 
Some of them do in meadows or where there is high grass.

Examine an unopened dandelion flower.

Sophia opening an unopened dandelion.

Watch a bee working in a dandelion.

We did not see any bees visiting the dandelions while we were outside.

Observe the seeds and how they are dispersed.

See pictures at the top of the post for the akenes on the dandelion as well as stuck to my shoe.  The girls both could see how they resembled umbrellas.  They also are similar to spiderlings in that they use the wind to find a new location in which to grow.

Observe your dandelions on a sunny day and then on a cloudy day. Note any differences.
We will do this over the weekend since another round of storms are forecasted to arrive on Friday.

Follow-Up Activities:

Take some time to draw the dandelion in your nature journal. Make sure to record your observations of the dandelion and make a sketch of the leaf and flower.

We ran out of time the afternoon when we did the study, so the girls still will need to do a journal page.


Other activities that we did:

We made Dandelion Flower Cookies.  The recipe is from The Splendid Table (on National Public Radio).  Note: Before making the cookies, read Dr. Peter Gail’s instructions for cooking with dandelion flowers (below the recipe).

The cookies are moist and taste have a pleasant, though not strong flavor.  The strongest flavor came from the vanilla, not from the dandelions.  The tiny yellow petals make the cookies pretty and unusual…certainly something that children will remember…hopefully in a good way.

Dandelion Flower Cookies
1/2 cup oil
1/2 cup honey
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup unbleached flour
1 cup dry oatmeal
1/2 cup dandelion flowers
Preheat oven to 375°F. Blend oil and honey and beat in the two eggs and vanilla. Stir in flour, oatmeal and dandelion flowers. Drop the batter by teaspoonfuls onto a lightly oiled cookie sheet and bake for 10-15 minutes.
Cooking with Dandelion Flowers
by Peter A. Gail, Ph.D
Dandelion flowers aren’t just pretty. They are also extremely nutritious food and have none of the bitterness of dandelion leaves if you cut off the green bracts at the base of the flower cluster.
To Prepare Dandelion Flowers for Use in Recipes:
  • Wash them thoroughly.
  • Measure the required quantity of intact flowers into a measuring cup.
  • Hold flowers by the tip with the fingers of one hand and pinch the green flower base very hard with the other, releasing the yellow florets from their attachment. Shake the yellow flowers into a bowl. Flowers are now ready to be incorporated into recipes.
Dandelion Cookies.


I found a few more uses for dandelions which we started to work on:  dandelion vinegar and dandelion-infused oil (which also can be made into a salve).
The first step for both the vinegar and oil/salve is to collect the blossoms.  Make sure they are from an area that isn’t sprayed with chemicals.  These dandelions came from our yard which is not sprayed.

Sophia collecting dandelion blossoms.

Fill a quart jar with blossoms. 

Olivia filling a jar with dandelion blossoms.

For the dandelion vinegar, cover with apple cider vinegar and then put a cover on the jar. 

Sophia pouring apple cider vinegar over
dandelion blossoms.
Place in a sunny location to steep.  Shake well every day.  After two weeks, strain with a cheesecloth.  The dandelion vinegar should be stored in the refrigerator and used on salads.

For the dandelion-infused oil, pour oil (olive, almond, or canola) over the blossoms until they are fully covered. Poke around with a wooden spoon handle to make sure there are no air bubbles.  Cover with a coffee filter held on by a rubber band (or a lid if you’re concerned about the jar being tipped over for some reason).

Olivia pouring oil over dandelion blossoms.

Place in a sunny location to steep for two weeks.  Stir the mixture once a day.

Dandelion vinegar (left) and dandelion-infused oil (right)
steeping in the sun.

After one week, strain the mixture, throw out the brown dandelions, and add fresh ones.  Cover with the coffee filter/lid and return to a sunny location for another week of steeping.  After two weeks, strain using a cheesecloth. 

We haven’t gotten this far yet, but to make the dandelion salve, make the dandelion-infused oil first.  Then add grated beeswax to the oil and melt it.  Add enough to reach your desired consistency.  To test the consistency, drip a drop of the mixture onto a plate.  It will cool immediately and you can see if it is thick enough. 

Dandelions have pain-relieving properties, so the oil and salve can be used for sore muscles or arthritis.  Just apply to the affected area.  It can also be used to relieve sinus headaches by rubbing a little on your forehead.  The salve and oil can be used for dry skin as well. 

As soon as the dandelion vinegar, oil, and salve are done, I’ll post pictures.


There are two more recipes that we want to make, but didn’t have enough time today:  dandelion jelly and dandelion fritters.  We’ll be making these items this week since there seems to be no shortage of dandelions in the yard.


The last thing we did as part of today’s study on dandelions was focused on storytelling and poetry.  I read to the girls the story about how you can’t pick a dandelion. It’s a lovely story and gives a very different view of what a dandelion is…as is anything in nature.

Then I read a poem about dandelions that came from a Waldorf website:

O Dandelion, yellow as gold, what do you do all day?
“I just wait here in the tall, green grass, ’till the children come to play.”

O Dandelion, yellow as gold, what do you do all night?
“I wait and wait, while the cool dew falls, and my hair grows long and white.”

And what do you do when your hair grows white, and the children come to play?
“They take me in their dimpled hands, and blow my hair away!”

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