Archive for the ‘Fun Learning Stuff’ Category

Saturday night art date: polymer clay bugs

February 18, 2018 @ 9:48 am | Filed under: Art, Fun Learning Stuff

Image via Skillshare


Rilla’s pick for our Saturday night art date: “How to Sculpt Beetles, Bugs and Scarabs Realistically” class at Skillshare. Delightful course. Really enjoyed the instructor, Stephanie Kilgast—her lessons are clear, simple, and inspiring. Rilla’s take was: “OH GOOD, this is exactly what I’ve been needing to learn.” (Her two chief interests in life are bugs and art. She wants to become an entomologist-slash-artist.)

My house is about to be overrun with Sculpey beetles, I can tell.

(Referral code for two months’ free trial: )

“Look for a lovely thing and you will find it”

November 22, 2017 @ 8:51 am | Filed under: Books, Family, Fun Learning Stuff, Homeschooling, Poetry

As often as not, this is what our Poetry Teatime looks like: circus animal cookies on a Dominoes napkin. Yesterday we didn’t even remember to bother with something to drink. Although it doesn’t take much to elevate the event (plates would be a good start) 😉 — there are days when you know you’ll miss your moment if you don’t jump right in. This was one of those days. We had just enough time left in our morning for a no-frills poetry teatime and a short nature walk, or a frillier tea and no walk at all. The vote was to squeeze in both.

Huck certainly doesn’t care, as long as poetry teatime contains the two essentials: cookies + Shel Silverstein. He had us all howling with “The Nap Taker” (“I did not take a nap— / The nap took me”). Beanie picked the Lewis Carroll collection (more howls) and Rilla chose a family favorite: Jack Prelutsky’s Imagine That! Poems of Never-Was. (When she read “The Multikertwigo” I had such déja vu. I will always hear that poem in wee Jane’s four-year-old voice.)

I, of course, read selections from Favorite Poems Old and New. There would be a mutiny if I reached for anything else.

(I sneak more contemporary poems into other parts of our day. These children mustn’t grow up without some Billy Collins in their lives.)

Heads up: good deal on Creativebug subscription

November 21, 2017 @ 3:59 pm | Filed under: Fun Learning Stuff

This is a stellar deal: If you’re a new Creativebug customer, you can try a membership for just $1 for three months. I’ve raved about Creativebug many times in the past—we make good use of our subscription ($4.95/month), which gives us unlimited access to hundreds of classes. I pretty much always have a Creativebug challenge going in my sketchbook. Particular favorites are classes by Lisa Congdon, Pam Garrison, Jennifer Orkin Lewis, and Yao Cheng. Those all fall under the drawing and painting category, but Creativebug offers dozens of classes in knitting, crocheting, sewing, baking, soapmaking, and loads of other crafty things. I really consider it one of our best and most economical homeschooling resources.

Affiliate links, but I’m a genuinely happy customer. I couldn’t be more impressed with this platform.

Learning German with Felix and Franzi

October 19, 2017 @ 6:18 pm | Filed under: Foreign Languages, Fun Learning Stuff

A few weeks ago the kids and I discovered a new-to-us resource for our German studies. The Goethe Institute has a set of comprehensive and quite entertaining lessons for children—fun, thorough, and (amazingly) free.

The elementary-aged program is called German With Felix and Franzi, a cartoon frog and duck who move from Berlin to London. Each lesson begins with a short animated video. Supplementary materials include a Powerpoint with vocabulary-practice activities (we download them, move the words and pictures around as directed, and then close without saving changes), as well as music and lyrics for a couple of songs. The site is loaded with additional resources, and I’ve only just begun to mine the possibilities.

While the animation tends toward the preschool end of the spectrum, the lesson content is just right for my two beginners, ages 8 and 11. We work through several lessons a week, beginning each day’s session with a re-watch of earlier videos in the series, with the speed bumped up to 1.5 to help with comprehension. (Since conversational speakers usually talk a lot faster than the characters in educational videos.)

A real plus: the already rich lesson content is further enhanced by corresponding Memrise lessons for vocabulary review! (I’ve raved about Memrise before…)

So our lessons look something like:

—watch one or two of the videos whose content they’ve already learned;
—watch the next new lesson in the series;
—sing a few of the songs;
—(maybe) play with the Powerpoint activities;
—(maybe) watch a few other German children’s song videos on Youtube—not part of Felix & Franzi, just things we find in search;
—(later in the day) Rilla does a Memrise lesson. (Huck’s not a fan.)

It’s a good format for us and I’m pleased with their progress.

Beanie, with several years of German under her belt already, has been investigating the Goethe Institut resources for more advanced students. She especially enjoys the music playlists.

This was an accidental find last month, right when I needed a nudge, and so far the program gets high marks from me. Which is saying something, because I do believe I’ve tried just about every foreign language program on the homeschooling market, at some point or other!

When they want to know about Venn diagrams…

September 8, 2017 @ 8:57 am | Filed under: Fun Learning Stuff

you go to the experts, of course.

“…strange archaic sympathies with the world”

June 3, 2017 @ 9:12 am | Filed under: Books, Commonplace Book, Connections, Fun Learning Stuff

The black curagh working slowly through this world of grey, and the soft hissing of the rain gave me one of the moods in which we realise with immense distress the short moment we have left us to experience all the wonder and beauty of the world.

The Aran Islands, J.M. Synge

This week Beanie and I reached the J. M. Synge episode of The Irish Identity. The quote above found me at the perfect time, as I neared the end of Emily St. John Mandel’s lovely Station Eleven, and on the day the President announced his intention to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement.

Even after the people of the south island, these men of Inishmaan seemed to be moved by strange archaic sympathies with the world. Their mood accorded itself with wonderful fineness to the suggestions of the day, and their ancient Gaelic seemed so full of divine simplicity that I would have liked to turn the prow to the west and row with them for ever.

highlights: week of may 15

May 19, 2017 @ 8:02 am | Filed under: Assorted and Sundry, Fun Learning Stuff


Huck, tearing down the hall: WHOOO, I’M ON AUTOPILOT!

Rilla, tenderly: Honey, I turned your autopilot off.


S. got his new hearing aids—big excitement. His old pair were over five years old, and after a while the quality degrades. The new ones have some bells and whistles we’re still getting used to.

I just realized that the next time he’s due for new aids, he’ll be eighteen. Holy cats.


I’m teaching my second class for Brave Writer this month, nearing the end of Week 2. This one is called “Penning the Past” and is about writing historical fiction. And I’m having a ball. My students come up with the best stuff! I’m going to have to raise the bar on my own writing to keep up with their inventiveness.

I’ll be teaching another section of Comic Strip Capers this summer and possibly another one next fall. Registration for the summer section opens June 5th. I’ll share the registration link in the coming weeks.


Readaloud update:

Finn Family Moomintroll is our daily delight. I just about have all the voices down now. I may roll right into Comet in Moominland when this one is done; we’ll see.

The Witch of Blackbird Pond: you know, I don’t think we touched it all week. We kept getting swept along by the Moomins and forgetting to come back to the Puritans.

In part our neglect of history this week is because Rilla and Huck and I got swept into a collaborative Minecraft project. We’re building a fairy tale village. (Photo to come later.) So far, we have Rapunzel’s tower and the Three Little Pigs’ huts. I think today we may begin work on the gingerbread cottage. So much fun. We got the idea from my friend Christy, whose kids made their own Minecraft fairy tale world a while back. I often pull Minecraft into our studies…for example, when we were reading about Jamestown, we found some videos showing Jamestown replicas people have built in the game.


I had more to share but the 9:00 bird just chirped and it’s time for me to live high tide instead of write about it. 😉 I’ll toss this post up now instead of waiting to finish later—because lately it seems like later never comes! Hope you’ve all had a good week.

high-tide highlights, week of may 8

May 11, 2017 @ 7:04 pm | Filed under: Books, Family, Fun Learning Stuff, Homeschooling

Geography songs — Scandinavia
Latin vocab chants
Perimeter and area
Earworms German
Poetry — “The Stolen Child,” “The Song of the Happy Shepherd,” Yeats
Tall tale: Pecos Bill
Fairy tale: Rapunzel
Cowboy songs (Home on the Range, Get Along Little Dogies, Ole Dan Tucker, Oh Susanna)
The Raggle-Taggle Gypsy
Witch of Blackbird Pond
Finn Family Moomintroll
Nature study: antlions
Rilla: read Meet Felicity
Huck: read Moomin comics
Huck started a new book in piano; he was very excited about this

With Beanie:
Watched The Great Courses: The Irish Identity parts 1-2

The antlion bit was especially fun. On Tuesday, as I was finishing our Moomintrolls chapter, I noticed that the next chapter was the one with the antlion in it, and I wasn’t sure either Huck or Rilla knew what that was. So without telling them why, I grabbed our Handbook of Nature Study and we read a bit about them. And then of course we needed to see one. We watched a short National Geographic video and then followed the suggested link to this delightful video made by a homesteading dad, accompanied by his four young children. At least, I think I counted four.

The video is embedded below, along with one for The Raggle-Taggle Gypsy—our folk song this week.

day fourteen: all about weeds

January 13, 2017 @ 3:41 pm | Filed under: Books, Family, Fun Learning Stuff, These People Crack Me Up



A bonus post for today! But this one’s mostly for me: another little addition to our family collection of All About Weeds stories.

Strangely, I can’t find the first All About Weeds story in my archives. I’m sure I must have written about it here! But maybe not. Maybe it was pre-Bonny Glen, a tale posted to a homeschooling message board instead. I suppose it must have been, now I think about it: my Amazon history tells me I purchased the book on July 13, 2002. And it entered our lives as a library book some time before that. Which fact (its being a library book) provides the drama of the first anecdote, actually.


We’d moved to Virginia only a few months earlier (on New Year’s Day, 2002, as a matter of fact). When spring arrived, O glorious mid-Atlantic spring with its abundance of dogwood and redbud blossoms, I was in a mania to know every single plant growing in our yard. Among the books I checked out from the adorable train-depot-turned-library in our little town was a rather dusty tome about weeds. I did say every plant.

I flipped through the weed book but I found it rather dry, and besides, I was sidetracked by what would become a years-long obsession with Noah’s Garden: Restoring the Ecology of Our Own Backyards. (Chip, meet block.) All About Weeds sat neglected (so I thought) on a table for a day or two, and then I returned it to the library.

Soon after, Jane (age sevenish, I think? heavens, that was a long time ago) came to me, came to me all in a dither. Where, she begged most earnestly to know, WHERE was that fascinating weeds book?

When I told her I’d returned it to the library, she was crushed. It was the BEST BOOK EVER, I was informed (in tones conveying, yes, both capitals and italics). Full of the MOST INTERESTING information. 

And as my shopping history testifies, so persuaded was I of the merits of this superior tome that I purchased a copy for keeps.


The best and perfect weed book makes a number of appearances on this blog, even if its origin story has been lost to the archives of some distant Yahoogroup. “Bonny Glen Firsts” (published in 2011) tells me it was in fact the second book I ever mentioned here:

Second book mentioned (though not by name): All About Weeds, a Jane favorite for years. Seriously.

(Ah, there you go. Not mentioned by name. I’ll have to dig up that post.)

I find it mentioned in a March, 2006 post called “The Tide Is Going Out“—an early exploration of my tidal homeschooling concept.

The other day a neighbor asked me if we take a spring break. I laughed and said, “Yes—the whole spring!”

We’ve had such a pleasant time the last couple of months, immersing ourselves in some good books and other forms of study. Now the outdoors is beckoning, and our daily rhythms are shifting. Spring is calling us, urging us out of the house. We are a bunch of Mary Lennoxes, unable to resist the rustlings and chirpings, the spikes of green, the gypsy winds.

I keep finding cups of water on the counter with tiny blossoms floating like fairy lily pads: the first bluets and starry white chickweed flowers. Chickweed, so Jane tells me, is an edible plant and quite tasty. (“Like sugar snap pea pods, Mom.”) She has begged me not to uproot the vast patch of it that has taken over a stretch of our backyard mulch bed, just uphill from the strawberries. Another weed, a purple-flowered plant the children call “cow parsley,” is popping up all over the lawn, much to their delight: they suck the nectar from the itty bitty orchid-like blossoms and proclaim it better than the honeysuckle they’ll seek out later in the summer.

Jane, who had been binging on math during the past three weeks, seems to have shifted her attentions to botany. I find myself tripping over her tattered copy of All About Weeds everywhere I go, and upstairs, the microscope is much in demand for the viewing of leaf cross sections. An experiment involving scarlet runner beans has become the centerpiece on the kitchen table.

So there we are, four years later, and Weeds is still in constant use. It seems wee 2002 Jane hadn’t been overstating her affections.

A month after that, April 2006: “Things to Do While Your Mother Is in the Hospital” (delivering your baby sister). This one—which is the post that sparked today’s story and this entire trip down memory lane—made me laugh pretty hard. (Not at poor Rose’s plight. At The Book’s role in her recovery.)

If you are seven…

…get stung under the chin by a wasp.

If you are ten…

…recall a passage from that scintillating classic, All About Weeds, describing the sting-soothing properties of yarrow, and concoct a poultice of newly emerging yarrow leaves with which to soothe your little sister’s wasp sting.

Well done, young Jane!


Which brings me to today. Huck’s birthday post keeps turning up melt-my-heart tidbits in the “related posts” widget at the bottom of the page. I was clicking along a little baby-picture rabbit trail when I happened upon the “things to do” post above. Rilla, who was aww-ing over my shoulder at her adorable baby brother’s toddler antics, was transfixed by this glimpse at what her big sisters were up to on the day she was born. She read the post breathlessly, pausing only to interject “Oh, I love that book!” at the bit about “that scintillating classic.”

The chip doesn’t fall far from, er, the older chip.


We found the book, you know, during last week’s grand shelf-cleaning. It has been returned to its permanent spot on Jane’s bookcase.