Archive for the ‘Fun Learning Stuff’ Category

Homebound: a free online conference for homeschoolers & suddenly-at-home schoolers!

March 19, 2020 @ 5:42 pm | Filed under:

Exciting news: something very cool is happening next week.

When Julie Bogart of Brave Writer heard I was planning to do a Prairie Thief readaloud for kids stuck at home, she asked if I’d like to be part of an event she was cooking up with Susan Wise Bauer: a free online conference for homeschoolers and suddenly-home-from-school families. I’ll let Julie explain:

Announcing: HOMEBOUND
March 23-27
A FREE Online Conference for homeschoolers and “suddenly-at-home” schoolers!

I called Susan Wise Bauer and we put our heads together. We realize many of you won’t get to go to a convention this year, and many others of you are brand new to educating at home (while also working from home!). Susan and I know something about both of those. We reasoned: why not do a free conference online? Everyone will be available! :rolling_on_the_floor_laughing: No soccer practice conflicts!So… we invited several friends to join us and we’ve got an entire week of events online planned for you AND your kids!

The lineup:

• Poet Amy Ludwig Vanderwater doing daily workshops for kids keeping writers’ notebooks
Jim Weiss telling stories!
• Melissa Wiley [hey, that’s me!] reading her novel The Prairie Thief aloud
• Josh MacNeill (Neurologic by Lakeside) helping us cope with trauma and boredom
• Charnaie Gordon (Here Wee Read) teaching about empathy through diverse picture books
• Kate Snow (Kate’s Homeschool Math) helping your kids practice and master math facts
• Rita Cevasco (Rooted in Language) helping us know how to grow readers at home, esp those w learning challenges
• Ainsley Arment (Wild & Free) will share about reclaiming a child’s wonder

The Prairie ThiefSUSAN will share her convention lectures: Homeschooling a Real Child, and Why History Matters. I’ll (Julie) give my convention sessions: Home, not School and Word Play: Creating a reading and writing rich lifestyle. ALL details are here: Homebound Conference.

It’s free, but you must register for each session. We need a headcount. All webinars will be recorded for free replay.We are so excited to do this with you!!!

My daily readaloud session will be 4pm EDT/1pm PDT. Here’s the direct link to register for my sessions. And the main page with the schedule and all the details is here.

Suddenly homeschooling? Don’t try to make it like school.

March 17, 2020 @ 6:58 pm | Filed under: , ,

I just wrote an epic Twitter thread with advice for parents who have suddenly found themselves thrust into homeschooling situations due to COVID-19. I promised to compile it here for easy reference, so here it is!

Dear Suddenly & Temporarily Homeschooling Parents:

I’m a work-at-home mom of six who has been homeschooling for over 20 years and I’m here to help if you have questions! I call my family’s learning style “Tidal Homeschooling” in recognition of natural ebbs and flows in life and learning.

One of my kids is high risk for respiratory issues, so our family began social distancing about a week before it went national. This is definitely a low tide season in our homeschooling life! Lots of art projects and games. Gardening. Poetry. Baking. Music. A bit of mellow math.

The Prairie Thief by Melissa WileyAnd readalouds, our absolute staple! Grab a copy of Finn Family Moomintroll or By the Great Horn Spoon or Stella by Starlight or Bronze & Sunflower or The Fourteenth Goldfish or Where the Mountain Meets the Moon or The Girl Who Drank the Moon or…(I could do this all day.)

As you can see, I’m bananas about middle-grade fiction. That’s what I write! Starting next Monday I’ll be reading my novel The Prairie Thief out loud every day at 4pm EDT/1pm PDT. Details coming soon—you can sign up for my newsletter and get more book recommendations. Also this blog! The archives are crammed with book recs for all ages and other fun learning resources.

Challenging but full of delight

I’m seeing a lot of tweets right now about the struggles suddenly-homeschooling families are experiencing and I get it. I’ve homeschooled through book deadlines and killer workloads and breast cancer and kids in the hospital and you name it. What I’ve learned: relationship is the most important thing.

Carve out some work time for yourself & a family quiet reading time if that fits your schedule. Dig out old toys the kids outgrew—nostalgia is a major entertainment aide in times like this. Play board games. Make slime. Find art & craft supplies from projects you meant to finish—let the kids have at ’em. That bin of quilting supplies I’ve been hoarding? Yeah, turns out I’m never going to be a quilter. That fabric is fair game for cooped-up kids now.

We’re getting ready to launch a massive D&D campaign—I’m DMing. And the kid who likes gardening is helping me repot plants. The kid who likes games is roping siblings in to play. Lots of Wii action too.

Don’t try to make it school at home

If they have packets of schoolwork they have to do, don’t let that be the thing that pits you against each other. Working one on one often takes less time than group learning. (Group learning has its perks too. We’re sorely missing our homeschool co-op these days.) Get gummy bears or pretzels for lesson time because chewing helps people concentrate. No, really, it’s a thing. Keep lesson time short for now, and if they’re writing, you write too! Good time to start your plague journal.

Homeschoolers all over the internet are sharing resources right now. Brave Writer’s Homebound page is a fabulous place to start. Or follow Julie Bogart on Instagram. Read her book The Brave Learner: Finding Everyday Magic in Homeschool, Learning, & Life. We’re all brave learners now!

Feed yourself, too

Follow Holly Wren Spaulding on Instagram for poems and thoughts to keep you sane and grounded. I also recommend Commonplace Podcast and The Slowdown—vital listening for my peace of mind. And the Poetry Unbound podcast!

Makers gotta mess

Use up the paints and good paper you’ve been hoarding. Or use printer paper and a ballpoint. Get messy. Do round robin drawings where you draw a bit, your kid adds to it, you add more, you all laugh hysterically & make sweet memories. Get out the family photos. Make videos!

Watch science videos. Watch Bill Nye! Find Cyberchase on PBS Kids! (More magical nostalgia for my gang.) SING, sing as much as you can. Youtube search any song + karaoke—now’s the time for your family to find that perfect song they can belt out. It’s a life skill!

But what about their homework?

If they have math to do: here’s the thing. There are loads of ways to learn math. If a concept isn’t making sense, ask for help here or on Twitter. You’ll be bombarded with creative ideas.

Don’t try to make it “school at home.” The dynamic is SO different. You can do math in bed & foreign language while loading the dishwasher. Make beanbags (remember that fabric stash? If you don’t have thread just staple them) & toss them while chanting times tables. The beanbags won’t last but the memories will.

I wish I had time to ____(it’s time to fill in that blank!)

Find out what each kid has been yearning to learn. Ukulele? Coding? Cake decorating? Let that happen now. Ransack the cabinets. Try Creativebug or Skillshare for classes. Millions of tutorials on Youtube. Let them go deep if they want.

Or let them chill out if that’s what they need. Down time is a precious commodity and lots of kids don’t get much of it these days. Read comics. Crumple aluminum foil & have a catch in the living room. Tape toilet paper rolls (if you scored any) to the wall to make marble tunnels. (I would say fill a pan with rice and hide “artifacts” for littles to find, but maybe you should save your rice for eating.)

Dive deep

All I want to do right now is embroider—I have a couple of TOTALLY ABSORBING stitching projects—but I have a heavy workload at the moment so I have to squeeze it in. Find out what your kid’s (and YOUR) embroidery equivalent is and let now be the time.

A school day includes making lunches and walk/drive/bus time and moving between classes and tests and homework (one of my six goes to public school, I get it)—remember, all those minutes are free now. So you don’t have to expect homeschooling to take as many hours as school-school. In our “high tide” times (structured learning), we knock out our work between nine and noon. Afternoons are free time for my kids and work for me. I have college grads—it worked fine!

My one school kid is in tenth grade. His teacher sent me a packet of schoolwork but said the only thing to make sure he keeps up with is the gratitude journal. Three things a day. I loved that idea and made them for my younger kids too.

This thread got long! I have a bajillion ideas but they all come back to leaning into the together time as much as possible, diving deep into personal interests, keeping a daily rhythm that suits your family (including your own work time), and lots of readalouds for all ages.

All roads lead to learning

Another thing we do! (See? I can’t stop.) My family uses The West Wing as a spine for 10th grade civics. It’s a springboard for all sorts of research topics. You can do the same thing with any show.

Any kid interest can be that springboard. Homeschoolers call it “rabbit trailing.” I’ve written a ton about it here at Bonny Glen over the years.

Schoolhouse Rock. Downton Abbey. The Importance of Being Earnest. Horrible Histories. Fun in themselves, and also: springboards!

Mad Libs. Hot Wheels on the stairs. Jim Weiss stories. Baby books! Seriously. My 11yo son happened upon all our old Sandra Boynton & Byron Barton board books the other day & hauled them all upstairs for a giggly rereading session.

Here to help

Hit me up for ideas anytime. I know it’s challenging to do kids and work in the same space & same time frame! But it can be joyful, I promise. Forget about subject categories and just explore stuff. Let the teens sleep late. Let the tweens learn fancy hairstyles on Youtube.

Make a family Minecraft kingdom. We had one and my kids kept filling my house with pigs, and one of the tweens had a long-running Monty Pythonesque retort competition with my husband via the wooden signs.

My parenting life got hit with a 9-month children’s hospital stay when my oldest was 2yo (leukemia, she’s 24 and healthy now) so I had to learn fast and young how to make life fun for my kid and me in social distancing situations.

Holler if I can help with anything. As the mom of a medically complicated kid (and a person with a dodgy health history of my own), I sincerely thank you for doing your part to flatten the curve.

Preorder my new book, The Nerviest Girl in the World!

Preorder THE NERVIEST GIRL IN THE WORLD, coming August 2020

Awesome Creativebug Classes

September 19, 2019 @ 12:31 pm | Filed under: ,

I’ve archived last week’s Creativebug post (since that special is over), but I wanted a more evergreen record of  classes we’ve enjoyed there. So here’s that post, tweaked for posterity. 😉 

***

I’ve shared a lot here over the years about how much the kids and I love taking classes at Creativebug. Their drawing and painting classes have long been a staple of my Saturday-night art date with Rilla. The modest monthly subscription fee grants access to hundreds of classes in all sorts of creative pursuits: watercolors, line drawing, embroidery, sewing, knitting, crochet, cake design, on and on!

This Lisa Congdon class on Basic Line Drawing launched my personal sketchbook practice several years ago and changed my world. (I’ve since had the pleasure of getting to know Lisa in person, because she lives right here in Portland. She’s a gem! As is her new book,  Find Your Artistic Voice.)

(Note: This is a screenshot, not an embedded video, in case any of you are trying to click on that arrow!)

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Brave Writer Staff Retreat Selfie Album

June 24, 2019 @ 3:40 pm | Filed under: ,

A collection in progress. I intend to keep adding photos as others share them. What a deep joy to spend time in the company of these smart, creative, funny, wholehearted homeschool moms/Brave Writer coaches. Every conversation was full of new discoveries, meaningful connections, and belly laughs.

Julie Bogart and Melissa Wiley

Who could have imagined that the Yahoogroups we joined in the ’90s would bring us lifelong friends and nourishing work? So happy to get some IRL time with my brilliant, inspiring, visionary friend Julie Bogart. Not that you can tell from these pics because I always play it cool.

Jeanne Faulconer and Melissa Wiley

Jeanne Faulconer

Jeanne Faulconer is another fortuitous connection made on homeschooling lists in the mid-90s. I loved her voice in the Home Ed Magazine discussion groups and was thrilled when our paths crossed in person at Virginia Homeschoolers events in Charlottesville and Richmond. Here we are all these years later, still talking shop and bonding over writing & relaxed education.

Farzana Minty and Melissa Wiley

Farzana Minty

I met Farzana Minty at the 2016 Brave Writer conference, at which I was a guest speaker. She came up to me after one of my talks and spoke movingly of some of the parallels between our motherhood experiences. She radiates warmth and kindness in all she does. Getting to spend time in conversation and laughter with Farzana was one of the highlights of a truly magical weekend.

Rebecca Pickens and Melissa Wiley

Rebecca Pickens

We were supposed to sit with different people at every session during the retreat, to give us all a chance to get to know one another if we didn’t already. But somehow the lovely Rebecca Pickens and I kept ending at the same table, and I enjoyed her company immensely. What a gem my new friend is!

Jai Tracy, Jen Holman, Farzana Minty, and Melissa Wiley finding the silver lining in delayed flights

Jai Tracy, Jen Holman, Farzana Minty, and me

Many of us who were supposed to fly out of Cincinnati on Sunday evening encountered cancelled flights. I had just gotten through security and was retrieving my phone from the TSA bin when it pinged in my hand: my flight was delayed and I would miss my connection in Minneapolis. Delta put me up at the Marriott, where I found three more Brave Writer coaches in the same position. (A whole other crew wound up at different hotels.) Our dismay at not getting home on schedule was quickly overtaken by delight at getting to spend some extra time together. Somehow I hadn’t managed much conversation time with Jai Tracy and Jen Holman at any point during the retreat, so I was happy we got to linger over dinner in lively discussion. And I’ll take all the Farzana time I can get!

All my other retreat selfies were taken with other people’s cameras. I plan to scoop them all up to add to this album (starting with my beloved pal Karen Edmisten—a long overdue reunion for us! One worth every minute of lost sleep as we sat up late gabbing). Too delicious an event not to capture.

Travel day!

June 20, 2019 @ 8:41 am | Filed under: ,

Heading to Cincinnati this afternoon. Or rather, heading toward Cinci this afternoon—won’t arrive until fearfully early tomorrow morning.

I don’t sleep well on planes (which maybe makes the redeye a dubious plan) so I’ve loaded up on podcasts & Kindle books for the trip. And took screenshots of some Celtic knot tutorials to keep my hands busy while I listen.

I started with this tutorial at calligraphy-skills.com. It’s great! Clear and easy to follow.

I also came up with a hack for easy access of my travel itinerary. I made a phone wallpaper with my flight information on it so all I have to do is glance at my home screen to know where to go. Took me all of five minutes in Canva. I used their Instagram Stories blank canvas because that’s the size of my iPhone screen. Chose a solid blue background and pasted my flight info where it would show beneath my app icons.

I made two images, one for the outbound trip (above) and one for my return trip on Sunday. All I had to do was save both images to my phone photos and then choose the pertinent image as home-screen wallpaper. What you’re seeing in the image above is a screenshot of my home screen with the travel wallpaper in place. (The red and orange text chunks are captions from when I shared this on IG Stories.)

All righty, time to get moving! This bag ain’t gonna pack itself.

(I say “this bag” like I’ve decided which one I’m bringing. I haven’t. Cram everything into the red bag and thus avoid bringing a carry-on suitcase? But it’ll be heavy and a pain to dig through. Or bring the suitcase, which will be very light because I really don’t need much for a three-day trip, and use the smaller backpack for ready-to-hand stuff. Either way, I’m not checking a bag. Decisions!)

Have a great weekend, friends!

best homeschooling purchase #1: discount markerboards

February 19, 2019 @ 3:05 pm | Filed under: , , ,

A quickie today:

I’ve been getting lots of queries on Instagram about our puzzle boards as seen in the background of the pic, a few posts back, of Huck levitating off the sofa. Katharine asked about them, here, too, and I answered in the comments:

They’re whiteboards! I bought them a zillion years ago from a website called markerboardseconds.com or something like that. Discounted for scratch-and-dent, and man, what a great purchase that has turned out to be. What you’re seeing in the pic above is the backside, which we use constantly for puzzles–that little card table is right next to the big dinner table, so we need to be able to lay out our pieces and move them off the big table when it’s time to eat.

The other side is the whiteboard surface. We use some for homeschooly things, but mostly under watercolor paintings. Again, it’s nice to be able to move the wet paintings off the table to dry. They’re coated with years of spatter at this point. 🙂

That old markerboard seconds site seems to have disappeared, but you can find something similar (albeit considerably pricier) at Waldorf suppliers like Lyra, where they are sold as painting boards. And I’ve seen plain brown ones (no whiteboard side) at art supply shops. When I mentioned in yesterday’s post a topic idea about our best homeschooling purchases ever, these markerboards are what sparked the idea. We use them constantly, daily. The U.S. Presidents are listed on the back of one of them—probably permanent now since I think we wrote them out at least five years ago. And there’s a House of Stuart (or Tudor? both, probably) family tree stained into one of them. And then years and years of watercolor backsplash, as you can see in the top photo here. If you need to move a bunch of wet paintings off the dinner table, you can stack the boards up with Legos or blocks to create space between each tier.

february 4: a monday in high tide

February 4, 2019 @ 5:39 pm | Filed under:
Huck hijinks

This is what’s happening while I’m reading aloud, in case you were wondering

1.

I called for Huck and Rilla to join me for lesson time, and Huck yelled back that he was almost done reading Matilda, would it be all right if he finished? I said OF COURSE I’m not going to yank someone away from the last few pages of Matilda. Rilla laughed and asked her brother, “Who do you think you’re talking to? This is Mom, not Miss Trunchbull.”

2.

During lessons, we were revisiting last week’s history reading about the sack of Carthage. We’d read that when Rome and Carthage were eyeing each other leading into the first Punic War, the Romans—who had no fleet at that point—found a Carthaginian shipwreck and used it as the model to build their own boats. Rilla, pondering the second Punic War which resulted in Rome’s eventual victory over Carthage, despite Hannibal and his elephant strategy, wondered aloud what it would be like to be the captain of that wrecked ship that served as Rome’s model—to know (if you had survived the shipwreck) that your personal tragedy led to the destruction of your whole city. Huck’s eyes at this notion: big as Tiffany Aching’s soup plates.

3.

I can speculate with near certainty that my older children, reading this, will now have the Clouds song from Snoopy: The Musical stuck in their ears. Anyone else out there unable to hear “the sack of Carthage” without the immediate followup of “and the Army-Navy game”?

4.

That Snoopy link goes to a post I wrote in (gasp) March, 2005. And I’m laughing now because some things never change. My kids and I, we’ve had this moment before. Different batch of kids, different moment in Roman history, but:

For our family, this is a song of reciprocal delights. Some of these cloud-tableaux are historical events the girls already knew about, and the idea of Snoopy beholding an entire war sculpted in cumulus is irresistibly funny. Some events are things my kids first encountered in the song. When, years later, we read about the Rubicon in A Child’s History of the World, there were gasps of delighted recognition from everyone including the then-two-year-old. Click, another connection is made.

5.

Of course you know I’m now lost in my own archives. The post just before that Snoopy one:

At the girls’ gym class the other day, someone’s baby dropped a pacifier. Wonderboy picked it up and regarded it studiously. Then he tried to stick it in his ear. He must have thought it was a hearing aid.

Excuse me while I dissolve into a puddle now!

january 3: “I’m trying to see this place even as I’m walking through it”

January 3, 2019 @ 7:50 pm | Filed under: , ,

toy cars

1

Early-morning chat with our Jane before her flight back to California. But oh, we miss her.

2

Huck in my writing chair, reading me the day’s entry from what has become, these past three months, our favorite poetry anthology: Sing a Song of Seasons: A Nature Poem for Each Day of the Year. “Mom, listen! This poem describes exactly how I feel about January.”

January is
a clean white sheet, newly ironed;
an empty page;
a field of freshly-fallen snow
waiting to be mapped
by our footsteps.

—John Foster

The moment this tome came to us last fall—a review copy from Nosy Crow edited by Fiona Waters and gorgeously illustrated by Frann Preston-Gannon—Huck claimed it as his own. He has announced his plan to enter his name in the “This book belongs to ______” blank as soon as he can write it in cursive. (This melts me. The tattered copy of Alice in Wonderland I read to Huck and Rilla in December is inscribed, in the handwriting of a young Rose, with: “To Rose from Mommy, July 3rd, 2007, With Love.”)

3

Four frenzied squirrels scrambling across the pergola and flinging themselves into the overhanging magnolia tree. Clearly they don’t have a seasonal poetry anthology because their antics were straight out of spring.

4

Ron stopping by with a delivery of homemade chocolate chip cookies so delectable they would make a hobbit weep.

5

This fun art tutorial by Lisa Bardot: part of her Making Art Everyday series. Rilla perched beside me and taught me how to get around in Procreate. Boy am I glad I’m homeschooled.

(I had a little trouble with the blending. Rilla’s was one thousand times better. But hey, baby steps!)

6

While I worked on my orange (with much merriment and coaching from my daughter), Huck worked on the cursive letters he learned yesterday. How beautiful is that u, I ask you?

7

Appointment with my new primary care doctor today. She was awesome, and her office is all of six minutes from our house. For this I am profoundly grateful.

8

Overheard (Rose): “He’s the most boring serial killer, in my opinion.”

9

These lines from “Planet” by Catherine Pierce, from HERE: Poems for the Planet, a new anthology forthcoming in April from Copper Canyon Press, edited by Elizabeth Coleman:

This planet. All its grooved bark, all its sand of quartz and bones and volcanic glass, all its creeping thistle lacing the yards with spiny purple. I’m trying to come down soft today. I’m trying to see this place even as I’m walking through it.

december 2: feederwatching

December 2, 2018 @ 2:48 pm | Filed under: ,

I took this photo a couple of weeks ago; most of those glorious leaves have fallen now and the sky is hung upon the bare arms of the trees. Light glows from behind the clouds. I hadn’t realized how much I missed clouds, all those years under the clear blue Southern California sky. Here in the Pacific Northwest, the sky is painted by Maxfield Parrish, shot through with light. Even when it’s overcast and gray, there’s a glow behind the veil.

I made a list yesterday of things to write about. I’ve tucked so many stories in drafts this past year! But everything on my list feels like work. And I’m trying really hard not to work today.

So I’ll talk about Project Feederwatch instead. 🙂 Are any of you participating this year? We missed it last year. And our San Diego feeder attracted rats, so we abandoned it. But here, the birds are putting on quite a show. Our count days are Monday and Tuesday. Last week we counted 25 goldfinches, a flock of bush tits (we lost count at 25 but I think there were more), a handful of house finches and juncos, a female Northern Flicker who visits the suet feeder every morning, a downy woodpecker, two chickadees, two scrub jays, and some starlings. A highly satisfying count. The best view of the feeders is from my studio window, and it amuses me no end to come in here and find the chairs pulled out for better viewing. Huck and Rilla spend a lot of time in here, watching the show.

If you’re interested in taking part in the project, it’s not to late to join for this season. It takes a few weeks for the packet to arrive, but you can download a data sheet to tide you over. Once you get your registration packet in the mail, you begin entering your bird counts online. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology uses this data to “track long-term trends in bird distribution and abundance.” I think it’s open to U.S. residents only (and costs $18 to participate), but there’s a Canadian version linked on the site.

I fill our two tube feeders with sunflower seeds. One suet feeder holds a peanutty cake, and the other is a suet-and-insect cake that the woodpeckers seem crazy about. We scatter a bit of millet on the ground for the juncos, and they clean up any sunflower seeds spilled by the squabbling goldfinches. We also have a mesh sock full of nyjer thistle for the finches. But my favorite is when they descend upon the big pot of cosmos and pick out the seeds from the flower centers.

I keep watching for the varied thrushes who began visiting our yard last winter. No luck yet but I’m hopeful!

I would love to hear about the birds that visit your yard, feeders or no!