Homeschool Summer Vacation in Maine

We’ve been avidly enjoying our summer vacation.

The boys are eating up the free time (among other things),

and I’ve been taking the time to pursue some of my many interests.

But here is a brief glimpse into some of

our summertime activities.

Nothing beats eating blueberries right off the bush.

A flair for dramatics.

“Workin’ Girl”

A stunning yellow flower in my garden.

Putting on fruit.

Time for cole-slaw! Yay!

Stunning red flower in my garden.


Homeschool Summer Vacation Update

As the Scientific Homeschool, we’ve finally finished with our first year officially homeschooling, and are now enjoying the summer hiatus.  That doesn’t mean that there’s nothing going on, however.

I’ve been working on new segments for the ESU.  We’ve worked our way through the Cambrian, and when we take up our lessons again after vacation we will be working on a study of the Orcovician Period, with a science focus on the ocean habitat.  I’ve ordered a new science reference book called Ocean; The World’s Last Wilderness Revealed–from the American Museum of Natural History.  Like the other reference books we’re using with the ESU, Ocean is visually stunning and equally informative.

Also, I’ve been hard at work researching new materials for the upcoming school-year, and for methods that will improve the Earth-Studies Units.  In particular I’ve been looking at using Inquiry to teach science, and how I could use it in correlation to the ESU.

Inquiry is the active search for knowledge or understanding to satisfy a curiosity, and always involves a focus on collection and interpretation of information in response to wondering and exploring.  Inquiry-oriented science instruction is associated with hands-on learning, as well as experiential or activity-based instruction.  Also, inquiry-oriented science instruction is linked with what is known as the “discovery approach” or with the development of process skills associated with the “scientific method”.  You can expect to hear more about Inquiry in the up-coming series regarding that subject, which I am currently preparing.

Check back soon for my up-coming series regarding “Teaching Science Through Inquiry”.

End of the Year Assessments

With our 2009–2010 school year drawing to a close I find myself taking a look back on the last year.  Taking a scrutinizing look at all the things that worked for us, and all the things that did not.

After a rough start in the fall getting into a consistent routine, we eventually managed to get quite a bit accomplished this year.  Though we’d done preschool and kindergarten at home, this was our first “Official” year homeschooling; our first year accountable for what Winter’s learning. 

Taking into consideration Winter’s learning style and his unique needs as a child on the Autism spectrum, I had already learned that strict adherence to a structured routine helped him to function throughout the day.  For our first year of serious schooling I simply adjusted the routine we already had established.  The problem I had with that was Winter’s stubborn resistance to change, and to formal schooling.  It took us until well into January before Winter and I had really broken in the new regimen; consequently our school-year ran late–it is now the end of June and our last day of 1st Grade is schedule for Saturday, July 3rd.

Winter is not a self-motivated child, and so the practice of unschooling that is becoming so popular among many homeschoolers–does not work for us.  Personally I like the principle behind the ideal, but I have no doubt that left to his own devices Winter would simply park himself in front of the nearest computer and play video-games all day, every day.  Also, I feel that a certain amount of formal schooling is beneficial so long as the individual’s learning style and personal needs are considered.  And so, following a story-time period we congregate at the kitchen table for lessons five days a week.  

This year I mainly focused on the 3-Rs: reading, writing, and arithmetic.  Handwriting is a major struggle for Winter, but he’s made great strides with it this year, through copy-work and journalling.  His reading ability exploded in the fall–we suspect he was reading some on his own when we started the school-year, and after persistent  demands for a period of oral reading during our formal school time, Winter’s abilities were revealed.  He is currently reading at a 3rd to 5th grade reading level, and still sometimes insists that he’s “not a good reader”. 

We’ve covered most of the same maths that first-graders in the system would have learned: addition, telling-time, patterning, skip-counting, measuring inches and centimeters.  I also introduced greater-than and less-than, place-value, and money.  I would have been well-satisfied if he had memorized all of the addition math-facts, but I think he had a good firm foundation, and I intend to increase attention to math in the new school-year.

Alright–science isn’t one of the 3-Rs–hell, it’s not even an ‘R’, but this is a scientific homeschool, and so science education played a headlining role in our curriculum.  My husband and I strive to provide a scientific foundation with our very lifestyle, so the inquiry and process habits were already there.  I simply provided direction with the Earth-Studies Units, which look at science through the history of our planet Earth.  We studied the Big Bang theory, the Hadean Eon, volcanoes and plate tectonics, the Archaean Eon and evolution.  We looked at the Proterozoic Eon through a unit study regarding microscopic life, where I introduced the microscope to not only my children, but also my nephews.  And we looked at the start of the Paleozoic Era with the Cambrian Explosion and vertebrates vs. invertebrates. 

I tried to provide a science education that was both factual and hands-on.  So we utilized reference books, as well as performing hands-on experiments and multi-sensory activities such as games, videos and documentaries, and data-keeping through lapbooking.

Overall I think our first year of serious schooling was a success.  Winter made good progress and we’ve all learned a lot about what works for our family, and what does not.  We’ll be celebrating our accomplishments this Sunday with a bar-b-que, as requested by Winter, and he will receive his awards and a new TinTin book as a prize for all his hard work.  Then I’m looking forward to a few weeks off to regroup before we start again.  Hooray for summer vacation!

Sharing My Garden Enthusiasm

Summer is nearly upon us, and I am in full garden-mode right now.  My mind obsesses over the garden and its many facets.  I’d spend every waking minute in the garden–if only my body didn’t protest so!
I have ten garden beds–six raised beds in the main garden nearest the house, and four beds on the lower section of our large backyard (and also four tire-beds alongside the house).  Last year, after we moved into town and into the house where we now live, I reluctantly had my husband till the gardens.  As a firm believer in the no-till method, which preserves the soil’s microorganisms and the symbiotic relationship between them and the plants, it was hard for me to concede the use of the tiller.  However, a girl has to accept her limitations, and if I were to dig the gardens I would have spent all summer at it last year.
However this year the gardens were ready to go; I covered them early in the season with black plastic, tarps, whatever I had that would prevent the weeds from taking over my beds before I was ready to plant in them.  This strategy worked to my advantage; I’ve tackled one bed at a time–uncovering the soil to find warm, moist dirt, which, in some cases, needed very little digging to be readied for planting.  All of my early-season crops are already in (I had a mishap with my pea-seeds, so no peas this spring–maybe I’ll try them again this fall), lettuces, greens, beets, chard, broccoli, cabbage, kale, cauliflower, etc.  I put in carrots, rutabega, more beets (we love beet-greens!), herbs, and just last weekend–the cucumbers and pole beans.  This weekend I managed to put in my  tomatoes and peppers, with their marigold friends and basil allies, along with a number of annual friends dispersed throughout the garden.
I try to keep my garden kid-friendly, to promote gardening to the youths in my life.  I teach all the children to respect the soil–“Stay on the paths!”  And I explain why.  I sometimes dole out simple garden chores; my nephew is an eager helper, curious and inquisitive–no one is shunned from my garden.  I maintain a tee-pee made with saplings and hemp-twine, which we grow pole beans and morning glories and moon-flowers up to create a fun play-space (with it’s own built-in snack!).  I let the kids poke seeds into the dirt, fetch a bucket-full of fertilizer, or try their hand with the spading fork.  “It’s hard!” they sometimes say when using the spading fork or shovel, and I chuckle and tell them, “Gardening is hard work, my friend.”  But it’s worth it.
And, of coarse, we have the recent arrival of our bee colony.  Pollinators are an integral part of the garden, so it was a natural progression to include a colony in my yard.  Already the bees are hard at work, scouting out new food sources, and returning with their bounty to the hive.  They really are fascinating to watch.
Some of my organic methods include the no-till practice, lots of mulching (I use whatever I can afford, even if it’s only cardboard, which you can find free just about anywhere you look–I say: “Free’s for me!”), composting (obsessively) and soil-building practices, home-made organic weed-killer, home-made organic insect repellent, companion planting, plant-family grouping, square-foot gardening, and raised beds.
So–that’s how my garden grows…how does yours?

Seasonal Science

Spring has come to our neck of Maine, and with has come the annual fidgets.  The children are sick of doing regular lessons, and we are all ready to spend some time outside.  As homeschoolers its okay for us to ease up off the daily grind, and focus our attention on other things for a time, and so we’re taking science outside, where the natural world may influence us.  Our family has a variety of outdoor interests that can lend themselves to scientific study: gardening, herpetology, and beekeeping–are the main focuses this spring.

As an avid organic gardener, the introduction of a bee colony to my backyard only made practical sense.  As a scientific homeschooler incorporating the bees into a science unit-study seemed logical as well.  So I did both.

I’ve been hard at work on my most recent Kids Investigate lens at Squidoo.  I’ve searched the web for a month and a half looking for the best resources for beginning beekeepers and for kids, and compiled them in one place.

Check it out here:

Kids Investigate Bees; A Beekeeping Unit Study for Homeschoolers

Included in the lens are plenty of links to reference materials, resources for beginning beekeepers, crafts, printables, and activities related to bees for the kids, videos, links to articles, and more.

(Blog-post from TSH beta-site-originally posted May 16, 2010)

Preparing for the Arrival of Our Bee Colony

For those of you who don’t already know–I’m an avid gardener.  I garden using the biointensive method, companion planting, and other organic methods.  This year I am excited to be adding my first backyard beehive to my organic garden methods.
  I’ve been reading: The Hive and the Honey Bee; and I’m working on a new  a unit study at Squidoo, which, of coarse, means I’m getting my research and homework done before my bees arrive.  I’ll post a blog-entry announcing the lens’ completion and the appropriate link as soon as it’s published.
During my bee-investigations I came across this clip at YouTube (among others of more educational value–which will be displayed on said Squid-Lens).
I’m thankful to have my sister in-law (who is also my good friend) to help me prepare and tend my first colony.  She had her own colony as a youth, and is bubbling with excitement at the prospect of caring for bees again.  Today she and I, and Winter and Summer, ventured to Brewer, to Swan’s Bee Supply, to purchase several more frames, and the wax inserts, which goes into the frames for the bees to build their combs on.
We’ve been busily scraping and sanding, preparing to paint the bee-boxes; our goal being to have the hive ready to go this weekend, as our bees may come any time between May fifteenth through the twentieth.  The children all seem curious and intrigued by the idea of having a beehive in our own backyard.  They’ve even volunteered on occasion to help us work on the beehive and the frames.  I think the enthusiasm of my sister in-law and I is somewhat infectious–don’t worry, though; I don’t believe it’s fatal.

Climbing Bald Mountain in Rangeley

As an early Mother’s Day gift, my husband arranged to take me out–without kids–to do whatever I wanted.  I chose to climb Bald Mountain in Rangeley.

It’s a pleasant drive on Route 4 from Farmington, through Strong, Phillips, and Madrid, along the Rangeley Lakes Scenic Byways, to get to Rangeley.  Click here to view a map or get directions for your trip.

Actually, the Bald Mountain Trail is reached through Oquossoc, but it’s very easy to find.  Using my trusty Maine Atlas I found the directions, and the trail was marked at the roadside by a large wooden sign provided by the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands–you can’t miss it.  There is plenty of parking, and a very clean outhouse–not even foul odor marred this privy.

The Atlas describes the trail as an easy 1 mile hike–a “family friendly loop”.  However, hubby and I both wondered how accurate their trail-length is, because the trail seemed longer than a mile (note to self: buy pedometer).  Also, I wouldn’t recommend anyone with very small children try the trail, as some places are very steep–though I suppose it would all depend on how ambitious you are.  Hubby had never climbed a mountain before, and it had been years since I had climbed, though I still do a lot of hiking, so I’d like to think I was probably in better shape than my poor husband, who has trouble with his knees and was already sore to begin with.

The trail started out fairly easy, it was well marked with blue, and quite pleasant.  But little more than half-way along the trail began a much steeper ascent.  Without realizing the full extent of our actions, we brought the family dog, Tamra, who is going on twelve, getting older, and had to be hefted over some of the rockier sections where there was some physical climbing involved.


At the top of Bald Mountain there is an abandoned fire tower–not the old wooden kind you might initially imagine, but a very sturdy and rugged galvanized metal tower–very safe.  The view from there is gorgeous and, for me it was well worth the climb.

We ate our picnic lunch on one of the two picnic tables on top of the mountain.

Going back down we saw this little red squirrel who stopped to watch us watching him for a full five minutes before he got upset with us and began chattering angrily higher up the tree.

Overall it was a pleasant day out.  I tried in vain to console my poor sore hubby that this trail was “easy” and to imagine what some of the more difficult trails must be like.  The dog wasn’t buying it either, and passed out in the back seat of the car on the way home.

We Love TinTin! and Comic Books


It all started when Winter went out with Grammy one afternoon to the thrift store in Skowhegan.  He came back with a few little trinkets they’d found together, including a paperback copy of The Adventures of TinTin in America.

As a fan of quality classic literature like The Trumpet of the Swan and Moby Dick, I never really got into comics and I fully admit I didn’t understand all that comics bring to the table.  Sharing the comic books with Winter widened my perception and allowed me to see the literary jewels that comic books are.

Winter was a ready-reader, and since he’s started reading the TinTin comics his reading ability has sky-rocketed.  Just last fall Winter was reading Bob books; this spring he’s reading The Adventures of TinTin on the Black Island, as well as Mr. Putter and Tabby, and much more.

Comic books are extremely useful educational tools, and they are slowly becoming a respectable literary source in classrooms around the globe.  Pairing visual and written plot-lines are especially helpful to struggling and reluctant readers.  The vivid illustrations entice the readers to become literate, creative, and imaginative beings.

Boys in particular are drawn to comic books and graphic novels for a number of reasons.  Often comic books relate adventure stories involving superheroes.  They don’t shy away from violence, which appeals to a boy’s aggressive tendencies.  Boys like the straight to-the-point dialogue.  The vivid illustrations appeal to the more visual sex.  And of coarse, comic books are so much “cooler” than novels, and boys find reading comics more socially acceptable.

There are a number of great comic book series out there.  I’ve taken to reading the Fruits Baskets series for my own personal enjoyment, but for us it’s still largely focused on TinTin.

We recently discovered the TinTin cartoon series, which we watch through YouTube.  I joined the TinTin Fanclub on Facebook after discovering their blog, and we’re all eagerly awaiting the release of the new TinTin movie next summer 2011.

Educators can utilize comic books in a variety of ways, but mainly I like to think of them as a gate-way book.  With the main goal being to get the child reading, then, once he’s comfortable with literature, you can introduce a select few of the classics.

For more information regarding comic books and their place in education try these articles and resources:

Comic Books in the Classroom

Comic Books Belong in Schools

Top 20 Children’s Comics

The Comic Book Project

Kids Love Comics!

FIDDLEHEADING: A Maine Tradition


Fiddleheading is a long-standing Maine tradition.  It’s an annual adventure to trek to your local river-flats to pick the ferns before they unfurl in the Spring.  Locals prize their picking-spots like a secret family recipe;
I could tell you where I go, but then I’d have to kill you.

Those who have never heard of Fiddleheads look at you as though you might be from another planet.

“You–eat ferns?


Fiddleheads are the tightly coiled tip of a fern, which is picked early in the season, just as the plants are emerging from the damp soils of a river-bed or wet, low-lying area.  Don’t worry, the plant is affected little by the harvesting of the fiddlehead.  Fern leaves will sprout and unfurl, and the plant will come back year after year.  And so does the Mainer.

I’ve been travelling to the same river-flats since I was a little girl.  I came with my mother, what seems like a life-time ago now.  I’ve come with my husband.  Now I come with my kids.  Down the narrow, winding path through the forest to the gorge that the Carrabassett River has carved out of the land.  It’s a steep drop from the forested hillside to the wet river-bed, so before this I came without kids, since I wasn’t keen on carrying them and X-number of pounds of fiddleheads back up out of there.

As you can see, the trees are only just beginning to leaf-out.  It is the greening of Spring.  It was a beautiful morning to be outdoors and in the forests.  Birds called in the tree-tops as I crouched at the sandy, musty soil picking the fiddlehead.  My old dog startled a small flock of wild Mallard ducks, and enjoyed a bath in the icy river-water that runs down from the mountains.  The kids settled in, soaking up the sensual feeling of the outdoors and nature.

 We eat our fiddleheads steamed, with butter and a little vinegar, as you would other greens, such as spinach or beet greens or chard.  These ones we had with a fine cut of steak from Kniffin’s, which I broiled.  It was a very satisfactory meal.

My oldest son scarfed his right down, however, my two nephews who are from out of state, were trying fiddleheads for the first time, and thought they left a little to be desired.

But just look how beautifully green they look popping up out of the ground!  What pride they fill me with, to think back on such a cultural tradition, such family memories, and such Earthly bounty.

Fiddleheads are a spring blessing to be truly thankful for, in more ways than one.

For more information about which ferns are edible, and how to cook them, check these resources:  Fiddlehead Ferns: Springtime Edible Treats; How to Identify Fiddlehead Ferns.

The Maine Atlas

maine atlasSomehow I lost my Maine Atlas, which is a key tool to roaming the state, so I had to go track down a new one.

Wal-Mart didn’t seem to have one.  Campbell’s True Value didn’t have one.  Eventually I managed to find one at Irving’s, though I was informed that once those in stock are gone they will no longer be carrying the map-book.

For anyone who enjoys traveling and exploring, a state atlas is a stupendous tool.  Not only is it a detailed map-book, it also lists recreation areas, locations for family outings, campgrounds, unique natural features, locations for outdoor adventures, and a list of lakes and rivers for fishing and what might be caught there.

The gazetteer cost me $19.95 plus tax, which is a fair chunk of money to me, as pitifully poor as I am, but a worthy sacrifice.

Wherever I go, my Maine Atlas goes with me.