Category Archives: Homeschooling

Moms’ Science Weekend

Me and my girl, Sally

Me and my girl, Sally

Science can be the monster in the closet for a lot of homeschoolers.

Maybe you never really made your peace with it or only took a course or two of upper-level science, and now you find yourself responsible for your kids’ science education. How are you going to pull this off?

The fact is science doesn’t have to be that scary.

It also doesn’t have to become an ancient memory once you’ve finished your formal schooling. Personally, although I loved what chemistry I took in high school, biology and I never seemed to get along, so I got the idea that I “wasn’t a science person.”

Yet I find that much of the reading I do is centered around health and nutrition studies. Actually, I’m intensely interested in those things, and guess what? They’re ALL ABOUT SCIENCE!

IMG_6148I do find myself wishing that I had a better foundation in certain things, like chemical or molecular structure or taxonomy, so that when someone gets to talking peptides, I’d be right at home. The fact is, it’s not too late to learn, and science is still relevant in my life, not just because I’m a homeschool teacher but because it’s involved in my health, diet, love of nature, habits, and even possibly, my political choices. And these days, in a world where a false dichotomy between faith and “science” is set up, I’d venture to say that a good understanding of science is crucial to maintaining a tenable faith.

Professional Development for Moms

Moms really need to cultivate their thought life, yet we rarely get the opportunity to fully indulge in this.

We invest a lot in our kids learning and getting proper guidance in tricky subject areas, but we tend to put ourselves last when it comes to this, as if the importance of us being educated faded away when we gave birth to our first child.

So when I heard about Landry Academy’s Science Retreat for Moms, I was all over it. Okay, I was all over it after Jackie signed up and prodded me to go sign up too. (She knows me.) For just $25, the price was totally right, and I was really excited about the prospect of learning some new things and getting to ask questions to someone knowledgeable.

The retreat was led by Greg Landry, a homeschool dad with a Master’s of Science who, six years ago, started offering online classes in biology and chemistry at the request of some families after he had taught some classes in person for homeschoolers in his community. Since then, they’ve expanded to 180 classes in science, history, English, SAT/ACT prep, and other subjects, taught by Christian teachers who are passionate about and have expertise in their field.

I discovered I'm more squeamish about pricking my own finger than dealing with sheep guts.

I discovered I’m more squeamish about pricking my own finger than dealing with sheep guts.

The details of what we would do on the retreat were kind of a mystery until we got there. All I knew is I would be sleeping on a bunk bed with a room full of other women. The food and accommodations were basic but clean and comfortable. Think summer camp, but I, for one, think the slumber party atmosphere was part of the fun.

Greg set us up with some nifty notebooks full of anatomical diagrams and charts we could use for experiments when we got home and had several tables of give-aways we each got to choose. Saturday morning, we dug into the science by typing our blood and doing what I never thought myself capable: dissecting pregnant sheep and cow uteri. We also used PTC strips to see if we were “tasters” or “non-tasters” and linked that to a discussion of basic genetics.

Greg told us lots of memorable stories related to anatomy that we’re not likely to forget soon, and he shared his belief, based on everything he’s seen and studied, particularly about the human body, that the most reasonable explanation for the elegant, fine-tuned design of everything from the cellular level on up is that we were made by a Creator. He mentioned that he thinks it’s particularly important to teach biology with a view toward this and recommended Science Shepherd as a text for this.

Some of the goodies: PTC paper and pH testing paper

Some of the goodies: PTC paper and pH testing paper

Two Landry Academy teachers were there to talk to us also. Jen teaches Intro to Marine Biology via webcam at the beach from her home in Tampa. I’m thinking my aspiring marine veterinarian would be pretty awed by that! Angela Little was on hand to give us some tips on her field, SAT/ACT prep. I was amazed to learn that it’s really recommend for kids to begin sitting for these tests as young as 7th and 8th grade, if only to get accustomed to the test conditions. Angela said the child taking the test during her junior or senior year risks missing application deadlines or the opportunity to retake for a better score.

The camp looked out on a small lake.

The camp looked out on a small lake.

The science and the getaway were great, but the best part of the weekend was being around and getting to meet so many other moms of faith. Sometimes (ok, how about every day) you just need to hear out loud that God is working in your life, in the lives of us who don’t do prestigious jobs and who are prone to major imperfections. You need to see people who are trusting him and putting him first and maybe doing some things you could do better.

That’s the Body of Christ at work, strengthening and edifying its different members, right?

You need to be around other people who can listen to your struggles and understand why they’re worth it and know that it’s not necessarily time to throw in the towel.

I’m definitely considering enrolling Mustard Seed in one of Landry’s classes at some point, and I’d recommend the moms’ retreats. They’re held all over the country. Find out here when one will be held near you.

What other ways  have you heard or thought of for intellectual “professional development” for homeschooling moms? I’m not just talking about going to a conference where they talk about curriculum options and heart inspiration but ways to help us moms get into the meat of the material in the various fields we will be teaching in our homeschooling career? Retreats? Book clubs? What would make it easier for you to dive into a subject that intimidates you?


How Charlotte Mason Is Changing the Way We Homeschool

During the second half of the school year, I discovered Charlotte Mason.  Mason was a British educator around the turn of the last century who established many schools and articulated a philosophy of education.

I was aware of Charlotte Mason and knew something about homeschooling in this style, but I didn’t really understand it until recently.  But I knew we needed work in the department of good habits, and I remembered she addresses how to build good habits in kids.

Some Charlotte Mason principles I discovered:

  • The goal is not to fill the bucket of the child’s mind with as much as possible so much as it is to light a fire that will keep on growing.
  • Read, read, read lots of “living books” with your children—ones that excite the imagination and bring kids to grapple with worthwhile ideas, even from a very young age.
  • Don’t get in between the author and your child by creating a filter with explanations and your own interpretation.  Let the author do the talking.
  • Don’t worry if words go over their heads.  They will learn the words by hearing them in repeated contexts or they will ask.
  • Teach math more through conversation, interaction, and the use of manipulatives than through math problem after math problem.
  • Get outside and study nature for as many hours a day as possible. Keep a nature journal where you (and your children, in their own) sketch flowers, trees, birds, butterflies, anthills, grubs, etc., noting seasonal changes.
  • Have children narrate back to you after they’ve read something, but don’t harangue them to give more details, and don’t re-read the passage for them.
  • Keep lessons short.  This encourages the habit of paying attention.
  • Try, as much as possible, to let kids deal with the things themselves and not an abstraction of the things.  In science, this means nature study and experiments.  In geography, it means measuring and mapping the house and neighborhood before moving on to maps of Europe.

And much more! I have many inspiring quotes from Mason just waiting to be shared.

So, since we started out this year taking a classical approach, which is also what we did last year, we were using Tapestry of Grace, which assigns books for each week or sections of spine books to read, and it gives projects and worksheets as well as teaching points.

I found—not necessarily because of Tapestry of Grace, but because of me—that we were continually slipping into getting our book work done and never having much time left to do “fun” school.  Thus, we might read a chapter on Mars but not get to the recommended experiments.  Or read about Charlemagne but never act out the Battle of Tours or make a coat of arms.

*In fact, CM and the classical approach are very similar in many ways.  I suspect some of the differences are (almost) semantics, but the CM way of articulating philosophy of education seems to be communicating the goal to be more effectively right now.  I’m still in favor of rigor and of reading the classics.

Charlotte Mason has made me see that we need to spend more time working with things themselves than sit-still work.  This is not to rule out reading by any means, but it has inspired me to start with some of the things that Mustard Seed seems to learn best from anyway and to keep reading and “lecturing” short. It’s also made me see the importance of making sure we get some beauty into our activities, even if that means starting with them some of the time.  This is the stuff that lights people’s fires.

So this is some of what our school week included last week.  It was a lot of fun and whereas I usually have to bring her attention back to her task frequently or ask her to stop fidgeting, there was not as much of that.


  • Learned about the Fibonnaci sequence and then made Fibonacci rectangles rectangles on graph paper, following a lesson plan from and Mensa for Kids
  • Used vintage buttons and an egg carton to create a “button factory”–to practice multiplication skills. I gave her orders for 6 packets containing 3 buttons, for example and she had to figure out the total.  Or I told her how much each button was worth and she determined how much money we would receive from the order.
  • Also practiced multiplication using Fun Multiplication
  • Talked about perpendicular, parallel and straight lines and their angles. I Introduced her to acute, obtuse, and reflex angles. We played “guess the angle” games on the computer and practiced measuring them with a virtual protractor. We practiced drawing circles with a compass and learned about radius, diameter, “inners and edges” (i.e., perimeter and area), what pi is.  Read Sir Cumference and the Isle of Immeter for this.
  • Checked out some of the living math books found on Living Math website and read them


  • We read The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew and Mustard Seed narrated on it.
  • I read Twelfth Night and Taming of the Shrew from Tales from Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb, and we acted them out using animal finger puppets.
  • Mustard Seed read 7 Little Golden Books on her own for reading practice, besides some of the living math books.


  • Mustard Seed knitted a “doll’s blanket” (her first knitting swatch on huge needles) while I knit my patchwork blue blanket

Science and Nature Study

  • Finished up Apologia chapter on Jupiter and checked out astronomy videos online.  We’re renewing our plans to figure out how to use the telescope we were gifted so we can see some astronomy first-hand.
  • Took a blanket out behind the house, picked dewberries and sketched cosmos


  • Drawing lesson from Drawing With Children


  • Mustard Seed chose lines from poems and Bible verses the called her attention.


  • Outdoor words like flower, grass, fence, colors


  • Read the story in the Bible of the man who got lowered through the roof, reviewed some of the story of David and Saul, and worked on Psalm 100 as a memory verse


  • We practiced violin, sounding out rhythm in 4/4 time, and singing songs to the rhythm of a metronome.

Dewberry Picking

Nothing says spring in Texas quite like dewberries.

They bring back memories of my early childhood in rural Texas amid piney woods.  Walks down the curving road under a pink ruffly parasol with my dad teaching me how to skip and run backwards.  A shaded sandbox in back of the house.

We are so fortunate to have dewberry bushes growing in profusion within walking distance of our house.  I’m changing some things about the way we homeschool.  One of the things we’ll be doing a lot more of is spending time in nature.  Scouting for dewberries seemed the perfect opportunity for this, so Mustard Seed and I scoped out the situation last week.  We found one or two ripe ones, but almost all of them were still green.  The good news is there are lots!

This week, we went back  with two friends to check their progress.  Oh, what fun we had!

The primroses are blooming all behind the house.  (We always called them buttercups.)

I was a little sceered getting so deep into the thicket, but that’s where all the good ones are!  We came prepared with boots, pants, and sticks.  We have to remember the gloves next time, too!  Won’t be long until these ones are ready.

Can you see all the green ones?! Look what awaits us in a few weeks! Yum!

We ran into these pretty flowers along the way.  I’m wondering if they’re some kind of violet.

Amazing to think that if I let the weeds in my yard go completely, they would turn into this beautiful thistle flower.  Still…no, I’ll be pulling these on my property and just enjoying them in the wild.

I’m not sure what these red fuzzy ones are, but I sure do like them.

Our cache turned out to be small but delicious.  If you’ve never had a freshly picked dewberry, don’t deceive yourself: they’re not just blackberries.  The flavor is similar, but dewberries are more tart and they have that certain je-ne-sais-quois.  Just go pick some for yourself if you can and find out!  I’ve heard fresh-picked blackberries also put store-bought blackberries to shame.

Of course, you can’t have dewberries without stained fingers–and usually a few thorn pricks, too.  It makes them all the more delicious!