Archive for the ‘Just for Fun’ Category

Ahhh, the beginning of a new year.  With decorations safely stowed and everything in the house fresh and clean again, my thoughts easily turn to what else I can tidy up and invigorate.  Guess what’s usually next on the list?  Yep — homeschooling.

I make lists of things I want to accomplish with the kids.  I browse bookstores and online categories for new material.  I contemplate schedules and online classes and textbooks and worksheets.  I visit blogs and hit inspiration overload.  I ask the kids to list everything they want to learn.

We go gangbusters for about a week.  Two if we’re lucky.  And then, inevitably, life takes over and things fall by the wayside and we’re back to our zany, unorganized homeschool life.  The life that absolutely works for us.

So this year, I’m trying out some different homeschool resolutions. They look a little like this:

  • Avoid homeschool comparison and envy.  It’s easy to get caught in this trap — to listen to other homeschoolers gathered at open gym or to read blogs and think, “Wow.  Those kids are entering essay contests and building rockets and racing snowmobiles and the only thing we did this week was make scented play-doh.”  So what?  Are your kids happy?  Did they have fun with the scented play clay?  That’s all that matters.
  • Embrace white space. For a lot of homeschoolers, a full calendar provides a soothing impression of a thriving homeschool.  If you’re gone every day, doing field trips and classes and play dates, surely the kids must be learning.  But days at home — to put together puzzles or play outside or, heaven forbid, help Mom clean — are just as valuable.  Learn to see the value in those slower moments.
  • Value what you have.  We live in a society that conditions us to continually want more — more material goods, more money, more everything.  There are many a day where I think to myself, “I wish each kid could have their own laptop.”  Or, “Wouldn’t it be great if we had a real piano instead of this cast-off Casio keyboard so the kids could really learn to play?”  But we don’t.  And we don’t have the luxury to contemplate buying any of those things.  But we do have a laptop the kids can share and we do have a keyboard with working keys.  And I am grateful for all of it.
  • Lower your expectations.  As an unschooler, I tend to jump on the kids the minute they express an interest in something.  They want to learn how to count to ten in Spanish?  Great!  Let’s join LiveMocha and watch all your TV shows with Spanish subtitles — you’ll be fluent in no time! Interests will be fleeting.  They’ll come and go.  Do I support and nurture these?  Of course.  But they need to be in charge of how far they want to go.  Not me.


So there you have it.  I’ll call these my “Realistic Resolutions.” Will I slip up?  No doubt.  They’re New Year’s resolutions, after all.  But, just like every year, I’ll do my best…

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The holiday season is in full swing.  Our family has several cherished traditions we’ve built over the years to mark this time of year.  For us, it is a time for sharing and giving, a time for personal reflection, a time to celebrate our relationships with family and friends.

Unfortunately, the messages and meanings of the season can easily be lost amidst the consumer mentality perpetuated by endless television ads and news reports, the store catalogs that seem to self-propagate, and the seemingly never-ending gift wish lists my kids write…beginning as early as October!  This year, I decided to introduce a new holiday activity in the hopes of guiding my kids back to why we celebrate at this time of year.

We typically create an Activity Advent Calendar for the month of December.  The presentation varies (we’ve done homemade numbered boxes, a numbered paper chain, etc.) but the idea remained the same:  like the candy advent calendar, the kids would open something each day and inside would be a holiday-related activity.  Bake Christmas cookies.  Take a night drive to look at Christmas lights.  Check out a new holiday book from the library.  Decorate pine cone ornaments.

The kids loved doing these daily activities.  And so did I.  But, determined to bring the focus back to others this year, I decided to modify our Advent Calendar.  Inspired by the Random Acts of Kindness movement, we created a HASA calendar instead (Holiday Acts of Service Advent).

The idea is simple.  For the 24 days leading up to Christmas — or the 21 days leading up to Solstice — or the 28 days until Hanukkah ends — or the entire month of December — commit to doing one act of service for someone else.  Sit down with your kids and generate a list of simple things you could do each day.  Assign one for each day, keeping your daily calendar in mind (classes, activities, etc. that may influence what you are able to do on certain days)  Then create an advent calendar.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure how my kids would react.  I typed up an entire list of possible service/kindness ideas and gave each kid their own copy.  I explained the concept to them.  Their response? Unbridled enthusiasm!  They wanted to do them ALL!  They came up with new ideas of their own.  They pored over our monthly calendar and helped figure out which activities would best fit our schedule.

As December 1st approaches, we are busy putting together the physical display of our HASA calendar.  I’m looking forward to doing these projects with my kids…for others.  And my greatest hope is that they carry this spirit of kindness and giving into the New Year…and throughout 2012.


Possible Acts of Service ideas (gleaned from several online sources…with our own ideas mixed in!)

Bake & deliver hoiday cookies to library employees.

Pay for Santa pictures for someone at mall.

Collect canned goods for food shelf.

Pass out candy and spread cheer to folks mailing off their Christmas cards at the post office.

Leave small Christmas treats/gifts in shopping carts for folks to find.

Collect old towels and washcloths and drop off at local animal shelter.

Make holiday cards and tuck them under the windshields wipers of cars at the store/library/school.

Buy coffee for stranger at a coffee shop.

String popcorn and cranberries — and put them outside for the birds

Tape change (and a note!) to a vending machine.

Pay for the order of the car behind you in the drive-through.

Leave present or card in mailbox for your mail carrier.

Drop off books and magazines to a hospital, nursing home or doctors office.

Give a compliment to the manager of someone who helps you today.

Check in on someone you know is alone.

Send someone a small gift anonymously.

Hold the door open for someone today.

Make eye contact and smile at everyone you see today.

Run an errand for someone.

Bring up the neighbor’s garbage can and recycling bins.

Shovel someone’s driveway.

Send a thank you note to someone who has helped you in the past.

Tape candy canes and notes to neighbor’s doors, wishing them happy holidays.

Forgive someone in a bad mood or who is negative today and say something nice to them.

Purchase a couple extra bags of cat/dog food and bring to a local animal shelter.

Leave your change in the soda machine, vending machine, parking meter, etc. today for the next person.

Offer someone behind you at the grocery store to go ahead of you.

Renew a relationship with someone you’ve lost touch with.

Listen to everyone you speak with today.

Offer to help someone do a task they don’t want to do.

Return a shopping cart for a stranger in the parking lot.

Pick up litter you see lying around by the road or in a parking lot.

Offer to help someone who looks like they need assistance (i.e. a mother trying to open a door, an elderly person pumping gas, etc.).

Acknowledge someone who has helped you today, no matter how small the task.

Say an encouraging word today.

Tell all your family members how much you appreciate them.

Buy a hot cocoa or latte for Salvation Army bell ringers.

Purchase toys for kids in need.

Tape candy canes and happy holiday notes to ATMS, vending machines…

Send a box of gently used mittens and hats to a school or homeless shelter

Offer to buy a pack of gum or mints for checkout clerk at grocery store.

Buy an extra copy of your favorite holiday book and donate to your library or local school.


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The day after Labor Day.  In our neck of the woods, this means Back to School: Kids lined up on the sidewalk in the early morning, new backpacks and shoes strapped on tight, waiting for the familiar rumble of the bus as it ambles down the street.

My kids at 8:45 tomorrow morning?  They’ll most likely still be in pajamas, finishing up (or starting) breakfast and a morning cartoon, watching curiously as the kids and the bus disappear from view out the front window.  As homeschoolers, they’ve never had a Back to School day.  What they have had — and what we continue to do — is celebrate Not Back to School.

We don’t have a specific routine.  We don’t celebrate the same way every year.  However, we do try to do something different and fun, so that they can recognize and celebrate the uniqueness of their lives and how we choose to learn.

It’s not too late to plan something special for your own Not back to School Day.  Some things our family has done in previous years include:

  • Pajama Day.  Stay in pajamas all day long.  Play board games, do crafts or watch movies and celebrate your At Home day.
  • Park Day.  The local parks are virtual ghost towns after Labor Day.  Call up some friends and head to your favorite park.  Better yet, try out a brand new park.  Pack a lunch and make a day of it.
  • Board the Bus.  Are your kids itching to hop on the school bus?  Why not jump on the city bus instead?  Plan an outing, calculate bus fare and take off on your own bus adventure.  Even a trip to the local drug store can be a little magical when you travel by bus.
  • Field Trip time.  Remember all of those cool museums Minnesota has to offer?  The ones that are packed with day camp kids and tourists throughout the summer months?  The first week of September is one of the best times to visit these familiar haunts — vacationers are usually gone and schools are not sending kids on field trips yet.
  • School’s In Session.  Tuesday is the perfect time to break out your own homeschool curriculum — your kids can “start school” right along with their public and private school friends.
  • Shop ’til You Drop.  If your school supply drawer is less than adequate, this is the perfect day to hit the stores and stock up on supplies.  Most major chains wait until Labor Day to drop prices on items like paper, pencils, etc.  In years past, I have created “school supply lists” for my kids and armed them with their own shopping basket to gather the items they’d need for the year.

However your family chooses to recognize Not Back to School Day, have fun and remember: whatever way you choose to celebrate, you’re doing it with your kids.  Involving them.  Experiencing it with them.  There  isn’t a more wonderful way to start the “not back to school” year than that.

Happy Not Back to School Day!






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After blogging about Minnesota’s beautiful Lake Superior Agate, it occurred to me that I might be on to something.

I haven’t thought much about our state symbols since let’s say….6th grade Minnesota history class. For the record, that was decades ago.

I decided to tackle the state muffin next because… it’s a muffin! Yum!!! I can’t go wrong!

Wild blueberries are native to northeastern Minnesota and grow in bogs, on hillsides, and in cut over forested areas.

The blueberry muffin was adopted as our state muffin in 1988.

As Fall rolls around and it is finally cool enough to turn our ovens back on, I think it is the perfect time to work a little baking into Minnesota history.

Blueberry Muffin Recipe


Gluten Free Blueberry Muffin Recipe



When I was a kid, we would try to ‘beat the bears’ to the wild blueberries mid- summer.  Nowadays, I just hit Sam’s Club.

Informational links below.


Minnesota Statutes 2004 – 1.1496 State muffin

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Homeschool Clubs

As I am getting ready for this year’s MHA Conference I started thinking about my presentation at last year’s conference. After successfully starting and running a homeschool book club and art club, I presented a workshop sharing ideas on how to start clubs for homeschoolers using both parent and child interests as your guide. Here are some of the suggestions I shared and given the large community accessible through yahoo groups like MHA and Homeschool Adventures, you should have no problem finding a few other homeschoolers to attend your club. So this year when you are planning your schedule, signing up for classes and buying curriculum, think about starting a club to share with you fellow homeschoolers.

Ideas for clubs:

1) Knitting (teach kids how to knit, offer help, provide some music and chatting while the kids work, provide ideas for knitting projects i.e. what to knit)
2) Drama (find short skits/plays that the kids can read and perform during the meetings, change parts and do the same skit several times, plan for a larger scale production, do acting warm up exercises, make sets or costumes, learn stage terms)
3) Gardening (container gardening, learn about and plant at meeting them bring home, work at a community garden)
4) Music (bring a guitar or piano and a bunch of fun songs, SING!, I remember in 4th grade one of the regular teachers played the guitar and would come to different classroom and teach us fun songs. This isn’t choir or skill based at all. I can still sing the 60 animal song)
5) Cultures (learn about a different country, map, flag, music, food, language, customs, dress etc)
6) Computers (teach word or excel or powerpoint)
7) Biking/Running (plan the routes and meet to lead the exercise, give tips about equipment or techniques)
8) Public Speaking (chose a topic and provide feedback after each kid presents a short speech, how to speeches are fun)
9) Random Acts of Kindness (plan an activity for everyone to meet and do a good deed, visit a nursing home, clean up litter at a park)
10) Yoga/Belly Dancing (Put on a video or lead a fun exercise group)
11) Book Club (specific to boys or historical fiction or science fiction books)
12) Research (kids pick a topic and meet at a library where you help research and note take etc)
13) Crafts (pick one or a few craft projects and lead the group in creating, maybe have a seasonal theme or make musical instruments or sock puppets)
14) Math (pick a fun math concept for each meeting like the Fabernachi sequence, pi, puzzles, games, math mysteries, logic)
15) Games (password tournament or monopoly day)
16) Chess (this one has happened before, meet weekly or less often to play chess, bring a board and take turns challenging the other kids, it would be nice if lead by a knowledgeable chess adult)
17) Geocaching (pick a location and see what each group can find, really I don’t even understand what geocaching is)
18) Special skills (can you hula hoop, juggle, do magic, share with a group of kids)
19) Poetry (big kids story time, read several poems, learn about a poet, kids read what they wrote)
20) Geography (host a geography bee, get together to practice)
21) Careers (have a speaker each month that talks about their job, training, the good and the bad)
22) Science (learn a concept and do a fun experiment such as density/oil and water separation)
23) Spelling Bee (host a 2-4 times a year spelling competition) Science Fair, Art show
24) Writing (pick a fun writing assignment like write part of a fairytale from point of view of the bad guy or pick something you are good at and write instruction and spend the class giving feedback to students)
25) Current Events Quiz (students answer current events questions)
26) Talent Show

Please write in the comment section if you have specific questions about starting clubs and I will be more than happy to help in any way I can!

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National S’mores Day

While it isn’t exactly written anywhere, National S’mores Day is celebrated across the United States on August 10.  Nationally recognized or not, s’mores are a dandy treat that should be celebrated!

The simple combination of chocolate, graham crackers and roasted marshmallows is hard to beat.

Best enjoyed  around a campfire with friends, I am also quite happy to make them on our gas stove when the kids have already gone to bed!

It is said to have originated in the early 1900’s when some Campfire Girls made them (soon to be caught on by the Girl Scouts) and one girl asked, “Can I have some more?”

Over the years people have made gourmet s’mores, made them on fudge striped cookies and even made them into bars. I’m all for trying something new, but the original recipe will always be my favorite!

Minnesotans have a month of summer left, then hopefully a long and beautiful fall that begs to have bonfires…with s’mores!


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Looking for something different to do? Why not try your hand at agate hunting?

It is one of those perfect activities for younger kids and adults! I couldn’t begin to count the hours we have spent with our heads down looking for those stunning banded specimens. With some practice, you can acquire ‘the eye’ and spot them easily anywhere.

You can find agates distributed throughout northeastern Minnesota (as far south as the Twin Cities), northwestern Wisconsin and parts of Michigan.

Look along river beds, gravel pits and quarries, farm fields, parks and even in landscaping rock. Always get permission if you are on private property. We arm ourselves with squirt bottles and bags for our rocks.

Getting out and looking for agates is the best way I can think of to learn about some of our fascinating Minnesota geological history.

The formation of the agate dates back a billion years, and their distribution happened as glaciers moved through the area 10,000-15,000 years ago. The red coloring of the bands is caused by iron.

For more detailed information, follow the link below.


Minnesota has its own Geology Interpretive Center at Moose Lake State Park. Click on this link for details about the visitor center and for a list of rock books that are helpful for identifying what you have found!


Before you know it, you’ll consider yourself a ‘rockhound’!

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