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.


With Thanksgiving only days away, marking the official start of the holiday season, it is time to start planning holiday gifts!

Although schedules are even tighter than normal this time of year, we still try to make some of our holiday gifts.

This year, framed art tops our list. The kids draw almost every night while I read to them anyway, so why not turn those pictures into gifts for grandparents? After the purchase of some heavyweight, 5.5 x 8.5 white sketch paper, and a few 5 x 7 frames, we just need to get to work on our drawings. The kids plan for their drawings to be specific to what each grandparent likes, for example, a bird for Nani and a fish for grandpa.

Fun, easy, personal, and inexpensive!

One more easy idea we are considering, especially ideal for folks living  in the Midwest, are homemade hand warmers.

I am posting a link for this project!



Happy Holidays!

Turkey Time Art Projects

Looking for some fun art projects to usher in Thanksgiving week?  Here are a couple of gems my kids have enjoyed.

Scratch Art Turkey

Art Projects For Kids provides a wealth of fun art activities and this project has been a tradition in our house the last couple of years. Even the youngest artists can enjoy this take on the popular scratch art activities.  Kids print a template of a turkey and color it with oil pastels.  Using a black oil pastel crayon, color the entire surface of the coloring page.  Then, grab a toothpick and scratch away!  Kids can experiment with different lines (vertical, horizontal, diagonal, etc.) to create texture.




Turkey Animal Drawing

Larry Weinberg, owner of Anoka’s Rum River Art Center, posted this fantastic turkey art project.  Kids can follow the tutorial to draw their very own turkey.  After creating their pencil sketch, a Sharpie can be used to darken the lines.  Kids can then use either water color pencils (shown here), watercolor paints, oil pastels, etc. to create a one-of-a-kind turkey painting for their Thanksgiving celebration.



Brain Selznick is in a league of his own when it comes to his book The Invention of Hugo Cabret. The novel tells a story using both text and illustrations (both done by Selznick). As the winner of the Caldecott Award, we see how special the illustrations are, but unlike picture books, this novel is also an intricate story. This book is a joy to readers who love a juvenile length, complicated story but miss those years of beautifully illustrated picture books.

In addition to being a great read, The Invention Of Hugo Cabret, has a world of ideas to explore further. The fantastic website http://www.theinventionofhugocabret.com will give you countless ideas from watching a youtube clip of the old movie referenced in the novel to automata information to a bio of the author. I suggest having fresh croissants for a snack (as eaten by the main character) while you explore!

And the fun doesn’t stop there . . . November 23rd is the opening day for the new movie version HUGO directed by Martin Scorsese. Brain Selznick told the audience at a recent book signing presentation that he was able to spend 2 weeks on the set of the movie where he describe the dedicated effort made by all the cast and crew to create a movie that closely follows the book. Brain also recently released a companion book where he interviews a wide variety of people working on the movie, asking questions that would interest his young audience.

So whether it is a good read you are looking for or a great website with a variety of learning activities to explore or a family movie, The Invention of Hugo Cabret has them all.

With busy lives and hectic schedules, trying to fit in volunteer time may be low on the priorities totem.  Why should you try to volunteer for charitable or social organizations when you’re already strapped for time?

Do it for your kids.

No, not in the sense of being their Girl Scout leader or bringing snacks to their Little League game (although those things are important, too!).  Do it with your kids.  Make them part of the volunteer process.  Get them involved.  There is compelling evidence that shows just how beneficial volunteering is for children — and the younger you start, the better.

Think there aren’t many opportunities for young children to volunteer? Think again.  More and more organizations are recognizing that, to get people involved, they need to open up their volunteer options to a wider range of ages or make them family-oriented service events.

How do you find them? Join MHA and Doing Good Together on Tuesday, October 18th at 7 PM to find out!  This workshop is FREE for MHA members ($10 for non-members).

Send an RSVP to mha@homeschoolers.org and join us for a fun, inspiring workshop that will open up new volunteer ideas for you and your kids.

Your children will thank you for it.





Un-schooling’: Kids decide what they want to learn – 10/14


TODAY Show on NBC aired this segment on Unschooling




Homeschool students savor flexibility and focus – 9/30


An article from Iowa’s Ames Tribune





Pasco sees increase in homeschooled students 9/25


St. Petersburg Times





Parents who ‘unschool’ put their children in the teacher’s chair – 8/31



A ten year old newsie from a good family, carrying a heavy load of newspapers quite a distance. Washington DC - early 1900's

After several wonderful discussions with other homeschoolers and speakers at the recent MHA conference, I have come to the amazing conclusion that I am not a teacher. Don’t get me wrong, I am not stopping homeschooling nor am I ever slightly upset at this realization. It finally makes our years of homeschooling perfectly clear.

As I kid myself, I rarely read a book and then only when assigned and learning about history was not only boring but overwhelming and scary. As a kid I liked math. Two plus two always equaled four and it was never confusing.

So why, now, after 8+ years of homeschooling, do we gravitate toward reading and history and do math as quickly as possible to get back to reading? The answer was my recent revelation – I am not a teacher.

When we read a novel or history book, my kids and I are learning together. Yes, I know more vocabulary and can often answer a question when it arises but those questions are part of an open dialog between myself and my children not just me asking the questions and seeing if they can answer them correctly.

In many cases I do not know the answer to the question and it is then that we discover it together, unlike in math where I still play the roll of the teacher and they play the parts of the students. In writing and spelling I give the assignment and then correct it. This is not as comfortable scenario in our family school.

Luckily, so much of those less comfortable subjects come up in the books we love to read. Heartbeat by Sharron Creech involved a character learning about and using footnotes. This inspired my family to try some writing using footnotes. I did not create the assignment but I help if someone is struggling with the concept along the way.

In Hatchet by Gary Paulsen we read about a boy who figured out that water refraction was making things look like they were in different places and therefore preventing him from successfully spearing a fish. Using an old aquarium we investigated the same principle and even turned it into a bit of a game seeing who to come the closest to the object underwater. While they played the game, I used some basic books and the internet to find a chart showing how and why water refraction works then we looked at those together and talked. No worksheet, quiz or lesson plan involved.

So thank you Sharron Creech and Gary Paulsen and all the amazing authors that help me not have to be a teacher.