Gleaning, Cleaning, and Celebrating!

The week flew by!  Monday, we caught up from the fun-filled weekend.  School included reading and easing back into the swing of things after a week off.  Tuesday morning, everyone jumped right back into their normal routines, which was nice.  However Wednesday, I rocked their world by waking up and saying, “No school books today.  We are going gleaning!”

Sawyer picking green beans

Sawyer picking green beans

We have never gleaned before, but I  recently heard of an opportunity that we could join.  We met up with a group of about 12 people at Barbee Farms in Concord, NC.  We pulled into the farm and immediately jumped onto a tractor to take us out to the fields.  On this particular day, the group gleaned the green bean field.  The weather was absolutely perfect.  Clear skies with a gentle breeze.  As this was our fist time, we were not sure what to expect.  Well, it is fairly simple.   The tractor brings you to a field.  You hop off and start picking.  We were spoiled because with gleaning, we got to pull the whole plant out of the ground to pick the beans.  It gave me a major appreciation for all of the workers who pick our veggies throughout the year!  They have a laborious job!  At the end of two hours, all of the beans and people jumped back on the tractor and back to the parking lot.  Here, the beans were distributed to various people who deliver the beans to different organizations and neighborhoods such as loaves and fishes, the battered women’s shelter, and local soup kitchens.

I highly recommend the experience if you ever have the opportunity.  The Society of St. Andrew organizes gleaning groups all over the country.  Not only are you helping your community, you also meet amazing and wonderful people.  The kids learned about different crops, rotating crops, the importance of honey bees on the farm and so much more!

Today, we were back to school. They were extremely productive and motivated to work today.  I am not sure if that was due to the excitement of yesterday or the fact that they had their Muddy Boots Club at Latta Plantation today.  Either way, it was a terrific way to end a terrific week!

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“Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.” Thomas Merton



I am a bit “behind” on my blog due to our annual LEAF festival trip.  We arrived home late sunday evening after another amazing festival.

The LEAF festival is, on the exterior, simply a music and arts festival.  However, you experience so much more.  We arrive the night before the festival begins each year in order to have one day of escape.  The camp appears fairly empty, although all around you people are setting up booths and stages.  The stillness of the evening allows you to listen to nature, see the stars and explore the camp before it comes to life on Friday evening.

Every year, the festival amazes me even more and in a different way.  Last year, the kids made bows and sold them.  They met lots of other children and played with them throughout the weekend.  This year, the kids sold bows again.  Instead of getting excited about the financial gain of selling bows, they got excited seeing their bows throughout the camp and hearing from children who purchased their bows last year.  Evidently, their bows hold up well over time-which they enjoyed hearing.  The kids did not meet a whole lot of new children but they did see lots of familiar faces.  We even connected with several families who live in our area.

We experienced art in many ways.  We listened to and felt the music.  We awed over phenomenal handiwork from metal works and hand-made instruments to beautiful scarves and tapestries.  We witnessed mother nature’s canvas as the leaves change colors.  All around us, we had a world of color.

If you ever get the chance to go to your local art and music festival, jump on it!  You may feel slightly out of place if you are not artistic but that is the beauty of them.  Everyone there is unique.  My youngest kept asking for the meaning of things.  You may look for this too.  However, I have found that sometimes it is best to experience art, see how it makes you feel, accept it and move on.  You may find things you love, and you may find that you do not connect with it.  Your children may find something that they connect with which is such a lovely gift.

And before I forget…Happy Diwali everyone!


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First Quarter Update

8 weeks down!  Can you believe that we are done with our first quarter of school?  So what is going well and what had to change, because you know things never go as planned?


Parks is doing well.  He is enjoying his science program, Exploration Education, a ton!  In fact, I am pretty sure that he will be finished with it before the holidays.  He also enjoys grammar (I know odd, right?).  Reading is starting to come a little easier.  He is open to reading books a lot more this year.  Dancing Bears (our reading curriculum) is also doing a terrific job of teaching him how to break down words.  I started him with the Apples and Pears Spelling program (which works in conjunction with Dancing Bears nicely) at the end of last year.  He is continuing with this program.  He does very well spelling aloud but has a difficult time putting the words down on paper, so that is something that he is working hard on.  Parks is also thoroughly enjoying his heroes and saints block!

Sawyer is working hard on her time management this year.  She is very aware of what she needs to get done each day which was a difficult task for her last year.  She is able to do her grammar (Growing with Grammar) with minimal assistance.  She did not enjoy doing Exploration Education for science, so we made a switch.  I recently read a review of The Gumshoe Archives on Only Passionate Curiosity’s Blog, and I decided to give it a try.  So far (she is only on the first book), she is really enjoying the book.  She is still doing vocabulary with the program and some simple projects.  She is getting the information through reading and not so much hands on which is what works for her.  We are also focusing on poetry with her Man/Animal block which she really enjoys.   Sawyer is continuing to use Apples and Pears for her spelling, and Teaching Textbooks for her math.

Sims had a rough time getting into a groove, but he has found it now and is thriving.  Sixth grade is a jump in the amount of work in most subjects.  He is doing very well with increasing his independence with his work.  He started the year with Apples and Pears spelling, but he quickly got frustrated with it this year (which disappointed me greatly because he does very well with it).  Thus, we switched over to IEW’s Phonetic Zoo.  So far, he LOVES it!  He gets to do it on his own which is important to him.  He also enjoys that he has to master the list before moving on.  He is still using Dancing Bears for reading fluency, and I hope he will pick Apples and Pears up again-but I am not going to push my luck.  He is also loving Exploration Education for science.  The projects are fun and do a terrific job teaching the concepts.  He is doing very well with the vocabulary portion of the science as well using the T method.  Math is taking more time, but he is mastering it well.  He gets frustrated when he doesn’t get a 100%-he has high expectations.  LOL.  Originally, the plan was for him to do a block on Rome, but he asked to start with business math/economics.  Thus, he is reading through Striker Jones and going over it with me.

Overall, I think we have had a terrific start to the year.  We are getting outside which keeps everyone happy.  Everyone is getting into the groove of doing daily work and an individual unit study.  Let’s hope the momentum continues through the next quarter!

Picture Post

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Nature Study and Outdoor Education for Exciting Adnevtures


I love it when others give me an idea for a post.  Today’s post is courtesy of Terri over at the Homeschooling Doctor.  If you have some time, go check out her blog!  She has fantastic information on nutrition and healthy eating, in addition to homeschooling.  In my previous post, I wrote about the importance of the outdoors for our family.  My kids love to go for a hike in the woods (which is funny because if you ask them to walk a mile down to the store, they moan and groan like you are torturing them immensely).  So how do we make hiking in the woods educational?  I have a couple of things that I typically do.

1.  I try to have another person with us.  I know, I know.  We should be happy going on our own, but bringing someone along or hiking with someone else adds a new element.  The extra person always has information that we can learn from-ALWAYS.  Also, an extra person gets my children talking and teaching.

2.  This is a sneaky one.  I don’t tell my kids that I do this but it works every time.  I pick something to find and I take pictures of it throughout the hike.  After a couple of pictures, they stop and start studying it as well.  Then they start looking for what ever it is that I am hunting for too.  Some ideas include-trees, leaf shapes, leaf colors, different types of pine needles, seeds, wild flowers, animal tracks, animal homes, tree bark, letters in nature, mushrooms, flowers, flower petals, snails, birds, bird calls, bird feathers, rocks, ground covers, berries….the list goes on and on.  Try to find something easy that uses one of your senses.

3.  Nature study.  We typically stop and do a nature study where ever we stop.  Everyone separates and finds a “home.”  This is the best part for the kids.  They like climbing a tree or a rock or burrowing into a hole somewhere.  A predetermined amount of time is set to sit quiet-no noise!  This is tough.  I highly recommend starting with only 30 seconds for kids under 8.  If they don’t know what to do, give them an idea such as close your eyes and listen for the next 30 seconds, watch the clouds,  observe the tree for insects, etc.  I bring paper, watercolors, and colored pencils usually for our nature studies.  They write words sometimes, paint sometimes and occasionally, nothing but listen and observe.  We come back together and talk about what each person observed.

4.  Snacks and water are essential.  They are kids and they are totally motivated by food, even fruit leather.  Knowing that they can stop and have a snack keeps then interested in hiking as well.

Don’t think that this has to be an all day adventure.  It can be short like 15 minutes or as long as a day.  Getting outdoors is amazing for our senses.  It is amazing for our well being.  It is amazing for our health.  And for our family, it is ESSENTIAL for our homeschool!

(Below is a slide show of our latest hike finds.  We were looking for different mushrooms and fungi.  If you happen to know what any of them are, please speak up!  We have been looking through tons of nature books and online resources, but we have a lot we have not named yet.)

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Outdoor Education in Our Homeschool

One activity we added this year is a weekly hike.  Mainly we have hiked at Latta Plantation because the kids truly LOVE hiking there.  The staff is incredible and very knowledgeable.  The nature center offers numerous classes for homeschoolers and the general public.  I highly recommend them for anyone in the area (however, realize that you are going to a nature center where you will be outside…in the weather…and most likely hiking).  We have taken classes at Latta Plantation Nature Center ever since we began homeschooling.

We all enjoy hiking and the outdoors, but Sims has fallen in love with it.  I really get to see him flourish when we are out hiking.  Last week, we hiked the prairie portion of Latta Plantation.  He and Sawyer taught me about passion fruit and what the flowers look like (evidently, I have been taking pictures of passion fruit flowers for years and never knew it).  They taught me the history of a well that passed along the way (The land that the nature center is on used to belong to one of the plantations in Mecklenburg County.  There is ALOT of history here.)

Today, they amazed me again.  Sims went on a hike yesterday with his hiking group.  They went off of the trail exploring Gar Creek.  Of course, he dropped a pants’ leg-you know the awesome pants that allow you go from pants to shorts while hiking.  Terrific invention unless you are an 11 year old kid who is more interested in creek stomping than keeping up with your stuff.  He realized this morning that one leg was missing; however, he had a pretty good idea of where it was.  Luckily, it was another hiking day at Latta and we were the only takers.  This gave us the opportunity to go back to look for his pant leg.  He was the only one of us to go to Gar Creek yesterday so we were dependent on him to get us there, and he was successful.  Not only did he get us to the creek, but he found his pant leg!  A successful trip.

I know many people don’t understand how we use hiking for school but the past two weeks have reassured my choice to have this in our educational plan.  The staff at Latta Plantation Nature Preserve teaches my kids history, science, cartography, orienteering, ecology and so much more.  All of this without books and without complaints.  Not only do they learn the information but they can apply it and teach it.

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Geography Block

Well, we started the year off with a geography block.  I thought it would be nice to start off the year with a block that we could all do together.    Unfortunately, the kids moaned and groaned a lot during these past five weeks but I am not sure it was because of the material.  I think it had more to do with starting school when it is still so beautiful outside.

We worked together most days but each child had their own projects.  The block looked a bit like this.

Week 1: The first week, we looked at how animals use their senses to get to places such as migrating birds, eels, salmon, bees, etc.  We then moved on to maps and mapmaking.

Week 2: This week we looked at how the children view the world.  We also learned about Ptolemy and his way of using lines of longitude and latitude to map areas on a map.

Week 3: Week 3 allowed us a little more time to be hands on with geography.  Parks took and orienteering class at Latta Plantation Nature Center where they learned the parts of a compass and how to use the compass to find markers out in the woods.  During his class time, I sent Sims and Sawyer out to map a trail.  From the map that they made, they learned the importance of using a standard unit of measure as Sims’ steps were very different from Sawyer’s steps so they ended up in different places.  The week ended with Sims taking an Adventure Journaling class at Latta where he learned about the adventures of Louis and Clark and how they wrote an adventure journal and used the compass in their journey.  Sims’ and Parks’ classes have a few more meetings through the season so they will continue their learning of geography throughout the semester.

Weeks 4 and 5: The last two weeks had everyone working a little more independently as they each studied a different area.  Sawyer is in the fourth grade so she is researching NC geography.  Sims chose England, and Parks chose Puerto Rico.  Throughout the last two weeks, they worked on area maps, topographical maps (both on paper and 3D) and geographical areas of interest to them.  The past two weeks were fun to watch as they pieced information together such as how most large cities are near water or on a trade route.  They also enjoyed tracing the rivers and looking at how they flowed over the land.  We have really lucked out with the classes being held at Latta Plantation this session.  Sawyer is taking a class called Catawba Studies in which they are looking at how the Catawba Indians lived on the land and use the natural resources of NC.

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Today, we also finished up our read aloud book called Secret Water by Arthur Ransome.  The book is an exciting tale of four children who are “marooned” on an island and must map the island before they are rescued.  The best part of the block has been the many ways that geography and cartography have entered our worlds over the past few weeks.  Sawyer read Dragon Rider which had a cartographer as a character in the book.  Sims is reading The Knighting of Sir Kaye which speaks of mapping the forest.  And Parks is now actually looking at maps and trying to figure them out.

Secret Water