Grapevine and Olive Shoots

growing in grace and knowledge.

The Duchess Bakes A Cake

It seems as if we’re settling into a groove of spending two weeks on any given row.  It just seems to work better with the limited one-on-one time I have with Peanut; when Munchkin is awake, she (rightfully)  needs a lot of attention, especially as she has become very mobile, very early.  Added to which, we are thoroughly enjoying the books we’ve been rowing so spending two weeks savoring them is a treat.  Speaking of treats…

The Duchess Bakes A Cake

by Virginia Kahl

Field Trip Friday – Hammond Castle

This has been, by far, the coolest field trip we have taken in our 2+ years of homeschooling.  Who knew a castle like this, imported piece by piece from real castles and chateaus in Europe, existed 45 minutes from our home?  It was built by the eccentric inventor John Hammond in the early 20th century.  It is situated right on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean and is positively magical.  When we went, we were one of only three families touring the castle.  I’m going to let the photos speak for themselves.  For more info and background, you can click on the Hammond Castle link above.

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Language Arts – Alliteration (and the “-tion” ending)

Alliteration is such a fun concept.  We had a great time finding all the examples of this literary technique in the book (“a lovely, light, luscious, delectable cake”), and making up our own.  It also led to a rabbit-trail discussion of words with the “-tion” ending; what it sounds like, what it does to a word, and how many examples we could find in the book.

Social Studies – Medieval Times and Coats of Arms

We did an overview of the medieval time period using the book Ms. Frizzle’s Adventures: Medieval Castle, a historical spin-off of the popular Magic School Bus series.  Then we found this fun online coat-of-arms generator, and Peanut created her very own:



Science – Leavening

The duchess’ failure to follow a recipe resulted in a massive cake that rose and rose.  Building upon our knowledge of yeast from Little Nino’s Pizzeria, we explored more ways to leaven bread (baking powder and baking soda, as well as revisiting yeast).  Baking soda + vinegar gave us the most bang for the buck, but also deflated the most quickly.  Yeast did exactly what it did in our Little Nino experiment.  And baking powder was rather disappointing…I think this was a fail on my part.  But overall, the experiment definitely helped show explain why baked goods have holes in them!

From left to right: yeast + sugar + warm water, baking soda + vinegar + water, baking powder + vinegar + water

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Art – Figures in Motion

The FIAR manual had a really fun art idea which we implemented — tracing stick figures from the appendix, and then trying to match them up with character drawings in the book.  It really showed Peanut how to make people look like they’re moving.

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But honestly, I prefer her way of showing figures in motion. 🙂

Peanut running:


Peanut jumping over me:



We were given a huge lot of gently used board games and educational tools by a friend, and it occurred to me halfway through this row that one of them was something about knights and princesses.  Turns out, this game (Clever Castle) was a HUGE hit…not only a fun and independent activity, but great for teaching logic with 40 levels of increasing difficulty.  Peanut pulled this out frequently throughout the row, and for weeks afterwards as well.


Once again, a snack based on the book.  Cake = bread, frosting = peanut butter, and a candle stuck on top.  Happy birthday, 2 months early!


 Math/Cooking Friday

We hear it all the time, that children learn by consistent repetition, so I was glad to see that liquid and dry measuring was again a math option.  Baking a [rainbow!] cake from scratch was our culminating experience for this row, and it certainly was a “lovely, light, luscious, delectable cake!”

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How To Bake An Apple Pie & See The World

Man, that’s a long title for a book.  And it took us longer than usual (two weeks) to finish this particular row.  There’s just so much fun stuff to do (and so much life going on in and around our school time) that some books are taking longer than others.


Language Arts – Using Humor in Writing

Apple Pie is a funny, tongue-in-cheek book, so we examined the use of humor in writing…and she wrote her own funny story (a retelling of the 3 Billy Goats Gruff).  We were both in tears by the end from the sheer silliness of it all.20140915_160300342_iOS

Social Studies – Geography

This book is such a great way to virtually travel the globe.  We played Roll Into Geography, a really neat game that teaches the 7 continents and is based on HTBAAPASTW (got that?  that’s the acronym for this book) and it was a hit.


We found all the different locations on a small map (below) and our big wall map.


And we researched each country’s flag, and either colored it, or printed/cut/pasted it into her passport (thank you Michael’s scrapbooking section).


Serendipitously, this month’s Ladybug magazine (AWESOME publication, by the way, our absolute favorite – and we get 4 kids’ magazines!) included a story all about cinnamon, which explained in a fun, fairytale way how cinnamon is grown and where in the world it comes from.  So there was our Sri Lanka connection!


Finally, we put together a visual list of the various ingredients and from what country they originate.


Science – Salt Water Evaporation

We skimmed over the water cycle very briefly, and went more in-depth examining – and experimenting with – the idea of evaporation, especially of salt water.  First we boiled a pot of regular water and watched the steam rise, then cool and condense on the exhaust hood of the stove.


Then we stirred a few tablespoons of sea salt into a pan of water until it was entirely dissolved and invisible, and set it out in the sun for the day.  It needed a little help from the oven, but eventually all the water evaporated and we saw the crystals in new formations:


We also touched upon the parts of an apple (skin, flesh, core, seeds, stem, leaf) and made this neat craft out of an old fast food drink lid, tissue paper, a pipe cleaner and real apple seeds.



As usual, we had to make a snack featuring the main “character” of the book, except it couldn’t just be a plain old apple.  Oh no.  Toast with raspberry jam, spaghetti stem, and basil leaves.


I’m not sure how exactly we got onto this tangent/rabbit trail, but one day we drew the entire solar system in our driveway.  Hey, it’s science.


I’m pretty sure when you’re 4, it’s still developmentally appropriate to think the whole universe revolves around you.20140918_194623532_iOS

Art – Street Scenes

Apple Pie has several interesting street scenes at the beginning and end of the book, so we made a collage street scene of our own little downtown.  It was really neat to see how detailed Peanut was in her drawings, and how accurately she recalled the location of each one, the river, the gazebo, etc. 


Math – Liquid and Dry Measurements

Fridays have become our field trip or cooking days, so at the end of the first week we went – what else? – apple picking at a local orchard with our homeschool support group.  For some reason I have no pictures of this…it might have had something to do with having my hands full with a 6 month old and a 4 year old and a peck of apples and a diaper bag…seriously don’t know what I’d do without my Ergo.  It was fun, though.  Chaotic, insanely and unseasonably hot, but fun.  Peanut’s favorite part was the apple cider donut and cider she got to consume after the hay ride.

At the end of the second week we baked our very own apple pie.  I love that FIAR builds math instruction in by cooking and measuring…what tastier way to learn fractions?  Peanut did a great job, especially at sampling the various sweeteners used.  Here is our pie, in all its glory:


Delicious, and educational.  September has been an awesome month for learning.

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My vision and mission, or, why we chose to homeschool.

This post is primarily my mission statement and my vision for our homeschool journey.  It’s something I need as a teacher to keep in mind as I plan and put those plans into action, and as a parent to remember on those days when I’m physically, mentally and/or emotionally drained and really would welcome 8 hours of having only one child (or none!) around the house.  Secondarily, this is addressed to those in my wider circle who are curious about homeschooling.  Consider it an education in, well, education. 🙂

I’d like to preface this by saying my reasons are just that – mine.  This post is in no way a judgment or criticism of anyone else’s parenting, faith or lifestyle.

So without further ado, here are the reasons we are homeschooling.

1. God gave us, and only us, the responsibility of raising and instructing the specific children He entrusted to our care.

God gently but consistently laid  it on my heart.  For years I swore I could never stay home with my children; that I’d go crazy if I didn’t have my own personal and professional life.  So for the Holy Spirit to nudge and whisper me into homeschooling seemed like the pendulum swinging the totally opposite direction.  But now, a few years into it, I see that there is a middle ground whereby I can both teach my girls at home and maintain my identity, and still be obedient to God.

Train up your children in the way they should go; Even when they are old they will not depart from it.  (Proverbs 22:6)

You shall teach them diligently to your children and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. (Deuteronomy 6:7)

Being called to this task includes the duty to instill knowledge, obedience and love of the Lord.  To be able to be immersed in His Word every day, to have prayer as a natural and necessary part of education, and to not have our children indoctrinated in values which conflict with our faith.

2.  Educational Philosophy

I was a part of the traditional educational model for 13 years and in all that time, I learned the most (retained the most knowledge and was able to apply it practically) from the many summers my dad insisted on teaching me history and math, the performing arts world to which my mom exposed me, and the music lessons and ensembles in which I participated.  In other words, homeschooling, although we never called it by that name.  Music was my passion from a very early age and, married with my parent’s influence, is what wound up becoming my profession.  The moral of the story: one-on-one instruction + pursuing genuine interests + exposure to the arts = successful education (for me).  What I learned in 12 years of public and private school?  Um…I’ll get back to you on that.  Higher education (college and graduate school) was a whole different ball of wax as I was able to concentrate my studies on my passions and learn as quickly as I was able.

Homeschooling is remarkably efficient.  At K level, we can easily get done in 1-2 hours what takes public school 8 hours.  This allows for the entire rest of the day to play, be outside, learn home skills, do some volunteering, play, visit a friend or grandparent, go to a doctor’s appointment, participate in gymnastics or a book club, PLAY…you get the drift.  I firmly believe in Maria Montessori’s philosophy that play is a child’s work, and it is so crucial for young kids to have that opportunity.  Later on, as the kids get older, the more time they have in the day, the more they (a) learn time management and (b) can pursue independent studies in a field of interest.

Homeschooling allows for an individualized education.  I can set the pace and the curriculum according to the child, which may will change from year to year or subject to subject.  My children can pursue their interests and passions.  I know my children far better than any teacher ever will, and I can tailor their education accordingly.  I want to foster productivity, creativity and problem-solving (versus busy work, formulaic one-size-fits-all, and fill in the blank).  Mr. Fix-It is a big proponent of unschooling (although he didn’t even know the term until I matched it with what he was explaining) and I have to agree that people tend to learn better and more long-term when they are not aware they are “doing school.”  Actions (or in this case, experiences) speak louder than words.  Homeschooling allows for this modality.  Brick-and-mortar school does not.

Peanut’s personality and intelligence lend themselves perfectly to homeschooling.  She has shown signs of being gifted since she started reading at age 3 (she is now reading at a 2nd grade level at 4.5 years old).  She absolutely loves school and asks for it every single day.  I know she would be bored silly in a kindergarten classroom and this would unfortunately only perpetuate as she got older.  She is also a total Mama’s girl.  If she had resisted it might have been a different story, but as it is, homeschooling really works for her as an individual.  Ladybug is 5 months old at the time of this writing, so she doesn’t get a vote.

 3. Schedule Flexibility

Homeschooling allows for natural daily rhythms.  I am not a morning person and I detest being hurried.  I’m also a true introvert, and need time alone to recharge my batteries.  But if given the freedom to self-regulate, I am crazy productive and focused.  I was at my peak professionally when I was self-employed.  Peanut is proving to be eerily similar, although she is far more alert and receptive in the mornings so I compromise by doing our most focused schooling when Ladybug goes down for her two morning naps.

Homeschooling allows for interruptions (naptimes/a bad night of sleep/illness/helping family members); fun events whenever we like (vacations/field trips/activities/play dates); escaping the rat-race and rushing around that is part and parcel of brick-and-mortar schools…in other words, total freedom from the constraints of the school district schedule and calendar.

Homeschooling allows for the possibility of resuming teaching piano and voice lessons at some point in the future if I feel led to do so and it works for our family.  If my children were in school and I were teaching lessons, I would miss interacting with them all day, and then all afternoon and evening since that’s when most lessons take place.  Which dovetails into…

4.  To spend more time with my children and nurture our relationship.

It is extremely important to both my husband and I to have one parent at home with our girls, regardless of how they are being educated.  Selfishly, I don’t want to miss out on all the firsts, “a-ha” moments, and milestones in my daughters’ lives.  And I’m willing to sacrifice, both in terms of material goods, time alone and my career, in order to make that happen.

I genuinely love to teach and am excited to learn alongside my children.  I am also both skilled and experienced in the field of education.  I’ve been teaching in some capacity for the better part of 15 years, from toddlers through adults, and feel confident about my abilities.  If I love teaching and I love my children and want to spend as much time with them as possible, it just makes sense to homeschool.

5. To guard my children’s hearts and minds

This is not about helicopter parenting; this is about nurturing and sheltering a vulnerable sapling until it is strong enough to stand on its own and withstand the elements.  No public school teacher is going to bear my children’s eternal salvation in mind, or even where they’ll be in ten years if we’re being really honest.  I don’t want them emulating the behaviors of a slew of kids their own age (apparently this is “socialization”), and I want to instill deep respect for their parents and other adults.  I want them to have excellent manners.  Before I get a ton of backlash about this, I am well aware there are traditionally schooled kids who embody all of these character traits…but I also know there are many more who don’t.  For me, depending on one hour of Sunday School to undo 40+ hours a week of worldly influence just isn’t going to cut it.

Public and private schools are increasingly dangerous: school shootings, bullying, underage drinking, drugs, crime, violence, sex, disrespect for authority.  It has been scientifically researched and proven that teenage brains are not fully connected, especially the part that governs judgment, and are most vulnerable to addiction.  I’ll let my children loose on and in the world when they are good and ready.

6.  To socialize better

Lack of socialization is the #1 argument against misconception about homeschooling.  I submit that true socialization is learning how to respectfully interact with people of all ages, races and backgrounds, and that homeschooling actually does a better job of this because we spend more time out in actual society.

Here is just one great [objective, factual] article about socialization.

And this is a great tongue-in-cheek post about making sure your kids remain weird and unsocialized. 🙂

7.  Quality/content of education

Homeschoolers consistently score better on standardized tests and have overall better academic results.  Study after study, statistic after statistic proves this fact.  Here is just one site which concisely combines the results of several independent studies and scholarly articles.

It should come as no surprise that the fine and performing arts are areas in which I want to immerse my own children, just as I was immersed by my parents.  Homeschooling allows for as much of this as I want, every day if I choose (and I do).

In addition to the academic benefits, my daughters can learn valuable life skills as an organic component of our daily schedule.  This includes home management (sewing, cooking, laundry, cleaning, meal planning, yard care, gardening, etc.), child care, personal financial management (reconciling a checking account, budgeting, insurance, tax filing, proper use of credit), job preparation, health care/first aid, volunteering/community service, spiritual disciplines, the list goes on and on.  They can also contribute to our household in preparation for their own roles as wives and mothers.

I’ve been working on this post for the better part of a month and today seems like an auspicious to finally publish.  I’m absolutely exhausted from being up 4 times last night with Ladybug, Peanut is sick with a nasty cold and I think I’m coming down with it as well, it’s 9/11 which just brings back so many horrible memories (I was at college in NYC when the attacks happened), and honestly I wish I could just curl up in bed.  But the beauty of homeschooling is that we can park ourselves on the couch and watch Word Girl and the Magic School Bus and Wild Kratts all morning and that’s learning.  Peanut just asked to “do school” despite being a mucous factory and hacking up a lung because she loves learning.  We can all take a nap together after lunch and still be way, way ahead on the learning scale.  We can spend the rainy afternoon making apple pie and in so doing, learn about math and science.

Best of all, God understands we have “off” days and is blessing our time together no matter what.  Re-reading what I’ve written above, I’m reminded of His hand in all of this.  If you’ve made it this far, thank you for taking the time to read my ramblings…and God bless you on whatever journey to which He’s called you.

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Little Nino’s Pizzeria

Our second row was “Little Nino’s Pizzeria,” by Karen Barbour, a wonderful story that proves more/bigger is not necessarily better (unless it’s pizza!).

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Cooking (aka Science)

Believe it or not, despite all my years of cooking and baking, I have never made my own pizza dough.  I don’t know why, but I always thought it was culinary rocket science.  So this was a great week of experimentation.  First, with yeast, sugar and water (the time got cut off in the first photo, but it was 9:55, so it took about 40 minutes for the balloon to inflate):

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[P.S. That bottle is a really cool, OLD liquor bottle my husband found buried in our yard.  We’re not consuming fifths on a daily basis or anything.]

And then with making our own pizza dough.  Peanut had a friend over for dinner and a movie one evening, so this was the perfect opportunity to do some measuring, mixing, kneading and rolling.  And eating.  (No, she’s not in kabuki — just some random face painting, a favorite activity.)

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September is our cooking and baking month (rows = Little Nino’s Pizzeria, How To Bake An Apple Pie And See The World, and The Duchess Bakes A Cake), so we’ve been getting pretty creative in the kitchen.  The thing is, there are only so many ways I can make a snack that looks like a pizza…or an apple…or a cake…without actually being one.  Hence, my solution to a request for “breakfast pizza” – waffle” crust,” peanut butter “sauce,” syrup “cheese,” and chocolate chip “pepperoni.”


Fine Art

One of the most creative and interesting parts of this row was the art portion.  Karen Barbour’s illustrations are evocative of Henri Matisse’s work, so we took an entire day, on and off, to learn about his life and art.

This website was awesome — full of facts and games.  It even allowed Peanut to design her own digital masterpiece using stylistic elements of Matisse’s work.


We also read Matisse: King of Colour by Laurence Anholt (he has a great series introducing famous artists to kids).


Peanut created two very different pieces of Matisse-inspired art:

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  2. “Stained glass” (tissue paper and contact paper) with patterns and complementary colorsimage_1

Social Studies & Character Study/Bible

This week, just like little Tony helped his dad, we focused on being servant-hearted. We made a list of people we could help, and ways in which we could help them.  We tried to do one each day.

We also talked briefly about where different ingredients are sourced…it’s always a shock to young kids that the chicken you eat actually comes from…a chicken.



Language Arts

As much as I love reading to Peanut, it’s always nice to hear the story in a fresh way. Reading Rainbow has a great episode all about Little Nino’s Pizzeria, which captivated her.  And can I just say that I am so dorkily nostalgically excited about using elements from my own childhood in that of my daughter’s?  Reading Rainbow, Mr. Rogers, the Magic School Bus, Electric Company…


<p><a href=”″>Little Nino’s Pizzeria</a> from <a href=””>WVPT</a&gt; on <a href=””>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

Peanut has been doing a lot of reading on her own – she’s discovered how to read silently to herself so more often than not, I’ll find her curled up in a corner with a book, oblivious to my calling her name.  So as well as borrowing go-along read-aloud books from the library, I’ve been making sure to borrow early readers that are relevant to that week’s row.  I don’t know how to say this without being all “my-child-is-a-genius,” but her reading level and ability really dumbfound me.  My mom claims I was the same way, so maybe genes play a role…all I know is that I cannot claim credit.  Yes, I did some sight words and phonics with her, and I’ve read to her since she was a baby, but she’s FOUR and reading third-grade level chapter books.  Okay, so maybe my child is a genius. 😉


This book, or any unit study involving pizza, naturally lends itself to [a gentle, age-appropriate introduction to] fractions.  I kept it pretty basic, knowing we’d continue the idea with our next row (How To Bake An Apple Pie And See The World).

I also found these great worksheets, and we used quite a few.  Peanut particularly enjoyed measuring things with a ruler and playing dice addition bingo.

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Of all the photos I got of this week, I wish I’d gotten one of the pizza we made but it got eaten way too quickly.  Definitely a great beginning to our month of delicious learning!



We’re Going On A Bear Hunt & Corduroy

I am way, way, WAY behind on my FIAR posts.  Homeschooling, housekeeping, caring for two young children and getting back into performing professionally seem to preclude much spare time.  Strange how that happens.  Anyhow, Peanut and Mr. Fix-It are away camping this weekend, so life is much slower — I actually have an evening in which I’m (a) not exhausted and (b) not torn in ten different directions.

Our first official week of school wound up being August 25 – 29, which coincided with the public schools.  I say “official” because we basically gave up doing school for the month of August — too much travel, too many sleep issues with the baby, and a raging case of hand foot & mouth that took three full weeks from which to recover (I was the only one who didn’t get it; hooray for Mama immunity!).  It just made more sense, especially to Peanut, to start school when everyone else we know started school.

We rowed two BFIAR books together: “We’re Going On A Bear Hunt” and “Corduroy.”  Yep, bears = theme.  The memory verse for the week was from Ruth 1:16 — “Where you go, I will go.”  We talked a lot about friendship in the Bible and sticking together when things got tough.

On Monday we read “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt,” and re-enacted it inside while watching Michael Rosen’s fabulous video:

We also did some story mapping using pictures of each scene.

Monday was HOT, so I set up an outdoor obstacle course in which we once again acted out “Bear Hunt.”

Through the long, wavy grass…


Through the deep, cold river…


Through the thick, oozy mud…

Actually, she just poked at it with a stick.  Never has liked getting her hands dirty.


Into a big, dark forest…


And out of the forest…


Through a swirling, whirling snowstorm (ignore my car)…


Into a narrow, gloomy cave…




We raced back home.  Phew, safe upstairs in bed.


We’re not going on a bear hunt again.


When we returned inside, she wanted a bear snack…I think she was fishing for honey, but instead I whipped up something a mite healthier.  She was happy with it.


Tuesday was even more hot and humid, and I was absolutely knackered from being up so many times with Munchkin the night before (the “Ladybug” moniker has been replaced by “Munchkin,” which fits her so much better) so we stayed inside in the A/C for most of the day.  We watched “Brother Bear” (the Disney movie that time forgot), as well as a documentary about pandas.  I thought she’d be bored silly with the latter but to my surprise, she was positively riveted.  This led to a discussion about pandas, polar bears and brown/black bears, in which we learned about their habitats and their diets.


Wednesday was more of the same weather, so we spent the morning coloring and learning about adjectives:


…and spent the afternoon at the only local outdoor pool that was still open, which had a wonderful very shallow area for young kids.  Munchkin got to splash around, and even Daddy played hooky from work for an hour to join us.  Awesome last blast of summer.

On Thursday, since I felt we had exhausted “Bear Hunt,” we moved onto “Corduroy,” a book Peanut has always loved.   We had a great go-along book called “My Friend Bear,” so we were able to tie in the friendship theme with both books.


My Friend Bear

For social studies, we focused on manners — particularly those of the character Lisa, who is ever so respectful to her mama when she is told she cannot have a toy at the store, and polite to the store clerk the next day.  We role-played how we would speak to someone in various settings and emphasized the importance of speaking respectfully to adults.

Since Corduroy is missing a button from his overalls, and I just happen to have a teddy bear from my childhood who also wears overalls, we cut off one button and learned how to sew it back on.  Peanut was very careful with the sharp needle (still required lots of supervision and hands-on help) and showed a keen interest in learning how to sew.

We also used buttons to create an art project.  Peanut decided to make a flower…and then another…and then we thought, let’s make a whole family!  Of course they wound up being OUR family.  🙂


Friday was math day.  Buttons once again were very useful for addition and subtraction, as well as grouping and skip counting.  We also talked about saving (Lisa saved up money in her piggy bank to buy Corduroy), and decided to consolidate her three money jars (spend, save and give) into two (save and give).  Peanut earns money by doing extra chores around the house, as well as a [very small] allowance for completing her regular responsibilities each week.  The problem is, the change she earns burns holes in her pockets.  So this was a valuable lesson in the power of saving instead of spending immediately.

Fridays are also our field trip days.  I had every intention of taking the girls on a field trip to the mall where we could ride — what else — the escalators.  But they both fell asleep on the ride there and I, savoring the silence, let them snooze away while I swung through the Starbucks drive-through, took a ride on back country roads and listened to non-kid music for an hour.  It’s the little things, folks.

We also started our first piano lesson this week; lots of fun songs involving the black notes in groups of 2’s.  Peanut surprised me with her attentiveness, and then later when practicing on her own and for Daddy, attention to detail.  I am so glad we did eurhythmics the past few years, as she can now easily identify and play eighth, quarter and half notes.  It’s exciting to pass on my knowledge and passion to my own child, after all these years of giving it to so many other kids.  And from what I can tell, just like she has with every other aspect of schooling, she is going to take it and run with it.

Next up…Little Nino’s Pizzeria!  I’ll try to post about that row tomorrow – hoping to get caught up in the next few days.



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First day of kindergarten!

Today was our first “official” day of kindergarten!  Peanut woke up to several surprises: I had completely rearranged and reorganized our sunporch and dining room to make a dedicated play area and a dedicated school area, and I had packed her backpack with a slew of new, wrapped school supplies.


My big girl.

First off, piano books – we’re starting (very basic) piano lessons!

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Next, new markers/crayons/pencils/glue/paper/etc:

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And finally, a surprise gift for my little Elsa – toy figurines of the two Frozen sisters in their coronation garb, along with Olaf.  Peanut and her new friends have been inseparable ever since.


It was an awesome first day — despite being up with her sister at 5:30 a.m. (and midnight, and 4 a.m.) and having been up until 11 the previous night moving furniture and organizing.  I’m quite certain God gave me the endurance, gentleness and energy to make our first “official” homeschool day memorable, fun and blessed.  And how did Peanut feel about it?  Well, she asked for “more school!” until bedtime, even after going out for ice cream in the late afternoon (what I anticipated being the culminating experience of the day).  I had to explain that mommies and teachers need a break here and there. 🙂

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Very Last First Time

Our third “row” was a wonderful book I’d never read: “Very Last First Time,” by Jan Andrews and illustrated by Ian Wallace.  This book features Eva, an Inuit girl, who lives along Ungava Bay in northern Canada. In the winter, her people search for mussels along the bottom of the seabed. Although Eva has often joined her mother on these searches, today is the very first day she’s climbing down through the ice hole by herself.  We spent almost two weeks rowing this book, as there was so much to glean.

Very Last First Time

Since the weather was most cooperative on Monday of the first week, we kicked off our row with a field trip to Odiorne Point State Park and the Seacoast Science Center in Rye, NH.  Odiorne is a very rocky beach, so a wonderful place to go tide-pooling.  It afforded us a great opportunity to search for mussels (like the book) and other sea creatures.  It is also, incidentally, where I got married. 🙂

Our local library offers free museum passes to residents, so we got free admission to the Science Center — a big bonus for a homeschooling family.

My brave little explorer princess.

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We thought these seaweed-covered rocks looked just like the scene below in the book:

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A mussel shell!  We collected about 20 of them.

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Let me tell you, navigating these rocks for a mile of coastline was quite a balancing act with Ladybug in the Ergo.

But totally worth it when we spotted not only mussels, but clams, oysters, scallops, crabs, lobsters, sea urchins, snails, barnacles…even an eel some very brave boys had caught.

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Outside the Seacoast Science Center…

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Checking out the various ecosystem aquariums:

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A blue lobster, whaaaat?

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One of our go-along books was A House For Hermit Crab by the inestimable Eric Carle, so she was fascinated with this little guy:

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As usual, her favorite part of any excursion.

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Look!  I’m a whale!

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Learning how to fish for cod like it’s 1860; a valuable skill to be sure.

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The rest of the week was stormy and humid so we spent the majority of our days inside.  But we had plenty to keep us occupied.

Bible/Character Study

We focused on fear and courage, since Eva was frightened by the shadows and the returning tide, but was brave to go down in the hole in the first place, and then to light more candles and find her way out.  There are countless examples of this in the Bible; we took a look at Jonah and Daniel in the lion’s den.  We also talked about 5 steps to take when afraid, or “crisis thinking”: Calm Down, Don’t Panic, Be Quiet, Think Carefully, What Are You Supposed To Do?  We added “Pray” as Step 1, as courage is fear that has said its prayers!


A neat little book about courage and God from the Dollar Store:



The Magic School Bus again came to the rescue with an episode all about mussels and tides — perfect science go-along for Very Last First Time.  Most of our science study this week took place on our field trip.


The title of the book is very curious, and it led to a conversation about ordinal numbers, which coincidentally was also addressed in Lesson 3 of Life of Fred.  Peanut used one of her watercolors as the backdrop for correctly ordering the following terms, and we spent the two weeks referring to things ordinally in our everyday life (“he’s third in line,” “that’s the eighth time I’ve told you to pick up your toys!”, etc.)


I love that Life of Fred incorporates many different elements into each lesson, one of which is how to tell time.  Peanut can now accurately tell us the hour using an analog clock…an increasingly rare skill-set in a digital world.  Kind of like cursive (which we will also be learning in a few years).

Social Studies

 Geography (Ungava Bay and the Arctic Circle), and world cultures (the Inuit people) were our area of concentration.  We found Ungava Bay on our small map:

20140729_150939008_iOSas well as on our huge wall map.  Dovetailing nicely into this, after noticing the illustrated compass on the wall map, was a discussion of north/south/east/west and identifying where we live in relation to Eva (north of us), or Peanut’s cousin (south of us), or where Mommy lived as a child (east of us, in France).

We watched this really cool video of the Inuit people braving the extremely fast and dangerous tides to hunt for mussels, and then filled in a fact sheet about their culture.


Language Arts

We explored the concept of homophones, since Peanut was a little confused by the word “mussels” as used to describe shells with animals inside.   Actually, she had a hard enough time wrapping her head around the concept of shells housing animals that look like globs of saliva, but then again this is the child who thinks that the chicken we eat is different than the chickens we see running around.  I haven’t had the heart to disillusion her of that one yet.

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One of the homophones she came up with and spelled herself:

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We also learned a ton of new action vocabulary words from the story (peering, scrambling, groping, prying, grinning, stumbling, et al) and acted them out.  I’m not sure if Peanut enjoyed being dramatic herself or laughing hysterically at my enactments more.  Here she is “heaving” something.  It’s REALLY heavy.



Art was really fun this week.  Since Eva walked under the ice, we experimented with painting a big ice block.

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And discussed the idea of complementary colors as they are depicted on the color wheel, since the illustrator uses those combinations frequently (purple/yellow and blue/orange especially).

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We also experimented with salt melting ice and talked about the ocean (salt water) versus a lake or river (fresh water).
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Finally, we learned about pointillism (also employed by the illustrator) and she tried her hand at it.  Truthfully, she wasn’t too excited about this…but I did get her to complete attempt one picture.


My dad would be so proud of our little artiste.  Wish he were here to see her using his brushes.

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Finally, for the last day, we made octopus pastries using refrigerated croissant dough, cinnamon sugar and raisins.  We tried to make a mussel shell originally (see the lump in the lower left) but agreed it was pretty lame…and although I bribed convinced her to try real mussels, we never got around to buying them as I would have been the only one eating them.  So the octopi were born.  And they were delicious.

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And that was the last of Very Last First Time!

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The Bee Tree

Our second “row” of the year was “The Bee Tree,” by Patricia Polacco.  We had a great time with this one, mostly because it included the consumption of honey…every. single. day.  But we also really lucked out, in that a friend/neighbor is an amateur beekeeper — so we got an up-close tour of his apiary.

The Bee Tree

This is the story of a young girl, who is bored with reading, and her grandfather, who teaches her that reading and chasing bees to their tree can be remarkably similar — the fruits of one’s efforts are sweet indeed.

Bible/Character Study

Almost every day, we found a new Bible verse comparing the Word to honey.  Here’s a “sweet” notebooking page we put together from Psalm 119:


 Language Arts

Polacco used onomatopoeia as a literary device, and Peanut really enjoyed coming up with word-sounds of her own (and conquering the pronunciation of said device!).




Since honeycomb cells are hexagonal, we expanded our knowledge of this shape, including how to draw one and how to use pattern blocks (paper ones for the notebooking page below) to create them.  We also continued with the Life of Fred, Lesson 2, which Peanut wanted to do over and over.  So we did.



This week focused on the life cycle and work of bees.  The Magic School Bus series has a fantastic book about this; most of our learning came from this as well as from our resident beekeeper.  [There is also a Magic School Bus TV episode available on Netflix, but honestly it lacked major portions of knowledge, so I’m glad we read the book first.]  We learned how bees dance to inform their coworkers where to find flowers with nectar and did some of the crazy dances ourselves.  We also learned that the delicious honey we love to eat is actually bee vomit (okay, there’s a lot more to it than that)!

Speaking of beekeepers, we are so grateful to our friend for his hive tour…here are a few snapshots of our field trip.

Old frames:

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Peanut holding old beeswax, which she got to take home and put into her notebook:

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All geared up to visit the hives!

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Smoking the bees to calm them down (apparently it makes them want to eat honey, which has a soporific effect).  He said they’re usually not very aggressive.

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A very active frame;  both honey and larvae are inside the cells.  The white portions have been capped.  Amazing fact: the cells are not only all perfect hexagons, but they are slightly tilted downwards so that the honey will not spill out.

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Peanut being VERY brave and checking out the frames up close:

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Like many of my FIAR posts, I’m only presenting highlights of the week — there is always a lot more behind-the-scenes learning that goes on that I have neither time nor inclination to capture with a camera.  Fortunately the hive tour gave us some pretty awesome photo ops. 🙂

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The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge.

Our first “row” of the year was the wonderful (true) story of “The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge.”  This book made me wish for the first time in 7 years that I still lived in CT (within driving/train distance to NYC); it would have made an awesome field trip with which we could have combined a visit to the Cloisters, my absolute favorite museum ever…but I digress.

The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge.

Let me pause for a moment and address a common concern regarding Five In A Row.  I worried that Peanut might get bored reading the same book every day for a week (sometimes even two!) but this is the same girl who has been obsessed with Frozen for 7 MONTHS, and who likes to hear the same fairy tales at bedtime repeatedly.  We both really enjoyed re-reading this book as we dug into different facets of the story.  Here are some glimpses of what we learned:

Bible: You are the light of the world. (Matthew 5:14)

This was our memory verse for the week, and along with singing “This Little Light of Mine,” we discussed what it means to shine and reflect God’s light to those around us.  We also talked about the symbolism of God as our lighthouse, providing safe passage and steering us away from rocky shores.



Character/Social Studies: Pride and Humility

We learned about the difference between good pride (in a job well done; e.g. Peanut’s family contributions, aka chores) and bad pride (thinking you are smarter or better than someone else; e.g. bragging about one’s Elsa dress/doll to a friend over for a play date), and how the little red lighthouse experienced feeling both superior and inferior, but ended up feeling right-sized in the end.  I also introduced the character trait of humility as the antidote to pride and we read some examples in the Bible.

Language Arts: Compound Words

We did some rebus puzzles, practiced handwriting, found all the compound words in the book, and she came up with some of her own and included illustrations (I love the flip-flops!).


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Fine Art: Shapes and Sizes

She used many different kinds of shapes to assemble a lighthouse:



We also examined how the illustrator used a juxtaposition of large and small objects to emphasize parts of the story.  She was challenged with painting a picture using this idea (I suggested two different animals) but she likes to play it safe and tried to copy one of the illustrations instead.  Of course I can’t find the photo but trust me, it was pretty similar. 🙂

Math: Life of Fred, Lesson 1

I seriously love this way of learning math and wish it had been around when I was in school.  Peanut was engaged from the get-go with the story of Fred and Kingie, and we repeated Lesson 1 for a few days during the week, using slightly different number combinations in the problems at the end of the chapter.  She was very concerned with using the proper punctuation and checking off each problem as she solved it correctly.



Science: How Lighthouses Work

Lots of great lighthouse books from the library, both fiction and non-fiction.  Emphasis on their function and the different kinds of lights and sounds through the ages.  And since we live on the Seacoast, we got to see three great examples: the Whaleback Light, the Portsmouth Harbor Light, and the Wood Island Life Saving Station.

Cooking: Lighthouse Snack

Okay, this one was kind of a reach…but Pinterest yielded a cute idea for making a lighthouse snack, which I tweaked a little to replace fruit roll-ups with real fruit.  The best part was that this included all of Peanut’s favorite foods: ice cream cones, strawberries, Nutella, marshmallows and Annie’s fruit snacks!  And voila, the icing on the cake of our first row:

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Dedicating our “olive shoots.”

This morning was our girls’ dedication at our church, and it was so special.  Peanut wasn’t shy/silly and actually wore a dress I picked out instead of her Elsa costume, and Ladybug stole the show: when Pastor held and blessed her, she smiled HUGE when he said “May the Lord bless you and keep you; may He make His face to shine upon you” and then looked up at the sky when he said, “May he look down from heaven and smile upon you.”  I cried.  All in all, a beautiful, meaningful ceremony, surrounded by our church family and family of origin.

Here’s the video of the dedication (skip to the 3:00 mark to see the girls’ blessings).

And here are some shots from the service:

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Afterwards we went out to brunch with the grandparents (I’d been bribing Peanut all week with promises of the chocolate fountain) and stuffed ourselves to the gills.  Outside the restaurant, we finally got a few good semi-decent photos of all 4 of us!  [N.B. I give professional photographers a LOT of credit, especially when taking pics of families and young children.  It is nearly impossible to get all parties facing the camera and smiling simultaneously.]

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The girls with Yammie and PaPa:


The girls with Nanna:

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