As a homeschool parent, I always look for ways to make learning fun for my kids. My son is a reader and absorbs everything from the pages of a good book. My daughter enjoys reading too, but she’s not as obsessed with it as he is. He has a book in his hand for every car ride, even if it’s for a two minute drive to the store around the corner. There are books on the couch, the kitchen table, the bathroom counter. He has so many books piled on his headboard that they overflow onto his pillows while he sleeps. But that’s ok with him because he’s literally surrounded by the things he loves.
Writing is a different story though. My daughter likes to write. My son, not so much. We have struggled from time to time with writing tasks. He’s fine writing short passages, but getting him to commit to writing anything of more significant length can be a challenge. As a writer myself, I choose not to force the issue because I don’t want him to see the task of writing in a negative way. I create options for him that enable him to write about things of interest, rather than making him write the paragraphs requested in language arts workbooks. He’s a Minecraft and Pokémon kid so I used to have him write stories as if he were a character in Minecraft. Currently he’s working on a Blueprint Book. He designed a few things based on ideas he got from Rick Riordan books and Pokémon. I had him draw pictures of his designs and now he’s writing descriptions of the items and how they work. No, he’s not writing an analysis on literature, but that was never much fun for me either. My goal is to bring out the joy in writing. Because there are so many good reasons to write. My daughter write a book about giraffes. It’s adorable.
After writing my last chapter book, I began outlining my writing process and I realized how much fun I could have had with writing early on if I had been exposed to a more structured guide to putting my stories on paper. Also, I had a difficult time committing to fiction because my creative writing skills were judged harshly by a middle school teacher. My essays and other academic writing always received high marks and praise, but that one creative writing class was a flop. She used phrases like “that’s not right” and “this is incorrect” as if she were grading a true/false quiz. And I spent years wondering how creating something fictional can be “incorrect”.
But I continued my writing, and eventually went on to become a published author. So when I was asked to write a chapter book, I got scared. I worried that it wouldn’t be right. And then I checked myself and accepted the challenge. That book will be out later this year and I’m really proud of it.
So, I decided to take what I learned from that process and share it with other students and adults who want to learn how to write in a way that is easy to navigate. I’ll be introducing the first class, “Chapter Book Challenge”, this summer. It’s going to be a six week workshop through a private discussion forum right here on my website. Twice a week I’ll post a lesson with instructions and tools to use as you develop your own story. I’ll share examples of my own from the chapter book I am currently working on. Registered members will be able to ask questions and communicate with me and other writers from the workshop. I’ll be accepting submissions and I will review them and provide feedback to help you along the way. In addition to the lessons, I’ll be providing graphic organizers, writing prompts, newsletters with writing activities, and other fun tools to help members on their writing journey. I can’t wait to get started! Do you or someone you know what to take the Chapter Book Challenge with me? Spread the word!
Life is messy. And busy. Stuffed full of to-do lists and commitments overflowing from your plate. Like many families, we’ve spent the first two months of the New Year passing the flu, and stomach bugs, and colds around the house like a hot potato. Zero fun. Now that we are all mostly on the mend, it was time to get back outside and do what we love. Hike. We bought our Adventure Pass back in January and haven’t had a chance to use it yet, so yesterday we shot up the 210 to the Chantry Flat Recreation Area in the Angeles National Forest. It was our first time here.
We hiked the Sturtevant Falls trail, about four miles round trip. The first half mile is down a paved road into the canyon. When you reach the bottom, we followed the dirt trail across the bridge into a magical shaded forest that follows a running stream. The kids loved the cute storybook cabins, comparing them to Minecraft Villages and deciding what type of villagers might live there. There were spots along the stream where the trunks of the trees were covered entirely with ivy and we imagined little gnomes and fairies making homes in the roots of the trees just below the leaves. We hopped rocks to cross the stream three times and only one of us left with wet feet.
We stopped at Sturtevant Falls, a lovely 50-foot waterfall, and had a light snack on the rocks nearby. This is a well-trafficked trail so plenty of people were there also enjoying the view. We made our way back and talked about waterfalls, living conditions in different states, and inflation. Yep, we actually had a long conversation about money, how it has changed over time, and the cost of living.
Maybe we weren’t at a desk or the kitchen table, but we were still learning. I say we, because I learn from them just as much as they learn from me. When we’re not sick, we try to take at least one day during the week to go hiking. I believe being outside and connecting with nature is one of the best ways to decompress, and it’s good for all of us to get the blood flowing and move our bodies. Turn off the TV, put down the video games, and get outside. We all need some time to play.
I teach language arts at home and I bounce around between topics so my kids don’t get bored doing the same activity. We use the LifePac language arts workbooks from Alpha Omega as our foundation. This way we always have something we can open and go to. But workbooks can be dry and repetitive when you do them everyday. So I like to change it up by adding my own activities now and then.
We have journals that we use for different things. My first grader chooses something to learn about (usually an animal) and she draws a picture and writes two to three sentences about what she learned. She can read and write on her own but still needs help with spelling, so she tells me what she wants to write, I write it down on a small dry erase white board, and she copies it into her writing journal. My fourth grader uses his to write short stories or keep notes that he wants to remember and come back to later. He copied down all the roman numerals in his so now he comes back to it every time he needs to refer to it for his math assignments.
I also make my own worksheets. I try to make them interesting, about something they wouldn’t generally learn about in a textbook or frame it in a fun way. The worksheet I’m sharing here is about the Kaluga Sturgeon, an ancient fish that is endangered because it is frequently caught and used for caviar. I highlight and define new vocabulary words directly in the worksheet and include a few questions about the main idea, details, and text features. Download your copy below. Enjoy!
I’m an author. I love coming up with ideas to write about and I love bringing other ideas to life through written words. There was a time in my life that I didn’t think I could be a writer because I didn’t enjoy making things up. Writing fiction was not my thing. When I was in sixth grade I took creative writing as an elective and the teacher told me over and over again that my writing was wrong. My ideas weren’t good. I didn’t set the scene or perfect the plot or use the right voice. She crushed my writing spirit. But I kept going. I never shared anything I wrote because I assumed everyone would think it was terrible, like she did.
Eventually I started sharing my poetry. My friends liked it. And I actually paid to have my poetry published in anthologies stuffed with thousands of other authors – who also paid. I think you’ll find me on page 537, column 2, third row down. I kept writing.
Then something happened. I started college at 19 attending off and on at local community colleges. I avoided English 101 for a while. When I finally registered for it, I was excited (because I like to write), but I expected to get a poor grade and a lot of criticism. When I turned in that first writing assignment – an informational essay about computers and education – I shrugged it off immediately. I did my best. The day she handed the assignment back I was completely ready for the bad grade that was heading my way. But it never came. Instead, I was shocked to see an A+ with curly red comments about being well thought out and nicely structured. Huh. Maybe I’m not terrible.
Something else happened. I remembered a day in second grade. I came home from school and set up a spot on the floor in front of the TV with my markers and a pad of pastel-colored paper. I wrote my own story of the first Thanksgiving, complete with pictures of corn and Indians. And I liked it. I read it to everyone. I hung it up. Eventually I transferred it to my scrapbook. It’s still there. As I remembered this, I realized what my path was – I’m a nonfiction writer. That’s what I was meant to do. It doesn’t matter that I can’t make up stories about unicorns and furry trolls in faraway lands. That’s not necessary for my journey.
I did eventually branch out to making things up. Actually, my last book was creative nonfiction. It was my job to take the characters in the story through time to meet famous scientists who developed advances in electricity like Ben Franklin, Nikola Tesla, and Michael Faraday. It’s one of my favorite projects so far. I can’t wait for that one to be in print so I can put it on my bookshelf.
Over the last few months I’ve received two of my latest books in the mail, and I don’t think that is ever going to get boring. Opening a package to find a book that I wrote, and then watching my kids read it?! Whoa. So mind blowing. And I think back to that teacher who thought I was terrible and sat me down for a conference after class about how my writing just wasn’t very good. How many times her voice echoed in my head, discouraging and condescending. I kept trying. Secretly. But I kept trying.
Today, I get to be role model for my kids. I may not write the next Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings, but I wanted to be an author, and here I am with four books under my belt. I did it. So now when I tell them they can be whatever they want if they work hard for it, they know it’s true because I did it.
Do you have a writing journey? I’d love for you to share it with me!
In honor of National Young Readers Week, I wanted to share some thoughts on books.
Everyday I walk through the house collecting the books lying around in the kitchen, the bathroom, on the couch. You name it, we’ve probably got a book there. Sometimes as I try to find shelf space for the misplaced books I catch myself mumbling about having too many books. Hahaha! I get a good laugh every time because having too many books is a good thing and there’s no way I’m downsizing.
There are actually benefits to having too many books. I should clarify that the books should be quality reading material with an educational element of some sort. A bookshelf full of crime drama or erotica is great if that’s what you’re into, but definitely don’t contribute to the benefits I’ll be referring to here.
First, having books means your kids always have access to reading material. Even if they read the same book twenty times, they are going to learn something new from it as they grow. Different ages retain and comprehend reading material differently.
Second, you can teach your kids about primary sources rather than going straight to Google, Siri, or Alexa for answers. When my kids ask what life was like when there were no cities and people were looking for new land to settle, we whip out books like Boomtown or Little House on the Prairie. And we read. And we look at pictures. And we talk about what life might have been like. What the world looked like before houses were crunched together in grid patterns. When a wild animal in the neighborhood was an opportunity instead of a nuisance. When you planted your food instead of buying GMO corn at the grocery store.
Third, books become handy resources for a variety of learning opportunities. I found this book at the library bookstore called From Sea to Shining Sea for $3. It’s a treasury of American folklore and folk songs and includes everything from Native American culture to the Industrial Revolution to America’s favorite pastime – baseball. We can read Martin Luther King, Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech and the lyrics to Bob Dylan’s Blowin’ in the Wind. We can read a poem about Harriet Tubman and how she risked her life 19 times to guide hundreds of slaves to freedom. For $3 we got a book we can use over and over again. For many subjects. For years to come.
If you have a house full of books, it’s hard for kids to avoid reading. It makes it hard for you to avoid reading, too. That being said, some kids do need to be encouraged to read. But if you’ve got shelves of books covering a variety of subjects, there’s got to be something interesting that young readers will gravitate to. Drones, extreme sports, National Parks, rocks, horses, writing your own stories, Shakespeare, mythology – we’ve got tons of subjects in our nonfiction collection. Our chapter books and picture books are also overflowing from the shelves. When you have books available that you consistently share and read with your kids, they will eventually learn to read. And some of them will even grow to love it.
For more information about National Young Readers Week check out the Pizza Hut Book It! program, and pay a visit to your local library. Happy reading!
Did you know that when bees are about 12 days old, they develop glands in their abdomen that produce wax? The wax comes out of little openings on the side of their abdomen. The bees chew the wax and add it to the honey comb.
Bees make honey from pollen and nectar. They feed honey to their young and store honey to eat during the winter. But not all bees make honey.
There are over 20,000 species of bees!
If predators, like wasps, invade the hive, bees will ball together and vibrate their muscles. This generates enough heat to kill the intruder.
My co-leader and I recently took our Girl Scout Troop to Backyard Bees, an educational program at a location in Orange, CA. We are working on growing a tower garden right now and thought this would be a great opportunity to teach them additional information about gardening and help them learn about the helpful bees.
Backyard Bees was a delightful adventure. We started by harvesting seeds from cotton and amaranth. Janet showed the girls gourds and talked about different uses for them. We met her chickens, talked about eggs, and learned about some of the other plants that were growing there. The girls got to meet the resident horse and see where the bee hive was.
Each girl got to plant their own seeds, either cotton or amaranth, to bring home and grow. My daughter chose cotton and my son chose amaranth – he’s a Cub Scout and gets to join us on many of our Girl Scout adventures, too. Both plants are already growing nicely and we are excited to add them to our garden when they get a little bigger.
We went into the honey house where Janet shared a lot of educational information about bees and what they do. We got to see harvested bee’s wax and sample the honey she collected from her very own bees. It’s amazing to see how much can be created from bees and honey. The educational tour and program lasted just over an hour and was packed full of fun and information. We left with lots of ideas about what we can grow in our garden at home. This is a great program for scouts and homeschool groups.
For more information on Backyard Bees visit http://www.backyardbees.net/.
Here are some great books about bees!
I took my dino-loving kids to the Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology. They have monthly Discovery Days and this month’s theme was Making Monsters: Science in Art. It was our first time to the museum and we instantly fell in love.
For $3 per person we received admission to the museum and got to participate in several awesome activities that blended science and art. We listened to a paleoartist, Brian Engh, talk about how he works with fossils and paleontologists to create the artistic renderings of what they believe the dinosaur looked like and the environment it lived in. What a cool job!
The first activity was about how to draw dinosaurs. We chose from several step-by-step drawing worksheets to sketch the dino of our choice. Next we cut out tangrams and arranged them on the page to create our own dinosaur. Then we chose from a selection of cut-out fossil body segments that we pieced together to create a new dinosaur. Finally, we were given a scavenger hunt list with different Pokémon characters. We had to find the fossil in the museum of the dinosaur that inspired each Pokémon character. Super cool. My Poke-fans loved this part.
The Alf is a fantastic location with imaginative hands-on activities that my junior paleontologists enjoyed. We will go back and I highly recommend it. Such a treat on a Saturday afternoon.
And because we can’t get enough fossils, we went to the Homeschool day at the La Brea Tar Pits a few days later. There were very few activities this time around so I was not as impressed, but homeschool day gives us a chance to go down into the Observation Pit which is usually closed unless you’re on a guided tour. We love it down there!
Resources for Junior Paleontologists:
I think about my time as a child and all the days I spent sitting bent-kneed at a desk with worksheets and blackboards for my view. I am lucky enough to provide a different experience for my own children. One of my favorite things about being a homeschool parent is our freedom to explore. I like to take the kids hiking during the cooler months of the year. Previously, I focused on shorter hikes with interesting elements. But now we have entered a new phase. The kids no longer complain after the first mile. They look for what’s up ahead and keep moving. I can say code words like “geocache” and they’re on a wild hunt to find one. Or I can bring along my secret weapon – my nephew – wherever he goes, they go. I carry plenty of water and snacks and they keep going.
The last two hikes we did were about 5 miles each and we were greatly rewarded for our efforts. First, we went to Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park for a hike to Dripping Cave, AKA Robbers Cave. Legend has it that cattle thieves and train robbers used this cave as a hideout years ago. The trail is relatively easy and mostly flat. We parked at the Awma Road parking lot and hiked the Aliso Creek trail to the Wood Canyon trail. Out and back it’s about 4.6 miles but if you turn off to explore Cave Rock from the Wood Canyon trail you add about another half mile to the hike. When we arrived at Dripping Cave the kids were excited to explore and loved climbing the other nearby rocks. We had our lunch here and then headed back the way we came. We were lucky enough to cross paths with a deer on this hike, which doesn’t happen very often, but the kids were delighted to see it.
This week we decided to explore Red Rock Canyon near Foothill Ranch. We started at the Borrego Canyon trailhead at Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park. The 1.3 mile trail is very slightly uphill for an easy climb. At the intersection of the Mustard trail we stopped to have snacks and were entertained by a tiny gopher who loves oranges. From Mustard, we connected to the Red Rock Canyon trail and followed a rocky dry river bed, climbing a bit more than we expected. The climbing and rock scrambling was worth it though, as the payoff dropped us in the center of rocky red cliffs that surrounded us with majestic formations carved by erosion. the kids enjoyed climbing and exploring the walls of Red Rock Canyon and we spent a good 45 minutes exploring before heading back. Overall, we hiked about 5 miles round trip for this one, but we enjoyed all of it.
I love these days where we put the books and worksheets and computer assignments aside and get outdoors and walk the dirt paths to wondrous worlds making memories with our family and friends. Never did I imagine that I would be able to spend the days like this with my kids and I am thankful for the opportunity. They always ask, “Do we have to take the freeway?” Well, yes kids. Because everywhere worth going requires a little bit of effort. But soon, it will be time again to stretch your legs.
What’s your favorite Southern California hiking spot?
We just got home from an amazing adventure. We took a road trip to the Grand Canyon, parked our pop-up at Mather Campground and spent five days exploring. It was one of the best vacations ever.
When we got to the park, we spent the first evening setting up and running out to Mather Point to catch the last few minutes of sunset. It was our first glimpse of the canyon and it’s true – pictures don’t fully express the grandness of the canyon. You can’t see the depth and the color that seems to change depending on your location and the time of day. It’s pretty darn beautiful.
We arrived on a Sunday evening and spent Monday through Friday exploring. We decided to start at one end and work our way down the South Rim.
Highlights of the Trip:
Mule Deer: These guys were awesome to watch. The campground was relatively empty Monday through Wednesday so we had lots of Mule Deer foraging in the area. We gave them plenty of space, as you should. But they didn’t seem to be bothered at all by our presence. They even came to our campsite to chew on a few trees, and a pair of deer settled in for a nap in the campsite across from us. At one point a group of five large males with huge antlers were all within a few hundred feet of us. They lose their antlers every year and grow new ones, but if you find antlers, you must leave them where they lie. They are protected within the park.
Hiking in the Canyon: We had a tight grip on the kids for both canyon hikes we went on, but traveling down into it was like stepping into a different world. The huge walls and cliffs of limestone, shale, and sandstone were awesome.
Earning the Junior Ranger Badges: The kids completed the activities in their workbooks and attended two Ranger talks (Critter Chat and Geology Glimpse). When they did their park pledge and received their badges from the ranger they were so proud! They are now Junior Rangers at two parks – Grand Canyon and Joshua Tree.
Here is what our week-long adventure looked like:
Day 1: We first went to the Grand Canyon Visitor Center and picked up Junior Ranger books for the kids. We don’t explore National Parks without these awesome books and the kids love working on their workbooks and earning their Junior Ranger Badges.
Then we drove about 25 miles to Desert View Watchtower, stopping at the Tusayan Museum and Ruin on the way. The short, self-guided paths at Tusayan were fun to explore and the kids enjoyed seeing what was left of the meeting areas and storage rooms that local tribes built and used nearly 1000 years ago.
The Watchtower, built in 1932 in the Ancestral Puebloan style, was exciting. There are four levels, with 85 steps to climb, an outdoor observation deck, and is painted inside with Native American symbols. From the top of the Watchtower you can look out and view the Grand Canyon from the highest point in the park. There are many lookout points on the side of the road that travels along South Rim, and we stopped at all the major points on our way back to camp.
On our last stop we were surprised to find a herd of elk resting in the trees. They were pretty amazing to see.
Day 2: We hiked South Kaibab trail about a mile down into the canyon to a spot called Ooh Aah Point. This is the first main stop on the trail with a grand view of the giant canyon that is spread out in front of you. People tend to walk out on the rock pile for a better view, but we held on to the kids and stopped to rest and have a small snack before heading back up. The hike up is tough, but my 5- and 8-year olds handled it well. They say it is equivalent to climbing 76 flights of stairs to get back up from this point. The trail is semi-rocky with lots of built-in steps to climb.
Day 3: We spent the bulk of our day traveling the Hermit’s Rest route. You can take the free shuttle bus to many major lookout points and end up at Hermit’s Rest, a stone building that was built in 1914 for tourists and travelers. You can get on and off the shuttle bus to get from one location to another, but there is also a trail that goes along the path that you can walk on. We opted to walk a stretch of the path where the lookout points were closer together and got back on the bus for the longer distances. Overall, this adventure took us about 4 hours, but if you stay on the bus it’s about an hour and a half.
Day 4: We hiked down into the canyon on the Bright Angel Trail. This path was a little less rocky and there weren’t a lot of steps built into it so I thought it was easier than the South Kaibab Trail. There are two tunnels to pass through on this hike – meaning that you pass through holes in giant boulders on the canyon trail. The first tunnel is a short distance from the trail head and is an easy out and back walk. The lower tunnel is about a mile down from the trail head. Getting back up is like climbing 65 flights of stairs. We also went to the Geology Museum and attended the Geology Glimpse ranger talk which was fun and informative and the kids got their Junior Ranger books signed for attending one of the ranger talks.
Day 5: Day five was crowded in the park. People were filtering in for the weekend. We spent the day collecting souvenirs from the Hopi House and the Bright Angel area.
Our trip was an unforgettable experience and the time we took for it was perfect. We got to see everything along the South Rim without rushing. We planned family meals that we made together in the pop-up trailer. We had no television. One of the smartest things we did was keep our cooler and dry food in the back of the car. After our hikes or while we were out exploring, all we had to do was pop the back open and make sandwiches, complete with drinks, chips, and other snacks.
Lastly, my camera broke almost the moment we got there. Turns out that was good and bad for me. Bummer because I didn’t have a camera, but wonderful because I spent the entire trip capturing memories with my eyes and enjoying each moment, rather than fumbling for the camera to get a picture and missing tiny moments in between.
The day after Thanksgiving is GreenFriday and many California State Parks are offering free passes to get outside, rather than going shopping. Click here to find your park and get a pass. Spend time with your family this Thanksgiving holiday. What do you want your next adventure to be?
For more information about the Grand Canyon and to start planning your trip, Visit the National Park Service website.