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‘Homeschool’ Category

  1. Car Tunes

    May 13, 2015 by admin

    It’s no secret that this TRFamily loves music! IMG_0766

    One place we always have the tunes playing is the car,  Nothing is more fun, or helps a long car ride, like a family sing-along.  So when we purchased our newest car and found its older radio was not compatible with iPod music players, we knew we’d pretty quickly have to swap it out for a different receiver.

    Why is this so important?  Well, for a couple of reasons:

    1.  We love the no commercials and no sometimes shocking news reports version of listening to music via our mp3 equipped phones.

    2.  Our iPod enables us to create long custom lists featuring songs everyone in the family likes.  We all know the words to most of the songs on the playlist, so everyone can join in and sing, or play an awesome air-guitar lick.

    After some internet research, we were able to find an inexpensive but reliable unit that would fit in our car.

    IMG_3057Then Bluey and TRDad got to work putting it into the car.

    Installing your own car stereo is a fun and worthwhile project.  Along the way we were able to cover a variety of topics including:

    Safety rules (like disconnecting your car battery before you start).

    Color matching while sorting wires for the adapter cables.

    The importance of reading instructions and proceeding carefully and methodically with a big project.

    Hands-on skills of using screwdrivers and wrenches correctly.

    And the all important value of Doing It Yourself

    Naturally, Bluey got to take the old radio apart.IMG_0786

    Our project took most of a Saturday morning.  It rewarded us with a great new stereo unit and the satisfaction of knowing we’d done it ourselves.  We know our Bluey will remember this for a long time.  Next time something breaks on the car, or some piece of electronics needs to be upgraded, he’ll be ready to take on the challenge.

  2. Connections

    April 29, 2015 by admin

    IMG_2723A funny thing happens when you embark on the path of un-schooling.

    You start to see connections you didn’t anticipate.  By following the diverse interests of our young Kindergartner, we frequently find- voila!- something we are doing today is connected to something else we did the other day.  And no one planned it.  It is just the natural route of the unstructured pursuit of knowledge.  You follow your path and you find it crosses over where you have trod before.

    For example- Bluey was recently learning how to skateboard with some help from TRDad.  He’s just getting started, so we’re working a lot on keeping balanced on the board and putting our feet down in the right spots.  Later, Bluey headed for karate class.  In order to do a new spiraling kick move, he needed to keep his balance and get his feet in the right spot!  Another example- we’d previously discussed with his swim instructors that they were seeing more fluidity in Bluey’s swim strokes after he started karate, where repetitive arm movements are the norm.  And yet another example- we read a comic about ninjas at home and Bluey discovers the students in the comic call their teacher “Sensei” and practice their moves in the dojo just like he does in his own Karate class.IMG_9479

    The connections keep going.  Once you start realizing how everything is related, you start to see it everywhere!

    We’re reading a whole book about cats, and learning how cats are able to balance and jump as they do.  We hadn’t planned the cat studies to tie in with karate and skateboarding, but they do.  As we follow one trail of interest, it inevitably crosses or runs parallel to a different trail.  These crossroads and parallel strands serve to reinforce the learning and help explain why we’re so happy with our homeschool/un-schooling life!

  3. At The Wisconsin Council Of The Blind

    March 6, 2015 by admin

    IMG_2889“What do blind people do?  I mean, do they have jobs and stuff?”

    Our curious Bluey asked this simple question the other day.  So we had to find a satisfying answer.

    We had been looking for batteries and saw all the tiny batteries designed for hearing aids.  This led to a short discussion about hearing aids and how they helped people who could not hear very well by amplifying the sounds around them.

    And then we had a conversation about people who have visual impairments.  Bluey wanted to know how you could have a job, or read a book, if you were blind.  We talked about how people with vision difficulties have all sorts of jobs from doctors to lawyers to artists. Blind people can do almost anything, even read!

    But Bluey’s questions lingered.  We were driving in our car for most of this conversation, so the description TRDad had for how the Braille alphabet worked was not quite clear to our youngest.

    On our way home, we pulled into the parking lot of the Wisconsin Council of the Blind and Vision Impaired.   An advantage of living near the state capitol is that we have the offices for many advocacy groups not far from our home.  The small offices for the Council of the Blind is right in our neighborhood.

    We had no appointment, no knowledge of the Council’s regular working hours, and no expectations.  Our best hope was that someone might be able to show us a book in Braille, or something along those lines.

    Despite our surprise visit, we were welcomed by the staff from the start.  The two women who run the front desk, Heather and Amanda, greeted us and immediately understood how they could help and were eager to do so.

    IMG_2890They showed us around the Sharper Vision store where visually impaired people can find items to assist them.  We saw all sorts of tools and techniques that help vision impaired people go about their daily lives.  They let Bluey listen to a headset that converted websites from text to speech.  We saw rulers, knives and other household goods adapted with Braille measures and marks.  They showed us clocks and phones that talked out the time or phone numbers (Bluey really liked the talking clocks!)

    Best of all, they showed Bluey how the Braille system worked with examples from books and notecards.  Amanda even showed Bluey how to run a Braille typewriter- printing his name for him while he watched!IMG_2891

    We were so happy to have made this random stop!  Heather and Amanda were a wealth of information and very kind.  They left us with a handful of Braille bookmarks to give out to friends, and an increased knowledge and understanding of the lives of visually impaired people.

    When you and your family have questions, seek out the people in your area who might know the answers.  You’ll meet new friends and learn more than you might’ve hoped.IMG_0197

  4. Journey To The Center Of The Etch-A-Sketch

    February 25, 2015 by admin

    oa_feature_etch_0.pngOne quiet afternoon, Bluey came out of his room with an Etch-a-Sketch.

    “Can we take this apart and see how it works?  Maybe we can fix it?”

    Since the toy was already mostly non-functional, it seemed like a fun adventure.IMG_2776_2

    All we had to go on was the knowledge that there was some sort of powder inside, and some sort of controls that scratched the powder off the glass.  We didn’t know much more.

    Tip: We did a quick google search to confirm that the powder was non-toxic and harmless.  So no worries there!  But we wore safety goggles as a precaution.

    There are no discernible screws or other points of entry into the Etch-a-Sketch.  Apparently, the folks at Ohio Arts don’t encourage this sort of activity.  Undeterred, we brought out a flat headed screwdriver, and ultimately a chisel, to split the connection between the red front, and the black back of the device.IMG_2775

    Inside, and spilling onto our arts and crafts table, we found a super-fine aluminum powder, and the clever string and pulley system that controls the stylus.

    Tip2:  Be prepared for a huge mess, if you take this on.  The powder gets everywhere, coating surfaces like paint.  But it all cleans up relatively easily, so don’t be discouraged.

    IMG_2777_2Seeing how the Etch-A-Sketch works was a lot of fun, and well worth the effort.  We’d wondered for years what was inside, and had to satisfy ourselves with a vague: “some sort of powder or sand.”  Now we know what the powder is and how the mechanism functions.  We weren’t able to fix the toy, but we had lot of fun figuring out how it works!

  5. Karate Kid

    January 18, 2015 by admin

    IMG_2723Our homeschool Phys. Ed. program recently moved up a notch when Bluey enrolled in karate at East Madison Karate (EMK).

    Bluey’s been asking about karate for some time now, but it took us a while to get our ducks in a row.  We had to do our research, make sure this was an activity we could afford, and decide whether it would fit into our ever more complicated family schedule.

    The delay between Bluey expressing an interest in karate and his class enrollment allowed us a chance to confirm his strong interest.  We didn’t want to sign him up and have him drop after one class.  This extra time also afforded us the opportunity to give Bluey a background in what the classes would be like and what sorts of things he would do there.

    So by the time we took him in for his first class, Bluey was raring to go!

    EMK offers a class for Kindergarten through 2nd graders.  We love that he gets to work along side kids his own age and some that are just a little bit older.  Kids and instructors are all super-friendly and helpful.  Bluey fits right in and is already bonding with his classmates!  Karate is a great experience for our youngest.

    We are hoping karate will also help Bluey:

    • Make new friends in the neighborhood.  As a homeschool family, we are always on the lookout for new ways for Bluey to meet people in his age group.
    • Get Physical.  Although Bluey is always on the move, we think the structured environment of karate will help him to build coordination and physical fitness in a different way than his usual routine.
    • Encourage self-control.  The focus to learn new skills, the quiet required as a show of respect, and the attention to detail to learn new skills during karate can only benefit Bluey in all areas of his development.
    • Gain Self-confidence.  Karate, like most martial arts, teaches self-defense and helps build confidence for our Bluey as he moves through his world.


    We are excited to watch Bluey make his way in this new world of martial arts.

  6. Sprechen Sie Deutsch?

    October 15, 2014 by admin

    IMG_2165Ja, ein bisschen!

    One of our longest running homeschool topics is German.  We’ve been learning German at home since Bluey was born.

    When he was an infant, TRDad and Bluey would listen to German podcasts each morning.   Since that time, our lessons have grown more advanced. Now our foreign language curriculum includes not only podcasts, but a German song playlist on our iTunes, a collection of cassette tapes and a daily reading from one of our many German textbooks.

    All this while no one in the house claims any solid German fluency!

    TRDad took some German in High School and college, but never enrolled in any advanced classes.  The main thing that stuck with him was a love of the language and pronunciation skills.  So knowing that he has a pretty good idea of how to pronounce any German words we might encounter, we just plunged into German instruction at home.

    IMG_2166Our books and tapes are all garage sale and book sale finds- so our entire shelf of German language materials cost less than $10.  Our collection runs the gamut from 1950’s era classroom texts, to hip books for modern travelers to tapes geared for young kids.  We are able to mix up our instruction and keep it interesting.

    It has gone pretty good so far.  Bluey’s ability to repeat German words and phrases is improving, as is his ability to recognize the language- even when he hears it out of context.   And not for nothing- TRDad’s German vocabulary is increasing steadily as well!

    Someday we may travel to Germany as a family.  Or Bluey may travel there himself when he’s older.  Or maybe not.  Until then, we love the influence foreign language study has had on our youngest’s mind- helping him see connections between words and languages that he might not notice otherwise.

    Auf Wiedersehen!

  7. How To Make An American Quilt

    September 24, 2014 by admin

    There is usually so much going on at your local public library!

    IMG_2300Bluey just started taking a quilting class at our branch, and it is a tremendous experience!  He loves playing with patterns and trying to make his own designs (cats, natch!).  He gets to share and learn with a dozen or so kids from the neighborhood.  Bluey is learning how to operate an electric sewing machine.  And when he’s finished, he’ll bring home a small quilt that he designed and made.  What a  great program!

    IMG_2301He gets so much out of this class– and it’s all free!!

    A team of neighborhood quilters are in charge- bringing in samples of quilts, talking about patterns, and helping kids run the sewing machine.  It is a real community endeavor and a great opportunity for young and old to meet their neighbors.

    Our local library offers classes for people of all ages in all manner of subjects- art, literature, computers, foreign languages- you name it!  Most libraries around the country offer similar programs and they are all typically free of charge.

    So take a minute to check your library’s bulletin board or website to see what new adventures await you and your family!

  8. Weighing In At The Grocery Store

    September 7, 2014 by admin

    food_22358_mdOne of Bluey’s recurring missions is to help TRDad complete the grocery shopping.  These trips happen several times a week at various local stores.

    This may at first glance seem like not much of a big thing, but actually it’s an important part of Bluey’s homeschooling.  Going to the grocery store on a regular basis from infancy has given Bluey a chance to work on a number of skills.

    Our trips to the store are a constant conversation about which foods are better for you than others, or what foods go well together.  Learning about nutrition will serve Bluey well in his future life.

    Bluey has made many friends at the supermarket and stops to chat them up when we visit. He’s learned the importance of Please and Thank You at the grocery, as well as important social skills, like waiting for someone else to finish talking before you respond.

    Lately we’ve been working on some new math skills while at the grocery.  Produce shopping is a great place to learn math.

    We started with simple counting practices: “Let’s get 4 of these apples… “.

    53377_balance_smBut our favorite teaching tool has been the produce scale.  We can see a number line in action with the scale.  We learn about density and size and how they affect weight.  Our lessons started out with Bluey wanting to weigh some tomatoes we picked out.  First, he weighed them one at a time, but then he wanted to see what they weighed all together.   He weighed bagged tomatoes and loose ones.

    After he weighed a mango, he had a pepper of about the same size, but declared:

    “I think this will weigh less than the mango.”

    — ‘Why is that?’

    “Because it’s hollow inside.”

    Exactly.  Bluey is learning everywhere we go!  But we really love our lessons at the produce department.  During the simple act of going grocery shopping, Bluey’s math skills get sharper each week, along with his knowledge of spatial relations, chemistry and so much more.


  9. Particle Man

    September 3, 2014 by admin

    Molecule ExperimentThrough the combined effects of the Magic School Bus, Comic Books, and an existing interest in science, Bluey recently has been asking a lot of questions about molecules and atoms.  So we’ve been helping him out with a homeschool unit on particle physics.

    We are not physicists by trade, so how can we teach our young son about molecules?  We followed a multi-pronged path including books, videos, field trips and experiments.

    We pulled some of our science books off the shelf, and picked some more up at the library to read up on molecules with our son.  Surprisingly few books geared for five year olds deal with topics of molecular and sub-atomic physics.  But we worked with what we could find- mostly encyclopedia-style books, and science books aimed at much older readers.

    Videos were an easier hit.  Punching ‘kid science’ and molecules into a search bar reveals a number of educational videos.  Some were cute animated films showing the structure of matter, others were short clips from professors explaining complicated topics in a few minutes.

    Our trips to science museums and the US Department of Energy projects at the FermiLab helped put a real world spin on this sometimes esoteric subject.   Through hands-on play, and seeing giant high-energy projects up close, our Bluey was able to experience the science he has learned at home in practice.  IMG_7399

    A day after our trip to the FermiLab, Bluey said “We could make our own particle accelerator, but it would take a lot of time.”  Yes.  Yes it would.

    Instead, following a cue from one of the videos we watched, Bluey recreated a tabletop experiment showing that warm molecules move faster than cold ones.  In true scientist form, he did the experiment twice.  In the first round, the two waters were too close to each other in temperature out of the tap.  So he tried it again with boiling water and near frozen water.

    His first molecule experiment was a great success!  We’re sure there will be follow up on this topic.  And that’s what homeschool is about for us- following your bliss in whatever direction it takes you and learning along the way.