The Starry Afternoon: An Artistic Victory

My kids love crafts, but for the past couple of years, my eight-year-old has been very resistant to anything labeled “art,” especially drawing. I think it has to do with perfectionism. No idea where she got that.

My efforts to get her on speaking terms with the world of art have only increased her resistance, which left me feeling awful. But I didn’t despair and have continued to look for programs that might bring the joy of art back to my girl.

Recently I discovered a series of free online art lessons by Sharon Jeffus called Art Through the Year.

The program and the projects looked fun and different from the other things we’d tried, so the kids and I gave it a whirl.

Each lesson consists of a ~30-minute video about a certain period in art history, or a certain technique, with printable instructions for projects that go along with the lesson.

The topic for Lesson 1 was “Post-Impressionism and Line.” Jeffus showed and talked about paintings by Cézanne, Seurat, Gauguin, and Van Gogh, and we learned about pointillism, line, and techniques for using oil pastels.

My four-year-old son's lion (his sister did the one on the right).

My four-year-old son’s lion (his sister did the one on the right).

There were two projects for this lesson, a lion drawn with lines and our own mixed-media rendition of Van Gogh’s The Starry Night.

My eight-year-old daughter's lions.

My eight-year-old daughter’s lions.

My children liked the lesson, and they loved the projects.

My lions.

My lions (I’m thirty-seven, since I told the kids’ ages).

I think it helped that the lesson was a video—my kids are so video-deprived, they’re happy to watch anything on a screen, but I was impressed with the quality of this video, especially since it was free. Jeffus used some different pronunciations for Seurat and Cézanne than I’ve heard before, but since I embarrassed myself by saying “facade” with a hard “C” more than 20 years ago, I don’t feel confident about the pronunciation of any French-derived words anymore. I knew who she was talking about, so no biggie.

My son's Starry Night.

My son’s Starry Night.

The pacing of the video was good for us, and I liked that Jeffus left a spot after she described the first project for the kids and me to pause the video and do that project before watching the explanation for the next.

While doing the projects, my kids didn’t lose their cool, they didn’t hit each other, and they worked on their projects for longer than I expected, given their prior irritability around any directed art projects. Our thirteen-year-old neighbor came over and did the Starry Night project with us, but she left before I had a chance to photograph her picture.

Top: Van Gogh's Starry Night. Bottom left: My daughter's. Bottom right: mine.

Top: Van Gogh’s Starry Night. Bottom left: My daughter’s Starry Night. Bottom right: my Starry Night.

We didn’t produce any amazing works of art, but we all had a blast, which is all I was hoping for.

My daughter’s review: “I hated art before because then I felt like I had to do something exact, but this art class has you do something general. I like art now.”

Both kids can’t wait for Lesson 2, “Shape & Shading with Pumpkins”!

Xylem, Heartwood, and Unscheduled Haircuts

Yesterday, my kids attended the first in a series of homeschooling classes about trees. This one was called, “What Makes a Tree a Tree?”

They discussed the differences between trees and bushes, conifers and deciduous trees (and the tamarack, which is the only deciduous conifer and the name of the cabin I stayed in when I worked at a conference resort one fall right after college).

Then they all went out into the hallway and used their bodies to make a model of the layers of a tree in a kind of interpretive dance. My daughter was the heartwood, and my son was one of the two people who formed the xylem around her and chanted, “Water flows UP!” while reaching from their feet to the sky. The heartwood and the xylem are right next to each other, which means my son started hitting his sister while the other layers were being formed, prompting one of the countless ridiculous parenting threats that I find myself uttering: “You can only be a xylem if you have gentle hands!”

Their favorite project was making a paper bag tree.

My daughter twisting branches.

My daughter twisting branches.

My son's finished tree, with paper leaves and flowers, dried winterberries for the apples, and spun wool for the roots.

My son’s finished tree, with paper leaves and flowers, dried winterberries for the apples, and spun wool for the roots.

You can find instructions for making a similar tree on Pikadilly Charm. Ours were apple trees and included roots, leaves, flowers, and fruit because the instructor wanted the kids to show all of the components of an apple tree at all stages.

My eight-year-old made her tree almost entirely on her own, but my four-year-old got a lot of assistance from me. While I was distracted twisting brown paper into the branches of his apple tree, my mommy-sense told me to look towards my son who was right at my elbow. I glanced over and shouted, “NO! NO, NO, NO, NO!” and grabbed the scissors just as he was about to chop a big chunk of hair from the top of his head. A few stray hairs were cropped nearly to his scalp, but due to his naturally shaggy hair, we avoided an emergency crew-cut trip, and although I was embarrassed at having overreacted so dramatically, the rest of the parents in the group just shrugged it off. And the shock got my blood pumping on a cold afternoon, so it all worked out fine in the end.

In other news, my spouse lost his smartphone. He turned it off Thursday night and it immediately dropped into the vast Bermuda Triangle in our house, where it presumably joined my digital watch and the PVC training flute my son was supposed to use in his early flute lessons. Only two items have been disgorged from this Bermuda Triangle, and we’ve already looked in the spots where we found those, and in every other drawer, closet, freezer, toilet, and clothes dryer in the house. Why we bought a house with a Bermuda Triangle in it, I have no idea. If you’ve got any ideas where we ought to look for the phone, I would welcome all suggestions.

UPDATE! We found the phone! It was in a gap in our office chair, and when I sat down in a huff, I dislodged it and it fell to the floor. (Luckily I knew it was likely to get abuse so I’d bought an impact-resistant cover for it so it was totally fine after the fall.) One time, at least, my irritability paid off.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Beginning

This is my photographic response to this week’s photo challenge by The Daily Post. 

The assignment: “This week, in a post created specifically for this challenge, show us ‘beginning’!”


Somehow, we’re on a January-to-January homeschool schedule at my house, which means the new year brings new levels in our various subjects: new books, new plans, new things to learn together. When I first saw the subject of this photo challenge, I thought of sunrises, pregnant bellies, newborn babies, blossoms on tomato plants. But at this moment in my life, it’s these new books and all of the new discoveries they symbolize that feel like “beginning” to me. This one’s the first lesson of the new level of my daughter’s writing curriculum.

Homeschool Quick Takes

Homeschooling gives me the opportunity to spend a lot of time with my kids.

A lot.

Of time.

And since I know you were wondering, every moment is a blessing. No dreams of finishing a cup of tea before it’s cold or cooking food I don’t have to share or using the bathroom by myself here. No, sir. Every single moment. A gosh-darn blessing.

Homeschooling also gives me the chance to be present for even more of their learning process than I would be otherwise, which can be kind of fun. Or at least educational. Here are some of the recent fun things the kids and I have been learning together. Read More

Homeschool Chemistry: Decalcification and Osmosis

Homeschool Chemistry: Osmosis and Eggs

Step 1: Decalcify two raw eggs by submerging them in white vinegar in clear jars or cups for at least 24 hours until the eggshell has completely dissolved.

Step 2: Carefully rinse the eggs and empty and rinse out your soaking jars/cups.

Step 3: Label your jars/cups, one with “corn syrup” and the other with “water.”

Step 4: Gently set your decalcified eggs in the jars.

Step 5: Cover each egg with the substance indicated on the label (light corn syrup or water).

Step 6: Watch and enjoy. You’ll see results within a couple of hours, but longer will give a more dramatic effect. The eggs in the photo above had been soaking for about 36 hours.

What’s happening?

The water on either side of the egg’s membrane is trying to reach equilibrium. In the jar with the water, there is more water outside the membrane than inside, so the water moves through the membrane into the egg. In the jar with the corn syrup, there is more water inside the egg than outside, so the water moves out of the egg’s membrane and into the corn syrup.

For more fun…

  • Place the water-logged egg in corn syrup and the corn syrup egg into water and watch osmosis reverse.


  • Put a few drops of food coloring into the water jar before adding the decalcified egg. After 24 hours or so, carefully pierce the membrane of the egg to see if the food coloring passed into the inside of the egg.

These are raw eggs so, you know, wash your hands and stuff.

(We got this experiment from Adventures with Atoms and Molecules, Book II, by Robert C. Mebane and Thomas R. Rybolt. It’s out of print, but you can find it at your library or at used book sellers.)

Reblog from Charlotte was Both: An intuition and an encounter

This is a homeschooling post from Amy Welborn of Charlotte was Both. Her perspective interests me because she had years of experience with her kids in school and then with homeschooling, whereas I’ve just had the latter (and not for all that many years yet). I enjoy reading her viewpoint (I, too, am fascinated by ex-pats), and I really like the metaphor that closes the post.

And the comments are pretty great, too, which is always a treat!

Charlotte was Both

(Welcome Instapundit readers….more about what we do here and here.)

Here’s my intuition:

Home education is just going to gain more and more traction in the coming years.

That’s really not such a brilliant insight.  The growth is already there, and constant – except when it pops up a bit.

And why is this?

Two reasons.

Parents and children are getting more and more frustrated with institutional schooling, both public and private.

Secondly, homeschooling is getting easier.

(A little easier.  It’s always a challenge, but the Internet has transformed it, making it so much easier to connect with information, classes and other people)

I hesitate to even begin a post like this because the minute I do, my head explodes with a million ideas, concerns and stories, and I end up sitting here for three hours, just meandering.

I’m going to try to not wander down that road, and…

View original post 1,539 more words

Homeschool – A Day in the Life: Friday

With all of the crazy news coming out of Boston this morning, I’d considered postponing this post. But then I decided that I wanted to reinforce an idea of a “normal” day while my thoughts are turned east and I’m glued to the radio, hoping for a quiet, relatively safe conclusion to all of this.


The fifth and final installment in my “A Day in the Life” days-of-the-week series. Friday’s the most unpredictable of our days. Once a month, we also have a potluck dinner at our church, for which I have to find time to cook between homeschool and our afternoon activities. I prefer not to think about that, though, until I absolutely have to.

Friday we do our typical homeschool in the morning—Math, Grammar, Writing, Spelling, Flute, Latin—then in the afternoon, we go out. We alternate Girl Scouts and a Massachusetts Audubon homeschool class.

The Mass Audubon program we attend is technically for all ages, but my 3.5-year-old usually spends the two hours playing with the toys and puzzles in the classroom or walking around outside with me while his sister does a reenactment of a bear poaching, or learns how to build a fire or a wilderness shelter, or how to find a groundhog burrow. When the big kids go hiking, my son and I tag along, usually hanging out behind the rest of the group talking with the kindly homeschooling parents and grandparents who are willing to hang back with us.


About to be poached.

Our Girl Scout troop is made up of homeschooled girls ranging in age from five to eleven. Our meetings are two hours long. We break out into individual levels (Daisy, Brownie, Junior) for one hour, reconvene for snack, and do a whole-group activity for the other hour.

Sometimes our group sessions are workshop-y (Nia, First Aid, a parent-led session about Greece), but most times they involve crafts. Recently it was SWAPS. I don’t recall having SWAPS when I was a scout, but they’re apparently some little crafty thing the girls make to swap with other girls. Some commemorate a specific event or theme, but all of them involve pins. You need a pin so you can display your swap on your person.

Although I refuse to join Pinterest because I just don’t need something else to occupy my time and because I worry that it might be one stereotype too many for my comfort as a stay-at-home blogging mom (I mean, I just bought sweatpants. That’s enough, I think), that doesn’t stop me from using cute craft ideas that my co-leader forwards to me from Pinterest.


This week was felt-and-cotton-ball s’mores and a little rainbow loop with a heart charm.

CIMG9936On the way home, we stop at the car wash, if the weather looks like the wash job won’t be ruined before we get home. When we get home, the kids and I clear all of the detritus that’s accumulated over the week from the car (and vacuum it, if I have the energy—you can guess how often my car gets vacuumed). Then we go inside and I make dinner (usually homemade pizza because if it’s Friday, it’s homemade pizza).

Homeschool – A Day in the Life: Thursday

Fourth in a series of prose snapshots of a day in my homeschooling life. This is a reflection of an ideal Thursday. An actual Thursday will likely end a lot less clean than this one does. In fact, an actual Thursday frequently ends with the house looking even messier than it did when we started. And starting next week, we have an American Sign Language class on Thursday mornings for six weeks, so our Thursdays are going to look much different than I’ve described here.

Thursday is the day that usually kicks my butt. Not only is it a regular homeschool day, it’s housework day, too.

I get up and exercise as usual, but on my way upstairs I bring the laundry baskets, and after my shower I gather my towels and sweaty clothes and all of the rest of the laundry I can find around the house and sort it, with the help of my children, into the baskets. This involves my son sitting in one of the baskets and laughing as I toss dirty clothes on his head. Then I pretend the laundry basket is a car and motor him down the hallway, stopping and having him de-basket at the top of the stairs. He’d like me to motor him down the stairs, but that’s just not going to happen.

I start a load of laundry, and then we eat breakfast and get started on lessons.

More Chemistry: merging water drops

More Chemistry: merging water drops

On Thursdays, we do math, flute, Latin, grammar, writing, chemistry, and handwriting, punctuated by my taking clean wet clothes out of the washer and hanging them on drying racks near the boiler and answering for the 78th time all of my son’s questions about how the boiler/hot water heater system works. My daughter and I do our lessons while my son attempts to build his own boiler system out of bath toys in the bathroom sink.

Finally, we eat lunch, do our walk, and read books. Then it’s time to rush around trying to get things picked up and then vacuum before the floor is covered with toys and papers and crayons again. I try to get all of the vacuuming and dusting and straightening done within an hour, but it usually takes me more like two hours to get everything done. By then, it’s just about time to start dinner.

The rest of the evening proceeds as usual, except that Thursday is usually a meeting night for either my spouse or me, leaving the other to do dishes and manage the bedtime routine. We go to bed irrationally excited that the following day is Friday, as though there’s likely to be a respite over the weekend.

Homeschool – A Day in the Life: Wednesday

Third in a series of prose snapshots of a day in my homeschooling life. This is a reflection of an ideal Wednesday. An actual Wednesday might look a little (or a lot) different. For example, an actual Wednesday may well end with me swearing that we’re not going to watch anymore videos (EVER!) if the kids are going to yell at me and shove each other after they’re done with screen time. However, I prefer to dwell on the ideal rather than the real.

Wednesday is my children’s favorite day. It begins like any other day, but after breakfast, we get dressed, gather our library books, make our list of books to check out that day, and head to the town library.


The kids pick out books until it’s time for the storytime and craft. My daughter has aged out of storytime and craft, but they grandmother her in because she enjoys it so much and wants to be with her brother. The kids dance and sing and listen to stories and get glue and glitter on themselves and me, then we finish picking out books. By 11:30 or 12:00, we finally leave the library 2.5 to 3 hours after we arrived.

CIMG9973At home, lunch is macaroni and cheese because that’s what we eat on Library Day (at least, that’s what my kids eat. I eat a green smoothie, like I eat for nearly every breakfast and lunch). If we drove to the library, we take a short walk around the neighborhood. If we walked, we skip right to the reading. I read a few books, then my daughter and I do a tiny bit of homeschooling—a chapter or three from Life of Fred and flute practice.

Then the kids get to watch videos. I try not to let them watch videos except on Wednesdays. Usually it’s Sesame Street or Super Why! for my son then Wild Kratts for my daughter. I try to encourage them to compromise; I don’t let them watch more than one screen. My son is less choosy about what he watches, so his sister usually gets her choice. While they’re watching I make phone calls or blog or read, then I start dinner.

From dinner on, it’s business as usual: dishes, books, bedtime routine, lights out, mom staying up too late, etc. Or sometimes it’s dishes, books, bedtime routine, mom passes out while putting the boy to bed and wakes up after 11 hours with a crick in her neck and a sense of lost time. Either way, it’s soon on to another day.

Homeschool – A Day in the Life: Tuesday

Second in a series of prose snapshots of a day in my homeschooling life. This is a reflection of an ideal Tuesday. An actual Tuesday might look a little (or a lot) different. Not pictured: the chaos of Legos, train tracks, books, plastic zebras, wooden alphabets, and construction hats that’s strewn across my floor by the end of the day. And now that my daughter has started softball, we’ll go straight to practice from flute lesson and then have a super-late, super-scroungy dinner after practice ends at 6:00. It’s only been one week, and I’m already ready to be done with the softball season.

Tuesday begins much like Monday does except that we’re on our own without our stand-in grandma to entertain my son.

Tuesdays we do math, Latin, grammar, writing, spelling, and chemistry. We don’t practice flute most Tuesdays because we have flute lesson, but we need to work diligently because we need to eat lunch by noon so we can get ready and leave for flute lesson by 1:00 p.m.

Chemistry: water and pepper

Chemistry: water and pepper

Chemistry: water and pepper and a drop of dish detergent

Chemistry: water and pepper and a drop of dish detergent

On the drive to flute lesson, we enjoy a variety of audio books: Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series; E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web; myths, legends, and classic tales told by Jim Weiss; Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie books; Mary Pope Osborne’s Magic Treehouse series; Beverly Cleary’s Beezus and Ramona; Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland; A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh. We are big lovers of audio books in our house. Sometimes the kids even let me listen to a podcast of To the Best of Our Knowledge, one of my favorite NPR shows.

With a 45-minute one-way commute, a 45-minute flute lesson, and transition times, we don’t arrive home until nearly 4:00 p.m, but we’ve consumed a lot of audio programming. The audiobooks help distract me from the thought of all of the fossil fuels we’ve burned.

Back home, I get the kids inside and start dinner, my trusty three-year-old sous chef by my side. His latest thing is to tell me what he’s going to do when he’s a man. “Mommy, when I grow up to be a man, I’ll use a big, sharp knife like that one,” he’ll often say while we’re making dinner. Other things he’ll do when he’s a man include wear glasses, drive a car, read books like Sister does, “go to a work,” and pee standing up. Manhood is going to be just one party after another for my son.

My spouse arrives home around 5:30 p.m. and we eat together. Then we tag-team the bedtime routine for both children, unless one of us has an extra-domiciliary activity (like a church meeting or a Girl Scout Leader meeting), in which case one parent ushers the kids to bed and the other makes his/her escape.

Once the children are in bed, the evening proceeds much like any other evening, meaning I go to bed way too late. Every day I promise myself I’ll go to bed at a reasonable hour, and every night I stay up until it’s technically the next day, playing around online, eating hummus, and (sometimes) reading. Much like Alice, I always give myself such very good advice, but I very seldom follow it.