The twins have started Biology this year. I wanted to create a class for them that did not involve hours of reading, and one that was engaging to both of my learners. I decided that I would use Khan Academy for the main part of their lessons, but I was not sure what order to watch the films in. I wanted a little structure for this resource, and I soon found what I was looking for.


A homeschool mom has put this curriculum guide together for those wishing to use Khan Academy for biology. It is a very short guide, basically just an outline of the videos to watch, correlated to California standards, with vocab words to know and a short question to answer after every lesson. Again I will state it is very basic, but it is free if you have a kindle and a prime membership, so it is worth a look. For me it was perfect.

In addition to the Khan Academy videos I have scheduled CrashCourse videos which the twins and I love.

For the lab portion of our class I wanted a guide that would walk us through the lab process step by step. I looked at many different choices and decided on Illustrated Guide to Home Biology Experiments: All Lab, No Lecture.


From The Home Scientist website – Experience the magic of biology in your own home lab. This hands-on introduction includes more than 30 educational (and fun) lab sessions that let you explore this fascinating field on your own. Perfect for middle- and high-school students and DIY enthusiasts, this full-color guide teaches you the basics of biology lab work and shows you how to set up a safe lab at home. The Illustrated Guideto HomeBiology Experimentsis written with the needs of homeschoolers firmly in mind, as well as for adults who are eager to explore the science of nature as a life-long hobby.

At the website you can purchase a lab kit with nearly everything you need to complete the experiments.


In addition to all of these materials we will be adding in living books and some readings from the CK-12 biology flexbook. This textbook is available as a free download, and I have read  many good reviews of it.

I believe I have put together a fairly good biology class for the twins. Hopefully they will have a productive time with all these resources. I feel fairly confident that they will.

A New Year – A Fresh Start

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Many of you know that although I was so happy to have Autry come home from school in October, I was not prepared to adding her into our day. Because she and Tru are very different students with very different interests she couldn’t just pick up what he was doing. Also I found that even though she had only been in school for a little over a year, she needed some deschooling time to switch her gears from a public school mentality back to a homeschool mentality. Because of all of this we didn’t do too much academic work over the last few months of the year.

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I spent much of that time thinking about what we would do in the new year. I wanted to incorporate their interests and meet my goals in a fun, creative, and engaging way. Two of my children are creative learners, my other is a deep thinker. I needed to come up with a plan to meet all their needs without going crazy with all the materials. I also wanted to have plenty of time in our week for lessons, nature walks, fields trips, and doing nothing at all.

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Today was our first day back to work, and it went better than I expected, especially considering that two of us have a terrible cold. It wasn’t perfect (is it ever?), but it was fairly close. When I get feeling a little better I hope to make a post about our new curriculum choices and resources we are using.


Someone Help Me…

I am drowning in curriculum.

And books.

And three very different kids.

My students working on their electoral maps yesterday. It was nice to have them all working on the same thing.

Basically I am still adjusting to having my daughter home, and I am trying to remember how I homeschooled three kids before. I haven’t figured this out quite yet, but I have come to one very important conclusion. I don’t have time to work through three different programs for every subject. I will be spending the next few weeks trying to work out a plan that has the kids working on some of the same things, and I am doing this for the sole purpose of my sanity. Wish me luck!

Election Day

Election day is a wonderful day to teach our children about the election process and the political system here in America. The kids and I have been reading books and watching videos about the election process for weeks now. .

One of my favorite videos about the electoral process is this one from TED.

This video from CommonCraft is also great.

NPR also has a very informative video on this election and the money spent on it. This one is worth a watch.

Finally, because this election is not just about who will be our next president, here is a short video from Al Jazeera on congressional elections and their impact on our federal government.

Looking for a map for your kids for tonight? I have printed out this map of the United States from the Washington Post. The kids are going to color in the states as the results come in.

You can print the map out here. Enjoy!



Weekly Update – 8th grade

Last week I featured my youngest son and his work, and this week I thought I would discuss Tru and his work. This is his eighth grade, and the year has been going so smooth I can hardly believe it. He is working almost entirely independent, and he is doing all his work easily and without complaint. It is as though he matured over the summer and is suddenly the perfect homeschool student. He enjoys all his school, works hard from about 7:30 in the morning until 4:00 in the afternoon, and doesn’t complain at all. It has been wonderful.

He seems to have gotten into a routine of sorts. He starts the day with his computer work, which for him is CNN student news, Rosetta Stone French, The Great Courses Understanding Astronomy, and Teaching Textbooks Geometry. After this he completes his geometry lesson and works on his one-year American history (which is mostly reading). Then he breaks for lunch.

After lunch Tru starts back with LoF Algebra (which he wanted to work through again this year for review), works through language arts (IEW, easy grammar, vocabulary), reviews his French textbook, and then works on his film studies.

I picked this vintage French textbook up years ago, and now Tru is using it. We both like it very much.

This week he is editing a film that he shot last weekend. He is also watching The Battleship Potemkin with me and taking notes on it (specifically going over the plot and writing down the plot points).

Tru finishes his day with independent reading. This week he read The False Prince which he seemed to like, but I don’t think he was crazy about it. He has a long day, but he has consistently gotten through his work, and I am very proud of him.

One of his boss creations

Of course I should mention that once he is done with his work he is free to get on his computer. He got a new computer this week, and he has been creating  bosses for a game he is making. He is obsessed with this right now, and I believe is might be motivating him to get through his work even faster. I don’t mind, as it makes for very pleasant, stress-free days.

Weekly Update – The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly – 4th Grade Edition

The Good

California History – It is a wonderful state with an interesting history – what’s not to like? This week we learned about the earliest Californians and the  La Brea Tar Pits.

The Creative Writer – This is technically for slightly older kids, but Decca has a passion for writing, so I thought we would try it. He loves it! This week we worked on plot points. He went over the samples in the book, and then he wrote out the plot points for his independent reading book (Bunnicula) and for a Scooby Doo cartoon. He also went over plot points in his own stories that he has written.

The Arrow – Another hit for my language arts loving guy. I got the subscription for the current year, as there is an added emphasis on grammar. I have looked at Bravewriter before, but I never liked what I saw, as the samples never seemed meaty enough. This year I decided to give it a try because I couldn’t find anything else for Decca that would work for him.  I am glad I did. The first book he is working from is Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and the work is quite meaningful and enjoyable.

Timez Attack – What can I say? It is a program that teaches kids their math facts, but it feels like a video game. As my son says, “It even has bosses!”. How can anybody not love that?

The Bad

DreamBox Learning – My son loved this last year and worked on it for most of the year. This year…I don’t know. He is bored by it and doesn’t seem to be learning anything new. The game choices are all the same, and we can’t figure out what he should be working on. There are too many choices in the menu, and he seems to pick the same games over and over. I would like DreamBox better if it would choose what lessons the student should work on each day to keep them progressing.

I was going to use this as his main math program, but I don’t think that will work out. Instead I will most likely have him work on his math facts with Timez Attack and then move on to Life of Fred fractions in January. This was what I did with the twins, and it worked out nicely for them. Hopefully Decca will be able to take the same path.

The Ugly

Equine Science – Honestly Decca loves it. He would be happy learning about horses, or any animal, all day long. Unfortunately I don’t share that passion, and I think after nearly four years of studying animals with him I am done. I don’t want to know about all the different horses or the points of a horse. I don’t want to teach him to draw horses, and I am not interested in looking at picture after picture of horses. I hate to admit it, but we did no science at all this week.

However I did purchase the curriculum and all the books. I took this on knowing I would most likely not like it, and we have no other science as of right now. I am just going to have to buckle down and try to get through it, or at least use the resources with Decca to get something out of it. Then we will be moving on to a different science, a more traditional science. I think it is time that we expand our studies and discover other passions.

Next week I will turn the spotlight on eighth grade and share my thoughts on our curriculum choices.

Equine Science

Decca created this picture on his computer today after his horse lesson.

We started some light school today. I thought we would ease into the school year, starting just two subjects the first week. Decca and I started with his science, which is Equine Science. I let him choose his own science this year, and this is what he decided on. He loves animals and thought this would be a fun study.

Decca working on his notebooking pages.

I have many hesitations about studying horses for a whole year. I feel like one will get tired of horses after a few months. Actually I think if it was me I would probably be done in a few weeks,  but my son does not feel the same way. He thinks it will be so much fun to study horses for a whole year. I wish I shared that enthusiasm.

But here we are on day one, and I have to say I am impressed with the study. Winter Promise has done a great job with this theme. The books are very engaging, the guide is easy to follow, and the notebook is fun. I believe we may be able to spend a whole year on horses while not losing interest.

Here is a sample of the guide. I like that it is only scheduled for two days a week. That leaves us plenty of time for the rest of the week to work on other topics in science.

For today’s work we read from the notebooking pages, a DK book on the care of horses, and a craft book titled Horse Crazy.

A sample notebooking page

Inside view of Horse Crazy – I am happy that they show both boys and girls interested in horses. Somehow horse loving kids are usually depicted as girls only.

The DK book is full of information. You only read a few pages a day which is great. Decca’s attention wouldn’t have held out much longer as it is a bit dry.

A notebooking page that he worked on today.

In addition to the books used in the study, there is also literature suggestions given each week. There was no suggestion for week one, so we started next week’s book early, as Decca couldn’t wait to read it. It is called Leonardo’s Horse, and it is the story of Leonardo Da Vinci and his bronze horse.

An inside view of the book.

There are a few problems with the curriculum in my opinion. They have several notes in the guide about evolution being mentioned in the books and how a parent should avoid those passages or use them as a learning experience. I am avoiding all those notes, and am happy that WP didn’t choose any creationist books for this study. Also there are typos in the guide and notebooking pages which is typical of Winter Promise. Already, on the first day, we have spotted some.

Can you spot the mistakes? I believe it is time for WP to invest in a capable editor.

Overall I am very happy with this curriculum. Decca loves it and is enthusiastic about it. I only hope that enthusiasm lasts us the whole year.

Finally Home

The twins celebrated their thirteenth birthday while we were on vacation.

We have been gone for over a month on a wonderful summer vacation. We took a train to Chicago, spent the next three weeks visiting family, and then we took a cross-country drive back home. The kids spent most of the trip outdoors canoeing, swimming, bouncing on a trampoline, and driving a tractor.

We also got to spend some time with my grandmother. She is 92 years old and still going strong. I treasure out time together.

It was a great summer break, but I am happy to be back home again. I am no longer tired or sick with mono, and I am feeling quite energetic about the new year. I am looking over the books I have purchased so far for next year, and I am getting excited.

Some of Decca’s books for next year.

And here is some of Tru’s books.

I am going to spend the rest of the month planning out our next school year, and then we will begin school on August 1st. I can’t wait!

Film History – Week 4

1. Read The Young Oxford Book of the Movies p. 22-24 (up to Enter the Genre). In your notebook answer the following questions:

a. How did D.W. Griffith change film acting?

b. Why was Birth of a Nation such an ambitious film? Why was it criticized and banned in some cities?

c. Name the five major studios in Hollywood that rose up during this time?

d. What did Hollywood have to offer movie makers?

Optional: Continue working on your film history timeline for your wall. Add in important dates and figures and films from your reading. This week you should add information on D.W. Griffith and his films. You can get some ideas here.

2. Visit Britannica for kids and read more about D.W. Griffith.  What techniques did he develop?

3. Read more about the studio system here.

Watch the following videos (please note that some of these videos may not be appropriate for children – please preview):

While watching this short think about how Griffith uses editing.

Weekly Update – Spring Break

Goofing off

We have been on Spring Break, and the kids and I have both been enjoying it. We all needed a break, and I can’t quite believe it is almost over. I could really use another few weeks.

Gazing up at the Giant Sequoias

In front of Lower Yosemite Falls

My brother came out to visit us, and he and I went up to Yosemite for a few days. My parents watched the kids, so it was just him and me. It was nice to have a few days alone, but by the end of our stay I was missing the kids so much. Isn’t it funny how that works?

It was great to spend some time with my brother.

The kids have been hanging out all week, not doing too much. Tru has been golfing a little, Decca has been practicing the piano, and Autry has been drawing and singing. Other than that the kids have been playing video games, watching tv, and enjoying the outdoors.

Self-portrait by Autry

One thing that we all have been watching this week is the premiere of The Legend of Korra. This is the follow-up to Avatar, and the kids have been waiting for it for over a year. The official release date is not until April 14th, but you can get the first episode free on iTunes right now. We all liked the first episode, and the kids are looking forward to the rest of the season.

I have tried to spend some of this week planning for school next year. I haven’t gotten very far, but I was inspired by my trip to Yosemite to do a state study with Decca next year. I plan to use California History for Kids as our main spine for the study. He likes activity-based books, so I hope this will be a good match for him. Other than deciding on doing a state history I have nothing else figured out, nothing. Hopefully I will remedy this problem over summer break.

In other news this week Kingsley got a much-needed bath…

and a shave.  

And that is our week in review.