Category Archives: project-based learning

Homeschooling Update

We still are. Here’s the thing: I usually just feel we’re not doing much of anything spectacular. It’s been (and still is) a long cold winter. We are not involved in any homeschool groups or classes, and while probably we should be taking field trips and such, it’s really hard to get my homeschooled kid out of the house. We spend every Wednesday in the city for two appointments, and that one long day usually feels like enough for the week. He takes rock climbing classes and karate and assisted with the after-school art program I facilitated; he’s beginning swim lessons this week along with his brother and sister. In other words, he’s socialized. But he’s also at home a lot. He’s not the type of kid who likes to leave the house just to say we did.

As for subjects, he’s continuing with math, with much bluster (he’s better at math than he thinks he is). We finished Story of the World Volume 3. My thought was to focus on American history for a while, but N isn’t as interested in US History. He requested Chinese history, so I’m waiting for a bunch of books from the library, and I’ll probably order Story of the World Volume 4, since he’s old enough for it now. We continue with his science text, but I don’t force things. We skipped over the anatomy section because it wasn’t grabbing his interest at all. He’s doing far more science than he’d be doing in school, and I don’t see the point in forcing something he’s not interested in. And of course he reads, voraciously, as we all do here.

And he draws.

drawing at

Daily. Sometimes for hours, and always on that futon, no matter how many times I suggest the table. So far he hasn’t done anything with the drawings but create them. He doesn’t write down backstories for the characters he draws, or draw sequential scenes, or even store his drawings neatly. (“Can I get you a folder?” I ask. “A storage box? Something, so they don’t get ruined?” He prefers to leave them on the floor, and I tidy them into a pile on the bookshelf with the colored pencils so they don’t get stepped on.)

I remind myself to bite my tongue. I remind myself that he absolutely doesn’t need some adult’s idea of what he should be doing so I can say, See? He’s doing a drawing project. What else is homeschooling for if not to provide a child with time and space to do what makes him happiest? I have vivid memories of sitting in school at his age, bored, wishing I could be at home working on my latest drawing/writing/crochet project. There doesn’t seem to be much I can do to support this interest right now beyond supplying time, endless amounts of paper, and colored pencils (his preferred medium). When he shows interest in a drawing book, I buy it. He’s exposed to a variety of art, including graphic novels. There is a tendency for adults to want a THING to show as proof that the child was working towards something all along, but no, we need to back away from that impulse. He’ll get to the thing when he’s ready, or he won’t. Maybe he’s just working on 10,000 hours of drawing. He’s happy drawing. He draws daily. I know lots of adults who aspire to do that, including, at times, myself, and we don’t manage it. What he is doing is more than enough, and of his own choice, and I’m not going to do a darn thing to mess it up.

Teaching the Girl to Sew

Her first machine sewing project at

Earlier this month, my 6yo daughter told me one of her goals for this year was to learn how to sew using the sewing machine. No problem! I told her when I taught myself how to sew I started with projects that involved straight lines, and we talked about some options. She, a girl after her mother’s heart, decided she wanted to start with a tote bag. We do love our things-to-put-other-things-in here. I showed her some options in Sew What! Bags, and she chose the Reversible Tote.

Now, I’d had some ideas of what to do with Saturday afternoon, involving baking banana bread and making some art with all the kids, but G was excited and raring to go, so I shifted gears so I could meet her enthusiasm with a great big YES. First thing we did was investigate mama’s fabric stash which, sadly, is stored in bins instead of on color-organized shelving, but we did the best we could. She selected several then decided which two to use. Her bag is as colorful as her typical outfits. (She used the same fabric for outer and lining, and the same heart fabric for both pockets because yep, she has an inside pocket too.)

Once she’d picked the fabrics, I pulled her Learning Tower over to the ironing board and I showed her how to iron. (Not too long after that, I knocked our iron off the board and it broke, but husband saved the day with his travel iron, which is JUST the right size for 6yo hands, too.) Then I cut out the pieces–I did that part, because it was all rectangles and I used the rotary cutter and plastic ruler and, well, that’s going to take some growing on her part, I think, before she can safely use it.

“NOW can we sew, Mama?” Not quite yet. Reading the directions, we saw it was time to iron some more to prepare the pockets. I held the fold, she pressed (and learned what it means to “press” rather than “iron”). Then I showed her the sewing machine and what the various dials mean and do. She sat on my lap and I operated the foot pedal while we practiced together. Then it was time to assemble the bag. (The rest of these pics were taken by my husband.)

sewing on the pocket at

She raised and lowered the presser foot, kept the fabric aligned (with some guidance by me, less and less of it as we went on), raised and lowered the needle, rotated the fabric around corners, operated the reverse stitch switch for backstitching, removed pins, cut threads. She trimmed seam allowances and clipped corners. She pressed seams.

learning to machine sew at

I included this photo because I love the look on her face! I think she’s concentrating there.

sewing with mama at

When her bag was done she said, “I can’t believe I made this all by myself!” And I grinned because it wasn’t quite all by herself but it was, too–she didn’t just sit on my lap and have her hands there and sort of sew it. She was learning the steps of sewing, how the machine works, what needed to be done, what it means to clip corners and press seams and on and on. She rightly feels ownership of that bag, and what a good use of an afternoon, to begin to teach my girl how to sew. How wonderful to share something I like with someone who wants to learn.

Strawberry DNA + Cheese

Two separate activities, of course. Homeschooling goes on, amidst everything else, and I’d like to report on what N is doing more frequently but, well, many things have fallen off the list here, replaced with super fun activities like cleaning and clearing all the things. It’s more of a priority to do the activities than blog about them, obviously. But I wanted to share some things from this week and lo! I have managed to.

Firstly, he is working through his chosen science curriculum, REAL Science Odyssey Level 2. It’s a challenge–this is definitely not just a review of things he already knows. Depending on the material, I have us cover a chapter in two weeks instead of one, so we’re just now starting Chapter 7, which introduces DNA. In one of my decluttering sweeps I found instructions for extracting DNA from strawberries, which we picked up years ago at an open house event at URI’s Graduate School of Oceanography. You can find lots of instructions online for this if you search. I like URI’s handout because the measurements are scientific and precise–in milliliters and grams–and it explains the why behind each step. The only thing I had to go out and buy was pineapple juice.

N is proudly displaying the test tube containing our results.

DNA extracted from strawberries at

The DNA is that cloudy stuff right at the spot where the clear liquid (cold rubbing alcohol) and the pink liquid (strawberry mixture) meet. Here’s a close-up.

DNA extracted from strawberries at

How cool is that?? So cool. Then we fished it out with a toothpick and looked at it under the microscope. You can’t see the double helix, of course, but it’s still so cool.

Earlier this week, he made cheese. Just about a year ago, he made his first couple of batches, and then…lost interest. He asked to do it again recently, and chose a dessert ricotta. The recipe called for citric acid powder, which we finally tracked down at the local Ace Hardware after striking out in all grocery stores we tried. The cheese was fantastic.

homemade dessert ricotta at

We realized we needed something to eat it with, so we made cake. The next day I made ricotta cookies. We still have about half a pound of ricotta left, so I think I’ll make more ricotta cookies. This is a yummy project.

And one final thing related to homeschooling…the latest issue of Home/School/Life Magazine is out; my column is full of tips to make visiting an art museum with young kids fun for everybody. You can subscribe or buy a single issue of the magazine here, or try to win a copy at Mud Puddles to Meteors.

Drawing Dragons

dragon drawings at

Artwork by N. Hood.

Last week, my 9yo picked out a book on drawing dragons, Dragonart Evolution: How to Draw Everything Dragon, at the craft store. We got home and he began drawing. He’s barely stopped since.

dragon drawings at

His new book and his stack of drawings–and he’s using both sides of the paper.

He began by attempting some of the drawing guidelines from the book, but he’s mainly using it for inspiration.

dragon drawings at

artwork by N. Hood

Sometimes he focuses on a specific area, such as eyes or texture.

dragon drawings at

artwork by N. Hood

His drawings have stories attached. Sometimes they contain text.

dragon drawings at

artwork by N. Hood

If there’s a battle going on, he’s partial to the dragon’s side of the story.

dragon drawings at

artwork by N. Hood

I asked if I could share some, and he said yes, but he had a hard time narrowing down the choices. In the end, I chose five out of his pile and he slipped in a couple more.

dragon drawings at

artwork by N. Hood

I promised him we’d document all of them with photographs.

dragon drawings at

artwork by N. Hood

He has said repeatedly that he loves the book. The book was just the starting point. He has drawn dragons before, many of them, but this book, I think, gave him some new things to think about. He’s going deeper, and he has spent hours drawing, every day, utterly absorbed and content–which makes me happy, too.

Fairy House Festival

You may recall that 5yo G has an interest in fairies. Yesterday we visited the Botanical Gardens at Roger Williams Park in Providence, on the last day of their “fairy house garden days.” This was something that came across my computer screen via a local homeschool email group, so it’s not a field trip planned by G (which is really how PBL field trips should go). I’m the one who heard about it, but G was in charge of the experience. We left the boys at home and went for a mama-daughter date with fairy gardens.

I didn’t tell G that the website invited visitors to dress as fairies–who needs to tell a 5yo to wear wings? She independently chose her outfit. Obviously one visits a fairy house garden wearing wings, a flower barrette, a poufy skirt, and sparkly shoes. Once there, she asked if she could take photos of her favorite houses. YES. I handed over the camera, and she took more than 70 pictures.

documenting fairy houses (PBL) at

We weren’t just viewing, you see. This is also research, because she plans to continue building her own fairy houses (more on that in a minute). All the photos of fairy houses in this post were taken by G. This was one of her favorites, a seaside getaway for fairies who need a vacation.

seaside fairy house at

fairy house at Roger Williams Park Botanical Gardens, Providence, RI.

She wanted to take a photo of this twisty ladder because it “looks like DNA, Mama!!”

fairy house ladder at

Part of a fairy house at Roger Williams Park Botanical Gardens, Providence, RI.

A scavenger hunt had been set up, and while usually I’m not a fan of those at museums because they tend to cause visitors to focus just on the items on the list, that wasn’t the outcome here. It was quite well done–some fairy house displays had explanatory signs, which were clever or interesting, along with an item to look for in the display. G was looking very closely at all the displays anyway, whether it was a scavenger hunt stop or not. So this particular activity added to the experience. She took this photo at the display of hanging fairy house spheres because she was asked to find a bench and she did! (I didn’t spot it at all.)

hanging fairy house at

Part of a fairy house display at Roger Williams Park Botanical Gardens, Providence, RI.

Part of the special activities for Sunday was making a fairy house. She picked up a bag of collected nature items and some dirt.

fairy house-making supplies at

However, she was having a hard time figuring out how to construct walls, so I asked if she’d like to bring the items home and use them to build a house in the yard–where we have trees and rocks and shells to add to the materials. She said yes. On the way out, we were asked if we’d like to take another bag (they must have had extras), so she picked out more supplies. There are wonderful things in there, things we wouldn’t necessarily be able to easily collect on their own. The URI Master Gardeners were a big part of this event, and the Master Gardeners themselves all collected items (legally and carefully, I’ve no doubt, as the back of the scavenger hunt list had cautions on being careful collectors). I suspect that most of the effort to create this event was by volunteers.

A couple of days before Easter, G decided it was time to build a fairy house in the yard. She’d been waiting patiently all winter for spring. Easter was in two days; we were into the second part of April. Surely it was time, never mind that the temperature was in the 30s. Spring may be wavery about committing, but G was not.

5yo's fairy house at

5yo’s G first fairy house in our backyard.

The table! Set with acorn cap bowls! With her 70-odd photos of inspiration, and her memories of all we looked at and talked about, G has lots of ideas for building more fairy houses. (She also has a new fairy wand. It goes fetchingly with the wings and sparkly shoes.)

G the Kid Scientist

I’ve been watching Cosmos with the kids every Tuesday because it’s on past bedtimes on Sundays and we can all watch it together after school using the “on demand” replay. They all look forward to it and it leads to some great discussion. After the first show, G, age 5, declared she wanted to be a “kid scientist.” During our next trip to the library, she picked out books on space and the human body, but really, space is winning out. She told me she wanted to do experiments, so on the next trip to the library, we took out Astronomy for Every Kid: 101 Easy Experiments That Really Work, by Janice VanCleave. Now I will admit I think many of the experiments are a stretch, and many aren’t even experiments in the true sense of the word, BUT G picked out a few to try and she is pleased about feeling like a kid scientist.


Here she is seeing how water affects the weight of a rock…which is supposed to relate to the moon’s gravity versus earth’s…which is kind of a stretch. But what’s more interesting is what the kid scientist did next. She told me she had her own “experiment” to do, and she requested a piece of black paper and two balloons. I blew up the balloons and she covered one with brown marks representing craters. Then she made silver marks all over the piece of black poster board I found. Then she set it all up.

earth moon sun model

The sun is in the center, obviously. She had me walk the globe pillow (representing earth, of course) around the sun, while she walked with me, moving her moon balloon (the one with the craters–impossible to see in this action shot) around the earth.

And this is why I love tagging along behind kids following their own interests. If I’d decided it was time to do an “astronomy unit” and had her create a model of the solar system, really, I’d have no idea if she was getting it. But a child who asks for materials to complete a vision in her head that demonstrates the motion of the earth around the sun, and the moon around the earth? That kid understands what she’s doing. It’s so darn cool, every single time.

{PBL} The Fairy Project

It began late last fall. Gradually, a list of questions grew.

list of questions for fairy project at

We went to the library to look up books in their computer, as you do, and came home with some that day and requested many, many others. Shortly after Christmas we were excited to find this book in a used book store, because we’d kept renewing our library copy:


I need to compile a list of books my girl has found so far for this project so I can share them in another post. Our library search led us to The Fairy Ring, which I read aloud to both my homeschooled kids. My 9yo is just as interested in the magical and mythical, and fairies and their cousins the elves, goblins, etc, qualify, so he’s interested to listen along. The Fairy Ring is a nonfiction book that reads like a novel and tells the story of two cousins in early 20th-century England who posed a photograph with fairies. The younger cousin maintained all through her life that she did see fairies, but at the time, they were simply trying to get their parents to stop teasing them when they claimed they saw them. Word of their photographs gets around, and the situation becomes larger than they expected.

A Midsummer’s Nights Dream was mentioned in the book, so it’s been added to the reading list. That’s the way things go with projects.

G has lots of ideas relating to this project. She’s making a fairy comic, would like to plan a butterfly garden (in hopes that fairies are also attracted, since they favor the same habitat as butterflies), and she’s been looking through a book of fairy houses. She tells anyone who will listen about her project, and when she tells librarians, they often have books to suggest or, in one case, a friend who builds fairy houses on her front porch. That librarian said she’d see if her friend would mind if we visited.

G has also been taking notes. Sometimes, if she wants to record a lot of information at once, I write it. But mostly, she does.

taking notes for the fairy project at


I’ll keep you updated on this project, definitely. Just as I thought with my son’s monster project, this project is proof that project topics don’t have to be “real” or close by in order to provide huge opportunity for learning. She’s writing and researching, we’re reading, she’s drawing. She’s planning a garden and wants to build fairy houses in the spring (nature). We’ll be reading Shakespeare again soon. If a child is interested and curious, a topic is rich and can lead anywhere.

The Christmas Project

My daughter, who just turned five, really gets Christmas this year, by which I mean, she is into it. By nature, she is a Planner. She likes to plan birthdays–her own, and, if allowed, other people’s as well. She plans birthday celebrations for her stuffed animals that go on for days, complete with presents wrapped up in pieces of printer paper. So last week, after a morning of listening to her ideas about Christmas, a combination of things we’ve done in the past that she remembers (“We need to drive around and look at lights, Mama! And go around the big lit-up tree!”) and things she’s not quite sure we do but would like to (“Do you make the cookies shaped like men? Will you?”), I suggested we make a notebook for all her ideas, and planning Christmas can be her project. Planning Christmas starting on Veteran’s Day is not necessarily my thing, but my daughter is All Over This.

Christmas project notebook at

We made a simple notebook with printer paper, a card stock cover, and the awesome long-arm stapler, and she chose stamps for the front and back covers. Then she got to work listing her ideas. She began with decorations.

decorations from the Christmas Project notebook at

My favorite is “Santa’s sleigh, reindeer and all.” I’m not sure where she envisions this, or how large it’s supposed to be…but I’ve agreed to give her small budgets for her planning. She will have to winnow her list herself…and therein lies one of the bonuses of putting her in charge of her own project, even if it’s Christmas. We won’t be arguing or negotiating; I’ll be helping her prioritize within her budget.

She is, in case you’re wondering, incorporating other family member’s wishes, too. I told her to put everything on the lists, so nothing is forgotten–we’ll sort it out. Her categories so far also include “Activities,” “Foods,” and “Things to Do.” I’m not sure how “Things to Do” differs from “Activities,” but she is, and that’s what counts.

"Foods" in Christmas Project notebook at

There is a lot going on with the Foods list, as you can see. She’ll have to factor cookie cutters into that budget, looks like.

"What to do" list in Christmas Project Notebook at

Her handwriting, my goodness. It just slays me. She asks how to spell everything, and I either spell it out loud or write it down for her to copy. (In a pinch, her oldest brother helps out with spelling things as well.) Creating this notebook has been great for both of us–she has a place to record all of her ideas, which means I’m not feeling pressured to remember them all. And have I mentioned, she loves to plan? She is telling anyone who will listen that SHE is planning Christmas this year.

As far as I can see, this is a win-win!



October has been a beauty, with mild days for most of the month and gorgeous colors. When I saw these leaves one morning this past week while waiting for the bus with my oldest, I was immediately reminded of Robert Frost’s poem, Nothing Gold Can Stay. Unfortunately, just a few days later, we were waiting in weather more like this:


Also pretty in its own way, but much colder. I’ve been feeling the effects of the decreasing amount of daylight, I think, because most evenings find me dozing on the couch. Frustrating, because evenings are my work and blogging time, and I feel behind in just about all of my projects at the moment. Hence this catch-up post of snapshots of our days.

running shoes

My sanctuary + my lifeline.

On Mondays Amanda posts writing prompts on the Kindred site, and on Thursday, she shared my photo and words in response to the idea of “sanctuary.” I am terrible at sitting meditation, but I’ve found that running helps bring me out of my mind and into my body in a way that is sanctuary indeed. Another thing that has helped me this past year is the writing of Pema Chodron. I’m currently slowly reading Comfortable with Uncertainty: 108 Teachings on Cultivating Fearlessness and Compassion. I read one or two teachings at a time, every now and then, and let the words sit.

at the beach

On one of the last milder days last week, we headed to the beach to collect items for Mudpuddles to Meteors‘ nature exchange. We just heard our match partners live in Alaska. Fun!

making cheese

Checking the temperature of milk that will become ricotta cheese.

My 9yo wanted to know how cheese was made, so we looked it up at the library and he placed a book of recipes on hold. This past week, he made ricotta cheese–twice, actually, because the first time (using the book’s recipe) didn’t yield much cheese. Perfect! More opportunity for learning, as he Googled recipes to see how they were different from the one in the book. We used his ricotta cheese in baked pasta, but he wasn’t impressed with it. (I was! I thought it was yummy.) He would like to make Monterrey Jack next–“an orderly cheese,” in his words. I think the gloppiness of ricotta displeased him. I’m not sure he’s seen it in its natural state before; he’s always just eaten things made with it. However, he also said, “I love math–when it’s used for cheese-making!” This is self-directed learning, folks, and it’s a wonderful thing.

goat note

We are a little later with wrapping up her goat project than I’d hoped, but G’s enthusiasm for printing goat cards waned a bit, and then I waned a bit, but we’re back on track now. We changed in all her coins for dollars, and we’re heading to the bank on Monday to deposit it all so I can write a check. I interviewed her and typed up a letter to Heifer International explaining her project, and she is including this note–on one of her note cards, of course. I can barely stand it. Biased mama, yes, but I think she’s pretty amazing and awfully sweet. I am also extremely thankful for the family and friends, both near and far, who supported her project and helped her raise $120. She never thought it wasn’t possible, and so many of you helped make sure she was right.

I’m hoping to get my evening energy back so I can get back to making progress with Issue Two of Art Together, and a tutorial I’ve agreed to create, and more embroidery, and that sweater I’m knitting… I’ve no time for hibernation! I hope you’re enjoying nature’s “hardest hue to hold” before we slip thoroughly into the starker colors of winter.

The Week’s Work

I don’t feel I made much progress with my own making this week. The first part of the week I felt sluggish and like I wasn’t focusing well, and the second part was busy–so busy that I’m joining in with Dawn’s Making + Listening link-up three days late. Nevertheless, we’ve been making things here.

My oldest made a zine to fulfill a class project. I used this as an excuse to finally buy a long-reach stapler. His only supply request was a non-photo blue pencil (because you don’t need to erase your lines after inking; it doesn’t show up on photocopies). I want to make zines too!

I finally finished my Tang in green wool (so perfect for this time of year…um, not!).

It needs a rinse and block, but my utility sink, which I thought would work so nicely for washing handknits, is full, as always, of drying paintbrushes and paint splotches. I won’t wear this for a few months anyway, and perhaps I’ll remember to do a post with modeled shots when I do…

My daughter made me a cardinal sitting in a nest.

This was all her own idea and execution. She asked for my help reaching the red and green card stock and then set to work with scissors and tape, cutting the shapes out herself. (She used the large circle hole punch for the head and feet.) She ran back and forth to check the bird poster hanging on our wall, the one that includes a cardinal. She was detailed about the feet, wasn’t she? That’s one of the bits she double-checked with the poster. This is so authentically a four-year-old’s creation. I adore it.

I also helped my daughter make more goat note cards.

These sets are already claimed and paid for, and we need to make more to fulfill more orders. I’ll talk more about her work in a future post, but for now I’ll say that I’m so pleased she is having success and so grateful to the communities (both online and in real life) that are helping her achieve that success. My daughter never doubted her plan would work, and I’d do well to observe and learn from the confidence of this four-year-old.

Speaking of which, she also made it to the top of the rock wall at her brother’s school fair today.

Climbing to the top.

Unfortunately I didn’t get a photo that shows the wall in its entirety so you can see how tall it was. It was really, really tall.

At the top.

It was a little hard to look at my last baby dangling from a harness at the top of that thing, but she was so excited to try and so determined to get all the way up; of course I cheered her on. She drew a little bit of a crowd. A rock-climbing gym recently opened nearby (this was their traveling wall), and I don’t think we’ll be able to keep G out of it.

As for the listening portion, my husband was away this week, so while I wove ends into my sweater and tried to embroider (that being the project I haven’t made much progress on), I watched and listened to Merlin. I have four episodes left to go in Season 3. The younger kids finished listening to The Phantom Tollbooth and The Arabian Nights as I read them aloud. And, because we met friends at the zoo this week, we of course listened to Tom Paxton’s Goin’ to the Zoo on the way. This is such a great CD of fun songs. We all like it.

I hope you are in the midst of an enjoyable weekend, with some time to make and listen to whatever makes you happy.