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Bringing Home the Science: Raising Butterflies

The butterfly lifecycle enters the curriculum in second grade in our state, so it seemed like the perfect year to raise butterflies. Just like the kids, I’ve never seen the process in action before. I’ve enjoyed hearing everything my second grader has learned about butterflies as the cycle progresses. It’s been an exciting few weeks around here!

Thankfully, there’s not much to raising them.

I picked up a butterfly habitat, which is essentially a collapsable laundry basket with six sides and a zipper, and then – of course – the caterpillars. There are tons of options for habitats and caterpillars just on Amazon. Mr. Eight Year Old was thrilled that we ordered five caterpillars but seven arrived.

Thankfully, our caterpillars came in a contained habitat with food. We could watch them grow and then form a chrysalis. Once every caterpillar had its on chrysalis, my husband (who has the steadiest hand) moved them into the butterfly habitat. I placed a towel at the bottom of the habitat after reading that it will cushion the accidental fall of a chrysalis and increase the chance that the butterfly survives. It took about 7-10 days, but then our butterflies started to emerge.

We were lucky that all of our butterflies survived, though one does have a broken wing. They have their own food source (sugar water) in the habitat, but we gave them some orange slices as well.

I read the recommendation that caterpillars be purchased after the outdoor temperature reaches 40 degrees Fahrenheit. The butterflies can be released if the temperatures tend to remain over 50 degrees, so we ordered our caterpillars a bit early in the season as our nights can dip below 50. Luckily, butterflies can live their 2-4 week lifespan in the habitat. I’ll be watching the 10-day weather forecast this weekend to see when ours can be released.

So, overall, this has been a fun experience for the whole family. I definitely recommend it for those interested.

Posted in Blog

My Daily Inner Monologue Regarding Back to School

I have been postponing writing anything about the 2020-2021 school year on here because I just don’t want to think about it. Funny enough, though, it’s all I seem to be thinking about these days. Just ask my husband. I’m driving him crazy.

Our county schools have opted for 100% virtual education for at least the start of the 2020-2021 school year. I will avoid giving my opinion on the politics of this choice. Our family is privileged enough to make virtual learning work. I fully acknowledge there is no good solution to making sure our elementary-aged children are well educated while keeping everyone healthy.

Last Spring’s online classes for the kids didn’t go particularly well. Our public school district botched the rollout and couldn’t get technology issues easily resolved. There is a lot of pressure on the schools to “get it right” for the Fall, and I’m anxious about it. There’s a greater expectation for kids to be online during the day and the sample schedule I’ve seen have the kids busy during much of the normal school day. I have no idea how we’re going to keep two young kids focused on graded schoolwork and Zoom classes while my husband and I work from home, even with our two-hour shifts.

I’m again so thankful for my employer who allows us to make our own hours. But, I still need to be available for my team members and clients throughout the day. And, I really don’t want to be waking up before dawn and working after the kids’ bedtime for an undetermined number of months just so I can sit beside my kindergartener to make sure he’s paying attention during circle time. I CAN do this, yes, but it sounds miserable for all involved and not terribly educational.

I’m trying to keep our options open for next year, but I’m running out of time. I’m considering homeschooling one or both of the kids so they can at least entertain themselves or go to some sort of daycare for the remaining portions of the day. It’s a full-year commitment though, and I’m hopeful the younger elementary kids will get back into a classroom sooner rather than later.

There are some private schools that are going back full time, but I’m pretty convinced that they will end up being told to close for at least a portion of the year. Then, we’d be paying for a private school and still be back to virtual teaching.

I’ve researching “podding” (geesh, what a word) but haven’t seriously explored it. The ones that have tutors and teachers leading them, understandably so, are EXPENSIVE. The whole pod movement seems to be figuring itself out. Nothing is clear cut, which makes me hesitate and avoid wading into the water. For instance, if I’m paying for a tutor to come to my house two days a week and a neighbor’s house three days a week, how do you handle payment, taxes, insurance? Ugh, forget it!! I don’t have the time and energy to get into all of that.

For now, the kids are going back to public school, even though it is going to be virtual. As long as the official school day schedule isn’t crazy, we’ll probably stay with the public school. My big concern is that the kids don’t go back to the classroom at all this year, because then I would have wished we homeschooled, but I can’t know what’s going to happen. It’s the nature of a pandemic. At least the school board is saying they want K-2 back into the school once it is feasible.

I keep telling myself to breathe. One day at a time. These “grades” the kids are going to get don’t really matter. They will learn what they need to learn because I will focus on the fundamentals with them at home like we’ve been doing since March 13, 2020 – the day “the world turned upside down.” (Look! A Hamilton reference! I’m driving my husband crazy with those too.)

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Posted in Blog

Ways I Hid Learning in Kid-Approved Activities

Our school district has made classwork available for the kids since after Spring Break and throughout the summer. I’m very appreciative of the educational support, but less for the worksheets and more for the learning objectives. I use those to figure out what topics to incorporate. I have been looking for ways to integrate key concepts from PreK and 1st grade into our daily fun as a way to spend time together. It’s all part of my strategy to get them sick of spending time with me so I can work later in the day. Here are some of our favorites.

Writing Journal

We started with a blank journal where the kids could write about whatever they please, but I quickly learned that my now rising second grader performs better with more direction. To help with this, I wrote prompts at the top of each page. “What makes a good friend?” “What is your favorite flavor of ice cream? Draw it.” “If Batman and the Hulk battled each other, who would win?”

Flashlight Word Search

I printed flashcards of sight words and other vocabulary the kids are learning and hid them around their bedroom, turned off the lights, and had my little ones hunt for them. Once they found one using a flashlight, they had to read it to me.

Mr. 4 year old was really into this one.

Math Jump

I want the kids to be able to solve basic addition and subtraction problems quickly to help with higher-level math in the future. To practice, I give them two minutes to answer questions and get across the room. For each right answer, they take a step forward. For each wrong answer, they step back. You have to beat the clock, not your brother. This one was a huge hit!

Sight Word Toss

I used chalk to write a dozens of sight words on the driveway, then gave each kid a bean bag. They had to toss the bag onto a word, read it correctly, and then they’d earn points. They tracked their points in chalk on their claimed part of the driveway. By the end of it, Mr. 7 year old was adding his own words to the game board, so he was practicing writing and spelling too.

Nerf Blaster Phonics

I’ve played this game several times a couple of ways, and it is often requested. Basically, I put sticky notes on the wall and directed the boys to find what I said and blast it. Sometimes I ask them to find a particular letter, a letter based on a given sound, letter blends, or whole words.

Blasting alone is award enough. No need to award points with this game.

Find My Errors

Mr. 7 year old loves this one! I write a couple of sentences and purposefully make mistakes that he has to find. I misspell words, forget to capitalize, or use the wrong punctuation. It’s something about finding mom’s mistakes that makes this really intriguing, I guess.

LEGO Challenges

Mr. 4 year old has done this one several times independently. I give them their LEGO bin and present them with a challenge. My favorite one was when I had Mr. 4 year old build a tower taller than his water bottle that holds a plastic egg. He technically met the requirement by adding a skinny pillar on the tower to push it over the height requirement.

The angle is off here, but his orange and white pillar pushes his truck over the minimum height requirement.

Don’t be fooled though. We don’t do these activities every day, and there is PLENTY of screen time built into each day so we can survive conference calls and work emergencies. These activities were just the favorites we’ve played over the last four months.

Posted in Blog

Tips for Low-Stress Homeschooling from an Instructional Designer

I’ve built a career creating face-to-face and online learning for adults. Now I find myself like many others spontaneously needing to homeschool my kids. We are in a slightly unique situation that our public school teachers haven’t reached out to us with specific lesson plans yet for the first grader, so we’re largely left to our own devices.

The Internet has exploded with ideas of things to do with your kids. I’ve explored some of them, but I’m taking a different approach. I promise they are all very simple and easy to implement. I am NOT prepping instruction. There’s enough stress and to dos on my plate right now with everyone stuck at home while I’m working that I’m not adding to it anymore than necessary.

Ask Them What They Want To Learn

At ages 4 and 7, I don’t really care what subjects they learn about, but I need them to be excited about it to keep their interest. It’s motivation theory 101. I just need the 1st grader to read, write, and do some math. My pre-K kid is ready for kindergarten, but we’re working on fine motor skills and starting to learn to read. I can meet these objectives regardless of the subject. Mr. 7-year-old wants to learn how a lot of things work: eyes, drawbridges, trees, etc. (Look, STEM!) Mr. 4-year-old wants to learn how to do things, like stop a baby from crying (?) and how to see things far away.

Get Moving

Sure, we have plenty of worksheets for the kids that I found online or received from pre-K teachers that we work through, but they can’t do those for hours a day. Even for adults, you don’t want them sitting all day listening to a lecture. You have to get them up and moving!

We have been lucky that the weather has been nice, so we’re going outside every day. I’ve been pulling out the chalk and creating games for the kids to play. One day I wrote a few sentences and had the kids jump to each word I said to complete the sentence. Once they mastered that, I explained pronouns, verbs, and adverbs and had them jump to different types of words to build their own sentences. They then added their own new words and had each other jumping around for 30 minutes or so.

Another day I created a number line and gave the kids math problems to solve. They had to jump to the correct number. We were able to cover low number addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.

Word learning with pronouns, verbs, and adverbs

Integrate Assignments

Since we’re focused on reading and writing with my first grader, I look for ways he can practice both in whatever activity we’re doing. He wanted to learn about the eyes, so we read a related book, watched an online video, and found a Nat Geo kids webpage. I encouraged Mr. 7-year-old to take notes while learning. I then created quick, handwritten worksheets for each kid that they had to read to answer questions about what we learned. Of course, the questions I gave Mr. 4-year-old were different than the ones I gave Mr. 7-year-old, and I helped Mr. 4-year-old read his worksheet. When we next practiced handwriting, they had to trace a paragraph about eyes that I made at

Use What You Have

I’m not a Pinterest mom. I’m largely not interested in arts and crafts. I don’t have a stash of toilet paper rolls or egg cartons to make all of these cute projects with the kids. But, we do have tons of generic art supplies, like paint, clay, coloring books, markers, etc. We also have about 10 million toys. They are all at my disposal for learning. We can use board games to learn colors, shapes, words, math, whatever. We have a bunch of STEM toys the kids have been given over the years stashed away in corners of the playroom. I pulled them out and have them in our homeschool area (the space formerly known as the dining room) to use when the mood strikes.

I will admit, the hardest part of this approach is that I’m with the kids the entire time they’re working, which means I’m NOT working during homeschool time. I can’t leave them in front of a computer to work on their own. I don’t think that approach would typically work for Mr. 7-year-old for any length of time and forget it for Mr. 4-year-old. Well, I take that back, they have fallen in love with ABC Mouse. I’m not sure how much they’re learning on that site, but it is educational and they love it. My oldest mentioned in conversation that something was in the shape of a cylinder. I asked how he knew that word, and he said he learned it on ABC Mouse, so that’s something!