Arbor Day Festivities

We had a great time today celebrating Arbor Day! This morning we met homeschooling friends at the city reservoir for a two-hour nature walk, complete with bark rubbing and lots of tree exploration. We also read the sweet story, We Planted A Tree, by Diane Muldrow.

Then this afternoon, a local hospital hosted a tree-planting ceremony and invited neighbors to participate. M was delighted to take center stage and help shovel the dirt!

Cambridge Science Festival

For fellow Boston-area homeschoolers, the annual Cambridge Science Festival starts this Saturday, April 30th. Here is the festival's website with a listing of the many activities offered during the week-long event, including the free "lunch with a luminary" series all next week at the MIT Museum, and a "Science Carnival" at the Cambridge Public Library on May 7th. We've participated in the festival in the past and it's a great city resource for homeschoolers and others. Hope you can check it out!

Morning at the Arboretum

How nice it is to be able to spend a sunny, 70-degree Wednesday morning with homeschool friends at the Arnold Arboretum, where we rode bikes, picked wildflowers, spotted snakes, and explored the marsh.

With Arbor Day approaching this Friday, April 29th, we'll have to make a return trip to the Arboretum to enjoy more of the blossoming trees and warm weather.

Ice Cream Truck

Yes, I know I'm all about wholesome, homemade food lately, but really, who can resist an unexpected visit from the ice cream truck at a local playground?

City Homemaking

Maybe the city is too convenient. At least that's what I tell myself as I think about my shift toward more homemade, wholesome food. Who needs to meal-plan when there are so many markets and ethnic restaurants steps from the front door? Why bake my own bread when I can walk across the street to buy a loaf at any time? Why grow basil when I can walk over to the Farmer's Market?

I've been thinking a lot lately about how to turn my household into more of a production unit rather than solely a consumption unit, and likewise get back to basics in terms of the foods we eat. I think much of this shift started for me after watching the eye-opening documentary, "Food, Inc.," and reading books like Mark Bittman's, Food Matters, and Michael Pollan's, In Defense of Food.

It seems like there is a trend in American culture toward reliance on "experts" for activities that not so long ago were considered natural life occurrences centered around the home. We now rely almost exclusively on schools to teach our children, hospitals to birth our babies, and big food conglomerates to feed our families. And the conveniences of the city certainly contribute to the ease of outsourcing basic household functions.

So, as Michael Pollan encourages, I am now trying to "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants," and re-connect with the basics of homemaking, like baking bread as M and I did this afternoon.

I still love the conveniences of the city and will continue to rely on them, (especially my afternoon latte from my local coffee shop), but perhaps with a more watchful eye toward making sure that they enhance, instead of replace, my homemaking.

Easter Egg Lessons Learned

Notes to self:
(1) Even though at the market the toddler is screaming "snack," the preschooler is yelling that she has to go potty, and the infant is squawking, make sure the eggs you are buying to dye for Easter are, in fact, WHITE, not brown.

(2) Do not underestimate the time it takes to boil beets to dye the eggs and don't begin the boiling process 30 minutes prior to bedtime.

Earth Day

Today we celebrated Earth Day with a host of both homeschool and neighborhood friends at our city's reservoir.

M cut-out Earth Day print-outs and taped them to paper bags to make "litter bags" for the kids to use along our walk.

Next we stopped for snack and an Earth Day story. We chose Todd Parr's The Earth Book.

Then we all scattered to explore the outdoors and find some worms.

More Kids

I am devouring books more quickly now, as A has recently emerged from that newborn evening fussy stage and will, usually, nurse contentedly at night while I read-- or blog. Even though evenings with an infant are getting easier, that is not why I decided to read the newly-released book, Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids: Why Being a Great Parent is Less Work and More Fun Than You Think, by economist Bryan Caplan. I was captivated by the title and enjoy economists' views on personal decision-making.

I thought the author's economic argument could have been made more persuasively, but his overall premise is a provocative one: basically, we parents are “over-charging” ourselves when it comes to the cost of each child. Caplan analyzes the controversial “nature vs. nurture” question and determines that lifetime outcomes have more to do with genetics than parenting. If we're smart, healthy and happy, he maintains, then our kids will likely be smart, healthy and happy, so we should be less stressed about being perfect parents and instead enjoy our kids more. If we stop this “over-charging,” he contends, then the price of each kid falls and, as rational consumers, we should “buy” more.

Despite Caplan's research, I'm not convinced that nature trumps nurture, but I do agree with another of his assertions that there are huge “start-up” costs associated with one's first child, and only marginal “costs” for each additional child, particularly when we don't let the little daily stresses of parenthood get to us. (Or when we learn that non-stop nursing allows us to actually finish a book.)

For more about the book, here is a well-written review from The Wall Street Journal.

Easter Prep

M has been longing for Easter since January, so now that it is finally upon us, the excitement is building. In my overall effort to do things in a more handmade, homemade way recently, I decided this year that we would forego the plastic eggs and use natural, food-based dyes for our hard-boiled eggs. We will most likely use beets, blueberries, greens, and orange juice for our dyes. I also decided that it would be fun to grow our own grass to line the bottom of our Easter baskets. A friend gave us some wheat berries recently and the lush grass will be perfect for our baskets!

I will definitely report back on the success of our homemade Easter decor, but if anyone is interested in creating natural egg dyes this year, here is a good link with instructions on how to do it.

And I'd love to hear your suggestions on what to do with two-dozen, colorful hard-boiled eggs after the Easter Bunny visits... Recipes anyone?

Instrument Cards

A former neighbor in our building is a concert pianist and during a recent visit I asked him how he discovered the piano. He told me that when he was a boy he found some old photos of instruments and vividly recalls spending time studying each photo, eventually gravitating to the piano.

Since this conversation, I have been on the hunt for some instrument cards. I had grand visions of finding instrument photos and making my own cards to be reminiscent of the ones my neighbor described. I didn't have much success with a homemade version, but I ended up purchasing these instrument cards online. I have already seen how M enjoys playing with them and perhaps it will help her to discover which instrument, if any at all, is meant for her down the road.

Patriots' Day

Our city hosted a Patriots' Day ceremony today. This is my second year taking the kids, and even though some of the speeches and introductions are a bit dry for them, I really think it is important for the kids to be exposed to events like this that celebrate our nation's history and pay respect to our veterans.

The highlight of today's ceremony was seeing William Dawes arrive on horseback to warn that "the British are coming" on his way to Lexington! Earlier in the day, we listened to Longfellow's poem, "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere," on

Holidays like this one provide so many learning opportunities for homeschoolers of all ages. For preschoolers, it's a simple introduction to history and freedom. For older kids, it can be intertwined with an elaborate study of the American Revolution and the history, geography, literature, and culture of the Revolutionary era. This type of multi-disciplinary, thematic learning is often called "unit studies" and is a popular curriculum approach for homeschoolers. This website has a good description of unit studies and links to additional resources.

City Egg Hunt

We participated in our first of three city egg hunts yesterday and, needless to say, it was a blast. This one was held at a city park and was sponsored by a local church. In addition to hundreds of candy-filled eggs, the festival also included a "big bounce," kids' games, face painting, etc. I never cease to be amazed at all of the childhood activities offered in the city within walking or subway distance.

Cultivating Interdependence

I finished reading Radical Homemakers by Shannon Hayes. Some of her ideas are, well, radical, but she also makes excellent points that are worth pursuing, such as figuring out ways to try to turn one's household into more of a production unit than solely a consumption unit. Household tasks like gardening, cooking, knitting, etc. would fall into this category.

I also really like her thoughts on how homemaking should be more of a collective effort, rather than the individual pursuit it has become. Hayes alludes frequently to “housewife's syndrome,” or what Betty Friedan in The Feminine Mystique called “the problem that has no name,” in reference to the isolation, depression and boredom felt by many suburban housewives in the 1950s. Hayes states: “If we want to be 'happy homemakers,' yet avoid the condition of housewife's syndrome, and if we want to create a system that enables us to achieve well-being, but without requiring a surfeit of money, then the first skill of paramount importance is the art of building and nurturing relationships.” (p.186)

I think the keys to “happy homemaking” are also the keys to “happy homeschooling,” which, not surprisingly, the author also does with her two children. Homemaking and homeschooling are much more enjoyable and rewarding when undertaken collectively, rather than individually. We feel very fortunate to have lots of family time each week with grandparents and aunts and uncles, and numerous interactions with friends and community members.

City homeschoolers have access to so many people in the community who, collectively, can make homeschooling and homemaking much more satisfying. The key, as Hayes reinforces in her book, is to work on building these relationships to become less independent and more interdependent.

Spring Planting

We recently bought the newly-released book, Watch Me Grow: A Down-to-Earth Look at Growing Food in the City, by Deborah Hodge. It gives a nice overview of the different spots for city gardening and the benefits of sharing land and harvests.

Inspired, we set out to the hardware store to purchase some seeds.

And then planted them in little pots for our deck and windowsill. I don't have much faith in how well these little crops will do, but it's fun trying!

Pledge of Allegiance

There is a controversy brewing in a nearby town over how often, if at all, students in the public schools should be reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Currently students in the town's elementary schools recite the Pledge once a week and there is some heated debate over that policy, according to this article.

While there are probably legitimate arguments about whether or not a national pledge should be recited in public schools, I am glad we homeschoolers get to avoid this discussion altogether. M's been reciting the Pledge of Allegiance for a long time now. We started it spontaneously when walking by the library flagpole and it has become a habit, along with singing patriotic songs like "America the Beautiful" and "You're A Grand Old Flag."

I personally feel it's very important for my kids to have a deep sense of patriotism and respect for civic responsibility, and to value the American tenets of "liberty and justice for all."

Class at Harvard

We borrowed some books from the library this morning and walked to nearby Harvard Yard to read there. City homeschoolers have access to so many wonderful "classrooms" right around the corner!

Afternoon at the Cemetery

We spent this beautiful spring afternoon at the cemetery. Yes, the cemetery. I had heard how spectacular the Mount Auburn Cemetery is, but still couldn't get beyond the mere morbidity of it until this afternoon when I thought we'd all investigate.

Sure enough, it is a stunning city oasis. We only saw about one-tenth of the vast space, but the lush grounds, flowers, birds, and wildlife really are incredible for a city cemetery. This will definitely be a spot to explore again, as supposedly it's a haven for turtles and salamanders, and M had a blast reading the map to identify different paths we could take next time.

City homeschoolers may sometimes need to think out-of-the-box to identify great learning resources, particularly for outside nature time, but the splendor of cities lies in their hidden gems.

Back to the Aquarium

It was back on the subway to the Aquarium today, this time to show Daddy the new shark and ray touch tank and enjoy a final members-only viewing before the crowds descend in the coming weeks. While certainly busier than Thursday's visit, the tank viewing was still intimate enough to get some good touches and for M to ask questions.

With our small city spaces, many city parents ask family members to give museum memberships in lieu of birthday and holiday gifts. Given the amount of time city homeschoolers spend in our local museums, these memberships are invaluable and quickly repay themselves. Members-only events like this week's touch tank "sneak preview" add to the value of these memberships and provide additional learning opportunities for city homeschoolers.

Reading at the River

There's nothing quite like reading books at the river while listening to guitar players on a beautiful spring day.
Now that spring has come to the city, there are so many more opportunities to bring our learning outside. I vividly remember the handful of times my public school teachers allowed us to have class outside and how refreshing it was to learn in a new, more colorful spot. Homeschoolers are fortunate to be able to learn in a variety of settings, and to enjoy countless days of outside class time.

Spring Nature Walks

Our weekly spring nature walks with local moms, and sometimes a city naturalist, at the city's reservoir resumed today and it was great to be outside exploring, climbing, and getting muddy.

You would think that I am a Charlotte Mason follower for all the times I quote her, but really I just love her view on children and the outdoors:

"Children should be made early intimate with the trees, too; should pick out half a dozen trees, oak, elm, ash, beech, in their winter nakedness, and take these to be their year-long friends." (Home Education, Vol 1, II, Out-Of-Door Life For The Children, p.52)

Just as Mason proselytizes in her early-20th century prose, we make it a priority for the kids to have loads of unstructured outside nature time which, while perhaps requiring a bit more searching and creativity for city homeschoolers than our country counterparts, is well worth the effort.

And if anyone has suggestions for removing sap from little hands, I'd love to hear them!

Journey or Destination?

One of the things I like most about city-living is that I rarely drive my car. (Although our small sedan does have three carseats installed across the backseat which my husband asserts is one of his proudest accomplishments.)

Much of what we do is accessible by walking or public transportation, which inherently creates fun learning moments for the kids who are absolutely enchanted by the city bus and subway. So I'm not sure which activity the kids found more enjoyable today: visiting the Aquarium for the members-only viewing of the new “touch tank,” or actually getting there.

I thought about driving because it's a shorter, more direct ride with easy parking and we were meeting friends. For city homeschoolers, however, so much of our learning evolves from the sights and sounds we observe on our way to a destination. So even though the path to our end-point may be somewhat circuitous, and we may contend with toddler tantrums and fussy babies along the way, the real joy of homeschooling is the journey.

Audio Books

A homeschooling mom friend of mine just introduced me to, an excellent source for free audio books, including many classic children's titles.

For quiet time today, M is playing in her room listening to Beatrix Potter stories. There are hundreds of children's stories to choose from including books by Louisa May Alcott, Mark Twain, and the Grimm brothers, to name a few. I'm thrilled to discover such a great homeschooling resource!

Reality TV

We enjoyed some fabulous "reality tv" today watching this link to a live-streaming, hatching nest of eagles in Iowa. The kids' curiosity was piqued with the information on the website, including the link to this PBS documentary about eagles. While the documentary has some mature content (e.g., one of the mommy eagles dies in a snowstorm), the kids were fascinated with it (and delighted at any opportunity to watch a video), and M really seemed to absorb a good amount of content.

Now we're off to puddle-stomp our way to the library to borrow some books about eagles!

April Showers

I thought about this Charlotte Mason quote today as we played in the rain at the park:

"But what about the wet days? The fact is, that rain, unless of the heaviest, does the children no harm at all if they are suitably clothed." (Home Education, Vol 1, p.87).

Charlotte Mason's book, Home Education, published in 1906, can be downloaded as a free ebook from Google books.

What Are You Reading?

I just finished reading, Triumph of the City by Edward Glaeser, and am seeking my next book. Although these days it takes me a ridiculously long time to complete a book, I enjoy grabbing a few pages here and there. I also think it's a good thing for the kids to see that Daddy and I always have a book that we're reading on our bedside tables. (He's currently reading 1491 by Charles Mann.)

I am thinking about reading Radical Homemakers by Shannon Hayes for my next book, but am curious what you all are currently reading or have recently read?


In general, I am not a big fan of workbooks, at least not for younger learners, but I have found great success lately in making a stack of "Preschool Basics" and "Kindergarten Basics" workbooks accessible to M.

She gravitates to the basket of workbooks I have in the kitchen and independently completes the exercises, while occasionally asking for help with directions. For her, it's just plain fun, but it reinforces key concepts in literacy and numeracy, as well as critical thinking skills, like pattern recognition.

These types of workbooks can be found at many convenience stores, supermarkets, and toy stores. They, along with children's magazines like Highlights and the Cricket series, can be entertaining and helpful tools for homeschooling.

Snuggle Days

Since so much of our week is defined by "outschooling," today's snow and slush were a welcomed excuse to stay inside this morning, make pancakes, play with cornstarch and water, and do lots of reading and snuggling.

For the afternoon, though, those slush puddles are just screaming to be stomped in....