The Beginning of a Year Long Tree Study: Our Apple Tree

Year Long Study

During the past few years that we’ve been participating in the Outdoor Hour Challenge at Handbook of Nature Study, I’ve been intrigued by the idea of doing a year long tree study, to really get to know a tree and be intentional about observing it in its different seasons.  I have observed the trees in my last two backyards (with our Montmorency Cherry Tree I struggled to identify and last year’s Dogwood tree ) in all of the seasons, but this year, I want to intentionally study a tree in our backyard with the kids.  Charlotte Mason herself said, “Children should also become familiar with trees at an early age. They should pick about six in the winter when the leaves are gone, perhaps an elm, a maple, a beech, etc, and watch them during the year.”

Our favorite tree in our backyard is our apple tree (of course).  So today (thought it is not winter), we started our year long study by taking our nature journals outside to the backyard, grabbing some leaves and apples from the tree, tasting the fruit, drawing the tree, leaf, and apple in our journals, and then reading a book about apples.

Climbing the tree to grab some apples and leaves to study.

Climbing the tree to grab some apples and leaves to study.

The apples on our tree are small-medium sized and green.  They are mildly crisp and taste sweet.  There sure are a lot of them.

Z-urchin loves to grab apples out of the tree, take two bites, then throw them on the ground.  Maybe he plans to plant an orchard.

Z-urchin loves to grab apples out of the tree, take two bites, then throw them on the ground. Maybe he wants an orchard.

As we drew our trees, leaves, and apples in our nature journals, we discussed questions we have about the tree that we’d like to find out this year.  These questions include: What kind of apples are on our tree?  Will the leaves change color?  What color will they be?  How do we take care of our apple tree?  We wrote these questions in our journals so that we could remember to look into these things.

Nature Study

Our nature journals

Finally, we read the book Apples by Gail Gibbons.  We’ve read this book before- last year, when we did an apple study after going apple picking.  But it was still good to review the basic information about apples.  The book explained what happens to the apple tree from seedling to fruit bearing tree and then what it does throughout the seasons.  So when I asked the kids what they could expect from our apple tree based on this book, they explained that they thought by wintertime the apples and leaves would all fall off the branches and then in spring they expect blossoms on the branches.  We’ll be watching to see if this is true!



Our School Room: Where Learning Happens and So Does Mess

When we moved into this house two months ago, we made a lot of changes.  One of those changes was our schoolroom.  My husband’s step-dad decided to build us a schoolroom in the garage and I was so thankful and so excited.  He took the wood from the deck we tore out to help build the floor so that the floor would be level with the kitchen, instead of a few steps down.  It also means that our schoolroom floor is nice, rather than a concrete floor and he gave us storage underneath the schoolroom!  He also gave us a window and it is a very nice little room where we can do all of our learning and then shut the door on the mess.

Not that the rest of the house is free of mess at this time.  Or any time.

Anyway, I would like to give you a little tour of our schoolroom.  We also do school at the kitchen table (I like to read while the kids are eating and are therefore more quiet than at other times) and we do some reading cozied up on the couch.

1 Circle Area

This is where we do our “Circle Time.”  Circle time includes practicing our verse or passage (right now it is Psalm 100), practicing our Spanish series (from Speaking Spanish with Miss Mason and Francios) or poem, and then an activity from our daily focus.  On Monday, we focus on geography (right now we are learning the continents and the oceans of the world), on Tuesday, we focus on music (right now we are learning about Vivaldi), Wednesday is poetry day, Thursday is art day (Renoir is our current artist, as you can see), and on Friday, we read a chapter from Wisdom and the Millers.  We finish Circle Time with reviewing our phonograms and playing phonics games.

Underneath the easel, I store GeoSafari stuff, clothespins for pinning cards to our clothesline timeline, and dry erase boards and activities.

2 School Supplies and Kits

Here is where I store our art kits and some of our school supplies.  In the baskets we have a loom, door plaque kit, a flower box kit, perler beads, pony beads, a bracelet kit, pastels and special art supplies, an aquadoodle mat and magnet letters.  In the plastic drawers, I have all the normal office/school supplies: dry erase markers, pencils, pens, highlighters, tape, printer ink, label stickers, notepads, a labeler and things like that.

The basket on the top has our phonics cards and things I use for Circle Time.  And we love having an electric pencil sharpener easily accessible for all to use!

3 Teacher Desk

I sit here (right now, as I type this) often to plan, prepare, print, and pray.  Underneath the desk is a lot of stuff that is only barely organized.  I know where everything is, but it is not efficiently organized like I would like it to be.  I just have not had the time to devote to that yet.  Right now, I am keeping a huge box of stickers ,drawers with pens, pencils, and markers, a file box for school records, my laminator, a box of stationary and my three-hole punch.


4 Student work area

Here are where my students sit.  Each of my older two students have a set of drawers and a basket for their school supplies and books.  The whiteboard is magnetic and the perfect size for our needs.  The table was made especially for me by my sister-in-law’s ver skilled brother.


In this corner, we have our main craft supply cabinet. Way up at the top, we keep paper bags (for puppets), paint sponges, a wood working kit, and our math balance.  The next shelf contains books, special markers, and a ship-in-a-bottle kit.  The next shelf down contains our math manipulatives and supplies (for RightStart Math).  The middle shelf contains a spice rack of little art supplies (including pompoms, googly eyes, sequins, brads, and glitter) and paper of all kinds.  In the lower shelves, we keep paint, do-a-dot markers, big pompoms, craft sticks, stencils, pipe cleaners, and a puppet making kit.

5 Preschool WallI would really like our world map up here, instead of our USA map, since we are doing ancient world history this year.  However, due to several moves happening between my last use of the world map and now, I cannot find it.  Yet.

We also have a chore chart up here.  I haven’t started using it yet, but it is up in hopes that I will be reminded to start that soon.

The pocket chart holds our preschool project.  Z-urchin and I are going through the alphabet and putting stickers (from my big sticker box that is under my desk) on the cards for each letter.  Z-urchin loves this activity and it is sweet time with him.

6 Shelves

Finally, this is our wall of shelves.  We have our nature shelf and nature board, ready to fill with nature things.  We are focusing on learning about birds (through Apologia’s Exploring Creation with Zoology 1: Flying Creatures), so we have some bird guides and pictures up, with our other science books and nature tools.  Then all of our current curriculum and some art books are on the other shelf so I have easy access to them.

We also keep our Child Training Bible and Virtue Training Bible on this shelf.  These are resources we love, designed by a dear friend from college.  Her system reminds me very much of how she liked to study and our study sessions together!

We are now in our fourth week of school, using our new little schoolroom and it is great!





Summer Strolls in the Sequoias

We are very blessed here on the northern coast of California, not only because of the weather, which is often very nice, because we live so near forests of redwood trees.  This summer, we have visited our local redwood grove a few times, enjoying the cool peacefulness and stillness of the trees.  Of course, when I visit this quiet forest, I do bring a load of rowdy noise with me.

Log Train-001

The tallest living trees on earth are California redwoods and they are also some of the oldest living things on earth.  One of the trees in our local grove is about as tall as a football field is long and the oldest living tree there is about 1400 years old.  It is truly awe-inspiring to be among such towering and ancient giants.


On our first visit to the park this summer, we received treasure hunt clues at the kiosk for the easy Pioneer Trail that is quite close to the entrance of the park.  The kids loved searching for “The Dinosaurs”, “The Troll”, “The Sleeping Giant”, and “The Icicle Tree.”  We also quietly listened for animals (and heard a few distant chirps), saw the large tree slice labeling the history of the world on its rings, walked on fallen tree trunks and finally, saw two gentle, soft brown deer!

Treasure Hunt

Treasure Hunt


Though I have grown up surrounded by redwoods for much of my life, I have never known all that much about them.  Lately, I have been reading a bit more about them.  I am fascinated by the fact that they get much of their moisture (especially in the summer) from our coastal fog, from which their leaves can absorb water.  Also, coastal redwoods are well protected from insects and fire damage by their thick tannin rich bark.  This means they can survive and live a long time.  They grow shallow but extensive roots that can reach to 100 feet out from the tree.  These roots tangle with other redwood tree roots and give groves strength and stability during harsh weather and winds.  I love that they are stronger together- like a family!

Four in a Forest



First Day of School Pictures, 2014

The new school year here at Terrace Hill Academy has begun!  We have a 2nd grader, a 1st grader, a 3 1/2 year old preschooler and a 2 year old preschooler.

First Day of School 2014


We are still trying to settle into our new home (and if you think that sounds familiar, you are right.  We moved this summer- for the third time in three years), but we have started school all the same.  Because I like chaos.  I thrive in it.  Or survive in it, anyway.

I have some wonderfully crazy students who make my life interesting, bright, fun, and full of laughter and joy (and who bring frustration and tears too).

Crazy kids on the first day of school


My second grader:  7 year old X-man.  He loves math, thinking, legos, and video games and doesn’t really like to read (to himself… he does like stories read to him).  I hope to change that last item this year.

X-man, 2nd grade


My first grader: 6 year old Princess K.  She loves handwriting and drawing and stories about little girls and their sisters who lived long ago.  She also doesn’t love to read to herself and I hope to change that as well.  And on the first day of first grade she lost her first tooth (so it may have technically been the 2nd day, but we hadn’t actually started school yet that morning and it sounds so much better to say that she lost it on the first day).

Princess K, 1st grade


My almost-four-year-old preschooler: Z-urchin.  He is full of life, exuberance, charm, determination, and mischief.  I plan to continue to have preschool time where we snuggle up and read books or put together puzzles or play a game and continue to shepherd his heart toward the Lord and toward obedience.


Z-urchin, Pre-K


My two-year-old preschooler: Shortstop.  He is sweet and full of love.  He loves being tickled and he loves to draw and he loves for mommy to read books to him.  So I plan to read plenty of books with him and give him lots of paper (so that he doesn’t draw all over my floors, furniture, and walls again this year like he did last year).

Shortstop, 2 years old


On our first day of school, I wrote them letters in their little personal mailboxes (they received from their Auntie Lindsay one Valentine’s Day) and they loved them.  We also decorated the cover of our binders, did a little notebooking, read a few great books, started the science curriculum I’ve been looking forward to starting for 8 years, and put together an alphabet train puzzle during preschool time.


Getting their letters from mommy on the first day of school

Getting their letters from mommy on the first day of school


First Day Activities


So other than the thankfully brief episode of vomiting visited upon my 3 1/2 year old and the cold plaguing my 2 year old (that he passed onto me the next day- what a good sharer), it was a great first day of school.


Our Curriculum Choices for 1st/2nd Grade

1 Curriculum

It is hard to believe that another school year is beginning.  Terrace Hill Academy will have two official students this year: my 2nd grade son and my 1st grade daughter.  We also have two unofficial preschool students (aged 2 and almost 4) who really love to run around like crazy; noise and chaos and mayhem seem to follow wherever they lead.  I think I’m going to need to do something about that.

Anyway, planning school is one of my favorite things to do, so although I have had illness, moving, house renovations, VBS responsibilities, four children to care for, many meals to prepare, visiting family, and many birthdays to celebrate this summer, I have managed to come up with a school plan for this next year.  And I’m excited about it.

Bible:  We will be reading through stories of the Old Testament and watching through the What’s in the Bible series by Phil Vischer (we LOVE these videos!) as they correspond with our reading.  We will also be reading Wisdom and the Millers, some stories of Trial and Triumph, and Little Pilgrim’s Progress.  We will continue to learn hymns together as a family, about one a month or so.

Math: We will complete Right Start Level B.  With X-man, who will finish about half-way through the year, we will start Right Start Level C.  We really like this curriculum.  It is well-laid out and easy to use.  I find it easy to tailor to my kids’ needs and the kids love the games.

3 Math


Language Arts: For phonics instruction, the kids are working through Explode the Code books.  We also have a plethora of easy reader books.  Each student will select a book and read to me or their dad ten minutes every day until we finish the book, and then they will select another.

We will read poetry from my collection of favorite poems and each will select a poem or two to memorize.  They will also use poetry, literature or history selections, verses, and hymns as sources for their copywork to practice penmanship and to be exposed to proper spelling and syntax.

We will read many short and long stories that correspond with our history readings and our science topics.   A few of these include: Burgess Bird BookMr. Popper’s Penguins, Trumpet of the Swan, and Greek and Roman myths.



History & Geography:  This year, we will be studying ancient history and read through a few of Guerber’s historiesStory of the Ancient WorldThe Story of the Greeks and hopefully we will at least begin The Story of the Romans.  I have the Usborne Encyclopedia of the Ancient World to use as a supplement and for all the awesome pictures.  For geography, we will use Knowledge Quest’s  Map Trek: Ancient World.



Science:  During the first semester, we will study birds with (the 1st half of) Apologia’s Exploring Creation with Flying Creatures of the Fifth Day.  In the second semester, we will study astronomy with Apologia’s Exploring Creation with Astronomy.  We will also be using the accompanying Junior Notebooks and we will continue to do nature walks and nature study as normal.
 I must add here that I am so very excited about finally starting this series.  This was the first curriculum I ever chose after we decided to go with homeschool as our educational path.  I was pregnant with my first child and I was researching homeschooling curriculum because I’m crazy like that.  And also I love curriculum and school planning.  Anyway, so I’ve been looking forward to when it would be time to use this series for nearly 8 years now.  So I am SO excited!  (Here’s hoping it at least meets my expectations, since they have been a long time growing!)

Spanish: We will be using Cherrydale Press Speaking Spanish with Miss Mason and Francois We will also read and memorize short Spanish nursery rhymes from the book ¡Pio Peep! and watch the Whistlefritz DVDs.

Art:  We will study 6-8 paintings of 5 artists: Renoir, Bruegel, Rubens, Waterhouse, and Degas.  Each student will select 3-5 new crafts to learn and enjoy.  We will continue to practice drawing using a variety of drawing lesson books (and internet resources).

Music: We will listen to and discuss the music of 5 famous composers: Vivaldi, Bach, Tchaikovsky, Mozart, and Beethoven.  Hopefully we will begin piano lessons this year.

Physical Education:  We will get daily exercise through bike riding, walks, jumping on the trampoline, and playing active games as a family and/or a variety of exercise videos/video games.  We may also participate in some community classes, such as ice skating.

So that’s the plan for Elementary School at Terrace Hill Academy.  I’m looking forward to all the learning and fun I’m going to do and have and what an awesome bonus if my kids learn anything with me.

These are a Few of My Favorite Things

It’s that time of year again!  Time to start thinking about “bouquets of newly sharpened pencils,” shiny new curriculum, goals and folders, planners and field trips.  It is time for a new school year!

Whenever I start a new school year, I like to think back to the previous year and contemplate what worked, what didn’t, and what I’d like to add or change or cut out.

So here are some things that worked well last year: A list of my 10 Favorite Things from the 2013-2014 school year.

1.  Fun Times with Time Travel.  We won’t do this again this year, since we already did it, but using our imagination and having a theme or a fun little gimmick was memorable for me and we all enjoyed it.  So maybe we’ll do something this year- perhaps pretend we are archaeologists?

Our Time Machine... hopefully someday, the kids will get how cool this particular design for a time machine really is

Our Time Machine… hopefully someday, the kids will get how cool this particular design for a time machine really is

2.  Science Experiments.  Some of my favorite times last year was our science lessons and experiments.  They were a lot of effort to execute, but oh, so worth it.  We used 106 Days of Creation Studies from the Simply Charlotte Mason website and loved it.


2 Science Experiments

3.  Nature Walks and our completion of the Outdoor Hour Challenges.  I really don’t think I can say enough about the Outdoor Hour Challenge.  It has been one of the most important things we’ve done in the past two years.  I have seen the most dramatic change or growth or learning in this area because of our participation in the Outdoor Hour Challenge- and not just in the kids.  In myself as well.  We love our Nature Walks and the Challenges.

This particular fun activity was part of an Autumn Challenge.

This particular fun activity was part of an Autumn Challenge.

4.  Pastels. This was a new thing we discovered this last year.  Through the Outdoor Hour Challenge Newsletter, I was led to the  Hodgepodge  website and specifically her many pastels tutorials.  We explored this medium some this past year (and this not-incredibly-artistic girl was very grateful for those simple and straightforward and easy-to-follow tutorials!) and we all had so much fun!  This is something we all want to continue to do!

My Pastel Pumpkin

My Pastel Pumpkin

5.  Pilgrim Day.  We took a day out of our normal schooling activities and played Pilgrims.   We dressed up, ate pilgrim-inspired food and did pilgrim-like chores and played games similar to games pilgrim children played.  It was a really fun day.  So much so that when asked what her favorite thing about last year was, Princess K mentioned this day.  When asked what she hopes to do in her next school year, she wants to do this again.

5 Pilgrim Day

6.  The Solar System Puzzle.  This is science again, but what can I say?  I like science.  And fun.  When we studied the solar system, we took a few hours (during the preschoolers’ naptime, of course!) to put together a 200 piece Ravensburger puzzle.  Discovering the fact that my kids are getting old enough to start to do things- like 200 piece puzzles- that are fun for me too was a really exciting moment for me.

6 Solar System Puzzle

7.  Backyard Nature Exploration.  I love the relaxed pace of homeschooling.  I love that part of school can be to go outside (or send the kids outside while I’m making lunch) and explore the backyard.  The kids made huge mud puddles (mud swimming pools, really) and found all kinds of interesting bugs and my Princess was SO excited when she saw the first flower of spring in our backyard.  It was a magical moment.

The first very cheerful flower of spring in our backyard.

The first very cheerful flower of spring in our backyard.

8.  Little House Books & Activities.  We did American History this last year, so in about March, we made it to the place in our History lessons where we started reading The Little House in the Big Woods.  This was one of my favorite books as a child and I still had my very book from childhood that I had read so often.  It was a true treat to share that with my children.  It was also very sweet to make maple sugar candy out of maple syrup kind of like they did in the book (except that we did not have snow, so we used our more modern and less wintery methods).

Maple Sugar Candy!

Maple Sugar Candy!

9.  Learning to Draw.  We used many different books (because again, I’m not all that artistic or particularly talented in the whole drawing thing) to teach us how to draw (like Drawing with Children, Draw Write Now, How to Draw 101 Animals, and the Usborne how-to-draw books) and we spent some good time drawing pilgrim things and Christmas things and trees and flowers and animals.  It was really fun and good for my kids to improve in their drawing.  They took satisfaction in their improvement.

Drawing Animals

Drawing Animals

10.  Graduation.  My mother-in-law approached me last year and told me about this sweet little outfit her mother had made for her own Kindergarten graduation.  Then her daughter (my husband’s sister of course) wore the same little outfit for her graduation.  She really wanted Princess K to wear it for her graduation.  So she asked us if we would mind having a little graduation for our kids for the purpose of getting photographs of Princess K in the little graduation outfit.  I loved the idea.

First Grade Graduation

First Grade Graduation

I made a little 6 minute slideshow of our year (and my wonderful husband put it to some Graduation-y music!) and printed out some “Diplomas” for my two little (1st Grade and Kindergarten) graduates.  My mother-in-law dug out and ironed the heirloom outfit and somehow procured a shiny blue graduation robe for X-man.  She also made them graduation caps out of cardstock and a lovely lunch for our guests (including diploma taquitos tied with a green onion ribbon).

Kindergarten Graduation in her Heirloom Outfit

Kindergarten Graduate

We invited all the grandparents to attend and set up the chairs outside where there was a lovely place for a stage.  We played some Pomp and Circumstance for them to walk down to and they first led the pledge of allegiance.  They sang two hymns they learned this year (Amazing Grace and Crown Him with Many Crowns) and then were interviewed by the Principal, their Daddy, who asked them about their favorite subjects, activities, and books this year.  They received their diplomas and then we had lunch.  It was a very lovely day.

The Graduation Ceremony

The Graduation Ceremony

And we definitely got plenty of photographs for a very happy Grandma!

So those were a few of my favorite things this past year.  These are good to remember as I plan for this next year.  Taking the time to make this list makes it clear that I really need to make sure I intentionally allow plenty of time for the “fun extras” of education since those are the most memorable and beautiful moments of the year.

Where on Earth Have I Been? Moving. Again.

New House

It has been three months since my last post.  Where have I been?

Well, for the third time in as many years, we moved.  Our new place is about 7 minutes away from our old place, but it was still a whole lot of work.  We put all of our stuff in boxes, borrowed a truck, hired some guys to give us a hand and hauled all of our stuff around the corner and down the street.  And it is amazing how much stuff a sentimental homeschooling mom of four accumulates.  SO. MUCH.  May I just take this time to say that I am so very, very tired of moving.

Move & New House1

Thankfully, we have good reason to believe that this will be the last move… for a good long while, at least.

Anyway, I spent the first half of May sick with the flu- the seasonal, high temp, cold shakes, achiness, crippling fatigue for two weeks kind of flu.  And then I spent the second half of May preparing for this move- packing our stuff, painting the new place (with my wonderful cousin who came to help me out for two weeks and without whom I do not know how I would have managed), figuring out where stuff would go and cleaning the old place.

My cousin & I painted the new place and it was SO MUCH FUN!

My cousin & I painted the new place and it was SO MUCH FUN!

We moved the last weekend of May and spent the first few weeks of June in our new place without a working kitchen and managed to get very tired of take-out.  However, we kept working at it and with the hard work and help of my husband’s parents, we slowly have made great progress.  There are still boxes around (what else is new?  This has been my life for the last three years), but things are finally feeling more settled.

Our First Day at Our New House

Our First Day at Our New House

Some school happening in the chaos... and the chaos of bedtime on the first night

Some school happening in the chaos… and the chaos of bedtime on the first night

Our New Yard

Our Beautiful New Yard

So that’s what I’ve been up to lately.  I am looking forward to getting back into my normal routines.  I am excited to post pictures of our house’s transformation and our various outdoor outings and adventures from this summer.  Soon!