Here Comes First Grade


We started back to school last week and have officially entered first grade. She has even lost two teeth. The whole thing is ludicrous, but I suppose I must accept it. This year we are using more curriculum than we have in the past though are still attempting to hold on to some level of flexibility.

Language Arts

  • Quiver Full of Arrows (Bravewriter)
  • Jot it Down (Bravewriter)
  • Poetry Teatime
  • Lots of Audiobooks
  • Explode the Code and Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading


  • History Odyssey: Ancients Level 1


  • Real Science Odyssey: Earth and Space Level 1
  • Continued Nature Study and Lots of Time Outdoors


  • Singapore Primary Math 1b/2a
  • Miquon Orange and Lollipop Logic
  • Khan Academy


  • Coop classes once a week, including Theatre
  • Violin
  • Forest school

How to Take a 6 Day Camping Road Trip with Kids and Not Lose your Mind (And Have Tons of Fun Too)

201603170001{All photos in this post by Tina Carter}

You can read about what we did and where we did it in this post on our recent 6 day camping trip, but with this post I’d like to give some tips for HOW we did it. I am still amazed that we were able to be out for 6 days, cover about 1700 miles and still like each other at the end of the trip! 🙂

 How to Plan the Trip

Tina and I started planning our trip by opening Google Maps. We knew we could be gone for only 6 days because we couldn’t miss our homeschool class on Thursdays as Tina and I are both teachers there. The fact that it was February meant we needed to head South so we would not freeze to death. We figured our kids could tolerate at most 6 hours in the car at a time. Somehow through our searching we found out that manatees winter inland in Central Florida and that seemed about the right difference and hello, manatees! From there we looked again at the map and just looked for big splotches of green that indicate National Parks, State parks, other places of interest for us.

Choosing Your Travel Partner

It’s an understatement to say that travel with kids can be stressful. When you add another family into the mix, with their different temperaments, ages of children, parenting style, tolerances for mess and craziness, sleep schedules, food issues, etc., any little things can be amplified into something that drives you crazy.  I am happy to say I did not have that problem as we’ve camped with Tina and Ayla before and because Tina and I are pretty similar in our approaches to parenting. Greta, Alice, and Ayla are already best buds and get along as well as any kids can get along. 201603160014201603160005

(A good travel partner won’t mind when you have to spend 20 minutes trying to get a splinter out of your terrified daughter’s foot.)


My biggest recommendation for food is to keep it simple and plan ahead. I also handled all the food for both families- it was just way easier for us that way. Because we were setting up and taking down camp most nights (we did stay two nights at Crooked River State Park) I wanted the food to be easy and something I could cook on my camping stove. I have one like this (affiliate link). I love cooking on a fire, but I did not want to make hungry kids wait for the fire to get going and food to cook in case we arrived late or wanted to stay longer hiking or exploring. We had a hot breakfast each morning- usually scrambled eggs (you can scramble them at home and then pour into a plastic bottle and mark each serving with a marker and simply pour what you need each day), bacon and pumpkin bread or instant oatmeal. For lunch I made peanut butter sandwiches or turkey wraps- something we could take on a hike or at a rest area. For dinner we had things like sausages and boxed mac and cheese, quesadillas and boxed veggie soup, and my (sorry to brag) really yummy beef chili that I made ahead of time and froze flat in a freezer bag. You need to consider how many things you’ll need to keep cold. We only had to add more ice once on the trip. Snacks were things like bags of chips and popcorn, apple sauce pouches, granola bars, and lots of fresh fruit and vegetables.

The Car Ride/Down Time at the Camp Site

Keeping it real at the campsite 😉201603160010We were lucky to be able to borrow the Sprinter van Tina’s husband uses for their restaurant (Red River Rockhouse- check it out if you are in Kentucky!) so we had lots of room and did not have to worry about packing light.

We tried our best to limit car rides to 6 hours and our longest drives were at the start and end of the trip. We had audiobooks for the ride for us all to listen to together and each kid had their own cheap little MP3 player loaded with audiobooks and music. We also printed out coloring sheets and activity pages for the animals, plants, and insects of the areas we were visiting. Not to mention we stocked up on new books at each park we visited (I consider it a charitable donation and so I tend to go crazy!) On longer trips we also made use of tablets for movies or games.

201603160013201603160025Here they are playing Obstacles. We also brought along these Tell Me A Story cards, Spot It, and Uno. {affiliate links}

201603160029These cake tempera pans are great for bringing camping as they are able to take a beating and they are low mess.

Smores and Fire

End each night with s’mores and a campfire. I mean, that’s just common sense 🙂


Learning On The Road: A Homeschool Trip

At the end of February, I got to take an epic road trip with one of my homeschooling best buds. We covered about 1700 miles over 6 days, with visits to some beautiful places. We stayed in a hotel our first and last nights and then camped each night in between. I cannot even begin to describe how much fun we had and how much learning happened along the way. All photos in the post are from Tina Carter, because she is amazing 🙂

Screen Shot 2016-04-03 at 11.20.02 AM

Our first stop was Congaree National Park, which preserves the largest tract of old growth bottomland hardwood forest left in the United States. The camping sites were primitive, with no flush toilets or available water and the sites are a short walk from the parking area. It was very beautiful and I loved being surrounded by the Loblolly Pines.

201603160008The park has a boardwalk trail through the swamp. Much of it was flooded and we got quite wet. we almost even lost Alice’s boot in the swamp!

201603160004A great thing about the National Parks is the Jr. Ranger program. There is a multipage handout the kids must complete with activities and then they get sworn in as a Jr. Ranger and get their own pin or badge (the hats were something we bought and the girls wore them for most of the trip!)


We also had to find time to practice violin on the trip, as Greta had a big festival when we returned.201603160007

From there we headed to Crooked River State Park in Georgia so we could head to Cumberland Island National Seashore. We originally wanted to camp on Cumberland Island, but unfortunately they were all booked up. Still, we took the ferry over and it did not disappoint.201603160016201603160017201603160018201603160021201603160019201603160023

Our next stop was Blue Spring State Park in Florida to see the manatees in their wintering grounds. This was by far the most touristy place we went.


From here we began to the drive back towards Kentucky, with an overnight in a hotel in Atlanta. On the way to Atlanta we stopped at Okeefenokee National Wildlife Refuge where we got to see alligators and lots of beautiful birds.


Thanks again to Tina for pushing me to take the trip. I am so happy with homeschooling and the flexibility it gives us to experience the world in this way. I mean, I can’t even believe this is my life sometimes!

Our Japan Month Long Study: An Overview

My nearly six year old daughter received Little Passports as a Christmas gift and so we have been expanding on the country each month as part of our homeschool. This month we have been learning about Japan.

I like to include lots of books (of course!), movies, artist study, geography, science (wildlife info for my animal obsessed kid), cooking, and music. My overall goal is always to show the variety of ways people live in the world and to find ways to be inspired by our differences and our similarities.


I try to find a wide variety of books- from fiction to nonfiction. You can see the books we used here.

Movies and Documentaries

We are huge fans of the Japanese animation firm Studio Ghibli and so we had no shortage of movies to choose from. We did a whole week of Movie Dinners watching some of our favorites (and a new to us movie too). You can read this post to see what we watched.

We also found a series called Little Travelers on Amazon (free for Prime members). If your kids are younger, I really recommend it! We also watched a Nature episode called Snow Monkeys via Amazon (free for prime members).

Artist Study & Art projects

  • We took a close look at Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama and then made our own art inspired by her (post to come).
  • I have big plans for Shibori dying of tshirts if I can get my act together to buy the required 5 gallon bucket.
  • We will also do an artist study of Hokusai’s 36 Views of Mt. Fiji and complete a printing project.


My daughter actually already loves Japanese food, especially sushi. We plan to go to a sushi restaurant sometime in the next week.

We also made Chicken Nandan Udon. We had to buy dashi stock concentrate, which I found on Amazon, but it was otherwise so easy to make. We will probably be making it again soon. I ordered pretty chopsticks, which were very exciting to the girls to use. For dessert that night we had the Mochi ice cream treats from Trader Joe’s.

This week we will be doing our best attempt at a Japanese Tea Ceremony for our Poetry Teatime and will be reading haikus and may even attempt to write our own.


We have been listening every now and then to playlists I find on Spotify of traditional Japanese music and Japanese Pop.


We have been looking at Japan in our multiple atlases, our wall map, and our globe. We will complete this map and color this flag printable.

Our Morning Basket

Homeschool Morning Basket

About two months ago, I watched this scope by Julie Bogart of Bravewriter (yes, I am a bit of a Julie fangirl) and it made me swap around how we work our mornings for the better. Previously I had been starting the day with our math, phonics, and handwriting pages and then we’d take a break and I would try to do science reading at my scheduled science time or my social studies at my scheduled social studies time and I’d try to read from a chapter book and picture books at some point and more often than not we would not get to all the lovely books I had planned.

You know that fantasy homeschool we all have in our heads? Well mine included lots of reading on the couch, all snuggled together. This was not happening for us nearly as much as I would have liked until I put the emphasis on reading by doing it first thing in the morning.

Enter the morning basket. Now our mornings start with the girls playing while I make breakfast and coffee for myself. Then we eat and I get more coffee, they get dressed and brush their teeth, and we move to the couch to start our readings. It usually goes 1-2 hours depending on if we have Coop, violin lesson, or a forest school meetup that day. Greta would go longer but I find that I can certainly not read any longer than 2 hours without losing my voice! After this, they get another break of free time and then I will pull out the math books and handwriting pages along with a snack. Then it’s lunch and I can be happy knowing we’ve had a great start to the day.

Here are a few tips to get you started:

Include many and varied books

We read a little bit of each book, each day.  My basket contains: our current chapter book, 1 or 2 short picture books, books related to our current nature study, books related to our current country study, folktale or fairytale collections, those longer length science books that are lovely but you never get to (like The Animal Book– so awesome!), and our Spanish flashcards.

Make it special 

When we first switched to doing our morning basket, I started it by lighting a fire in the living room and laid out new markers and coloring pages. It was new and exciting and really got them to buy into the new routine.

Give them something to do with their hands

My girls are 3 and almost 6. For this age, (or most ages even) it is simply not reasonable to expect them to sit still and listen attentively. My 3 year old is in and out with the readings- she often starts with us and then goes and plays with some toys nearby. My six year old loves to color, so I will often print out a coloring sheet or get a coloring book for her to work on while I read. Sometimes she plays with Legos or even play dough. I know she is still attentive and listening and I know this because I can see her reacting to the books and because we talk about them as we read.

Follow their cues and do what works best for your family

The whole purpose of reading aloud to your kids is for them to associate reading with pleasure. Stop before they get tired or cranky. I would never force a child to sit and listen to reading for a set amount of time. Do not worry about doing the length we do or anyone else does- do what works for your family. Remember- a little is better than none. 🙂

Learning About Japan Through the Films of Studio Ghibli

studio ghibli

Our family is a big fan of having what we call Movie Dinners. I normally employ them when Dad is working late and Mom is tired. Last week we managed to tie it into school by immersing ourselves in Japanese animation from Studio Ghibli. We did Movie Dinner 5 nights in a row, watching a different animated Ghibli film each night. Instead of me hiding out in the dining room with my laptop and a glass of wine, I stayed and watched the movies with the kids. We had seen most of these before (maybe numerous times) but we paid extra attention to the details of life depicted.

We were able to find most of these titles from our library or you can find them on Amazon.


My Neighbor Totoro is probably one of my favorite kids movies ever. My three year old and my nearly 6 year old love it too. It is the story of two sisters who move to the countryside with their father to live closer to the hospital where their mother is currently a patient. They end up meeting some spirits of the forest, including Totoro, who ends up becoming a protector of the sisters. My favorite part of this movie is the way the relationship of the sisters is depicted- how they delight in each other and annoy each other in equal measure. We love this one so much we own it.


510AKHGpCVLPonyo is Studio Ghibli’s loosely based version of Hans Christian Anderson’s ‘The Little Mermaid.” Five year old Sosuke finds what he thinks is a goldfish trapped in a jar and he names her Ponyo. It turns out Ponyo is actually the daughter of a sea goddess and her desire to discover the world ends up upsetting the delicate balance of nature and triggers a huge storm. The two children then go on quite the adventure to restore the balance. My kids love this movie and find Ponyo to be hysterical.



51KXTH5HPHLPrincess Mononoke was the only film we watched that we had not seen before. I have to warn that there are some violent and gory parts in this movie. Greta’s review of it was that “it was scary, weird, exciting and awesome.” My kids aren’t bothered by much in movies, so we decided to try it out. If you have sensitive kids, I would recommend waiting until they are older. Set in medieval Japan, it tells the story of the struggle between man and nature. We all really enjoyed this movie and my three year old cried when we took it back to the library.



Kiki’s Delivery Service takes place in a fictionalized city that is a combination of a European and a Japanese city. It tells the story of Kiki, a young apprentice witch who spends her first year on her own in a new city. It is a sweet and gentle coming of age story.





Spirited Away is a lovely movie about a 10 year old girl who must try to save her parents by working in a ghost bathhouse. There are some scary bits, but my girls love watching the bravery of Chihiro.





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Poetry Teatime

Poetry Teatime Poetry Tea outsidePoetry Tea Outside Poetry Teatime

Poetry Teatime is one of the big joys in our homeschool. When I first learned about it from Julie Bogart at Bravewriter I fell in love with the idea but was not consistent about actually pulling them off. I had grand ideas of baking homemade treats weekly with my kids and other high standards to help it tie in with the picture of my fantasy homeschool. Then life happened and I was lucky to do them monthly.

Meanwhile, Greta was begging me on the regular about doing it. It was actually starting to stress me out. After talking with her one day though, she told me that when she is an adult and off saving animals in the wild that she would still come home every Tuesday to have Poetry Teatime (despite the fact that they were not happening every Tuesday with any regularity!) I realized it was one of her favorite things about homeschool and therefore it was one of the most important things we could do.

Now I am happy to say we do it nearly every week. Sometimes we set out fancy table coverings and sometimes we bake from scratch. Sometimes we bake from a box (thank you Trader Joe’s!) and sometimes we buy treats already made. Sometimes we scrounge for whatever cheese and crackers and grapes we already have. Sometimes we drink tea or hot chocolate or lemonade. Sometimes we are in front of the fireplace and sometimes we are outside, spread out on blankets under the sun. Sometimes we are at the dining room table with all the crap pushed to one side.

The truth is, it does not need to be perfect to be special to your child. For us, the best part has been taking time to slow down, enjoy each other’s company, and of course surrounding ourselves with beautiful poetry.

Here’s my Greta reciting Emily Dickinson. I did not ask her to memorize it, she did it on her own through my repeated readings of it, week after week.


Japan Unit Study: Our Books

61PzkhUjhrL._SY498_BO1,204,203,200_Origami Activities Haiku: asian arts and crafts for creative kids

Tea Ceremony: We are big on Poetry Teatime over here and will be doing our version of a Japanese Tea Ceremony thanks to the step by step instructions in this book.

Origami: I am not sure that my soon to be six year old has the patience or fine motor skills to do origami just yet, so we may end up looking at the pictures more than completing any projects 🙂

Haiku: To go along with our Japanese Poetry Teatime, we will be reading haiku and will also try our hand at writing a few of our own.

All About JapanOne Leaf Rides the Wind Japanese Children's Favorite Stories

All About Japan: This book has been awesome. It is full of information on Japan’s geography, history, culture, and everyday life. It’s also got a ton of activities.

One Leaf Rides the Wind: A really sweet book that takes place in a Japanese garden, using haiku to tell the story. After reading this, my daughter was inspired to draw her own pagoda with oil pastels and watercolors.

Japanese Children’s Favorite Stories: We adore this book. It is full of Japanese folk tales with very sweet illustrations. We read one story a day in our morning basket.

My Awesome Japan AdventureSwans in Space  I Live in TokyoSadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes

My Awesome Japan Adventure: This is written as a diary of a fifth grade U.S. student who travels to Japan for four months. The pages are loaded with illustrations that give detail about a huge variety of things: from kanji to sushi to ninjas to shinto shrines to manga and more.

Swans in Space: This is my biggest success thus far with our Japan unit study! It is a full color Japanese manga (comic book). My three year old is constantly stealing it from my six year old. It has made my six year old decide she wants to full on read, so every day now she reads me a few pages (very slowly!) It is certainly not great literature by any means but I do not care because I have a kid who is excited to learn to read! (Luckily there is also a volume 2 & 3!)

I Live in Tokyo: This book looks at life in Tokyo throughout the calendar year. It touches on festivals, holidays, and general everyday life. It gives a great glimpse into the lives of children living in Tokyo with really great and detailed illustrations.

Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes: A really heartbreaking chapter book about Sadako, a Japanese girl who dies from “atom bomb disease” and becomes a hero and symbol of peace for children in Japan. I had a hard time reading this aloud because I kept crying too much.

Children Just Like MeMapsAtlas of Adventures

The above books are a few of my favorites when studying other countries and cultures.

Children Just Like Me: This book is beloved by us as it gives you amazing insight into the life of a specific child in a particular country. It shows you things like who is in their family, what kind of home they live in, where they go to school, what their interests are and what their favorite foods are, as well as many other details.

Maps: This atlas is beautiful and I could stare at it for a long time. It is chock full of illustrations representing aspects of regions and countries. The section on Japan was full of inspiration for things to find out more about.

Atlas of Adventures:  Another awesome book. The adventure that takes place in Japan is bathing in the hot springs of Jigokudani Monkey Park with the Macaque monkeys.

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