Jello Earthquakes and a Shakin’ Quakin’ Foundation

jello earthquakes

Recently we learned about earthquakes and read how buildings–especially those in areas of fault lines–are constructed with special foundations so they will be more likely to withstand the Earth’s movement during an earthquake. Pinterest inspired, we decided to construct toothpick and marshmallow structures to test their stability against a jiggly-wiggly Jello ground floor.

I prepared a pan of Jello the night before so it would be set when we were ready for the experiment. Then, after giving the kids a handful of mini marshmallows and several toothpicks, they set to work creating sculptures using a sticky marshmallow as the connectors.

Jello earthquakes and marshmallow structures

When the structures were finished, they were placed on the pan of Jello which the kids shook back and forth to reenact a violent earthquake. Some structures stood strong, while others quickly toppled under the quake. But it was fun either way, and reinforced the need for building a strong foundation.

marshmallow structures2

While the kids were building toothpick structures and simulating Jello earthquakes, I kept thinking about foundations–particularly my own inner foundation. This is our family’s third year of homeschooling, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned for sure it’s that this is definitely an adventure, with each year presenting it’s own unique challenges.

My Own Shaky Foundation

In our own adventure, there have been days when a child refused to do his math and emphatically claimed going to “real” school would be more “fun.” Days when I acted like a madwoman, taking all the visible toys hostage–only to be returned when an extra chore ransom is paid–because I could no longer stand the mess that comes with staying home all day. There have been days when school was conducted in the waiting room of the doctor’s office, or in the van between errands, or in the evening after daddy could get home and entertain the toddlers. There have been days when morning sickness or exhaustion were so consuming that we called it a pajama and Magic School Bus marathon day.

And even though I knew (when I made my decision to step away from the public school scene) there would be challenges in homeschooling (and anything worthwhile, really!), I often find myself wondering on these difficult days if this “adventure” is really worth it.

Jellow earthquakes and marshmallow structures

These were a few of my thoughts as the kids were doing their marshmallow-toothpick structure activity, and when I realized I was probably learning more from the jiggling Jello object lesson than they were since it was re-confirmed to my mind how important it is to have a solid inner foundation. In this homeschooling journey (as well as many other areas of life), those quakes will come, doubts will arise, and there will be bad days.

Have you taken the time to solidify your reasons for homeschooling (parenting, or any other thing that challenges you)? I’d invite you to write those reasons down, post them somewhere, and refer to them often. Then, when the quakes hit and shake your structure–and they will– your clearly defined foundation will help you stay firm and provide perspective, encouragement, and motivation to keep going.

Desert Unit Study

Desert Unit Study

Every couple of weeks we switch between science and history–two subjects I never thought I enjoyed as a kid, but am loving now that I’m the teacher–quite possibly because it’s so easy to incorporate my favorites: a big stack of children’s literature, and some of those Pinterest projects!

This week our Earth Science study continued with a unit study on the desert. (Not to be confused with dessert, which has two s’s because we always want seconds!)

desert coloring page

{coloring page from Habitat Mini Books}

Learning the Facts

A stack of books from the library and our personal collection kick-started the theme. A few we recommend:

desert books

Deserts | The MSB Gets All Dried Up | Cactus Hotel

The kids are always excited when watching TV with a bowl of popcorn counts as “school,” and we watched a couple of episodes that helped us learn more about the desert.

desert episodes

Bill Nye the Science Guy | The Magic School Bus All Dried Up (Season 1, Episode 7)

Incorporating Fiction

The Magic Treehouse series is another one of our go-to resources during a unit study since there are so many coordinating books on history or science subjects. Season of the Sandstorms had us traveling with Jack and Annie back a thousand years to help spread wisdom to the world through their adventures in the sweltering Middle Eastern desert.

After the read aloud, the kids took a comprehension “test” on Book Adventure. We don’t always test on what we read, but the kids think it’s fun to collect “points” and it’s a good reading incentive for books they might not regularly pick up. Besides the site-earned prizes, I include a few other “teacher-created” incentive options they can cash in for, such as going out for an ice cream cone, extra computer time, or renting a Redbox movie.

A Cross-Curricular Project

Through the Magic Treehouse book as well as our favorite animal encyclopedia, we learned some interesting facts about camels, also known as “ships of the desert” then painted a template to create an art project showcasing our own “ships of the desert.”

painted camel craft

As we read, the kids collected camel facts on a graphic organizer. The next day during “mommy time” I individually “conferenced” with them to turn the facts into sentences (which they narrated to me)–producing a rough draft. The final draft was completed as they typed their sentences.

camel writing process

I printed these final drafts and then attached to the bottom of their camel art projects. This cross-curricular project (science, reading, writing, art) will go in the school portfolio I’m keeping for them.

finished camel project

Side note: The camel template also works well for a flannel board feltie pattern!

camel template and flannel board sample

Including the Little Ones

Serity (4) and Lydia (2.5) sit in on a lot of our schooling–especially when we do art projects. But their ages require adjustments. When they saw we were going to paint a camel they both excitedly said they wanted to make a “colorful camel.” Thankfully my 6-year-old filled me in on the Leapfrog reference (which they’d recently watched during their “school movie time”) and I could quickly adapt the desert craft into a “C is for Colorful Camel” pre-reading activity. Flexibility, my friends. It’s the motto of homeschool. (Actually, of any teaching or parenting, for that matter!)

colorful camel craft

A Sensory Experience

Playing with desert animals in “Desert Dough” was another fun project we included in the desert theme, and was particularly fun for the littlest ones.

desert dough5

More unit study fun:

Desert Dough

desert dough5

This week’s science studies had us visiting the desert and after seeing a similar recipe for “cloud dough” floating around Pinterest, I knew this (re-named by us!) “desert dough” would be a great sensory activity for our desert theme. Yes, playing in the sandbox would have worked too. . . but let’s be real. This hugely pregnant mama is just way too uncomfortable to brave the heat and humidity of Kentucky in August!

The Recipe

Desert Dough has just two ingredients:

  • 8 cups flour
  • 1 cup baby oil

(Side note: we ended up making two batches, and while the first batch with baby oil smelled much better, canola oil was a great substitute and yielded the same final results.) With your hands, mix the flour and oil in a shallow container until combined. Then let the kids at it!

desert dough7

The “dough” has such an interesting texture. Dry, and silky. . . crumbly, yet packs well. My texture-sensitive child wasn’t so sure about touching it at first, but in the end all the kids dug in, had a great time, and stayed occupied for a long while.

desert dough2

We played in the dough with desert animals. It’s so rewarding to hear kids applying their learning to play.

“Look! I’m burying the scorpion. Remember how we read that animals sometimes dig holes to keep themselves cool?”

“I’m making sand dunes.”

“Oh no! A sandstorm is coming!”

desert dough8

desert dough6

desert dough9

Of course there was lots of non-desert play (read: goofing off) as well.

desert dough3

I’m not going to lie–the dough was a bit messy. But thankfully, it’s dry so the clean-up was fairly quick and easy. (And left the kitchen smelling like a freshly bathed baby!)

desert dough

Sometimes creative mess drives me crazy and I’d rather just have the kids read about a desert (or whatever). Other times I fully embrace the mess since studies have shown kids learn best and retain most information when engaged in activities that use their senses (such as art, music, food tasting, or this sensory play with “desert dough”). Taking the time to seek out creative projects to go along with our studies can be a lot of work, but I’m definitely seeing the theory play out in our own lives as the kids do seem to retain and apply the book knowledge more readily when we incorporate creative projects. Plus, it makes our day much more fun!

How do you feel about creative projects and messes?

Linked to SHINE Blog Hop

Apple Picking, Apple Eating, Apple Crafting

Flexibility is one of the best parts of having my kiddos home all day, and after hitting the studies hard the past three weeks, we took a day to change pace and go on a “field trip.”

apple orchard field trip

Our annual trip to the apple orchard came a bit early this year, and it was so hot and humid we didn’t last long. But the apples were fresh, the fried pies were delish, and the mini-break and fresh air was welcomed.

apple orchard field trip

apple orchard field trip

Since we spent quite bit of time on the apple theme last year, I wasn’t planning to include it in this year’s unit studies. But there’s always time for an art project!


It was a simple project, beginning with an apple template and apple-colored tempera paints. After explaining the vision I had for the project, I let the kids have free-rein and was pleasantly surprised to see how many directions the project took. One simple template, so many uses!

apple art projects

Are you a Facebook fan? Every Tuesday is “Template Tuesday,” where a new template is released and announced on Facebook. For that Tuesday ONLY, the template is free to download, then goes to a minimal price for all to continue to enjoy. This week’s template was this versatile apple craftivity!

More apple-themed fun!

A Day in Our Homeschool Life

a day in our homeschool life

Maybe it’s true, and the third time is a charm:

  • Third year homeschooling.
  • Third school-age child.
  • Third week into a new school year.

I’m still holding my breath, but so far this third time around–things are going really well! Then again, maybe it’s just the calm before the storm (read: new baby coming!). I’m anticipating many adjustments in the next couple of months when we introduce a newborn and I’m no longer sleeping through the night. But for now, here’s what a typical day looks like for us. . . .


5:30 am My alarm goes off, and often gets a couple of snooze cycles. But I’m up and out of bed by 6.

6:00 am Jared and I shower/get dressed, and touch base about our day before the earliest rising child makes his appearance.

6:40 am I start breakfast while Jared greets the kids, changes night-time diapers, helps kids dress/choose clothes for the day.

7:00 am The kids help finish breakfast/set the table, and/or sit at the table and chat until it’s time to eat.

days of the week

Weekly meal planning keeps my sanity and takes the guess-work out of what we’re having. It’s boring and my “free-spirit” nature would rather make what sounds good instead of what’s on the calendar. But having several little kids has pushed me to realize predictability and procedure really does eliminate a lot of the stress and chaos. And so I fight the urge for variety–saving the new recipe experiments for dinnertime or weekends.

For us, breakfast looks like:

  • Sunday: Protein shakes (quick, easy, and filling on the way to church)
  • Monday: Breakfast burritos (scrambled eggs, crumbled sausage, cheese, salsa in a tortilla)
  • Tuesday: Greek yogurt, frozen berries, toast
  • Wednesday: Baked oatmeal, fruit
  • Thursday: Pancakes (waffles, crepes, or french toast), sausage (or bacon)
  • Friday: Fried eggs, toast, fruit
  • Saturday: Oatmeal/cereal

7:30 am Jared finishes getting ready for work while I clean up breakfast, start a load of laundry, and supervise the kids as they start on their individual lists of chores. We’ve been using (and loving) Chore Monster for the past several months, and the kids are very motivated by the checklists and points.


8:00 am Jared leaves for work. Chores are supposed to be finished (and everyone that is finished by earns bonus Chore Monster points). Then they have (non-screen) “free time” until school starts. Most of the time they choose to read, color, play with toys, or go outside. During this time I’m checking-off chore lists, finishing my own morning to-do’s, making sure everything is prepared for school, and sneaking a peek at e-mail and Facebook.

It’s taken a lot of procedural practice, but most of the time the kids are self-propelled (with only a few reminders) because they know what to expect–thanks to consistency and our visual routine cards. We also discuss the daily routine at breakfast–making note of any special events, errands, or other changes that apply to the particular day.

Together Time

9:00 am School starts. We begin the day with the subjects we complete together: journaling, scripture study, history, and science.


{We begin each day with a journaling prompt.}

10:30 am Kids have a quick, simple snack (like cheese and crackers, rice cakes, granola bar, popcorn, etc.), then “recess.” If the weather is good, I encourage them to go outside. They usually get a 20-minute break (unless it’s been a rough morning and I need a little more time :)!) During recess, I get myself a protein-heavy snack, take a deep breath, and regroup for the next round of school: individual, grade-level work.

learning about clouds

{Learning about clouds during science}

Grade-level Work

10:45 am “Recess” ends and the littlest ones (Serity: 4, and Lydia: 2) begin to watch a “school” movie on Netflix. Some of our favorites are Leap Frog, Super Why, and The Magic School Bus.

Individual work time happens in 30-minute “station rotations.”

  • One child begins with “computer time,” and can play on approved educational sites (with headphones).
  • Another has “mommy time” and sits with me at the table or couch to go over new concepts and remaining assignments.
  • The third has “table time” and works independently at the table. (Serity being the exception–she watches the movie during her “table time.”)

station rotation

12:15 pm If everyone has stayed on task, our “station rotation” is finished, school work is finished, and the kids clean up for lunch. I start lunch and they clean/finish schoolwork/play until it’s time to eat. Part of clean-up includes putting books, binders, and papers away correctly in color-coded drawers.

labeled color-coded drawers

The labeled, color-coded drawers help us keep grade-level work organized. Each child has his/her own set of drawers–one drawer per subject (except history and science, because we alternate days on these subjects). The last drawer also holds a small treat they can have when their schoolwork is completed.  I’m a mean mom and make them keep these drawers organized. (I even check everyday to make sure books/notebooks have been put back in the correct place.) As I type it I realize how anal it sounds, but having a firm procedure set right at the beginning makes a huge difference in how our day goes. I tend to lose patience when we waste time because no one can find a pencil, or a red crayon, or the math book “happens” to be missing.

Lunch Time

We also have a lunchtime meal schedule–usually favorite “kid foods.” Sides change and usually include a seasonal fruit/veg. Lunch is the time I choose not to fight the battle of introducing new foods. I make myself protein-heavy salad, or leftovers.

  • Monday: macaroni and cheese (“Macaroni Monday”)
  • Tuesday: hot dogs/corn dogs
  • Wednesday: sandwiches (usually grilled cheese, lunchmeat, or PB&J)
  • Thursday: chicken nuggets/strips, tator tots or fries
  • Friday: mini pizzas (usually on half an English muffin or tortilla)

color-coded cups

We color-code everything! Dishes, notebooks, binders, pencil boxes, toothbrushes, etc. It makes life so much easier because there’s no fighting about who gets the pink cup, or who didn’t put away their XYZ, etc.


1:00 I clean the kitchen while the kids have (non-screen) “free time” (or if they didn’t get finished before lunch, they complete their school work).

1:30 I read the littlest ones (Serity: 4 and Lydia: 2) a story of their choice and put Lyddie down for a nap. Then the rest of us get cozy on the couch and I read aloud from our current chapter book.

reading about the Vikings

{Viking Craftivity}

{I usually integrate the read-aloud with our current history or science unit.}

2:00 pm Mandatory quiet time. The older three don’t usually nap but I’m pretty strict about having quiet time because I’m an introvert and NEED time to recharge. The kids are allowed to read, color, build with Legos, listen to an audio book, play games, etc.–as long as it’s “quiet.”  If it’s been a rough day, I’ll take a short nap, but most of the time I work (create new products, blog, or respond to social media comments).

3:00 pm As long as quiet time went well (read: no fighting or bugging me!), the kids get a snack and have screen time. They take turns choosing movies on Netflix, or playing computer/Wii games. Since Lyddie is still asleep, the electronic babysitters usually allow me to keep working another hour or two(!).



5:30 pm I start dinner and the kids clean-up and help cook and/or set the table.

6:00 pm Most nights Jared gets home about 5:45 and entertains while I finish making dinner. We don’t have a meal rotation for the evening, but I do pre-plan each week so I’m not scrounging around the fridge and wondering what to make amid whiny, hungry kids. My hate-to-plan-ahead “free spirit” did that for too many years and it used to be the hardest, most frustrating time of day. Though having a meal plan doesn’t make dinnertime completely stress-free, it has made a huge difference in reducing the dinnertime chaos.

7:00 pm Evenings seem to be the most variable for us with activities, late work nights, or errands. But when we’re home and don’t have some place to be, we clean up dinner, bathe the kids, have family prayer and scripture study, brush teeth, and put the younger ones to bed at 7:30 pm.

brush teeth

7:30 pm The older two stay up “late” and read another chapter or two with me, or hang out with daddy. Then they go to bed at 8:00.

8:00 pm Jared and I have our “8 o’clock talk” where we collapse on the couch and talk about (sometimes vent about!) our day. It’s also the time we bring up concerns, discuss the calendar, go over the budget, etc. Then we read scriptures together (I teach Sunday School, so we usually read and discuss the upcoming lesson material.).

9:00 pm By now we’re usually finished talking and reading, and have often moved onto getting dessert and/or watching TV. Some nights I work–cutting/assembling felt story sets, drawing clip art, etc.

10:30 pm We aim to head to bed.  It doesn’t always happen this early, but it’s the goal because the next morning comes early, and I need to be rested enough to do it all over again.

And most days I do want to do it all over again!

Linked to: SHINE Blog Hop, iHomeschool Network