A Day of Knights

Homeschooling these kids has done funny things to me. During my own schooling, history was a “boring” subject I couldn’t get excited about. But teaching it to my kids has been fascinating and I surprised myself by getting giddy about an annual “Days of Knights” medieval festival just a short drive away. We grabbed daddy on a day off, and declared it field trip time!

Sword fights, horse-back jousting, blacksmith demonstrations, men and women dressed in historical pieces, open fire dutch oven cooking, and trying on knight’s armor illustrated the time period we’ve read about and made it real for them.

days of knights

It’s probably no surprise this field trip inspired a craft. The knight template has quite a few small pieces, so the younger ones may need help cutting.

knight craftivity

Sometimes I get stressed about whether the kids are learning enough. If I’m not careful, the mommy-guilt creeps in, consuming my thoughts with all the things I think we should be doing. But The Well Trained Mind reminds at this stage of learning, the goal isn’t to cram in every fact because this subject will come around again. Instead, the goal is to help them excited about learning so that the next time we study medieval history (or Ancient Greece, or whatever), they’ll be excited and remember how much they love the subject.

Winter Snow Play Dough

This is a crafty post.

But it’s also a real-life post. Because nothing ever goes quite as smoothly as I’d like to paint it.

The story goes like this.

I’d promised the preschoolers we’d make play dough. And while the potential mess of the dough makes me cringe, it is something that keeps them occupied for a lengthy chunk of time. At least long enough for me to guzzle a protein shake, and switch over the laundry.

And so I gathered the ingredients for the play dough but when I opened the bag of has-been-stored-in-the-basement flour I discovered meal worms.

Not just a few, like: pick them out, make the unedible play dough, and no one will ever know. But enough live, wriggling worms we could have ditched the play dough and held a science experiment.

Told you this was real life.

Taking the five kids to the grocery store wasn’t an alternative I was willing to brave, so we subbed corn starch. And turns out, the corn starch worked even better than flour, making a super soft, bright white play dough–perfect for recreating those wintry arctic scenes.

Winter Snow Play Dough

Winter Snow Play Dough

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups corn starch (or all-purpose flour)
  • 1 cup salt
  • 2 Tablespoons cream of tartar
  • 2 Tablespoons oil
  • 1.5 cups boiling water
  • glitter (optional)
  • few drops peppermint essential oil (optional)

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl, mix well. Add more corn starch/flour if dough is too sticky, or more water if dough is too dry.

Winter Snow Play Dough

Glitter and peppermint oil are totally optional, but are fun additions to the sensory experience.

Winter Snow Play Dough

They made snowmen, and Arctic animal winter scenes.

“What? There’s no penguin?” I observed.

“Moooom.” My nine-year-old sighed.

The package says Arctic animals. Not Antarctic animals.”

Ooops. Silly me. But at least someone’s been paying attention.

Winter Snow Play Dough

Winter Snow Play Dough

Build Your Own Gingerbread House Craftivity

Originally published on Frugal Homeschool Family’s 25 Frugal Days of Christmas

printable gingerbread house craft

Building gingerbread houses is one of my family’s favorite Christmastime traditions–the more elaborate and candy-laden, the better. It’s one of those activities we plan for in our Christmas budget, but since purchasing all the supplies can get quite pricey, it remains a once-a-year activity, even though my kids ask for it several times throughout the year.

The kids’ love for building gingerbread houses inspired this simple and frugal Christmas craft–adaptable for the beginning or experienced gingerbread house builder, and loaded with plenty of non-sticky sweets.

To build your own Gingerbread House craft, you’ll need:

First, color or paint the Gingerbread House craftivity pieces. Most of the time we prefer to paint our printable template crafts, but my kids chose crayons this time.

gingerbread house color

Then cut around each piece.

gingerbread house cut

Begin assembling the house with the structural pieces first.

gingerbread house assemble1

Then, for the best part: decorating! I included several pieces in the printable so the kids could decorate to their imagination’s content. Some will want to go all out, while others may keep it simple. That’s the fun part of building gingerbread houses, and of this craft–no right way to assemble them.

gingerbread house assemble2

When finished, mount your house on a piece of colored card stock or patterned paper, if desired, and display all season long.

printable gingerbread house craft

Pilgrim and Indian Storytelling Craftivity

Many days I hear a familiar call come from our basement playroom, “Mommy! Do you want to come see my show?!” Then what usually follows is a storytelling from 7- and 5-year old voices, reenacted by My Little Ponies, Lego Mini Figures, or other favorite character toys.

Do your kids enjoy acting out stories as well? Incorporating this age-appropriate role playing into your homeschooling can be a fun way to enhance a lesson or test for comprehension. After reading a story or teaching a concept, ask your children to retell it back to you–summarizing the plot or main points. My kids particularly enjoy retelling with visual aids, so as (American) Thanksgiving approaches, we had fun creating these simple Pilgrim and Indian storytelling props and then retelling the story of The First Thanksgiving.

pilgrim and indian storytelling printable

To read more and download the free printable to create this craft, visit my guest post on Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers.

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.