Monday, 18 July 2016

Back to School ... FREEBIES!

Homeschool Giveaways is having their annual Back to School Freebies right now! This is the biggest freebie event they have ever put together. You will get over $230 in FREE curriculum (no purchase necessary.) Click here to get all of this for free now, or scroll for a bit more info first.

Publishers Participating: Master Books, Knowledge Quest, Barefoot Ragamuffin Curricula, Not Consumed, Intoxicated on Life, Unit Studies by Amanda Bennett, Writing with Sharon Watson, Geography Matters, Online Unit Studies, Analytical Grammar, and Home School Adventure Co.

Check out what you get:

For more information on each product and to get a FREE copy of your own, click here!

Friday, 15 July 2016

Raising Readers: The Book Allowance

Friday is a special day around here, and the anticipation has been building all week. The book bin is overflowing with surprises and my daughters wait anxiously for the moment that I tell them that they are free to take a peek.

My younger daughter always grabs the first book that catches her eye. My older daughter, on the other hand, savours the moment, carefully turning each book in her hand before deciding which one to add to her collection. To her, books are treasures.

Earning one is special.

I heard a story recently about someone who paid their children to read books. It's an interesting concept that might work well. After all, each family is comprised of different personalities and has different needs. It's good to provide incentives for reading. In our home though, we do almost the opposite.

Instead of paying our children for books, we pay them with books. 

It’s a tactic that my (brilliant professor) sister taught me. She has been doing this for years with her son. Instead of giving him allowance, she gives him books. Together, the two of them scour second-hand stores for literature that he can earn. He is an active 10-year old boy, yet a voracious reader. The two really can go hand-in-hand.

A recent score from Value Village

We recently implemented this system and the results have been incredible. My girls are allowed to earn up to two books per week. In order to do so, they have to consistently do the following:

1.       Finish all of their schoolwork. We homeschool, so this is important.

2.       Do their morning jobs each day. The list includes both personal care/hygiene and care of their spaces (making their beds, cleaning up their breakfast dishes, etc.).

3.       Demonstrate a positive attitude. This one covers things such as disobedience, sibling rivalry, talking back, etc. We don’t expect perfection, but if I have to enforce consequences continually throughout the week without seeing improvement in a specific behaviour, the girls will lose their book privilege. The loss of this privilege is the ultimate consequence—and when I have to enforce it, they are devastated.

4.       Go over and above. This includes helping with the housework that isn't part of their regular responsibilities, as well as helping with their little sister.

Although it might sound like a lot, most of these things comprise our daily routine … so it really isn’t much at all.

Free books from a homeschool get-together.

Our books come from several places: second-hand stores, little free libraries (where we trade unwanted books for new-to-us used books), library book sales, homeschool swap sites, homeschool meetings, Amazon and Chapters. Some of the books are curriculum components (two birds with one stone). Others are classics that my husband and I read when we were young. Still others are more modern books, carefully vetted for content.

(Side note: I’ll write a post about our top picks at a later date.)

On my part, it’s a minor investment resulting in major gain. When books are a reward, reading becomes special. Whether we snuggle together on the couch and I read aloud to the girls, or whether they find somewhere to curl up quietly by themselves, time spent with a book is deeply cherished.

Photo credit: Thea Wiersma

Saturday, 28 May 2016

Christie's Spring Antique and Vintage Show

It was hot. Really, really hot. The sun shone without relief and the line-up of cars stretched for miles down the road on either side of the conservation area. Here. in the middle of the country, was Canada's largest antique show. With more than 200 vendors and over 10,000 visitors from all over North America, this is one event that I didn't want to miss. 

To be honest, I don't know much about antiques. I don't know what specific items are worth or how they should be priced. I do know, however, what I like. 

I like old things. 


Despite the heat and crowds, there is nothing quite as fun as browsing a 10-acre treasure trove. There were so many wonderful things to see! To my credit, I only made three small purchases: a vintage floral-patterned table linen, a large wooden tray (pictured above) and a glass dish with a chicken-shaped lid. My friends bought me a small globe with matching bookends, which was beautiful and so sweet of them. 

We wisely opted to leave the giant Ronald McDonald head at the show, but it was certainly worth a photo.

Here are some other photos from the show:

Gorgeous, right? If you want to join in on the treasure hunting fun, the next show is on September 10. You can check out all the details here

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Friday, 27 May 2016

Rock Point Provincial Park

It is a holiday weekend. We carry armloads of picnic blankets, towels and a small cooler to the beach and find a spot to settle in, out of reach of the waves. The sand is littered with pebbles. On the far end of this stretch, a rocky shelf juts out into the water. Past that point, the shoreline is comprised of millions of tiny shells - zebra mussels, an invasive species carried over from Russia on the bottoms of ocean-bound cargo ships.

For those looking for a smooth and beautiful expanse of sand, Rock Point Provincial Park might not seem like the ideal place to swim and tan. But for my family, it's a little slice of paradise.

We spend the morning finding treasures in the sand. There are rocks that sparkle in the sun, pieces of fossilized coral and the odd bit of sea glass. The water is cool and inviting on this hot spring day, and if the water isn't enough to quench the sun's heat, there are grassy picnic areas just a few steps away, with tables nestled under leafy green trees. There is also a small, shaded playground and a park store that sells everything beach related, from sun screen to sand toys to icy-cold popsicles.

The sun climbs higher. After a quick lunch of sandwiches and fruit from our picnic cooler, we decide to meander the Woodlot Trail, a 2 km walking trail that runs partly along the shoreline. From the trail, a set of stairs leads down to the the highlight of the park: a large fossilized coral reef.

We watch sandpipers pick their way along the limestone shelf, looking for food. A killdeer flies low overhead, its voice ringing above the sound of the gentle waves. My daughters exclaim excitedly as we discover fossil after fossil. This is an area rich with life - freshwater lake life and remnants of ancient ocean life.

Past the rocky outcropping, our feet crunch loud as we carefully pick our way across millions of mussel shells. We stop and chat for a moment with two kayakers that have pulled up to the beach for a rest. In the distance, we can see the Mohawk Island lighthouse, now abandoned. Mohawk Island is a national wildlife sanctuary, and hundreds of birds flock there during nesting season.

On the way home, we stop for ice cream and a quick bite to eat. Later, we fall into bed exhausted but happy. We've played in the sand, collected rocks, waded in the water, examined fossils, watched birds and, most importantly, had fun. We will long remember this sunny spring day.

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Bronte Creek Provincial Park

Homeschooling is the perfect excuse for adventure. Not the kind of adventure that happens when your toddler stuffs granola up her nose and then screams because, well, there's granola up her nose. (Let's just say it has been an interesting week around here and leave it at that.) I'm talking about real adventure.

Last month, we made an investment. It was a small investment, but an exciting one. We bought an Ontario Parks pass. You guys, we are so pumped about this that it's not even funny. We can't wait to explore our province this summer. We hope to cover at least one provincial park each month, if not more.

Our first visit was to Bronte Creek Provincial Park. I have been there twice in my lifetime but remember very little. Both times were long, long ago.

Bronte Creek is located on the border between Burlington and Oakville, an area that is filled with cookie cutter houses, shopping plazas and urban sprawl. The park itself, however, is 6.2 km of woods and countryside, and the city seems light years away.

The park has two farm areas: The Children's Farm, complete with animals, a playground and a large play barn, as well as Spruce Lane, which boasts a beautiful turn-of-the-century farmhouse, rustic barns, cows and turkeys. You can drive through the park from one to the other or take one of the walking trails.

Bronte Creek also has a large campground, a disc golf course, a leash-free area, a model airplane field, a 1.8 acre pool, picnic areas and other activities such as skating, fishing and festivals, depending on the season. We found that a single afternoon was not long enough to spend in this park. You probably want an entire day.

We started our visit in the play barn. I didn't get a picture of the inside because there were too many kids, but trust me when I say that it is awesome. I was actually a little envious that I had to stand around sipping my coffee while my kids had all the fun. It really is a cool place.

Near the play barn is a pasture. We had quite a lot of fun visiting with the cows that were grazing there. One in particular had us in stitches...

She's definitely not the world's most photogenic cow, but she's talented.

We found a trail behind the pasture and, despite not knowing where it led, we decided to hike it. It was a good decision. The trees were budding and the wildflowers were blooming - including our provincial flower, the trillium.

Stunning, right?

The trail, as we discovered, ended at Spruce Lane. The farmhouse was closed that day, but the cows and turkeys were out and we had quite a lot of fun visiting them.

 On the way back to the car, we took a slight detour along a trail that followed a deep ravine. Far below us, splashing its way through the woods, was Bronte Creek. The view was breathtaking.

The late afternoon sun was shining through the trees by the time we rejoined the main path. As we hiked through the woods, close to where the trillium bloomed, we came across deer browsing in the brush, first one and then another.

We had to walk through the Children's Farm (where the play barn is located) to get to our car. It was then that we realized that all of the barns on the site were open to visitors. There were peacocks and chickens, which we had already seen. But there were also goats (including a sweet baby goat) and a sow with a brand new litter of piglets. For us city folk, it was quite the experience.

The kids have been begging to go back to Bronte Creek. I have a feeling that we'll be spending a lot of time there over the summer months. We still need to visit the Nature Centre and peek inside the farmhouse. And there are more trails to explore.

This park alone makes our Ontario Parks pass worth it.

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Nature Study Resources (Our Summer Curriculum)

Do anyone else's children get upset when you take a break from homeschooling? You know, like Christmas holidays ... or weekends? It's a great problem to have, but summer is approaching and the thought of spending our lazy summer days huddled over workbooks makes me shudder. So I decided to come up with a completely different type curriculum for the summer months - a compromise between book learning and hands-on learning. 

One that involves lots and lots of time outside.

I'll be borrowing a bit from both the "Forest School" approach and the Charlotte Mason method, with plenty of my own ideas thrown in for good measure.

Here's what it's going to look like: Gardening, walks, hikes, nature journals, field guides, bug nets, pond nets, magnifiers, binoculars and more. We purchased annual passes for our local conservation authority and the Ontario Provincial Parks, so there is no shortage of places to explore this summer!

The two books that we'll lean on most heavily are Anna Botsford Comstock's Handbook of Nature Study and Clare Walker Leslie's The Nature Connection: An Outdoor Workbook for Kids, Families, and Classrooms

The Handbook of Nature Study is a fantastic resource for Charlotte Mason-style nature studies. It can be overwhelming at first, but if you use it more as a guide than a text, it provides a wealth of information and makes a great launching point for learning. The website Charlotte Mason Help provides a wonderful overview of how to use the book. 

The Nature Connection: An Outdoor Workbook for Kids, Families, and Classrooms includes a month-by-month guide for exploring the outdoors. It provides information on what is happening in nature (i.e., migration, budding trees, shorter days, etc.), worksheet-style activities, a list of things to do outdoors, and much more. I'm pretty excited about this book.

Our other big investment was a Discovery Scope. It's basically a little microscope that allows you to view nature in its environment. 

There is a clamp (we use it for leaves and flowers), as well as a clear viewing chamber attachment (we use it for pond water). You can also use the magnifier by itself to view things without having to damage them by removing them. My girls love taking this little gadget along on our nature walks. 

Each of the girls also has a small, easy-to-carry backpack for the summer months. In it, they will keep:
  • Snacks
  • Water
  • Magnifiers and viewers
  • Binoculars
  • Pond and insect nets
  • Nature journal
  • Pencils and pencil crayons

Although we normally use plain notebooks as nature journals, I decided to invest in two copies of My First Field Journal so that we have a little more structure during the summer. 

This field journal is a small, thin book designed for children between three and seven years old. There are places for photos, drawings and information about the creatures they spot on our walks.

Last but not least, we have two volumes of Mel Boring's take-along nature guides: Fun with Nature and More Fun with Nature

These are really fantastic resources that my kids love. The first volume covers trees, insects, some common reptiles and amphibians, some common small mammals and animal tracking.  The second volume covers seeds and berries, wildflowers, rocks and fossils, birds and seashells. These guides offer the perfect amount of information for young children (not too much, not too little) and are a great resource for looking up things "on the fly".

Other resources that we will probably refer to:
I've also scoured Pinterest for crafts and activities that draw from nature. For some of those ideas, you can check out my Pinterest board here.

What are some of your go-to resources? Please feel free to leave your comments in the section below. I'd love to hear from you!