An Ant Report!

So, my oldest is a very reluctant writer. He always has been. He’s a literal kid and getting him to read something (or come up with ideas on his own!) and put them into his own words is…a challenge. At best.

Lately he’s been VERY interested in ants. He’s learned SO MUCH in the last couple months, more than most people would ever know about any bug in a life time.

So, because I can, I want to share the report he wrote. I am SO PROUD of the work he’s accomplished on this, with absolutely zero being bugged (get it? heh) by me.

Inside the Lives of Ants

by Aaron

Everyone knows ants. They’re those tiny little creatures you see on your lawn or sidewalk. They are the ones that make those tiny little dirt-hills in your lawn. Sometimes you may even see large masses of ants on the pavement! Those ants are fighting for territory.

Inside ant hills there are different kinds of ants. Some kinds of ants have majors, which are really big ants with huge jaws. They are the jaw-force of the colony. Then there are worker ants, who forage for food and water. Finally, there are queens. The queen’s job in a colony is to lay all the eggs which turn into workers, and soldiers, and more queens, and males. Colonies only produce males and queens once the colony is old enough.

On a special day, known as nuptial flight, queens and males produced by a colony will come out of their ant hill and fly into the sky. Yes, some ants have wings. In the air the males and queens, called alates with their wings, find mates. The males die, and the queens fall to the ground, break off their wings, and dig a tunnel in the ground.

Once the queen makes her tunnel, she lays eggs and cares for the eggs until they are larvae. The larvae then molt three times and turn into pupae. Then, the pupae eclose into workers, who then take over and the queen continues laying eggs. The workers forage for food, care for the queen, and care for the brood.

There are many different species of ant that do many different things. Leafcutter ants are one species of ant. They find leaves and cut them and bring them back to the nest to grow their fungus gardens. Then they eat from the fungus gardens. Tetramorium ants or pavement ants live near pavement and eat food that humans drop on the sidewalk. Lasius or Formica (2 different kinds) ants are probably the ones that dig up your lawn. Carpenter ants are known to live in peoples homes if the wood is damp enough to chew through. They are very big ants that you might see on wood. There are many, many more kinds of ants in the world.

Ants that come into your home are looking for food. To get rid of ants, it is not as simple as wiping them away. Since there is a queen, the queen just lays more eggs which eventually turn into workers. And soon, they will be back again. If you want to rid of them forever, you can make something that the ants have to bring back to the nest to kill them. But if another queen makes a nest near your house again during nuptial flight time, more ants will come.

Ants communicate using pheromones that other ants can smell, and they make tiny noises that humans cannot hear. They can also communicate by touch. Pheromones are how ants swarm food so fast. One ant finds food and leaves a pheromone trail behind. Then the other ants follow the trail refreshing as they go. Then after a minute or so they have swarmed whatever it was they deemed food.

As you can tell by reading above, different kinds of ants live very different lives. And there is so much to learn about ants because they are very sophisticated creatures. Those creatures that most think of as pests and boring are actually really cool.

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One of his queen ants with it’s very first worker! He’s very proud of these two!

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I Really Wanted to Hate It…

Back in February I did a “first glance” piece with my thoughts on Torchlight Curriculum.  I hadn’t used it yet, but I had a chance to look it over. My biggest criticisms still stand; I don’t feel like it would be a great for kindergarten and the books ARE expensive to locate. Recently though, the author of Torchlight has said she plans to revise Level K including an “essentials” edition in which the booklist will be more manageable and easier to obtain, but that probably won’t be until spring 2019 (or maybe even summer).

All that said, we just did our first week of LevelK as preschool with my just about to turn 4 year old. We don’t follow it too strictly, because he’s still young, but I have been using it as a reading list and an idea of projects to complete with him.

Admittedly, I didn’t want to like it. We have been a Build Your Library family for 7 years now, just about literally from the beginning.  It was absolutely vital to my ability to START homeschooling, so long ago. I am not sure I would have had the confidence without it! Plus, it has worked SO WELL for my big kids for this whole time, it really helped us find our groove. So, to the idea of liking Torchlight almost felt akin to “cheating”. I know it might sound silly, but it’s a big part of my homeschooling “story”!

I have to say though, that after the first week being completed, I think Torchlight LevelK is going to suit our needs very well for this next year/year and a half. The varied schedule is working wonderfully for the attention span of our (just shy of) 4 year old. The books seem to interest him so far. I  am not convinced he’s fully “getting” some of them (like Zoey and Sassafrass!) but there’s no harm in listening to it now and revisiting in a few years when he can understand it more deeply, though I know he’s getting at least something from it. It was neat to see him flip back from the middle of the book to point at the cover and yell excitedly, “It’s a DRAGON!” when Zoey finds her first magical animal.

I am interested in what’s to come (as I keep hunting for the books!) and in seeing what the little guy thinks of it all as we continue. I want to see if he stays interested in it all more than just a couple of weeks. For right now, though? We don’t hate it, we both seem to rather enjoy it!

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Homeschooling and School Shooters

I am not really sure where to start. Mostly I am annoyed. Being a homeschooler in a lot of Facebook groups and out in the world I have been seeing a LOT of new people asking about homeschooling and what is involved, in the wake of the Parkland, FL school shooting. It happens after every school shooting, but for some reason (maybe the amazing students at the school speaking out?) it has been much more notable.

I have heard, no less than 10 times since the Parkland shooting, “Gee, I bet you are glad you homeschool!” from some stranger out in public. Keep in mind, I don’t go out much…so to hear it that many times is ridiculous.

And while, yes, I am AM glad we homeschool, it has *nothing* to do with school shooters. I am glad we homeschool for reasons completely unrelated and completely unique to my family.

I absolutely understand the knee-jerk reaction of wanting to keep our kids safe. It’s incredibly scary to have it be such a common event and never knowing where it will happen next.

However the reality is that homeschooling won’t get rid of the threat. It will keep your child from being in danger *at* the high school, but what about college? What about the movie theatre? What about church?

Also, what about the greater community? If all the people that are able to pull their kids do, the only kids left are the ones with family that aren’t able to make it work. Maybe a single mom, or a sick grandma, or needing to work 2 or 3 jobs to feed their family. Are they less deserving of being safe through their high school experience? What about the teachers? Are they less deserving of a safe work day because they signed up for this difficult, underpaid, under appreciated job? Guess how happy the GOP would be if public schools failed because of people pulling their kids?

The solution to school shootings isn’t everyone pulling their kids. The solution is what those teenagers in Parkland, and across the country, have been doing. Resisting. Fighting. Standing up for their right to a safe education. Hitting companies where it hurts them most, the bottom line. Several companies have cut ties with the NRA in the last couple of days. Others are being inundated requests from customers to do the same. Writing local and national politicians. Calling them. Using resistbot. Encouraging all 17 year olds to register to vote. THAT is the solution.

For the first time since Sandy Hook, five years ago, I have a little glimmer of hope that something might actually change. I swore after that happened that nothing would change the laws and regulations if a room full of dead 1st graders didn’t. Now, I am finally seeing the chance for at least a little bit of progress. I live in Vermont, one of the easiest states in the nation to own a gun. There are no laws or background checks. You want a gun, you go buy one. No need for permits (conceal carry or otherwise). Our Republican governor has finally spoken out and said something needs to change and has proposed a few options to at least get a FEW laws, like universal background checks, on the books.

If you still want to homeschool, okay. Just don’t expect it to be easy, and don’t expect it to keep your child safe, because it won’t. The only way to help ensure the safety of these children, and future children is to do something about the guns.

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Torchlight vs Build Your Library

I am in several Facebook groups about homeschooling and recently saw that there was a new, secular, literature-based curriculum being released soon. Torchlight, upon first glance, looked to be an engaging and bright new option, so naturally, I bought it 😉

I will start this comparison with 2 disclaimers:

  1. We have used and loved Build Your Library for years now.
  2. I haven’t actually used Torchlight yet, just looked over the materials.

When I first heard about Torchlight I was VERY excited. Their Facebook page and website were very appealing and the books pictured were all very colorful and bright. I had heard it was going to use Curiosity Chronicles for history in starting in 1st grade, which is exciting because we are not Story of the World fans.

Then the booklist was released and the sample and I still liked it enough to buy the PDF on the website.

Now that I have both of them and can look at Build Your Library’s Level 0 and Torchlight’s K side by side, I can offer a little bit of a comparison.

While Torchlight is literature based, it is not Charlotte Mason/Charlotte Mason inspired, in my opinion. That’s not a big deal, there are plenty of kinds of literature based curriculums out there with different approaches, but it’s worth mentioning.

Neither offer copywork at the kindergarten level, which makes sense in a lot of ways. Most kids are just barely starting to work on handwriting and phonics at that age, not sure if Torchlight will offer it in 1st grade or not, but I know Build Your Library does.

The literature is really where the two curriculums start to diverge. TL offers a HUGE list of books to be utilized. They are bright and look engaging. Featuring titles like Mercy Watson and Greetings from Somewhere, I know the books would hold the attention of a 4/5/6 year old. Whereas BYL pulls from “denser” pieces of literature like Little House in the Big Woods and Little Pear. It’s two different approaches that would work for different families.

TL also offers a “section” that BYL doesn’t character building. This looks to be just short stories, drawing from nature, with an activity to complete. It is based around this book, however I haven’t got it in my possession yet (bought it used via Amazon), so I can’t be 100% sure how much it adds to the curriculum as a whole, just yet, I will update this once I have it in my hands to flip through.

One area where BYL and TL also go in different directions is art. TL, at least for a bulk of the year, revolves around the Katie series, while BYL works with Around the Word Art & Activities. Again, this is a different approaches work for different families situation. Some children explore art more easily through reading while others get more from it by doing crafts etc. There ARE crafts in TL, but they don’t appear to directly correlate with the art being studied. TL also offers music as part of art and uses different audio “books” to explore classical artists.

Science is different between the two curriculums as well. TL is built around the Zoey and Sassafras series while BYL uses animal related books such as the National Geographic Wild Animal Atlas.  The science *does* feel a little bit “stronger” in TL *but* for K I am not sure that matters an awful lot, depending on the child.

Another difference between the two curriculums is that TL seems to rely more on “activities” (navigating by compass, globe exploration, etc) whereas BYL uses a more worksheet type approach (which honestly works better for us as in my state we need to submit “samples” to do the state).

For us, the biggest difference, is overall cost. Build Your Library draws on more common and more “classic” pieces of literature that are easily found at my local library and the books that I cannot find are available on Amazon (or via used book sites) for affordable prices. So far, I think I have spent more than $20 on a book for BYL maybe twice in 5 years. Comparing that to Torchlight, out of the entire book list there are maybe 10 or 15 that I can find at my local library, and none of them are spines. Most of the spines for TL are (in my opinion) extremely expensive books with books like Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls costing $35 new (and the best I could find, currently, used was $22). That is a reoccurring issue with several of the spines. A good friend of mine priced out the year worth of books, as her library doesn’t have any of them either. She completed the list with Amazon and a few different used books/thrift books sites. The total was over $600 for the year worth of books. I don’t think I have spent over $200 in a single year with Build Your Library, even though I *DO* buy most of our books and very rarely rely on the library.

Overall thoughts in a neater nutshell?

There are pros and cons to both curriculum options. For *MY* family we prefer the classic, read again several times later kind of literature that we get with BYL. I know, for a fact, that any of the books I purchase for BYL will be read again later by my children while I am pretty sure that would not be the case with most of the TL selections. I find the choices from BYL to be better writing and feel like they would have a longer “shelf life” (get it?) at our home . While for other families, especially ones with kiddos that aren’t super into books or have shorter attention spans, the bright colors and simpler writing of the books in TL might be better suited.

I will also say that the music and art approach of TL may be a better fit for my family. For kindergarten, the books used by BYL  will work better for us, but I am interested to see what the choices are for TL 1st grade because I personally struggle with teaching art. That audiobook series used in TL K for music, though, that WILL be added to our plans, however they end up playing out.

As with most things, there are great aspects to both of these literature based secular options and we plan to pull from both of them (and probably a few other places too!) for my little guy’s preschool and kindergarten experience!


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Homeschooling with Mental Illness

Hi, my name is Shannon and I have generalized anxiety with panic disorder, and a hefty side of agoraphobia.  I also homeschool my three kids.

So first, a little bit about anxiety for those that aren’t acquainted with this special kind of hell. Anxiety isn’t stress. It isn’t just “worrying”. The best way I have been able to explain anxiety to people that don’t know what it’s like is you know how when you are walking down the stairs, but you “miss” one, and for a very brief second your heart is in your throat and then your adrenaline spikes? For me, that’s what a panic attack feels like…just it doesn’t fade in 2 seconds once I realize I have my footing. It stays that way.

Another fun thing? I don’t hyperventilate or cry or do what people do in the movies. I sit quietly in the corner, or as out of the way as I am able to, and I try my best to remember to breathe. I try to convince myself that I *will* be okay. I try to hold on to one little thread of something until I can come out the other side of the attack. To people on the outside? It just looks like I am being standoff-ish. Like I am being rude and anti-social.

So how does someone that goes into full fight or flight mode over just the PROSPECT of grocery shopping manage to homeschool her kids? Well, for me, it’s all about knowing my limits and being able to pull from my resources.

Typically, I don’t have any trouble being at home. I still get anxious and the occasional panic attack, but I am MUCH more relaxed in my own home (hey there, agoraphobia!). I am able to lesson plan, teach, and direct without issue.

Of course the biggest criticism homeschoolers face, is “socialization” (FYI you socialize dogs, not kids). For me this looks a little different than a lot of homeschool families. I know that getting out of the house isn’t always possible for me and is almost NEVER an enjoyable experience, so I draw on the resources I have available.

We have a sitter that comes in once a week and takes the kids out to events locally that are hosted by other homeschoolers, which is awesome. They go ice skating, swimming, play board games, and many other activities while I am safe and comfortable at home (usually catching up on chores!).

We also have friends over to visit. They both have friends in public school and they come to visit after school sometimes and on weekends/school vacations. Homeschool friends come over whenever! Luckily, I am able to host things because again, I am home so it’s easier for me. I still can’t host for hours and hours like other parents I have met (and envy!) but they can all play for a few hours and chatter about whatever tweens chatter about together.

The other thing that’s nice about the homeschooling world, is when you find people in your community that “get” what you are working with and do what they can to reach out and help. I have offers from a couple of my friends to pick up my kids and bring them to and from activities.

We are also lucky to have a great local parks and recreation department and I am lucky that I can drop/off pick up so long as I don’t have to go inside, so there are ample opportunities for my kids to hang out with other kids at various classes/activities throughout the year.

In short, we make it work. Am I always confident that I am doing everything I can for my kids? Nope. Not at all, that’s the nature of anxiety (and parenting), but I do what I can to meet my kids’ needs while also not sending myself over the edge. I also acknowledge that I am very privileged to be able to afford extras like parks and rec programs and a sitter, which not all homeschooling parents are.

However, if you are considering homeschooling but have mental illness or other chronic illness that makes the idea of homeschooling more challenging, know there are LOTS of parents out there that make it work. For some it means schooling at night or the weekend when a partner is home. For some it means co-op classes. For others it means hiring a tutor or having a relative/friend come in and help. Homeschooling is all about thinking “outside the box” and that can be applied to ALL aspects of homeschooling!

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We *LOVE* Ivy Kids (preschool subscription box)

When my big kids were little I never really did any preschool type things with them. We hung out, we played, they watched a bit of PBS Kids.  They still learned all the things they needed to learn and were ready to go for kindergarten.

That said, now that I am homeschooling them and the littlest is also here I felt like he needed something “more”. I spend a lot of one on one time with the big kids for school and I felt like I should do the same for the little guy. The problem? I am NOT a crafty person. I don’t have the organization skills or the creativity to come up with stuff on my own, so the idea just fell by the wayside.

Finally, a few months ago, I asked on a Facebook group to see if there were any subscription style boxes available for this age group so that maybe I could utilize that type of service to fulfill this “need”. Several people suggested Kiwi Crate. The big kids at the time had both Tinker and Doodle crates so I knew that while they really enjoyed them, that the quality (especially of the Tinker crate) wasn’t fantastic and that it was just a one and done sort of box. You do it once, the materials are all used up, and that’s it. The end, and I was looking for something a little more involved than that.

Someone else suggested another preschool box, I honestly can’t remember the name now, because it looked decent but when I checked the price I nearly fell over out of my chair! It was incredibly expensive and there was no way that was going to happen.

Finally someone suggested Ivy Kids. I looked over the website and the price was all right. The crafts looked pretty decent etc so I placed an order for a 3 month long subscription to try it out, figuring the first box would be a Christmas present for little dude. It did take a little while to receive the first box, which is to be expected, but it WAS here before Christmas.

When it got here, even though it was supposed to be a gift (and was!), I HAD to open it to see what it was like. I was immediately impressed. The theme of that box was polar bears and on the top was a nice picture of polar bears to color in with my son’s name printed at the top, the personalization was a really, really nice touch. The materials inside the box were very nicely packaged and wrapped in tissue paper.

As I moved things around and unwrapped a bit, I realized they sent EVERYTHING. If there was cutting, they sent scissors. If there was coloring, they sent crayons. That was above and beyond what I was expecting! It also makes it a WONDERFUL gift option because even if you don’t know what supplies a child has, you know they will have the things they need right in the box. All the boxes are also designed around a book, that month’s book was Three Snow Bears by Jan Brett.

I didn’t really look into it a whole lot more after that as I put things back in the box and wrapped it up to go under our tree.

After Christmas, when we first started using the box, I was even more impressed. Everything is organized and packaged together nicely. The instructions for the game/craft/activity are written out clearly and packed with the supplies needed. This is important because the boxes come with SO MANY activities and crafts, it really is meant to be used for the whole month. We have slowly worked our way through things and each activity has been met with excitement and interest from the little guy.

We were able to freeze an “iceberg” and put little polar bears on it for sensory play and at the same time do a little “science” experiment to see what we thought would happen when the ice was in the water (Would it melt? What would happen to the polar bears on top? Would they float? Sink?) which was included in the box. I didn’t have to think of it (I never would have), it was written right there as a suggestion. We have played the dice game SO MANY TIMES. You shake the dice and get a number, then you put a pom pom on the number. There was one with the numbers (1, 2, 3), one with the numbers written out (one, two, three), and one with math problems (1+0, 1+1, 2+1). It was really neat to see how they changed things up so that kids can work on different skills depending on where they are at.

The next box recently arrived and I looked through that one too, even though we aren’t finished with polar bears yet! I am equally pleased with the looks of that box (giraffes!) and am very excited to use it. What really impressed me was that it’s not like they just took the activities from the bear box and somehow made them relate to giraffes, it’s a TOTALLY separate set of activities, games, and crafts.

I am so glad to have found this subscription box. It will provide countless hours of entertainment, enrichment, and education for my preschooler (and for the rest of us too!).

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It’s Been a Clusterf*ck

This year has been a total clusterf*ck.

Science has been an issue for the whole year and any secular homeschooler knows finding a good homeschool science curriculum can be a challenge! We started the year with Elemental Science because that’s what Build Your Library used. It was fine but the kids *HATED* it with the fire of a thousand suns, not that I blame them, it IS pretty damn dry.

Then we found out Build Your Library was changing over science to utilize REAL Science Odyssey and I was super excited because it’s a truly secular science (unlike Elemental that does things like tell you to go ahead and skip teaching the Big Bang if that’s not inline with your beliefs, GAG).

So while we waited for that (changes don’t happen overnight!) we worked on Mystery Science because they had free lessons to try out in certain areas. It was set up well and the kids liked it, but then suddenly they started only offering the first lesson in each area for free, and locked the others so you had to buy a membership. I knew we weren’t planning on using it for the rest of the year, and honestly at 9 and 11 years old, the kids were starting to age out of it anyway so we were left to figure out what to use, again, while we waited for the updated science in grade 6 of BYL.

I decided we would try the science for grade 5 of Oak Meadow. It’s another truly secular science curriculum and I’ve heard good things, so I purchased it and looked it over. We did the first couple of lessons…and just fizzled out. For some reason it doesn’t hold the kids’ attention and *I* am completely incapable of “grasping” the Waldorf method of things. I can’t for the life of my figure out WHY but it just doesn’t click for me. I can go through the motions and the material is good but it doesn’t bring about any passion or excitement for me (or my kids, as it happens).

So after all that, we decided to go back to Build Your Library and I picked the Darwin and Evolution Unit Study.  This is a great unit study and has some awesome history AND science in it. I was very impressed with the material and the kids were engaged and interested, so that was a plus. We did several weeks of that and then, for some reason (I can’t remember why?) we fizzled out for a bit.

By the time we were ready to get back into it, Emily from Build Your Library had completed the updated 6th grade! It was time to start using RSO Astronomy 2. I was SUPER excited because stars and space are awesome, duh. We got the RSO course and did 3 or 4 weeks of it. The material is fantastic. It’s colorful and engaging and the experiments are neat….but it is *WAY* over the head of my 4th grader (which makes sense since it’s targeted for grades 6-10) and while my 6th grader could and did do it, it became obvious to me that he would get a LOT more out of it in a year or two. There are some pretty advanced, truly high school, concepts brought up.

So then I sat there for a few weeks. Trying to decide if I should get the Earth and Space level one from RSO for my 4th grader and keep trucking along in Astronomy 2 with my oldest or just change things up *COMPLETELY*.

In the end, I decided to take advantage of the Pandia Press Black Friday sale that’s 35% off and picked Physics Level One for them to complete together this year. It’s aimed at grades 3-6, so it should be the “right” sweet spot for both of them, hopefully. We have done the first week (thanks to their try before you buy page!). So far, it seems like it should work. I am hopeful that this is the “magic” thing we will use for this year and it will get us solid science lessons.

And that’s just part one of the clusterf*ck. And it’s not even December yet!

We are having issues with math too, which has become a sticking point for both my big kids. They seem burnt out on Math Mammoth but it’s just SO MUCH better than the other programs out there, IMO. We tried IXL (middle was crying within 5 minutes). We tried Khan, and while the content is great, I am not smart enough to figure out how to assign lessons plus we need printed out worksheets anyway for documentation in the state we homeschool in. Then we did Prodigy for a bit. They really enjoyed it and I could assign lessons easily enough, but the oldest has pretty much aged out of it and again, there’s nothing to print out. I also felt like that without setting the number of problems way higher than suggested, that there wasn’t enough practice on the concepts that they needed help with. We have also gotten Math-U-See and have been using that for a week now, just having the kids do the end of lesson tests until we figure out where they each need to be in the books, since it doesn’t even SORT OF follow the same method/pattern as Math Mammoth. MUS has made math not a fight anymore *BUT* we also haven’t gotten to the material they don’t know yet…so I am trying to decide if we are going to keep going until we figure out where we need to be OR if we are just gonna go back to doing Math Mammoth and only having them do 1-2 pages of math each day. Or maybe setting a timer for 30-45 minutes and having them just do whatever they can do in that time.

On top of ALL OF THAT we have also been having trouble with routine due to the full day art program they are in. They like the full day art program well enough but being that it’s on Wednesday it sort of throws a monkey wrench into our routine/schedule. The last day they are in that is December 20th and we aren’t doing the spring semester so I am betting that makes a huge difference in our rhythm. Even just last week (Thanksgiving week) we had no art and no anything else and things went SO SMOOTHLY. We were done with school before lunch each day. It was amazing and how things used to be.

So here’s to continuing on, to adjusting things, and to being able to change things up due to the flexibility of homeschooling so you can find what works best for your kid(s). It’s awfully nice to be able to change things around as needed! I am hoping for a much smoother time for the rest of this year thanks to the changes.Screen Shot 2017-11-25 at 5.01.09 PM

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