Parents Get to do Whatever They Want


…exclaims my oldest son. “Parents get to do everything they want.”


Raise your hand if you’ve ever heard that phrase. Okay…now that you’re standing there with BOTH of your hands raised, you totally get my drift. When we ask our boys to participate in, um, life, we often get a disgruntled retort¬†about how unfair their lives are and an auditory phrase that sounds something like:

“I can’t wait to be a grown up!”

Well, I CAN wait and I’d prefer to enjoy my boys’ childhood rather than watch them race into adulthood. So when I hear them complain, I explain that being an adult isn’t about getting to do what you want. Being an adult it about looking into the future and making choices that will provide the best possible outcome.

I recently had this conversation with my oldest son.

He was upset because he felt that some kids ganged up on him at the park and he wanted to retaliate. I get it. When we feel belittled or diminished by others, it’s humiliating. When we feel humiliated, we want to lash out in a poor attempt to diminish our anguish.

Retaliation is certainly a strategy, it’s just not a very effective strategy.

So my son and I talked about this.

As an adult, I can see the future effects of retaliation and the future effect is even worse.

Retaliation = short term emotional fix, but it also means living with the guilt of hurting others and also potentially losing friends.

Kids cannot always see that. And it’s our job as parents to help them understand. As my son and I discussed this, I told him this is what it means to be an adult. He can certainly choose to retaliate, but in the long term, he would feel even greater pain for both the hurt he will cause others and the loss of friendships. We then talked about alternate strategies. Like walking away when kids are hurtful. Choosing new friends. Telling the kids that they are hurting his feelings or asking an adult to help mediate. We talked about each of those strategies and what the long term effects might be to really drive home the freedom future-driven actions give us.

He liked what I had to say. Mostly because I didn’t tell him what to do. I helped him navigate a decision that would work best for him and his long-term needs. My son still got to choose which strategy he wanted and gave him full latitude to choose retaliation, if indeed he still wanted to.

My goal as a parent isn’t to train my sons to do as I say. My duty as a parent is to help my sons to learn how to make the most effective decisions possible for their life. Children learn how to become effective decision makers by…well, by making their own decisions.

This means, we also have to stand by and allow our children to make mistakes.

As a parent, that’s hard to do. Yet, it’s critical if our children are to grow into confident, secure, and empathetic adults.


“Mom, why do I have to eat my asparagus? Why can’t we just eat what we like?”

Ever hear this? I hear it A LOT. Our family eats really clean and that means my boys spend a lot of time jonesing for the junk food snacks they see other kids eat at the park.

Sorry boys. Junk food doesn’t fly in our family.

Yet, rather than just tell my kids “No!” I tell them why.

My job as their parent is to look into the future and prepare my sons for a life of good health. If they grow up on junk food, it’s going to be really hard for them to change their habits as an adult. And if they grow up on junk food, I’m not helping them develop the cells they need for long-term health and longevity.

So instead, I ask my kids to join me in eating healthy (with an occasional sweet splurge) knowing that by eating healthy we are creating the best chance possible to ward off disease, ill health, and poor energy both now and down the road.

My boys aren’t especially fond of this particular long-term strategy, but they at least understand it.


My boys constantly complain about going to the grocery store. I don’t blame them. I hate grocery shopping, too. Yet, here is another great example of the glamorous life of parents. When my boys start to squirm about the grocery trip, we always give them an option to help us choose when, and what time, we go. However, we are quick to point out that bare pantry shelves and a gleaming empty fridge probably isn’t a good thing for long. We empathize with their frustration, but help them see another reality that as adults we understand the long-term effect of not doing the shopping

No shopping=short term contentment. Possibly an extra 15 minutes playing Minecraft ūüôā

Shopping = yummy snacks that ward off will power drain, food to give us energy, lack of hungry stomachs, and possibility for long-term survival.

After looking at the various strategies before us, the boys start to realize that going to the grocery store is not some amazing free-for-all act of freedom of choice by two crazy parents. It’s a strategy for maintaining willpower, energy, and ultimately survival; and a strategy that is certainly a lot easier than hunting for or growing our own food! Sheesh!

Is All of THis Chit Chat Really Worth It

Does all of this explaining and philosophizing help our boys complain less and contribute more? Yes! While not fool-proof (they are kids after all), for the most part both our boys are pretty helpful around the house and willingly participate when asked. When faced with difficult decisions, it really helps them to visualize the future rather than simply have mom and dad tell them what they should do.

As a homeschool family, our focus has always been on growing our values, not just educational facts and figures. By taking the time to help our boys understand that our role as parents is to care for their future-selves, as well as the present, and by giving our boys the gift of making their own choices and learn from those mistakes Рwe are not only growing kids who can act with wisdom and confidence, but also making our present-day journey a whole lot more enjoyable and connected as a family.

How do you help your children grow their wisdom? Leave a comment below so we can all learn from each other!

Happy homeschooling,

PS: The image for this article is me hanging out at my private pool surfing the web doing whatever I want…NOT!


Painted Pumpkins

Easy Painted Pumpkin Craft for All Ages

Yay, it’s Halloween! One of my favorite holidays where we go all-out and really get our creativity on!

A few years ago, desperate to see my boys put down their blocks and pick up a pen or paintbrush, I decided it might be fun to paint pumpkins. My boys had been honing their art skills on pieces of scrap wood for years, so I guessed that anything OTHER than a piece of paper would be equally attractive.

Painted Pumpkin with stickers and bow

I was right.

I grabbed a variety pie pumpkins at the grocery store, rolled out the craft paper on the dining room table and we painted pumpkins!

I always keep a acrylic paints on hand because they apply to non-paper surfaces much better. Be forewarned that acrylic paint sticks to ALL surfaces, so better do your painting in old clothes (or no clothes). Which is why I also keep a roll of brown craft paper for just these occasions.

Younger children can simply use stickers, if paint seems too laborious. Here is a pumpkin Eli made when he was three.

FRANKENSTEIN is super-fun and easy to make. We mixed up some light green paint and the kids slathered it all over. I helped them smooth it out so no orange bits were showing and then we applied felt hair with straight pins.

The nose is a painted wooden knob I found in the junk drawer. So glad that drawer actually has a purpose every now and then.

The boys LOVED screwing in Frank’s bolts and I applied the mouth and stitches with a permanent marker.

My favorite is the bat. Mostly because I am impressed with my sparkly foam wing cut outs. I found the foam at Dollar General and the thickness is perfect for this craft. I traced a pattern on the back of each piece so the boys could cut them out. We then hot glued wooden skewers to the back and the boys jammed the wings into the pumpkins along with matching ears. We glued the foam eyes on.

Painted Pumpkins Bat & Frankenstein

Older kids or teens may prefer something more artistic. I like the Day of the Dead Painted Pumpkin in the header photo, which I may try myself this year. You could add sparkle glitter or more colors to really make it elaborate! And why not paint a ceramic pot while your at it? This FANTASTIC idea I found on It looks to be a full-size pumpkin and may keep you busy for awhile!


If you decide to paint your pumpkins this year, upload a pic and share!

Happy Halloween!


PS: If this post resonates with you, please share! That way even more homeschoolers can be informed and inspired.

Make Your Own Minecraft Stop-Motion Movie

Minecraft Stop-Motion Animation Studio

Do you ever get a cool educational toy or game and it sits in the box for a really long time because, well, you’d have to read the instructions and you simply cannot imagine putting one more thing into your overloaded homeschool parent brain?


Well, that happens to our family A LOT.

So I felt pretty accomplished last Sunday when I pulled one of Jack’s birthday gifts off the shelf. It was this uber cool Minecraft Stop-Motion Animation Studio¬†($24 on ).¬†

Minecraft Stop Motion Movie Maker Screen

The boys and I were spending a Sunday alone together while Daddy was away teaching. The kids get pretty excited about “mommy days” because I am a bit more lenient toward electronics play. Let me tell you we played with the Minecraft Stop-Motion Animation Studio for the better part of three hours and electronics were completely tossed aside.


The boys set up the movie scene while I read the instructions. This is so easy it’s shameful I didn’t take it out of the box before!

Image result for minecraft stop motion movie creatorAll you do is download the Minecraft Stop-Motion Movie Creator App to your phone or iPad. It’s FREE, btw. I chose my phone because it’s easier to balance on the frame provided in the kit. You can use your iPad, however.

The first couple of films were crazy-fast until we learned to slow down the frame-rate in the edit feature.  We also had to learn to make small movements for each shot. Otherwise, the film looks too jerky. You can also choose music, sound effects, and backgrounds for your title cards. Too cute. The boys quickly got the hang of it and made a batch of films. Here is one Eli made for you to see:


I love finding offline adventures that support the boys’ online passions. Now I am off to figure out how to make ¬†three headed Wither Boss and massive Enderdragon Halloween costume. Sheesh!

Hope you enjoy making movies. Happy Homeschooling!


PS: Some of the links above are affiliate links which means at no additional cost to you I earn a small commission on those links where you click and purchase. Thank you for your support in this small way!

Homeschool Road Trip

Back Home to Texas

Last week our family enjoyed a homeschool road trip across Texas. It’s been twelve years since I moved away from Dallas. And it’s been seven years since I last visited the state I grew up in.

Business meetings lured me back. I don’t like to be away from my family so I took them with me. We left days in advance of my meetings so we could take our time driving and enjoy the beaches along the way. In between meetings, we drove up and down Texas eating barbeque.

texas-bbqWe ate our way through Dallas, Austin, and Houston. Boy, we sure do love Texas brisket and ribs.

Jack and Eli are good travelers, yet a seventeen hour road trip did require some entertainment. We bought each of the boys their own personal video player and hit the library just before take-off to load up on movies. We found the coolest travel Spirograph for some smooth-road crafting. And we found Minecraft Activity Book 3! Sweet.

However, the coolest car game we found was so simple, yet the boys LOVED it. Travel Scavenger Hunt for Kids. I mean we always play I-Spy and the license plate game, but there was something about this cute little $7.25 card set that had the boys asking for it almost every leg of the trip.

Huh, who knew?

We stopped at Gulf Shores, Alabama for the first leg of the trip. My husband found a nice little Microtel near the beach. The boys woke early to find it raining outside. No matter. The Microtel serves free waffles for breakfast. Who can be upset when your belly is full of waffles?

The rain continued and we decided to go for it. We were the only souls romping in the ocean that day. A steady bit of cold rain fell from the sky. We didn’t care. It was glorious to run across the soft white sand into warm, clear blue water. Which surprised me! I didn’t think you got clear blue water on the Gulf, but we did. Jack and I stayed in the longest. We liked the huge waves that hit us as we tried to remain standing.

That same afternoon, we headed over to the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial. The ship is amazing. The boys didn’t quite grasp the gravity of the whole thing, but I sure did. As we climbed farther and farther down into the belly of the ship, I became light headed at the thought of living down there, let alone surviving a war. The ship is quite interactive and the boys were able to lie down in bunks made from chain and steel pipe, pull out a swivel stool to “eat” in the galley, and jump behind bars in the brig.

reunion-towerNext came a long, and exhausting drive to Dallas. We spent the first couple of days visiting family. Scott had scoped out some history attractions so we spent a ridiculous amount of¬†money to go up inside Reunion Tower. ¬†Scott didn’t tell me how much it cost until after the tour was over. I almost died. However, it did have this great interactive computer that the boys could manipulate to learn about the various historical sites and landmarks around the city. That was cool. Jack experimented with it for some time. Eli preferred to play with the interactive light show where he could make the lights of Reunion Arena change colors, lol.dave-busters

I wasn’t sure if they were ready for it, but we also walked over to Dealey Plaza where the boys learned about President John F. Kennedy. It was sobering to share that point in history and actually stand on the grassy knoll.

It was also hotter than heck so we left in favor of eating…more BBQ

The coup de grace in Dallas was Dave and Busters. Growing up in Dallas, Dave and Busters was a pretty standard thing for a kid to do. Jack and Eli went nuts. Of course, grandparents, aunts and uncles were on hand to keep their game card filled with tokens. We played until we all lost our minds.


Our next stop was Austin. Scott navigated us to  Fossil Rim Wildlife Park on the way.  For me, this was the highlight of the trip. Feeding zebras and giraffe right out of your hand is pretty darn cool.


In Austin, we decided to check out¬†Innerspace Caverns. On the outside, it appears way too touristy. Yet, it was delightfully educational and informative. Jack and Eli were the only kids on the tour and they loved it.¬†Of course, they kept asking the tour guide if they could possibly try to mine any ores (Minecraft style, of course), but she was wise to the ways of Minecraft and instead chatted intelligently to them about their favorite game. I have never seen cuter bats in my life, btw. Wow, the¬†tiny 3 inch bats are like fuzzy, upside down hamsters and when they fly you think you’re seeing a¬†hummingbird.

Last on our list was¬†Houston. Short, but sweet Houston was a blast. After some confusion over which hotel we had actually booked (who knew there are¬†THAT many Sheraton’s located close together?), we got ourselves settled. The boys played in the swimming pool while I took an Uber to my morning meeting. There was¬†no way I wanted to drive in Houston traffic. Geez.

Then we set off for the Houston Space Center. Jack was in heaven. He’s a big space nut and the kid literally¬†read every sign and placard in the place. He also volunteered to be the test astronaut on the space station. That was cute. He got to experience sleeping vertically, the tight quarters of a toilet, and keeping food Velcroed to his leg. Pretty cool.


Happy kids means happy homeschooling and I wouldn’t mind another homeschooling road trip soon. The boys were excited each and every day, they cooperated swimmingly, I got to do my work in the car using my cell phone as a hot spot, which meant loads of mommy time to enjoy with Jack and Eli. I feel like an Airstream may be in our future…

How do you homeschool on the road? Leave a tip or comment below so we can all learn from each other!

Happy homeschooling,


PS: The Amazon links in this post are affiliate links which means the Homeschool Helpdesk gets a small bit of compensation should you decide to click those links. Thanks in advance for your support in this way!

Homeschool Portfolio Ideas

From Simple to Sublime: Check Out These Homeschool Portfolios!

I find homeschool portfolios to be a subject that is rather polarizing among homeschool families. Some homeschool parents rave about compiling their kid’s portfolios and others dismiss the idea altogether. My family falls somewhere in between. We unschool, so keeping track of our kids progress isn’t our main priority. However, I am learning that portfolios are important outside the obvious state law requirement.

Before you fall in love or lament the portfolio process, I urge you to consider WHY you’ll be compiling a homeschool portfolio in the first place. If you define how you’ll be using a portfolio, it will then become so much easier to choose a process that suits your needs and that you will stick with.

COMPLY WITH STATE LAW: The most obvious reason to keep a homeschool portfolio s that you have to. According to Florida ¬†Home Education Statute 1002.10(1)(b): “The parent shall maintain a portfolio of records and materials.¬†The portfolio shall consist of the following:

  • A log of educational activities that is made contemporaneously with the instruction and that designates by title any reading materials used.
  • Samples of any writings, worksheets, workbooks, or creative materials used or developed by the student.¬† Statute 1002.41(1)(b)¬†

If the only motivation you have is to simply comply with state law, then you ¬†might consider one of the simpler methods below such as jotting down activities on a calendar or uploading pics to a Facebook page. Of course, if keeping a portfolio is super-arduous you can always elect to homeschool under an umbrella school and then you’ll no longer have to bother with portfolio record-keeping.

DEMONSTRATE PROGRESS FOR AN EVALUATOR: Another reason to keep a homeschool portfolio is to demonstrate progress to your child’s evaluator at the end of the school year. An evaluator is supposed to evaluate your child based on their¬†progress, not wealth of knowledge. It may be difficult for your evaluator to determine progress, if you’ve not kept very good records. This is especially important when working with a new homeschool evaluator who hasn’t had the opportunity to meet with your child year after year.

I know some homeschool families keep a private Facebook page and give their homeschool evaluator access so the evaluator can see the child’s progress during the year. I’ve never felt comfortable asking our homeschool evaluator to get involved with our Facebook page because it seems like a lot of added work on her part, but if your evaluator doesn’t mind this¬†could be a really neat option for some.

HELP KIDS SEE THEIR OWN PROGRESS. Beyond compliance, homeschool portfolios are a fantastic “storybook” of your child’s learning each year. Our portfolio is filled with stories the boys have written and it’s fun to see how their creativity, and language, evolves over time. We fill our portolio with videos of the boys’ reading, too. From “Go Dog Go” to “Germonimo Stilton Saves the Day” it is fascinating to go back and watch how the kids reading has developed. Beyond my own misty-eyed emotion for my fast-growing boys, reviewing a portfolio with your children from time to time really helps the kids see their own progress.

Our eldest son has a fixed mindset, which means it is difficult for him to overcome learning road blocks. I am finding it increasingly helpful to gently remind him of how far his learning has come. Reviewing the portfolio helps children see learning as a life-long process rather than a final destination.

PREPARE FOR COLLEGE APPLICATION. Once your child reaches middle-to-high school age, it might be a good idea to get a little more serious about portfolio record keeping. Of course, compiling a portfolio for college is different than simply complying with Florida State Law.

Whether the college your child applies to requires a portfolio or not, having a portfolio ready will help your child:

  • keep track of how close they are to their goals
  • encourages them to achieve more as they see the entries in their portfolios building up year after year
  • keeps information needed for scholarship applications organized and handy

A quick Google search turned up this great blog article on things to include in a child’s college portfolio: Marianne Sunderland

With a clear goal in mind, let’s take a look at some fantastic portfolio ideas submitted to us by local Gainesville homeschool families. Big thanks to everyone who volunteered their ideas!


My son is homeschooled with FLVS Flex curriculum for a majority of his coursework. Since we’re classified with the county as a homeschooling family, I played it safe and stuck to the FL statues regarding what to track. Basically, I provided a list of the FLVS lessons he completed by week. I also included information about the activities he completed that my husband and I organized outside of FLVS. The FLVS information is easy to track – the lessons, dates complete and grades are on the website. ‚Äď Sara Sartain Walters

MOTHER OF MULTIPLES (High School age to Toddler)

Homeschool portfolio Alaric Loftus

Submitted by Laura Lan Loftus

Homeschool portfolio Alaric Loftus

Submitted by Laura Lan Loftus










We are old school.¬†I keep notes in a paper planner and work samples in three ring binders. We do annual IOWA or Stanford tests as well. You don’t have to report the scores to the county, your evaluator can just let them know they were administered and your child is making adequate progress. –¬† Laura Lan Loftus


¬†I used to take pics throughout the week and make a weekly collage using the Photogrid app. At the end of the year I had over 50 pages for a yearbook that doubled as a portfolio. Now to that we are members of an umbrella school we aren’t required to keep a portfolio but I still take lots of pics to make a yearbook. ‚Äď Laura Coffey

Coffey Girls Portfolio Example

Submitted by Laura Coffey

Coffey Girls Homeschool Portfolio Example

Submitted by Laura Coffey











I use Homeschool Tracker. You can make lesson plans for the year or add lessons as you go, keep track of resources used, make transcripts, track attendance, keep grades, report cards…whatever works for you. I print out reports at the end of our school year (completed assignments, field trips, resources). I put the reports in a binder along with samples of school work. I keep an accordion file with art work, special projects that the boys want to show the evaluator. I keep student workbooks & take them with me for the evaluation in case our homeschool evaluator wants to look at them.¬†

Homeschool Tracker Sample

Homeschool Tracker


Homeschool Tracker










I use Goodreads to keep track of books the boys have read. I have the app & they think it’s fun to scan their books. I print out their book list & include that in the portfolio binder.¬†I also take pictures along the way & keep them on a Shutterfly share site in case the evaluator needs/wants to see them.

Good reads exports the bookshelf to a printable list, too.

Good reads exports the bookshelf to a printable list, too.

Smith homeschool portfolio










Last year I used Homeschool Planet and I will switch back to Homeschool Planet when my year is up with Homeschool Tracker.¬†I liked Homeschool Planet because you could add books, resources, ¬†pdfs, websites & videos to the lesson. It also synced up to Google Calendar, sent reminder emails of supplies or books needed & you could access it on your mobile/tablet.¬†I like Homeschool Tracker, but Homeschool Planet is more user friendly & keeps adding features that make it more appealing.¬†‚Äď Summer Smith

Summer Smith Homeschool Portfolio Example

Field Trip Report (Homeschool Planet)

Smith Portfolio Example

Lesson Plan Report (Homeschool Planet)


Smith Homeschool Portfolio Example

Resource list (Homeschool Planet)


¬†I put samples of work in a a 3-ring binder, and write up summaries of what we do in subjects that don’t produce much written work, and also include a section for field trips, books we read to her, books she listens to on audio, and books she reads. ‚Äď Tonya Becker


The teacher I work with actually took my portfolio last year to show everyone an example. She loved it. It was my first and ¬†it’s so simple. I make tabs for Reading, Writing, Math, Crafts, Field Trips, Physical Education & Extra Curricular. Then to prove he actually does crafts, physical education, and field trips I take photos and label them.¬†I also get a binder that has slots on the sides so I can include color pictures and I even made a diploma.¬†– Noreen Garret Haff

This is the table of contents. After kindergarten it should include science, and social studies as well.

haff haff2









These are the pages I include to show his reading math and writing. If you do things on the computer just print the summary to show his progress.

Haff Homeschool Portfolio haff6








I make tabs for Reading, Writing, Math, Crafts, Field, Physical Education & Extra Curricular. Then to prove he actually does crafts, phys educ, and he does field trips I take photos and label them.

haff 33











I’m not fond of clutter, nor am I very crafty at pulling together photo albums and those sorts of things. We simply take pictures on our iPhones and upload what the boys are doing as we go. We also keep samples of the boys’ writing in Google docs and keep track of progress of various programs such as Brainzy, Filament Games, and Khan Academy via the provided online-dashboards. – Kate Byars

Facebook Private Group Homeschool Portfolio

Screenshot (497)Screenshot (496)Khan Academy Progress Report Homeschool Portfolio










So what do you think? Did you find some inspiration in these portfolio samples? At minimum, I hope you are reassured that whatever you do, do what is right for you and your child. As you see from the examples above, compiling a portfolio doesn’t have to be fancy, nor uber-creative although some of these certainly are amazing!

Do you have a great portfolio idea, app, or tool? Please share with us in the comments below!

Happy homeschooling,




More Minecraft Offline

How We Made a Life Size Minecraft Nether Portal

We do a project every summer. One year it was a life-size Angry Birds game. Another year we made a pulley and weight system using the swing set. This year we decided a Minecraft Nether Portal fit the bill.

Why not, right?

As you may already know, my boys are crazy for  Minecraft and we use Minecraft quite a bit in our homeschooling.

I love taking online concepts and turning them into offline projects. It’s captivating for the kids and a challenge¬†to move from a two dimensional world to a three dimensional creation.

Our Minecraft Nether Portal project began simply enough. I purchased a quantity of 14 boxes measuring 14 x 14 x 14 at Walmart for $0.60 each along with two cheap rolls of black duct tape for $1.99 each.

We closed all the boxes with the black duct tape and the boys helped me spray paint them solid black. We did this in batches, maybe four or five at time. I think I actually finished these in our living room on top of craft paper.


Crazy, right?

Next, I had to figure out how to add the cube texture. I am a big fan of creating repeatable processes so I cut out a 14 x 14 cardboard square from some scrap cardboard that I am sure came from (egad, we sure have a lot of boxes, lol!).

I then used a ruler to trace the cube pattern, using an image on the Internet as a guide. It’s important to note that this doesn’t have to be exact. Once you paint the boxes the overall effect will be there, so don’t strive for perfection.


We pinned the cardboard template to each box with straight pins and Eli globbed on the purple paint. For a little guy, he’s got pretty strong fingers and was able to get the boxes sprayed well! After box number three, we ditched the straight pins because they took too long to insert and remove. By that time our template was pretty heavy with wet paint so we didn’t get¬†any bleeding under the edges.

DIY Minecraft Nether Portal boxes drying in back yard

All those pretty boxes sat in my dining room, stacked to the ceiling for about a month. That was the less appealing part of this project I have to admit. Cardboard doesn’t store very well outside and takes up A LOT of room inside.

Our next challenge was how to connect the boxes. Stacking the vertical columns was easy enough, but floating the top section made the boys think.

We tried duct tape and the boxes fell right apart.

We tried pins and they weren’t strong enough.

Finally, we decided to use PVC! We had a nice section left over from a PVC project and it fit perfectly across the four upper row of boxes. I used a super-sharp exacto knife to trace a hole around the PVC pole and made sure the hole landed in the same spot on every side of every box.

Homemade Minecraft Nether PortalNow we had to add our purple “haze” that Minecrafters must walk through to enter and exit the portal. We tried a purple sheet, but it was too difficult to navigate. We looked at cutting out purple construction paper spirals, but that seemed pretty work intensive. Finally, we decided on purple crepe paper streamers which was ideal! This gave us the effect we wanted, yet still allowed the boys to walk through the opening with ease.

Sweet! The boys were pretty psyched and also proud of the weeks and week of hard work they put into this.

I was, too! Now the boxes are sitting in my front entry way. Sigh. Hopefully this weekend we will move them to the attic to wait for Halloween. What an epic decoration this will make for our front porch! Yeah!

If you’re making your own Minecraft Nether Portal please share the resulting pics in the comments below!

Happy homeschooling,


Who Knew that Being a Kid was so Daunting…

Did you know that life is impossible? I had no idea.

  • Life is impossible when Dad asks you to practice multiplication tables.
  • Life is impossible when you have to put your own shoes on.
  • Life is impossible when the seat belt doesn’t buckle on the first try.
  • Life is impossible when your shorts are inside out.
  • Life is impossible when the cheese melts outside the square perimeter of your grilled cheese sandwich and requires removal.


So what does one do when life is impossible?

Apparently you drop to the floor, curl up in the fetal position, and scream “LIFE IS IMPOSSIBLE!”¬†At least that’s what my boys do. Sigh.

Scott and I tried to cajole the boys back to reality by helping them. It didn’t work.

Next, we tried reasoning with them and explaining logically how all of these challenges could be overcomed. Fail.

We tried screaming “life is impossible” at the top of our lungs and simply join the chaos. That just made our heads hurt more.

After months of hearing how difficult our children’s lives are, we finally did what any rational, self-interested parent would do.


Brilliant. You see, not only did Jack and Eli feel that their lives were impossible, they also saw Scott and my life as perfect.

Parents get to do whatever we want.

Really? I must have missed that memo.

So Scott and I began switching roles with the kids. We got up in the morning, sat on the couch in our underpants, screamed across the room asking if we could play Minecraft, and demanded breakfast.

It was awesome.

We went to the bathroom and screamed for someone to wipe our hineys or run to the cupboard and bring a new roll of toilet paper.

The boys were repulsed.

We begged for new iPods, iPads, Legos, and games. We complained that it was too hot to go outside and too boring to stay inside. We refused to do math, refused to eat veggies, and demanded an endless stream of band-aids for artificial boo-boos that were life threatening.

Gawd it was epic.

Meanwhile, Jack and Eli had to figure out how to make food, do the dishes, wash underpants, pay bills and mow the lawn. Oh, and also where the spare toilet paper is located.

I’m not sure if you ever saw this video before, but when it came across my Facebook feed a year or so ago and I fell out!

So how did Jack and Eli experience this? With some amount of grumpiness and chagrin. They certainly began to appreciate that life for adults is not¬†absolute freedom. Adults don’t hop out of bed every morning and do whatever they want to do. Far from it!

I had a lightbulb moment and realized that as adults we rarely complain about the tasks we take on each day. I never say a word when I’m grinding through Tony Horton’s P90X workout while the kids play Legos. I rarely roll my eyes at the ninth grocery visit for the week or the fact the bed needs to be made and the kitchen needs to be cleaned once again.

I just handle up on all that non-fun stuff and keep moving.

Until now. This experience taught me that my kids need more transparency. Life isn’t about overcoming the challenge of multiplication tables or clothes with multiple buttons. Life is about keeping your focus on what matters most – meeting your needs. I want to be fit and live a long life, therefore I’m willing to exercise daily and eat a healthy diet. I would rather eat chocolate cake on the couch, but that won’t help me meet my needs.

Jack wants to chat with his friends on the Minecraft server. So that means he has to learn how to type and spell. Otherwise, he won’t get his need for online socialization met.

Eli wants to be capable. He wants to be big and perceived as a big kid. Well, that’s not going to happen if putting your shoes on incapacitates you and wiping your own tush is a monumental effort.

The bottom line is that life has always been challenging. It was hard to learn how to hold a sippy cup, crawl, walk, chew, talk, run, etc. We fail over and over again until we eventually learn how to do what we want to do with more skill. Yet, what motivates us is that we want that outcome. Babies want to feed themselves. Toddlers want to walk. Preschoolers want to run. And so on.

Beyond helping my kids see that an adult life is full of challenges and compromises, we’ve also worked on helping the kids find value in the various activities they find frustrating. For example, Jack wants to be a famous archaeologist. Yet, if I tell him he needs to know his multiplication tables to become an archaeologist he won’t really see the value. The reward is too far off.

However, Jack also wants to do things independently like earn money for new Lego sets or run errands in the grocery store. So now I take those multiplication tables and ask Jack questions that directly relate to shopping like “How much money should I give you to get five boxes of salami for $3.00 each?” Then I give him the amount of money he tells me he needs and he goes off to buy the salami. If he doesn’t have enough, then he doesn’t get to complete his task. When he finds a new Lego set he want to buy, I ask him how many $5 chores he will need to do to earn enough money.

BINGO! The reward is now in sight and Jack understands the value of multiplication.

Pretty cool, huh?

So far it’s been working. I’m sure we have more impossible life moments ahead of us, but for now I have to say that the din of our household is every slightly quieter right now. Score!

Happy homeschooling,


Harn Museum of Art Family Days

Homerun for Homeschoolers at the Harn Museum of Art

Do you ever see an event come around each year and think, “this time I’m definitely going to round up my family and go!”

Then you don’t go. So you promise yourself that¬†you will¬†definitely go next time. Uh-huh.

Well that’s how it’s been for me with the Harn Museum of Art Family Days. Every time I announce a Harn Family Day on our calendar, I promise myself that our family will attend and we never do. No real reason, we just end up doing different stuff.

This past Saturday we finally went and I have to say it, “Why haven’t we been attending these all along?”


My husband has been intrigued with studying art lately, so this has given our family a stronger impetus to explore different art venues. Because we live in High Springs and the Harn Museum of Art is a good 30 minutes from our home, we decided to make an afternoon excursion and stop off at the Alachua Humane Society to play with the kitties beforehand. That lasted much longer than I anticipated so by the time we headed south to the musuem, Harn Family Days had already begun.

I don’t care for being late, but luckily Family Days is a “come as you are” event meaning you can drop in at anytime between 1P – 5P.

Parking¬†is free on Saturdays and Sundays, which helps a lot when you’re feeling rushed.

The Family Days event we attended was an exploration of the African Masquerades exhibit. We were greeted in the lobby by the kindest and uber-enthusiastic docent, “Mike.” He was absolutely lovely with the boys and made sure to include them in every conversation. In fact, Mike’s enthusiasm for our tour was infectious and both my 7 year old and 5 year old couldn’t wait to see all the¬†amazing, dang art they would be given¬†special access to!

African mask

One of many African masks

Jack watches African dance

Jack watches African dance

African costumes

African costumes







Mike took us to several specific stopping points where he allowed us to experience a video of African dance, observe a¬†wall of glass-encased masks, study an African map, and try to follow along with a pair of professional dancers who led us through some basic African dance moves. Sweet! Extremely interactive, yet also plenty to observe as well. Mike was patient as my youngest snapped pic after pic on my iPhone – a secret tool in my toolbox that I whip out whenever I think one of the boys’ interest may be waning.

I shouldn’t have worried. Both my kids had a blast.

After a 20 minute or so tour, Mike led us back out to the lobby where tables were set up with craft materials. The boys were invited to make their own African masks, which they gladly did. My boys can be finicky when it comes to arts and crafts. Sometimes they will craft for hours and other times they’ll turn up their nose at crafting.

Well, the Harn Museum of Art must have a magic touch because both kiddos decorated their masks for at least an hour.

IMG_6689 IMG_6690








Harn Family Days take place five times per year on select Saturdays and revolve around designated exhibitions and themes. These programs are ideal for families with children ages 5 to 11, but all ages are welcome. A Family Day includes a family-friendly tour of art in our galleries and a related art activity. The program is offered at no charge but a $2 donation per child is suggested.

Keep your eye peeled on our Homeschool Event Calendar for the next one or keep your eyes peeled on our¬†Saturday Short N Sweet newsletter and I’ll make sure to post when the next one comes around.

Happy Homeschooling!


Cover image copyright

Hour of Code

Anybody Can Learn to Code

I seem to be  having a lot of conversations lately about how to teach young kids computer science. Our family are big fans of digital learning, so computer science goes hand-in-hand with our approach to learning. Our sweet spot is, where our boys ages 7 and 5 are learning about computer science.

The site is completely free (we love free, right?) and each child can login with their own credentials to keep track of their progress.

You start by trying¬†Hour of Code. Rated for ages 6 to 106, it’s good basic fun! Options include Classic Fun with Angry Birds, Frozen with Anna and Elsa, Minecraft, Star Wars and Disney Infinity. Can you tell these guys know how to get our kids’ attention? Lol.

Hour of Code Screenshot

Each option begins with an introductory video followed by easy-to-follow-along directions or even plug n play for littles. Younger children will want a parent nearby to assist, while those who can read will likely be able to self-pace through the levels. Each introductory level is about 20 different “games” where the kids drag and drop blocks to form the code.

Hour of Code Screenshot Classic Game

Above¬†is the “blockly code” I just created on Level 17 of the Classic Fun option. What’s great is that once you finish coding a level, you can also take a peek at the actual code you “wrote” using blockly:

Hour of Code Screenshot 2


Once your child has completed the first hour of coding, they can jump over to Code Studio and progress through a 20-hour basic computer science program that starts at Kindergarten. Seriously! My five year old plays this. It’s a lot like the blockly programs in the Hour of Code, but gets a bit more complex and creative.

Hour of Code Screenshot 3

Another option for littles, is Lightbot App for¬†iOS, Android or web browsers. We keep Lightbot on the boys’ iPads for fun code practice when we are road-trippin’!

Hour of Code Lightbot Screenshot

Kids 12+ can start¬†programming using Python – a programming language for people with no prior experience. Ages 8+ may enjoy creating stories and interactive games using MIT’s¬†Scratch. There’s also Hopscotch for the iPad,¬†Tickle Labs¬†to help kids 6+ program robots and drones or even an upper level¬†Harvard CS50 class. All completely FREE! Hello?

So step back and start exploring coding! Computer science has never been simpler to get your kid in front of and if your child is like mine, more screen time is always appreciated. When my kids are working on, I’m one happy mama.

Happy homeschooling!



Online vs. Offline: How to find the right balance

Computer time is quite popular in our home, but it does have its limits.

My husband bought me my first iPhone when Jack was two. I was pregnant with Eli and I have to admit that toddler apps downloaded onto my phone were an awfully easy way to entertain my two-year old at my OB appointments that invariably always ran long because someone was delivering a baby. Lol.

Jack’s pudgy hands deftly worked the touch screen buttons and I was fascinated at how quickly he figured out the various learning games. My husband bestowed an iPad on me next – intended to help me quickly answer office emails whilst trying to work at home with two kids under the age of three. Jack confiscated the iPad and given his passion for Legos, by age four he was playing Minecraft in creative mode.

Around this time I came across a Facebook meme one Christmas where moms were berating themselves for letting another year go by without making applehead dolls, for buying the kids gifts rather than whittling them from wood, and for failing to hike a portion of the AT.

I am not making fun. I am serious. Mom’s were sweating it out because they bought their kids a Barbie instead of an applehead doll. I happen to think applehead dolls are creepy, but I do understand what these moms were concerned about.

I hear the same concerns when  it comes to electronics. Our kids should be outdoors playing in the mud, not gaming online with their friends, right?

I think they should be doing both.

I’m fairly certain that Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates spent a considerable amount of time in dark rooms tinkering with computers. I’m okay with that. Although Steve ¬†Jobs famously stated that kids shouldn’t engage with computers until age 10, that was his parenting choice, which is just fine for him, but I disagree. Computers are our future as well as our present. I’m not going to pretend that we live on Little House on the Prarie because we don’t.

At the same time, I don’t hand my kids a PS3 controller with their morning Wheaties. My kids are outside a ton and we spend most of our day creating stuff out of nothing. Right now, the boys are building some fantastical world in the living room using Duplos, Jenga, wood blocks, and Scott’s tool box. No idea, but they’re into it.

So if it’s helpful at all, here is how our family ¬†has learned to navigate the electronic jungle. I would love to know how your family handles electronics, so please leave a comment below!


RULE #1: Challenging apps, not games of luck

You won’t find Angry Birds or Plants vs Zombies on our iPads. We tried that for awhile, but it only brought meltdowns and frustration. Instead, our kids iPads are loaded with educational apps that are challenging and fun. Our top favorites:


RULE #2: Challenging PC games, not games of luck

Same story, different device. My kids spend most of their time exploring in Minecraft, Spore, Filament Games or PBS Go. We also love Brainzy, Teach Your Monster to Read, and Jack and Daddy play a few strategy survival games that are about skill and not dark or scary at all. Both the boys are learning to code on One Hour of Code.

At one point, Eli was playing a Lego Star Wars game that was all about luck and shooting. He would go absolutely INSANE every time he played. That one has gone to the wayside along with Angry Birds (which is designed to make you angry, right?)

RULE #3: No PS3

My sister’s teen age boys play a lot of PS3 and she graciously gave my boys one a few birthdays ago. I’ll have to admit that when everyone was able to keep emotions in check, Lego Indiana Jones was a pretty fun game. The downside is that it’s very hard to keep emotions in check and the PS3 games seem to get everyone in our family entirely frustrated and angry. Our PS3 broke last year and we didn’t bother replacing it. Maybe someday in the future, but for now this is one electronic device that doesn’t hold very strong value in our home.

RULE #4: It’s all fun and games until somebody explodes

Jack has the demeanor to play on his computer all day long. It rarely frustrates him and when he is in one of his creative modes, I just let him play as much as he wants. Eli, however, can’t handle that much electronic stimulation. He starts to get edgy, then frustrated, and finally he’s crying for no reason at all. Every child is different and this is probably the hardest area for us to balance. If Jack is playing on his computer, Eli wants to play, too. Yet, Eli can’t handle that much e-time.

How we balance this is by asking the boys to play in the afternoon, with Jack getting some morning time to work on a project or Minecraft homeschool assignment if he’s got that going on. Between 2-4 every afternoon the boys can play as much or as little as they want.

In the beginning all we heard ¬†was “When will it be 2 o’clock?” as if that time would magically bring happiness and pink frosted donuts. However, as time worn on two o’clock comes and goes and the boys don’t always notice. Or they will play for an hour and then go read on the couch. I think the reason for this is simple: they aren’t told they can’t. We always work to meet their needs and our family works best when we all get our needs met. If we didn’t allow the kids to game at all, they would want to game even more. We simply ask the boys to do their gaming in the afternoon when “it makes more sense to sit still.” Morning times are active times so that’s when we do active stuff.


Realization #5: Gaming is social

Both our boys play Minecraft Realms online with their friends. We connect them up to Skype so they can chat while they play. Our boys also play on a family-friendly server called The Sandlot and take classes with GamEdAcademy. All of these are opportunities for socialization, cooperative play, co-creation and compromise. Best of all, they get to play with  kids from all over the world.

I never really thought of this as a benefit until Jack started socializing with other homeschool kids across the pond and I saw how gracious and sweet he was about sharing his tools, resources, and other goodies with new kids who had just entered the game.


Do we have the perfect mix of electronics and non-electronic play? Probably not. I am sure there is a study out there somewhere that states the 2 hours of gaming my kids get each day is burning up precious brain cells. I’m open to that and I’m open to change. Yet for now, this works really well for our boys and I’m excited that they are excited about learning through gaming.

Sometimes the boys complain and want more computer time. That’s cool. We always tell them they can have as much time as they want as long as they can self-regulate and find balance with other activities. I’ve often found that if I help my children meet their needs, even if it makes me a bit squeamish to watch them play for hours on end, they are much happier when their needs are met¬†because they know I value their needs. Plus, they usually burn out pretty quickly as soon as they’ve satiated whatever curiosity they had¬†and return to a life of outdoor play, non-electronic creativity and some digital time sprinkled in the mix.

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!