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!

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.

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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!


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Dudley Farm Second Saturday Kids Day

Why Dudley Farm Second Saturday Kids Day is a Must See

From the time my boys were babies we have been hiking. It’s just one of those things we do. I knew from the moment I became a mom that getting out and about in nature would be part and parcel of our family’s fabric, so once Jack hit the tender age of 9 months I hit the trails with baby-in-tow.

Some days Jack rode along in a baby backpack. Other days he bounced along as I pushed the B.O.B. No matter what, we have hiked a trail at least once per week since the kid has been a tot. When Eli came along, we joined us and we have been a fearsome threesome on the Gainesville, Florida trails ever since.

One of our favorite parks has always been Dudley Farm Historic State Park. Unbeknowst to many, there is a short trail system just to the left (west) of the parking lot. For a long time, my kids didn’t do much more than explore those short pathways and check out the tractors.

It must have been two or three years before we ever made it back to the actually farm, lol.

That’s okay. When we hike, I’m always on the boys’ time clock, not mine.

Once we made it down the long path to the actual farmstead, the boys loved the hands-on possibilities. There is water to be pumped from the well, corn to be shucked in the shed, and chickens and turkeys to cluck with in the yard. The outhouse and kitchen are a fascination as the boys learn why these two critical areas are separate from the main house.

Eli pumps water from the well at Dudley Farm Second Saturday Kids Day

You can try your hand at sweeping with a  corn husk broom or simply rock on the front porch and watch the butterflies flutter through the garden.

Hopefully you can see why we love Dudley Farm so much – it’s engaging, as well as educational and that’s always a hit in our homeschool household.

A year or two after we finally made it to see the farm, a volunteer asked me if we would be attending the Dudley Farm Second Saturday Kids DayIn all the years we had been exploring Dudley, I didn’t remember ever hearing about it. Or  maybe I did, but at the time I thought my kids were too young.

Now I have to admit, when I hear about a public event I am a bit cautious. My oldest son gets anxious in large group settings, so I am careful to scope out these events thoroughly before we go. I also find that a lot of “kid events” aren’t always planned with kids abilities in mind and there is nothing more frustrating for a child or parent to attend an event and be told they have to wait in long lines, be quiet for long periods of time, or watch and listen instead of touch and explore.

Dudley Farm Second Saturday Kids Day is absolutely wonderful at capturing kids attention, giving the boys hands-on opportunities, and creating mutual dialogue at the kids level.


In a nutshell, it is one of those magical public events that is geared to kids and the folks at Dudley have thoughtfully planned educational content that is delivered in itty bitty bite-size kid pieces. Plus, the volunteers are wonderful and don’t expect the kids to listen to long historical lectures, they simply engage the kids with questions, but mostly they are just there to answer questions. Love this!

We usually bring a snack (why do my children have to chew while they learn, lol?) and start our journey at the first kid station just past the parking lot. If it’s busy, we stroll past and catch that one on the return. We skip down the trail to the farmstead and then I just let the kids free-roam from one station to the next.

Jack is my deep thinker, so he will usually find a station that captivates his interest and pretty much install himself there for while. He’ll chat with the volunteers, help them with whatever activity they’ve got, and he’ll talk and talk and talk. Love it.

Jack chats with volunteers at Dudley Farm Second Saturday Kids Day

Eli is my zip, zip, zippy active boy and he will zoom from one activity to the next, half finishing a project at one station and then moving on. In between, we look at bugs, jump over dirt piles, play hide and seek in the banana trees and whatever else his “shiny ball” attention span demands. Perfect!

If you haven’t been to Dudley Farm Second Saturday Kids Day give it a try. The event takes place October through May on the second Saturday of each month from 10A-2P. If you’re not a Florida State Parks Passholder, the park fee is $5 cash at the iron ranger on the drive in. The actual event is free. There is a picnic area in the parking lot. Bring water and bug spray, weather dependent. Closed toe shoes is also helpful. No pets.

Happy Homeschooling!


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Five Points of Life Kids Marathon

Free Race Gives Kids Incentive to Run

My son Jack is training for his very first marathon. He’s 7. They start young, eh?

Not really.

I stumbled upon the Five Points of Life Kids Marathon prior to Christmas as I began looking for 5K races that I could run in 2016. It’s been a long while (10 years) since I’ve run consistently and I was missing it. Now that the boys are older, I have a bit more time to “move freely about the cabin” and although I had not one, but TWO, B.O.B. Jogging Strollers, I hated running with them. Too heavy. Too hard. Too many toddler interruptions.

My plan was to train for a 5K to give me a goal to work for. The Five Points of Life event is on February 20th this year, which gave me just the right amount of time to build up my pace and stamina. It’s also in support of a cause that we believe in, so I felt good choosing this particular race.

What I didn’t expect was Jack’s desire to run with me. He loves it! So I went ahead and signed him up for the Five Points of Life Kids Marathon – which is free btw – to give him a goal to work toward as well.

The difference is that the kids will be running and training the distance between the date they register and race day. They will complete the final 1.2 mile run on race day. So every day or so, Jack runs with me and/or walks and we record his progress. He’s almost to the halfway mark, which means he has completed nearly 12.5 miles thus far!

Jack’s pretty serious about this and is sporting not one, but two new pairs of lightweight, free-form running shoes. Yet what he likes best is running barefoot. Why not? We can leave those $100 runners in the box, right? Sigh.

In any case, Jack’s pace is pretty good. I run an 11 minute mile (don’t laugh) and Jack is keeping pace for about the first 3/4 of a mile. Wowsa!

Now we’re working on stamina as he’ll have to complete a full 1.2  miles on race day. Come to think of it, I’ll have to work on my stamina, too. My 5k is right before Jack’s race, which means I get to hurry though my 5K only to line up and run Jack’s 1.2 miles beside him.

Whew, I got some training to do!

What I love best of all is the connection Jack and I get from running together. There are days he is tired so he will tell me to go on ahead because he doesn’t want to slow me down. I also slow down. I thank him for his consideration, yet I reassure him that we are in this together. I can always run again tomorrow. More important than running, is supporting my son. I want him to feel empowered, not defeated by this. We all have off days. It’s no biggie.

Little Smoo (Eli) gets in the action as well and speeds ahead of us on his scooter. He’s demonic on that thing and we simply laugh as we try to keep up the pace. Occasionally, I will sprint and bust past him. He collapses in giggles when I do.

If you haven’t heard of the Five Points of Life Kid Marathon, check it out. You don’t have to run, you can walk, skip, or jump to the finish line. It’s the overall fitness goal that counts. Every child who enters and finishes gets a prize bag and recognition – how awesome is that for a job well done?

I’ll post pics of race day on our Homeschool Helpdesk Facebook page. Check back on Feb 20th!


Mill Creek Preserve Homeschool Hike

I mentioned in the last Saturday Short N Sweet newsletter that I would tip you off to a lovely, and relatively unknown, hiking trail that the boys and I have been traveling during this unusual cold spell.

Located a few miles east of I-75 on 236 in Alachua, Mill Creek Preserve  is a 1, 230 acre preserve consisting of a pristine mix of wide open (hint: stroller friendly) trails and some more hardy, challenging trails. Two weeks ago, the boys and I set off on a chilly morning and the only soul we ran into was a gentleman training for the AT Trail. He took the West/Hammock Trail route, while the boys and I opted for the more demure Marsh Trail and Old Providence Loop. Here’s a map you can download: Mill Creek Preserve Trail Map

The Marsh Trail starts out in a forest of tall, planted pines that make for some fun, off-road running through the woods. Not that we leave the trail. Ever. Of course, lol. You shortly arrive at a small campsite, of sorts, with log benches placed in front of a grassy field. It’s a lovely spot to get oriented and have a quick snack.


The trail quickly winds through a dense thicket of Saw Palmettos and more pines before coming to the entrance of the Old Providence Loop. We usually take the loop as the Marsh Trail is a bit short.

Along the way, the boys start playing make-believe and before you know it, we are running along the trails defending ourselves against various Star Wars “dark-side” characters or a host of Minecraft mobs. Sigh. It’s the thing with these boys, eh?


Dog-friendly, we usually take our trail-hardly French Bulldog, Mr. Peabody (affectionately nick-named “Peabo”) and he trots along enjoying his assigned position in whatever role play the boys engage him in. Sometimes he’s a troll. Other times, he’s a French spy. At all times, he’s ridiculous and highly entertaining!


The Old Providence Loop follows the wide-format of the Marsh Trail for a bit, before it gets a bit rougher and you’ll have to walk single file and traverse over some roots. I’ve taken my B.O.B. stroller plenty of times, so if you’ve got an off-road style stroller you’ll be fine.

Given our current cold spell, we didn’t attract any ticks, but please be forewarned that this trail, like so many others, is prone to ticks so prepare accordingly. We usually do the “tick dance” in the parking lot before we get in the car, stripping off layers and checking all cracks and crevices before we depart. I also learned a great tip from savvy homeschool mama, Laura C. and that is to moisturize before a hike with virgin coconut oil (the one that smells like coconut). While not a full-proof way to avoid ticks, it helps and is a big detractor for mosquitos and gnats, yeah!

We are big dawdlers and like to stop for snacks and discovery, but you can easily walk the Marsh/Providence portion of Mill Creek Preserve in less than an hour. Or dawdle and make an afternoon of it like we do. There are plenty of spots for digging, climbing, and exploring so no need to rush when you’re homeschooling out-of-doors.



PS: Barreling down CR 236 from I-75 you’re sure to drive straight by the entrance and have to make a corn-field u-turn.


Sun Country Sports RECESS Program

Sun Country Sports RECESS Program is Supportive and Fun

We joined Sun Country last spring so the boys could attend their Homeschool R.E.C.E.S.S program. Designed for homeschoolers ages 5-12, the class takes place every Thursday throughout the school year from 10AM to 12PM. Afterwards, the kids usually pack a lunch and free play in the KidQuest zone.

It’s a blast.

My boys have yet to find an activity that they are willing to commit to on a regular basis. However, the Sun Country homeschool program is a different story. The boys jump into the car when it’s time to go.

That’s amazing!

The class is structured where the kids stretch and warm up as a group. Then they do handstands. Lot of handstands.

Jack isn’t particularly fond of handstands. Yet, most of the kids feel the same and everyone just does their best.

I like that attitude a lot.

In January Sun Country Sports Center is offering homeschoolers a FREE homeschool class to try out the program.

After warm up, the coaches break the kids into small groups. Sometimes there is a boy group and a girl group. Sometimes it’s an older group and  younger group. It just depends.Eli-climbs-Sun-Country-Spor

I can say that no matter the age ranges all the kids get along really well. The environment is supportive, not competitive, plus I believe that overall most homeschool kids are not too age-discriminatory. I like the mix of ages and so do my boys.

Once the kids are in small groups, they rotate between the core gymnastics activity and the specialty activity for the week. The specialty activities are this:

  • Week 1: Gymnastics + Fitness
  • Week 2: Gymnastics + Tumbling
  • Week 3: Gymnastics + Rock Climbing
  • Week 4: Gymnastics + Swimming
  • Week 5: Bonus Week – TBA

Jack likes swimming best. Eli likes everything. After the small group sessions end, the kids come back to a large group for a final stretch or group activity. There are always a minimum of two and often four coaches on hand to assist the kids. The coaches are super-patient and have helped my boys through more than one bout of tears.

Sun Country Presidential Fitness AwardThe kids also participate in the President’s Challenge, a fitness program that aims to increase physical activity and improve fitness. Once a month, the kids do a variety of exercises and record how many they are able to do. I was admittedly nervous about this program in the beginning. My oldest son gets extremely anxious when it comes to keeping score. Our very first day in the program the boys did the President’s Challenge. Jack did it! I have to credit Sun Country’s coaches, who are always encouraging and simply tell the kids to do what they can and then maybe one more. All the kids struggle at some point, yet everyone just keeps getting stronger and more proud of themselves.

How awesome is that?

This program is a stay-and-watch or drop-off, depending on your children and their needs. There is a group of cool parents who hang out and chat or catch up on work at the picnic tables inside. Once class is over, all the kids head to the KidQuest area to free play and eat their lunch. It’s a tremendous time for socialization and usually it involves chase or some kind of make-believe game.

Right now, Sun Country Sports Center is offering homeschoolers a FREE homeschool class to try out the program. You gotta act fast, though! Choose from Thursday, January 21 or Thursday, January 28. Be sure to all ahead and reserve a spot at 352.331.8773.

You can read other parents’ reviews on the program by clicking on the REVIEWS tab here: Sun Country Sports Center RECESS Homeschool Program

The cost for the program is $85/term, plus a $65 annual family membership fee. Siblings receive a discount. I tallied up all nine months and how many months have a “bonus week” and I calculated 42 classes at $18 per class (for one child). That’s pretty dang good! Other programs we have tried are $15-20 for a thirty minute class. We get two whole hours for the same price at Sun Country!

It’s  a wonderful program and I can’t say enough about the attitude and supportive style. Programs that are competitive or highly structured aren’t our cup of tea. Sun Country Sports RECESS Program is exactly the style of program we enjoy.

Happy homeschooling!


PS: I always offer full transparency, so please note that as of Dec 1, 2015 Sun Country Sports Center is an advertiser with the Homeschool Helpdesk. However, this is not why I wrote this blog. I wrote the blog because my kids have enjoyed the program and I wanted others to know about how special it truly is, plus you get the chance to try it for free in January. Cheers!

Junior Ranger Program

It Starts in the Parks

One of the first things I do each new year is renew our Florida Annual Parks Pass. We spend so much time hiking and creek walking in our local Florida State Parks that it just makes economical sense to do so.

I calculated up what it costs me to pay the entrance fees, and while it seems like $5 here and $4 there doesn’t cost a lot…it adds up quickly!

So I bite the bullet and get the pass. I’m always glad I did.

Homeschoolers at Wes Skiles Peacock Springs State Park

Lately, the boys and I have been working on the Florida State Parks  Junior Ranger Program. The Junior Ranger Program provides a bit of structure to our outings with a passport-style activity program designed for kids ages 4-12.

I don’t know about you, but my  kids are crazy for passport-style programs where they get a stamp for each activity completed. Oh the joy!

And I am crazy for any program that gives me a basic theme or idea that I can then build upon in our homeschool learning.

Yay! Junior Ranger Program is a win-win in our homeschool home.

Junior Ranger Program

The program begins with six core activities found in the Junior Ranger Kit. Click here to download: Junior Ranger Core Activities. These first activities introduce the Florida State Parks system, how to use a map, types of park activities, etc. These worksheets are super-brief with no more than five (5) questions that even my unschooling crew is more than willing to do!

Once the kids finish the core activities, they give the worksheets to the park ranger at your local Florida State Park.

We turned our paperwork in at Devil’s Millhopper and the ranger there was A-M-A-Z-I-N-G with the boys. He took the whole affair quite seriously, which really raised the bar! The boys held up their hands and recited the Junior Ranger pledge and then they received their Junior Ranger Member Card and a signed certificate.

“As a Junior Ranger, I promise to protect the plants, animals, water, geological features, culture and history of Florida State Parks. I promise to continue to learn about parks and share what I have learned with other as I Explore …the Real Florida”

Oh boy! My guys were both thrilled and I have since inserted their Junior Ranger Member Card into badge necklaces that they now wear proudly when we visit the parks!


How stinkin cute is that?

Once the kids have completed the core activities, they receive their passport. The Junior Ranger Passport has four categories where the kids complete three activities within each to complete their Junior Ranger Badge. The four categories are Natural Resources, Cultural Resources, Recreation, Service.

Now the activities are super diverse! They range from identifying invasive species, animal evidence, archaeological history, how to start a campfire, pitch a tent, oh my gosh. It goes on and on! You can really tailor the activities to your child’s interests.

Daddy and the boys hiked Moonshine Creek Trail last week and found loads of invasive air potato.

Best of all, these activities are short and sweet, and then you can extend them at home as you like.

Once the kids receive their official Junior Ranger Badge, you can add some cool SWAG. Florida State Parks Junior Ranger Shop I’m pretty sure we’re getting a couple of these t-shirts. The boys are really enjoying this program…they definitely need to wear a tee with pride! Plus, the proceeds goes to the park which makes me feel good.

Are you ready to get your hike on? Yeah! The Florida State Parks Junior Ranger Program is so much fun and a fantastic way to get homeschoolers out of the house and into the woods.

Happy homeschooling!


Cooperative Games

Games that Support Empathy and Team Work

We learned early-on in our parenting career that our oldest child was not wired for competition. Thoughts of sitting around the camp fire playing Monopoly or Gin Rummy quickly withered as we watched our son melt-down in despair when we attempted any type of competitive game.

He is not a perfectionist, nor is he afraid to try and excel at something difficult. Yet for some reason, when asked to pit his skills against the person next to him, my eldest son becomes physically anxious and panics.

As we solidified our parenting philosophy, we began to realize that we didn’t necessarily want our kids to be competitive. Self-motivated, passionate and focused, yes…but not at the expense of their neighbor. We didn’t want to teach our children to find joy in someone else’s loss.

When kids at the playground asked our kids to play tag, I quickly offered to play “challenge” instead where I shouted out a physical challenge for all the kids to accomplish, where no child “won” or “lost” – each child simply worked as hard as they could to jump on one foot or run around the oak tree or execute five jumping jacks. The kids loved it and my children were able to socialize, while we stayed true to our family values. Yay!

We avoided playing board games as I assumed they were all competitive in nature. I was wrong!

Recently an uber-cool homeschool mama, Jessica A.. brought a cooperative game to our homeschool co-op. Huh! Who knew? I wasn’t clever enough to think that other families might have the same approach to competition and that someone was actually mass producing cooperative games. Cool!

The game Jessica introduced to us is Community and my son played it for over an hour at co-op that day – a major accomplishment for a kid who shies away from games. Of course, we purchased Community and both my four year old and six year old play it regularly.   

The idea is to create a city, or community, with the octagonal game tiles, by connecting each location tile (home, library, museum) with a road tile as efficiently as possible. The road tiles must be oriented to match up with the location tiles, making it a fun puzzle that is unique every time you play.

I recently did some research into cooperative games and realized that the skills learned teach communication, empathy, and conflict resolution – exactly the type of skills our family prioritizes in our children’s education and development. Cooperative games require the skills of everyone in the group and give kids an opportunity to work together toward a common goal. Nice!

If you’re curious about cooperative games there is a whole slew of them on Amazon. Thus far, Community is our favorite. You can also try before you buy at  your local gaming store – I know our local game store, Gamesville Tabletop, has plenty to choose from.

Happy cooperative gaming!

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