Dollar Tree Tiered Tray

I love seeing the tiered trays that Dollar Tree crafters on YouTube make. I really want to have one in my kitchen, but as I mentioned last month, it’s really just too small in there for much of anything. So I did the next best thing: I made one and gave it away! Here’s what I did to make “my” tiered tray.

I started with a set of the burner covers from the Dollar Tree. I went this route instead of getting two cake pans, or a cake pan and pie pan, because I wanted to keep it cheap for my first time out. I painted both pieces black. It was technically chalkboard paint because that was the only black paint they had at Dollar Tree (and I didn’t have any at home). For the piece that connects the two tiers, the YouTubers usually use one of the standard Dollar Tree candlesticks. My store didn’t have any of those when I was there shopping, so I wandered the store for a while to try to find something that would work. I eventually chose a stemmed wine glass. When I got home, I painted that black as well. Then, following the tips from the people on YouTube, I used a combination of super glue and hot glue to connect everything together. The super glue gives you a permanent hold, while the hot glue gives you a semi-instant hold so you don’t have to worry about your piece falling apart while you wait the hours for the super glue to cure.

With the tray done, now I had to fill it up. I decided that I would give this to my mom for Mother’s Day, so I chose items that would fit her personality. I went with a “birds” theme because she loves birds. Some of the items I used almost as-is, and some I DIY’ed a lot.

First up was this candle holder. It was gray when I started, but I wanted it to be black so I painted it with my chalkboard paint. I distressed it a bit with some white dry-brushing, and then glued a Dollar Tree bird decoration on top of it and tied a red ribbon around the top. I filled the candle holder with an LED candle from DT because my mom doesn’t use real candles in her home for animal safety reasons. That went onto the tiered tray.

Next, I chose one of the birdhouses from Dollar Tree. I wanted a stained wood look for that, so I took some brown acrylic paint and watered it down. I brushed this all over the bird house, and it gave me exactly the look I wanted. I kept the bird house pretty plain.

I found a packet of wooden dragonflies at the Dollar Tree too, and I painted one of them with the chalkboard paint. I primed the new mini-chalkboard and wrote “Love U” on it, mostly to show that it was a working chalkboard.

The last piece I added to the tiered tray was the best one I made. I found a cheesy shelf frame at the Dollar Tree. It was sort of like a shadow box frame, but with no glass in the front. It had a wood circle, which I popped off and painted. (It turns out I didn’t need to have painted it because I ended up gluing a piece of paper to the circle later. But I didn’t know that at the time.) I also painted the bright blue frame with red. Next, I went to the computer and found two things. The first was a picture of a bird. The second was a quote about birds. I found a perfect one for my mom – it was about birds, and spoken (or written, I’m not sure) by Stephen King, her favorite author. In Photoshop, I drew a circle the same size as the cutout I’d removed from the frame. I then added a red textured background and then typed the quote over the top of that. I printed out both pieces – the bird and the quote. Then I used Mod Podge to glue the bird into the back of the frame and the quote onto the painted circle. With a bit of hot glue, I attached the circle on top of the bird – in a different place than it had been originally though. I absolutely loved how this piece turned out.

And that was it. Usually a tiered tray is jammed full of cute themed items, but I was having trouble getting inspired, and I left it at just the four items. I will likely make things for my mom to add to it here and there though.

Have you ever made a tiered tray? Or bought one and decorated it?

Blessings,

Speed Drills for Math Practice (review)

Disclosure: I received this complimentary product through the Homeschool Review Crew.

One of the biggest setbacks to a “regular” school schedule is the possibility of losing ground over summer break. This is especially true with math and reading, though reading is easy enough to keep practicing. But math can be a lot harder to stay motivated to work on when it’s “off time.” This is especially true if your student has only recently mastered a new concept – like multiplication or division facts. Math Essentials has an answer for that, though: Math Essentials Speed Wheel Drills! We received all three of the titles in this series: Addition, Multiplication, and Division.

A collage showing the three book covers, the three book spines, and a completed wheel drill

What is a Speed Wheel Drill?

A completed +1 Wheel DrillWhile you may not have heard of a Speed Wheel Drill, once I describe it, you’ll understand where the name came from because it really is exactly what it sounds like. On each page of the consumable workbooks, there are a series of circles. Each circle (wheel) has two smaller circles within it, and a series of spokes coming out. In the very center is a large number (3, for example). In the center section are a series of other numbers, a bit smaller than the center number (7, 5, 2, etc). Your student simply uses the center number as the “base” for each math problem, and then does the specified operation (depending on which book you have), writing the answer in the outer circle. So, with 3 as the center number and 7 as one of the middle numbers, in the multiplication book the child would write 21. Next to the 5, he would write 15. The 2 would get a 6. And so on.

There are a couple of different ways you can use the “speed” portion of the Speed Wheel Drills.

  • Don’t use a timer at all, and just do them as Wheel Drills
  • Time your child as he completed a wheel. Then see if he can best himself on the next one, and the next one.
  • Set a stopwatch and see how far your child gets in the set amount of time. Next time, see if he can complete more of the wheel in the same amount of time.

How We Used the Workbooks

The three workbooks stacked on top of one another, fanned out.My older boys are well versed in their math facts, so I didn’t bother giving these to them. Because we received all three books, which are ideal for different ages, I set up Grasshopper (9, heading into 4th grade) with the Multiplication book and Dragonfly (5, K) with the Addition book. We set the Division book aside for later.

Grasshopper has gone through all of the multiplication lessons in his math curriculum, and has done quite well with them. But that curriculum only has a single lesson for each set of the times tables, and that’s just not enough practice to really master such an important concept. Adding in Speed Wheel Drills has been perfect. We started without the “speed” aspect, just to see how he’d do, and he did pretty well. As I could tell that he was getting quicker with each successive wheel, I introduced a timer. I opted to use the second method that I described before with him. It was great to watch him continue to get faster and faster throughout the summer. And Grasshopper is a kid who loves to best himself, so this type of workbook is perfect for him.

Dragonfly, being just 5, is reasonably new to addition. He’s done a little bit here and there, but his math up to this point has been primarily number recognition, patterns, colors, shapes… you know, Kindergarten stuff. He’s very good at that now, though, which means it’s time to begin some of the more difficult things. We used the Speed Wheel Drills Addition book as a gentle introduction to adding for him. He was a bit confused about how the wheels worked until I explained it to him, and then he thought it was such a great idea. He warmed to the concept very quickly, although he got frustrated with trying to write the numbers himself. We found that they worked better almost as oral drills, and I wrote his answers down for him. We haven’t timed him at all yet.

Opinion and Final Thoughts

Math Essentials Speed Wheel Drills are fantastic resources for students. You can use them during the summertime like we did, or as a supplement to any math curriculum. My kids thrived with them, and I can’t recommend them enough.

Make sure to click through to see what other members of the Homeschool Review Crew think of the books!

Blessings,

Beginning of the School Year Memories

a chalk board with fall leaves around the edge. the title of the post is written in a chalkboard font in the middle.

The beginning of the school year is a special time for students, regardless of what “kind” of school they go to. If you go on Instagram anytime this month, you’ll begin seeing loads and loads of back to school posts. In my feed, a couple of these traditions come to mind; these moms post the same thing every year and it really sticks in my mind. The first is a mom that has a huge frame that she has each of her children hold around their face each fall and spring. It must a dry erase or something, because she writes each child’s grade on it, and it’s different for each of her kids (she also has 5, like me). The second one is a mom who is also a public school teacher. She takes a photograph of her son in the fall and again in the spring standing in front of the school’s sign where he attends. It’s pretty neat to get the same picture nine months apart and see how much taller her son has gotten!

We’ve never really done anything like that, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think it’s a good idea. There are some things from my own elementary school days that I remember having done (mostly from 3rd grade – I must have had a great teacher that year!). Here’s an idea to do with your children/students. At the beginning of the school year, get a manila envelope and have your student write on it: (Name)’s Time Capsule. Do not open until 2046. (Of course, you can choose a different year; I chose that one because it’s 25 years from now.) All throughout the school year, save samples of their work and tuck it into the envelope. Not everything, but a reasonable sample. This will show how much they learn and develop their skills over the course of the school year.

Maybe take some white paper and tempera or acrylic paint and have students create a hand and/or footprint page. This would be a good basic anatomy lesson – I remember being in third grade and not understanding why I had a huge “indent” in my footprint (and trying everything I could think of to fill it in to no avail). Now I know that’s the arch. It would have been nice to have had some sort of explanation for that as a child. Do this again at the end of the school year to show physical growth. When your student opens that envelope as an adult, they will cherish at least some of the papers you’ve tucked inside. I know when my mom gave me my third grade time capsule a few years back, I was excited to see everything in there – the only thing I remembered having done was the footprint. Everything else in there was a surprise.

Last month, I wrote about learning styles. Have you ever considered your students’ learning styles? There’s a personality quiz online that you can have your child take. Garnering information about their specific learning style would be a fantastic way to get the school year off to an amazing start, because you could tailor their work to their specific learning style.

If you’ve chosen your homeschool curriculum already, then you have an idea of what you’ll be teaching this year. How about doubling down on that “before and after” concept this way: Choose something related to one of your year long studies and have your children create something at the beginning of the school year (a world map if you’re doing a heavy geography study, for example) and then recreate that same assignment at the end of the year. Make sure to save the one from now so you can show them how much they learned!

What are some of your favorite “beginning of the school year” memory makers?

Blessings,

 

 

This post is part of the Homeschool Review Crew Not-Back-To-School Blog Hop. Click on any of the links below to read more posts on this topic!

 



Dyslexia Gold (review)

Disclosure: I received this complimentary product through the Homeschool Review Crew.

Grasshopper was slow to read. He fought me tooth and nail for a long time. But finally, I told him it was “time.” He was able to read well enough that he had to read a novel out loud to me. It was slow going at first. For a really long time. But as he read every day, he got better and better. Now, he reads everything in sight. I don’t have to force him anymore. And he even (claims to) like reading!

To further his quick studying in reading comprehension, we signed up to review Dyslexia Gold. This is an online program that’s designed for students who struggle with reading, whether it’s due to dyslexia or for another reason. Grasshopper’s reading took off sometime between when we signed up for the review and when we actually started using the program, so the timing was a bit unfortunate for us. That said, he did learn quite a few things from the program, and I’ll tell you all about them!

The program has four main parts, but after a placement test Grasshopper was only assigned three of them. (The one he didn’t get was Reading Unlocked, which I reviewed last year with Dragonfly. We had amazing success with that program! Read that review for a more in-depth look at that program.) Let’s discuss each of the parts of Dyslexia Gold that we used in more detail.

Engaging Eyes is designed to help your child learn to focus. People with dyslexia often have trouble with their eyes, and that inability to focus easily leads to the words “swimming” in front of them. The Engaging Eyes vision training in Dyslexia Gold is done with a pair of 3D glasses. Students wear the glasses and then shoot the targets using the arrows and spacebar on the keyboard. They have to not only aim the shooter, but also make sure it’s on the same plane in order to hit their target. This game was the most fun for Grasshopper. In fact, he had so much fun with it that everyone else in the family gave it a try at one point or another!

Fluency Builder teaches a child who already knows how to read, how to read well. It has a total of 50 lessons, and each one focuses on a specific phonemic sound. It also teaches children to differentiate sounds that might be similar to an early reader (|f| and |v| for example). Each lesson is broken up into a variety of activities that really drive home the phonics aspect of reading. There is also a passage for children to read and answer comprehension questions.

Spelling Tutor is where I saw the biggest improvement in my son. This part of the program has the child read a passage. Then they are to write the passage down, one sentence at a time. When they’re done, they click “mark” and are able to self-grade their work. If they get everything right, great! If they get anything wrong, that word goes on their “practice” list. The program remembers which words the student needs to practice more, and it gives those words to them many times over the course of the program. At the point the child gets a problem word correct, it moves down on the list and is shown less frequently.

Dyslexia Gold also includes a Times Tables tutor, but we’re swimming in math practice right now, so we didn’t use that.

As mentioned, we didn’t end up “needing” the program as much as I thought we would when I agreed to review it. But Grasshopper had amazing success with the spelling portion, and I’m glad we had access to that to help him understand how to get better at spelling.

Make sure to read more reviews on the Homeschool Review Crew website!

Blessings,

Bible Reading for Kids (review)

Disclosure: I received this complimentary product through the Homesshool Review Crew.

Do you want your kids to love the Bible? Are you concerned about your ability to teach it to them? Then you should pick up a copy of Danika Cooley’s book Help Your Kids Learn & Love the Bible from Bethany House Publishers. In this nonfiction book, she tackles all sorts of issues parents have with the Bible, and specifically developing a Bible study routine with their families.

I’m not one for nonfiction; I am definitely a preferrer of novels. But Help Your Kids Learn & Love the Bible was an easy read, and I didn’t have any issues with the text of the book. I was able to easily read a chapter (or so) each day and get through the book readily.

The book is divided into three parts, each building on those that came before it. It starts with a reminder of sorts, that you (the parents) are the leaders in your family. What you say goes. But it also is a bit of a sobering reminder that if you don’t make the time for the things you claim are important to you (it seems that for most people, these are the Bible and the gym), then your kids pick up on that and those things won’t be important to them either. Being the leader is more than being the boss; it is also being the role model.

Part Two is called Faithful Reading. It gives a brief overview of what the Bible is (a “book of books”) and the men who wrote it. The author tells us about the development of the Bible – why the books we have are the accepted canon. In amongst all the “textbook” feeling stuff, though, readers are also told about ways to make sure they’re keeping the message of the Bible front and center when doing family Bible studies.

The final part is A Daily Walk, and this is the culmination of the other two parts. See, as the leaders in our families, we are responsible for teaching what we want taught in our homes. By reading the Bible faithfully, and understanding what it’s about and why it’s important to us, we encourage our children to do the same. With those two main criteria covered, we are ready for that “daily walk” with God. The author gives us guidance for reading the Bible with your children and ways to help your children “hide God’s word in their hearts.” She explains how to pray the word of God with your family, and even offers suggestions and encouragement for doing your Bible reading on the days you really don’t want to.

I really enjoyed reading this book, especially the bits and pieces of real life anecdotes sprinkled throughout. The author has two sons she writes about regularly in the book, and while the stories are from all ages of their childhood and development, I have sons in all of those ages so it was fun to read about how her children behaved and see some similarities to my own kids. If you’re wanting to start incorporating more Bible reading into your homeschool (or even just your family life), and you’re a bit unsure how to begin and whether you should “carefully omit” certain sections of the Bible (I’m looking at you, Song of Solomon) for children of certain ages, then Help Your Kids Learn & Love the Bible just might be a useful resource for you as you navigate.

Remember to head over to the Homeschool Review Crew to read more reviews of this book as well.

Blessings,

Fermenting Food with Fermentools

Disclosure: I received this complimentary product through the Homeschool Review Crew.

Last year, I was able to review the Starter Kit from Fermentools, and it didn’t go so well. I was able to technically ferment some vegetables, but they weren’t a family favorite, taste-wise. This summer, I’ve been making a lot of coleslaw (the traditional kind, not fermented), and I wanted to give fermented coleslaw a try. I’ve had some “sour” coleslaw in restaurants with fish and chips. When I saw the recipe for fermented coleslaw on the Fermentools blog, I suspected that that tart flavor I’ve enjoyed in restaurants might be a fermented slaw. I wanted to try making it myself! For this reason, I asked for another opportunity to write a review for Fermentools.

Fermenting foods is a great way to incorporate good bacteria into your intestinal tract (necessary for optimal “gut health”), and it’s gained a lot of popularity over the past few years (never mind the fact that it’s been a traditional way of preserving food for over a century). If you like sour things, like pickles and sauerkraut, or fermented things, like wine, then good news for you: you already like fermented food! But if you buy these foods from the grocery store, you’re missing out on all the good bacteria that you get when you ferment your own food at home. This is because in the process of canning to make food shelf stable, all that heat kills the bacteria. Killing bad bacteria is a good thing, but killing the good bacteria… not so much.

The Fermentools Starter Kit comes with everything you need to turn any size wide-mouthed Mason jar into a fermenting vessel. Just add the jar and the food! The starter kit comes in a nice small box that will fit easily into a standard mailbox when you order it. Inside the box is a little cloth bag with all of the tools: a glass weight, an air lock, a special lid that fits a wide-mouthed jar, a rubber stopper, and a rubber ring. Also inside the box, but outside of the bag, is a bag of specially formulated Fermentools Himalayan pink salt and an instruction sheet with two recipes. Let’s talk about how to ferment food using the kit.

The first thing you do is to choose your recipe. As I mentioned before, I opted for coleslaw. This meant chopping up some cabbage, shredding carrots, and getting started. I used green cabbage only because it’s what I had on hand already, but you could easily do a mix of green and purple. For a quart sized jar, I used about half a large head of cabbage and two carrots.

Once my vegetables were chopped, I sprinkled a tablespoon of the pink salt from the kit over the top of the mix (it was still just laid out on my cutting board at this point). I mixed it altogether with my hands and then pressed it into the jar. With the jar filled up, I then made a brine solution. I didn’t have any distilled water at the time, so I used the method on the instruction sheet to dechlorinate some tap water by boiling it for ten minutes and then letting it cool. I cheated on the cooling and added some store-bought ice to speed up that process. In the future, I will just buy a gallon of distilled water and not worry about it, but I’d already chopped and salted the cabbage at this point, forgetting that fermenting requires non-chlorinated water.

Making the brine with Fermentools is super easy. The salt bag has everything you need to know to measure properly. If you look at the front of the bag, it tells you how much salt you need for a specific amount of water (not for the size of your jar, so be aware of that when you measure) in grams. Flip the bag over and you’ll see a grams-to-teaspoons/tablespoons chart. Simply add the salt to your water, stir to dissolve, and your brine is ready.

Back to my jar of coleslaw. It was packed down now, so I slowly poured the brine over the mixture. My recipe recommended placing a cabbage leaf over the top of the mixture, so I did that and then added the glass weight. The weight is perfectly sized to fit inside the Mason jar, and its job is to keep the vegetables submerged in the brine during the fermenting process, assuring that all of the food ferments – none is above the brine being left unfermented. From here, you add the special Fermentools lid (it has a hole in the top) and rubber gasket, then secure it with the ring that came with your jar. Pop the rubber stopper into that hole, then add your air lock to the rubber stopper. Fill the air lock halfway with water (there’s a line right on there so you don’t have to guess; I used brine in mine) and place your jar in a dark place to ferment for the time specified in your recipe. The fermenting process varies based on the food in your jar; my coleslaw recipe said about 5 days. I forgot about it, though, and it ended up going 8 days before I got back to it.

Now the big question… did the fermented coleslaw taste good? Yes! I was a bit leery to taste it at first, so I just had a little bit. The recipe said that when the fermenting was over, to mix it with a bit of mayonnaise to complete the recipe, so I did that. And it was really good! I will definitely be making more fermented coleslaw in the coming months. And it gave me the confidence in tasty fermented foods that I didn’t get last year, so I want to try some other options. I learned last year that it’s best not to attempt to make something that’s not what it’s supposed to be. For example, I confused “fermented asparagus” with “pickled asparagus” last year, and I was disappointed. But going in with the right mentality this year, I was much happier with the results. If you already know you like fermented food and want to make it yourself to preserve those good bacteria, or you’re interested in trying something new, then I definitely recommend the Fermentools Starter Kit.

One last thing before I wrap up today. Last year, I gave my Starter Kit to my mom because I didn’t expect to use it again after our family’s disappointment in the asparagus. She made some fermented garlic, and I have a short review from her too.

I used your fermenting process to ferment some garlic. It was very easy. All I had to do was put the stuff together and put it in the garage for three months. After that, I put it in the refrigerator and let it cool down because I like my stuff cool, and then I gave it a try. I thought it tasted really good. Your product was very fun to use and very easy.

Make sure to click through to the Homeschool Review Crew website, too, and see what other families fermented. I know I’m excited to read those reviews!

Blessings,

Opting for a GED

Ballet Boy, for many reasons that he and Will discussed, decided to pursue a GED (formally “Tests for General Educational Development”). The primary reason is that the two of them thought a “homeschool diploma” wouldn’t be taken seriously by people in the real world. Today, Ballet Boy and I want to talk a little bit about the GED process in our state.

A test on a desk with a teen's hand holding a pencil hovering above the page

Disclaimer: While it seems as though the basics are the same from state to state, do not take our words for facts nationwide. Always do your own research and choose the best path for you, as well as making sure you follow all the laws and guidelines in your specific state.

The GED is a series of four tests, designed to determine whether a student has enough knowledge to “be done” with their schooling without technically “graduating.” You have to be 18 in order to take the tests, and each one is administered separately, with their own fees ($38 each in our state; if a retest is required, the fee is slightly lower). The tests are available for in-person or online, though the price is slightly higher online starting September 1st (in most states). If you take the test in person, there is no practice testing required, but to do it online you must have passed a practice test within the last 60 days. Some states require that you live in the state to take their test, but not all of them do (ours doesn’t). Make sure to find out whether the state you wish to test in has residency requirements or not before you commit. Additionally, not all states offer the test (Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Tennessee, Maine, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, New York, and West Virginia), so if you live in one of those states, you need to either take the test online or travel to a state that allows non-residents to test.

With those basics discusses, I will now pass the torch over to Ballet Boy.

The trick with being homeschooled is that it can be pretty difficult to keep track of things like credits. That hasn’t mattered before, but seeing as I’m 18 in October, graduating – or at least finishing – starts to be a necessity. We have done so many different curricula over the years through the Review Crew that it would be much too complicated to go through them all to count up the credits. Instead, I talked with my dad and together we decided that it would be a good idea for me to take the GED test instead of getting a traditional high school diploma. Since I’m not planning on going to college, this seemed like a reasonable way to wrap things up. 

The test itself is made up of four separate exams in a variety of subjects. These smaller tests are:

Science, Social Studies, Math (always math lol), and Language Arts. 

You need to be at least 18 (16 under very specific circumstances, such as being an emancipated minor) to take the test in my state and the fee is around $150 for the whole test. You are not required to take all four tests at the same time. To qualify for the GED you cannot be enrolled in school. The GED tests are scored on a 100-299 scale and scoring is as follows: 100-144-below passing; 145-164-high school equivalency score; 165-174-college-ready score; 175-200-college-ready + college credit score. And if you score 299 I’m pretty sure they ask you to be the president. 

They say you should plan on the prep taking three months to pass the test but they also say that 65% of students fail the test and have to take it again. I’m taking my time and checking all my boxes before I take the exams. The only subject that concerns me is math, so I’m going through a program called Triad Math (which, ironically enough started out as a review product) and brushing up on everything. I also have an ACT prep course that I’m starting, and there’s tons of help on YouTube to fill in all the gaps. So for anyone reading this who’s planning on taking the GED there is no one specific way to prep. Look at the subjects, work on what you’re not confident in till you are, and I’ll meet you on the other side 😉

Thanks for reading and I’ll see you in the next one.

Ballet Boy

A Basic Sweater for Ballet Boy

Ballet Boy has very specific taste, in clothing especially. He’s developing a similar taste as Will (which makes sense) for the finer things in life. This is why the first sweater I made for him was a fancy one – lots of cables, seed stitch in between for texture, a gorgeous shawl collar. And as much as I love seeing that sweater, I did not like making it. It doesn’t even make sense that I didn’t like the process; it’s the kind of sweater most knitters live for – lots of interest, no boring “miles of stockinette.” To this day, I don’t know why I didn’t enjoy the process. I love the idea of making another one, but remembering how much I struggled with it, I just can’t bring myself to do it.

The sweater in progress. Obviously I have a ways to go still, but I’m struggling a bit with motivation right now. Probably because it’s so hot here in the Pacific Northwest. The last thing I want is a winter sweater in my lap all day.

So when he outgrew that one (don’t worry; we’ve kept it and Grasshopper will wear it one day), he and I brainstormed ideas for another sweater for him. He wasn’t super particular. He had just two criteria: it needed to be dark gray, and it needed to be a pullover. My kids are too nice to say it so bluntly, but they all have let me know in their own ways that I suck at plotting buttonholes! They all prefer pullovers because the buttons never quite fasten tidily when I make them a sweater.

So after looking over tons of patterns, we fell back on an old favorite: the Flax sweater. This pattern is one of the most popular on Ravelry, and for good reason. It’s free, it’s easy, and it comes in a huge variety of sizes (newborn – 3XL). You can literally make this sweater for anyone you know and it will fit them. The sweater is constructed top down, which means you’re working upside-down for most of it. The sleeves have just the tiniest bit of interest: a stripe of garter stitch along the top, from shoulder to wrist.

I’m using Hobby Lobby “I Love This Yarn!” in the color Dark Gray for the sweater. It’s a lovely heathered black-gray color, and it’s making the sweater turn out really prettily. The yarn is a bit heavy when it’s knit up, but that will assure that the sweater is quite warm for him this fall and winter. And we definitely picked the right pattern for this yarn. The heathering gives interest where the pattern leaves simplicity. But that plush garter stitch on the sleeves is just a very pleasant touch.

If you want to knit a sweater but you’ve never done it before, I can’t recommend the Flax sweater enough. Find it free on Ravelry (from Tin Can Knits’s “The Simple Collection”). There are tons of tutorials available to walk you through the process because it was designed to be a learner sweater. And if you’re new to knitting but aren’t quite sure you want to tackle a sweater yet, The Simple Collection has you covered anyway. It includes patterns for a scarf, a blanket, mittens that can be made regular or fingerless, a shawl, a hat, socks, a pullover, a cardigan, and a cowl. The pieces all “match” in that they have a bit of garter paneling somewhere on the item. This allows you to practice both your knits and your purls, whether you’re working on an “in the round” project or a flat one.

What do you want to knit first?

Blessings,

Cross Stitching

A couple of weeks ago, I got the urge to cross stitch something. I’m not entirely what prompted that, but I’m glad it did. I’ve been having quite a bit of fun creating my image.

The first thing I did was to go out and purchase a piece of Aida fabric. This is a precut piece of fabric that is punched with holes (imagine a very small, fabric instead of paper, version of a “boxes” game). The weave on the fabric is reasonably loose – you can easily see the threads. But at the same time, the fabric is stiff. To make your design, you create a series of little Xs, using the holes in the fabric as your guide.

If you don’t know how to read a cross stitch pattern, they seem like gibberish, so let me take a moment to explain it to you.

First, you have to understand embroidery thread. Embroidery thread comes in tiny skeins, and you have to re-wind it onto bobbins before you use it. Each one is reasonably short, so it only takes a minute or two to wind one. The thread is made up of six thin strands. For most forms of cross stitch and embroidery, you use two of those strands at a time. This means that you have to cut a length of thread off of your bobbin (usually 12-18 inches), and then peel apart two of the strands from the rest. Alternately, you can peel off just one strand and fold it in half (this is normally what I do). This allows you to cut your thread a bit longer because you’re just going to halve it. You don’t want to cut your thread too long because you risk easy knotting otherwise. Also, embroidery thread doesn’t have color names; it has color numbers. This makes it easier to find the exact colors you need for a specific pattern. There are two main brands of the thread that I know of, but almost all patterns only offer the color numbers for one of them: DMC.

Now that you know about the thread itself, we can move back to the patterns. On your pattern, you’ll see a key that’s not unlike a map legend. It shows all the different symbols used in the pattern, and next to each one is a color number and sometimes description of the color. This allows you to easily shop for the threads you need for your project. (You don’t have to take these colors as canon; I’ve frequently adjusted the colors based on what I already have on hand or in the event that the store is out of a color that’s required in the pattern.)

When you’ve gathered all of your supplies – the different threads, the Aida fabric, a needle (cross stitch needles are blunt because the fabric has holes already; this makes it a good past time to teach children), and a pair of scissors – you’re ready to stitch! You always start a cross stitch in the center and work your way out. This keeps your design centered on your fabric, which makes it easier to frame later. The pattern will guide you toward that center point with arrows on the edge. You just follow the arrows inward and choose the best match you see. Again, this isn’t a precise science. I normally narrow it down to 4 possible stitches and pick the one I want to start with.

As you might have guessed from what I’ve said thus far, each symbol represents one color of thread. You simply create the little X on your fabric using the appropriate color. I find it easiest to work in “chunks” of a single color and then move on to another color. Some people like to work in rows, keeping their color attached until they need it again. Neither way is right or wrong; like all crafts, so long as it looks right in the end – and you’re happy with it – then you did it right. One last tip, though: always mark off the stitches you’ve already created in thread. I can’t imagine a universe in which avoiding doing that would be beneficial, even for an experienced stitcher. You can either print out your pattern and mark off the stitches with a pencil, or work digitally and mark them off using some sort of highlighting tool in your PDF reader of choice (I use iBooks on my phone).

Now that you’ve (hopefully) got a basic idea of how to cross stitch, here’s my current project.

I don’t like dogs as a general rule, but Scotties have always been an exception to that rule! (At least as decor. I’m not sure I’d ever want a real dog, no matter how cute.)

Do you cross stitch? Do you like dogs?

Blessings,

Khan Academy for High School

My oldest son decided to go the GED route (which I’ve mentioned before). But I’m encouraging my second son, Scorpion, to pursue a homeschool diploma instead. He’ll be starting 9th grade in September, so we’re in full on planning mode now. In my internet searches, I found Khan Academy. I’ve heard of them before, but never really looked into them very much. But when I saw that they have an app, I knew that it just might be a good fit for my technology-loving, visual learner!

This post will likely feel a bit like a review, but it’s completely unsponsored. I just want to talk about our high school plan for Scorpion, to both share with you a potentially new curriculum as well as give us some accountability moving forward.

the app icon for khan academyI signed up for an account before I ever told him about the idea of using this program, and from there I was able to easily create a student account for him. I used the website to go over all the different options for classes, and then I assigned him the subjects I want him to take. We’re on summer break now, but he spent a couple of weeks in the app to get a good feel for it so that it would be smooth sailing when school starts in the fall. Here’s what he’ll be working on.

9th Grade Reading and Vocabulary

This course is still in beta mode, which means they’re potentially working out some kinks. It also redirects to the website because of that, rather than showing up right in the app. The course has three main components: Borders, Social Psychology, and The Apocalypse. Each of the sections follows the same basic outline, but with a different emphasis (fiction vs poetry vs informational text for example).

Grammar

It’s no secret that I’m a grammar nerd. I live for good grammar, and it’s one of my favorite subjects to teach my kids. I even do professional copy editing for Will’s book design business. But I care more about making sure that commas are properly placed and shouldn’t be a semicolon instead, rather than keeping track of all the nuanced and advanced concepts of high school grammar. So I am more than happy to let Khan Academy take over the teaching here!

The Grammar course has 10 sections, and each one has between 600 and 1300 “mastery points.” Students work through all the different topics, earning their points to pass the class. It starts easy, with things your student should have learned in elementary school (nouns and verbs). By the end of the course, they’re into more complicated things like “syntax: sentences and clauses.” It even includes a style section at the very end of the course!

a screenshot showing the different courses my son will be taking this school year.

High School Biology

This course is also in beta mode, but it works in the app. At the time of this writing, it has two main sections: Matter and Energy in Ecosystems and Interactions in Ecosystems. Each of those sections, when you click through, has a fair number of lessons. Scorpion hasn’t delved very much into this course, but it looks to be a good balance between videos and digital worksheets.

Pre-Algebra

I have a hard time remembering sometimes that my kids are not the same as me – or each other. Scorpion has always been better at reading and literature than math. He has always struggled with math, which is why he’s taking pre-algebra in ninth grade instead of seventh. (I know that sounds like a slight on him, and it’s not. It’s just that pre-algebra in seventh grade was the only reference point I had for the subject until recently because that’s when I took it.)

This class works pretty much identically to grammar, with mastery points. The difference, of course, is that the subject is numbers and not words. I’m excited for him to get a good grasp on these concepts this year!

US Government and Civics

This is another mastery points course. It has a fraction the number of mastery points available, so I think it’s a semester course. It covers everything needed for a good foundation in government: foundations of American democracy, interactions among branches of government, civil liberties and civil rights, citizenship, American political ideologies and beliefs, political participation, and more.

World History (1750-)

There were two or three world history courses on Khan Academy to choose from, so I let Scorpion choose what he wanted to do, and he picked 1750-modern times. Again, this course works on a points system. There are a total of 9 main headings, and each one moves through 3-6 subheadings.

Pixar in a Box

Animation is Scorpion’s passion. He has his own YouTube channel where he posts original animations he’s made. So for his elective this year, I found found this Pixar course for him to take. I’m excited to see how much he learns from the course, and especially to see how well he likes it once he gets into it. It will be neat to see how he takes what he learns in this course and applies it to his own animations over the course of the school year.

As I mentioned before, Scorpion has done just a little bit of the work so far, enough to get a feel for the program before we dive in fully next academic year. Here are his thoughts so far:

Khan Academy is an online learning platform for kids of all ages. So far I’ve been using it for a few weeks, and I’m loving it so far. It has a very user friendly interface, and easy to complete lessons. The lessons take about five minutes to complete and are fun and not too difficult. Khan Academy is a perfect choice for children and teenagers alike.

What’s your plan for homeschooling high school? I’d love to hear in the comments what you are doing/have done.

Blessings,