Natural Nature Learning

by Deborah Taylor-Hough

Our family hasn’t been blessed with acres of property off in the country for our children to frolic to their hearts content. But a small city lot and many local parks have offered us tremendous opportunities for outdoor learning activities.


To make up for the lack of open natural space in our neighborhood, we go to various local parks at least two to three times per week. We don’t go to the parks for the play equipment but for the exposure to a more natural setting. We are about half-an-hour driving time from Puget Sound so we often frequent parks with direct beach access. Continue reading


Who’s Afraid of the Big, Bad Bard?

by Debi Taylor-Hough

A number of years ago (I think it was more than ten), we added Shakespeare to our family’s educational activities for the first time. My daughter loved our field trip to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, and I don’t think I ever would have thought of introducing my children to The Bard at such a young age if it weren’t for the inspiration of Charlotte Mason, a British educator from the late 1800’s.

First, we read through Charles and Mary Lamb’s story version of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in the book Tales from Shakespeare just to enjoy the plot and make sure we understood the basic story line before attempting to wade through the Elizabethan English of the play itself. Continue reading

Winter Educational Ideas for Preschoolers

by Deborah Taylor-Hough

It’s always fun to use things in our children’s everyday lives to spark discussion and easy educational activities. Since many of us are currently in the midst of winter, this season can be a great topic of “study” for our littlest ones.

Study time with preschoolers at home mainly consists of talking and laughing with them, helping them notice the details of the world around them. No pressure. Just a fun time spent in the company of a loving adult.

To introduce the topic of “Winter,” ask your child what she knows about the seasons. Is she aware of spring, summer, autumn and winter? Does she know what the differences are between the seasons in your local area?

Don’t lecture. Just make conversation and find out what she knows already. Have her look out the window and tell you what she notices about the trees, bushes, flowers and gardens. Are there leaves visible? Buds? Flowers? Greenery? Bare branches? Brown stems?

Find a photo, painting, or picture in a book of an obvious winter scene. Ask your child if she knows what season it is in the picture. What things tell her what time of year it is? If she doesn’t know, point things out to her that will give clues: bare branches, snow on the ground, no flowers, people in warm clothes, etc. Hide the picture from view and have the child describe to you in her own words what she saw in the picture. Encourage as much detail as possible, but remember to keep it low-key and fun. This process of orally telling back what she’s seen, helps cement the image in her memory.

To suplement your discussion, enjoy together a winter-time picture book such as Ezra Jack Keat’s ‘The Snowy Day’ or the Alaskan tale ‘Momma, Do You Love Me?’ by Barbara M. Joosse. You can browse

these books online at:

Ask your child how people stay warm in the winter (warm clothes, mittens, fireplaces, warm houses, etc.). Let her brainstorm for awhile. Then ask how she thinks animals stay warm in winter (thick fur, migrate to warmer climates, hibernate in caves, etc.).

Sometimes a preschool child might say things like, “Baby squirrels snuggle up in a tree with a soft blanket to stay warm.” Ask her gently if she’s ever seen a real squirrel with a blanket. Does she think that’s how they’ll really stay warm in those cold, winter months? The line between fantasy and reality in preschoolers is sometimes thin … don’t harshly bring your child into reality, just gently coax her into thinking about how things really happen in nature.

But just so you don’t think it all needs to be a serious dose of reality, have some fun and brainstorm about “pretend” ways animals might stay warm. For fun, read one of these wonderfully fun and beautifully illustrated winter-time books by Jan Brett (one of my favorite children’s illustrators):

You can also visit Jan Brett’s website to print out coloring sheets and other fun projects based on Brett’s lavishly illustrated children’s books:

For a fun activity, throw a collection of clothing and accessories into a bag or suitcase. Without looking, have your child reach into the bag, pull out a single clothing item and then tell you if the item they grabbed is appropriate to wear in the winter. Have the child explain to you why each item is — or isn’t — seasonally appropriate. Include a variety of things in the bag such as: a warm hat, a pair of gloves or mittens, an open-toed sandal, a swimsuit, summer shorts, a warm sweater, a snow boot, a woolen scarf, a sleeveless top, etc.

Have your child finish the sentence, “Winter is …” For example: Winter is … “cold”; winter is … “snowmen”; winter is … “mittens”; winter is … “cocoa and marshmallows.” Consider writing down your child’s responses (she’ll feel so official seeing her words written down on paper). If you’re feeling particularly creative, you can even print out little “Winter is …” booklets using clip-art found on your computer that coincides with your child’s winter responses. Or have your child illustrate their own home-made “Winter is … ” book. Or let her cut out winter photos from magazines and newspapers, pasting them onto a large sheet of paper as a “Winter is …” collage.

Have a wonderful time as you explore the glories of winter with your preschooler!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Deborah Taylor-Hough (freelance writer and mother of three) is the editor of the Bright-Kids and Simple Times e-newsletters. She’s also the author of A Simple Choice: A Practical Guide to Saving Your Time, Money and Sanity, Frugal Living For Dummies and Frozen Assets: How to Cook for a Day and Eat for a Month. Visit Debi online at:

Thanksgiving Ideas

thankstreeLater this month, the United States celebrates Thanksgiving Day. One of our family traditions for this particular holiday is making a Thanksgiving Tree.

We either make a tree trunk with bare branches out of black craft paper or we draw a tree onto a large sheet of paper.  Then we tape the “tree” to our dining room wall. We cut out individual autumn-colored leaves (red, orange, yellow, brown) from more craft paper.

Whenever someone in the family thinks of something or someone that they’re thankful for, they write the item, event, or person’s name onto one of the leaves and then tape the leaf to the tree branches.

We try to put the Thanksgiving Tree in place by mid-November so our family has at least a full week to add more leaves to the tree.

By Thanksgiving Day, the tree is FULL with the names of people, events and things we’re thankful for. This is great fun for the kids and a meaningful addition to our family’s holiday traditions.

Another idea along these lines is to make a Thanksgiving Jar. Throughout the year as things came up that your family is thankful for (new baby, new job, answered prayers, etc.), write the event onto a piece of paper and slip it into a specially designated Thanksgiving container.

A family at our former church in Olympia empties their Thanksgiving Jar once a year and reads each slip of paper on Thanksgiving morning during their family breakfast.

Do you have any special activities or traditions your family shares on Thanksgiving or any other upcoming holiday?  I’d love to hear about them!  🙂

Making the Most of a Homeschool Convention

The homeschool convention is almost here! Are you ready?

Whether it is your first convention or your fifteenth, the annual homeschool convention can be an overwhelming event. With dozens of workshops, over 100 vendors, and thousands of new and used books, it can be a challenge to know what to do first. Here are a few tips to help you make the most of your convention experience.



In order to maximize your time and money, start planning well before the day of the convention. Pre-registering online is amazingly convenient, and it will save valuable time when you arrive at convention. Members of the sponsoring organization often receive a generous discount on full registration, and pre-registering by the early-bird deadline can save even more. That is extra money to spend on something that will make your homeschooling easier!


First, know why you are going to convention. What do you want to accomplish? Do you want to:

  • Find out about homeschooling in general?
  • Learn techniques for teaching toddlers or teens?
  • Gain encouragement for educating your special-needs child?
  • Get a hands-on preview of new curriculum?
  • Stretch your dollars by buying used curriculum?
  • Hear encouraging truths from veteran homeschoolers?
  • Make a few dollars by selling your used books?
  • Give back to your homeschool organization by volunteering for a few hours?
  • Save shipping costs by purchasing your textbooks?
  • Attend an inspiring graduation ceremony?

You can do all this and more at the convention if you plan your time wisely! If you spend time thinking through your goals for the coming year, and deciding what you need from the convention before you go, you are well on your way to making the most of this exciting weekend.

Make Your Lists

The sponsoring organization maintains a list of workshops and vendors on its website, and the preliminary workshop descriptions are usually included in the latest issue of the newsletter. Use these resources to plan your time at the convention. As you study the workshop schedule, you will begin to see workshops that you absolutely want to attend. Check them off on the preliminary program, and begin to prioritize.

Inevitably, there will be more than one workshop per session that you would like to attend. This is not a problem! Virtually all the workshops are recorded, and you may purchase tapes or CDs at convention and listen at your convenience later. This way, if you decide to spend all your time in the curriculum hall or the used book sale, you will not miss out on all the encouraging and informative workshops that are scheduled.

Plan for Children and Teens

While convention weekend is a wonderful opportunity for some special “couple time,” the convention is family-friendly if you prefer to bring everyone. A glance at the program will reveal many workshops that are of special interest to teens. These teen-track workshops may include topics such as “Technology and Computers,” “Creation vs. Evolution,” “College Options,” and many more.

Children ages 5-12 may have the opportunity to enroll in a special children’s program, where they can enjoy skits, songs, stories, and crafts focused on the development of good character qualities. The children’s program usually runs for the entire convention, except for meals, for which your children may join you to talk about all the things they’ve learned.

Read Ahead

If you are new to homeschooling, or are entering a new phase of home education, such as high school, you may want to do some reading before you arrive at the convention. You may wish to order books such as The Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling by Debra Bell, For the Children’s Sake by Susan Schaeffer Macauley, or 100 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum by Cathy Duffy. There are many other wonderful resources available, and whatever you read will help you prepare for the convention, as well as for the coming school year. Ask a veteran homeschooler for her recommendations, and she’ll probably be happy to share some of her favorites.

Make a List

If you write your shopping list on a business size or 7×9″ envelope, you will be able to place all your receipts in the envelope as you make purchases. You can jot notes about what you see on the back of the envelope, and keep a running total of what you spend on the inside of the flap. Just be careful not to lose your envelope!


When you arrive at the convention, you’ll receive a program booklet and a bag of literature from vendors. The program will contain a map of the convention hall, speaker and graduate profiles, listing of vendors, and a final schedule of workshops. It pays to sit down for a few minutes to get acquainted with this valuable resource. First, check the workshops you want to attend and verify the time and location. Second, locate the bathrooms, concession stands, bag drops, and other conveniences, and locate the booths of vendors or speakers you particularly wish to visit. Now you are ready to plan your day!

As a point of courtesy, if you spend a lot of time with an author or vendor who patiently answers your questions, please remember that it would be very rude to go across the aisle to save a couple of dollars on the same curriculum from a vendor who has not given so generously of his or her time. Most authors and vendors are at the convention, not only because they truly want to help other homeschooling families, but also because they need to make a living.

If This Is Your First Convention

If this is your first convention and you are able to come more than one day (I highly recommend coming for the whole time, if at all possible), don’t buy anything until the last few hours you are there. Use your first day, or first few hours, to attend the introductory workshop sessions offered for new homeschoolers, then browse the curriculum hall, picking up catalogs and brochures. If you know you have a bag full of information, and will be able to order anything you see later, after you have had time to make a careful decision, you will not feel pressured to decide too quickly on anything you see.

Take all the literature you have gathered back to your hotel, or out to lunch if you are there for only a day, and look through it. Focus on things that fit your needs now – elementary curriculum if you have young children, high school curriculum if you have teens. Get acquainted with some of the things that are available, so that when you return to the curriculum hall, you can go directly to the items that seem most interesting or useful to you. Write down questions you would like to ask different vendors, and do not forget that the homeschool organization probably has a table is staffed with veteran homeschoolers who would be happy to answer questions for you. Remember that you do not have to make any quick decisions, but that you may order virtually anything, including workshop tapes, after the convention.

If You Are A Veteran Homeschooler

If you have been homeschooling for years, but have not been to the convention in a while, prepare to be astonished and delighted by the amazing array of high-quality curriculum options that are available. You will find many resources for the high-school years, as well as a great deal of information on helping your student make the transition to college, the military, or a career. There are encouraging new books and resources, as well as workshops and vendors that can answer many of the questions you may have as your students grow older.

Veteran homeschoolers are probably also aware of the many opportunities available for volunteer service at the convention. The convention takes place only with the help of the many volunteers – both new and veteran homeschoolers – who donate a bit of their time to make it happen. You may choose to help in the exhibit hall, graduation, security, hospitality, registration, publicity, used curriculum sale, or as an office volunteer or speaker host. As a special thank-you, volunteers often receive special privileges such as first admission to the used curriculum shopping area, or a free workshop recording.


When you reach home after the convention, you will have much to digest. Make time to read the books and catalogs you bring home, and listen to the workshop tapes you have purchased. As you put all you have learned into practice, you will be thankful you took time to learn more about home education. Your new knowledge will help you experience joy in the journey!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Janice Campbell, author of Get a Jump Start on College! A Practical Guide for Teens, Transcripts Made Easy: The Homeschooler’s Guide to High School Paperwork, and the forthcoming Excellence in Literature series, has been writing and speaking in central Virginia since the late 1980’s. She homeschooled her four sons from kindergarten into college, using the principles she now shares in her books, blog (, workshops, and her free e-newsletter. Sign up for it today at

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Keeping Personal Journals

Keeping personal journals of daily events is one way to ensure your children have simple practice in handwriting, spelling and composition everyday. Setting aside a few minutes each evening after dinner to add a few paragraphs to your journals can be a fun family activity. The example set by parents who also keep a personal journal is invaluable.

By recording each entry’s date, time and outdoor temperature your children will quickly become adept at using a calendar, a clock and a thermometer. Notations about the weather can also include barometric readings. It’s often fun to try and predict local weather patterns, seeing if you can “out predict” your favorite television weather reporter.

Get creative … and have fun!

Taking Your Homeschool Outside

by Geoffrey Moore

Like anything else in your life, your homeschool can be in a rut. You wake up every morning, crack the same books and do the same lesson plans. After a few months of this, both you and your kids are yawning and dreading sledging through the drudgery.

The good news is that you have the power to change this! You don’t have to do school-at-home. Do you have an outdoor fire pit or other fun area you can gather? Put down the plan book and break away from the textbook rut.

Here are a few tips to get you started. Continue reading