Monday, July 27, 2015

Homeschool Elementary Anatomy Unit

We just finished our first year of homeschool a couple months ago and I have to say I absolutely loved it. I have been reading and researching and planning next year and getting really, really excited. So today I'm going to post our human body unit that we did. If you want to use my ideas, here they are. Keep in mind that this was geared at an early elementary school audience, and feel free to adjust to your family's needs.

Last year when I was planning our coursework for this year I came across this awesome book.
And I knew that's what I wanted to use to teach my kids anatomy this year. It has lots of fun, hands-on models and examples, and we have had fun using them.

We've also used a few ideas from this book. But I think some of their models are more complex than they need to be.
I bought a skeleton shower curtain and we named him Mr. Bones and hung him up in our homeschooling room. We have enjoyed adding his organs, veins, and arteries.
I have loved seeing my kids learn about themselves and their bodies. And I have loved hearing the things they say. Perhaps Abby, finishing up kindergarten, has had the best quotes here. Recently Grace scraped her leg and Cameron was applying a bandage. "Look, Grace! Platelets!" Abby squealed.

Another day Abby was explaining why she had to go to the bathroom when she was supposed to be helping to clean the kitchen (and hadn't needed to go any earlier). "My kidneys weren't done putting it all in before," she protested.

Grace hasn't perfectly mastered all of her letters. But she does know that red blood cells carry oxygen all over her body.

Jake's favorite parts have probably been the models and experiments that involved food. One exception might be when we made a model tongue complete with labeled taste buds so the kids could learn which parts of their tongues identify tastes that are sweet, salty, sour, and bitter. For the bitter test I gave them each a tiny taste of baking cocoa. Jake went to wash his mouth out in the sink afterwards.

Emma has enjoyed the food experiments and coloring on any available surface (including herself) while the rest of us explored. It's hard to know what else she's learned. Maybe in a couple years she'll tell us.
You can click here for my lesson plans. Happy homeschooling!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Forewarned Is Fair Warned

Don't you love summer? Hikes. Bike rides. Playing at parks and splashing at splash pads. Lots and lots of outdoor play. I love letting my kids play around our yard, house, and neighborhood with their friends in the summer.

Cameron recently quadrupled the size of our sandbox and the kids have been having a blast. I love watching them play out there and seeing the castles they build. (I don't love sandy floors and muddy walls, but that's not the point of this post.)
Jake brought water out to fill his moat and topped the tower with a flag. It was pretty fun. 

Shortly after expanding our sandbox Cameron, Abby, Grace, Emma and I were out there playing together one evening. Cameron buried Abby in the sand, and she thought it was great.
After taking this picture Cameron said, "OK, Abby, now look really sad."

Abby: "Why?"

Cameron: "So we can show this picture to your friends who come over and tell them that's what we do to kids who aren't nice around here."
Forewarned is fair warned.

Monday, July 13, 2015

My Daily Job

Sometimes I start thinking that my daily to-do list looks something like this:
1. Help the kids with their schoolwork.
2. Keep the house reasonably clean.
3. Feed our family healthy meals.
4. Be kind and patient with our kids.
5. Spend quality time with Cameron.

Then every once in a while something will happen to remind me that I'm wrong. My daily to-do list should really look like this:
1. Love.
2. Teach.
3. Listen.
4. Love some more.

Recently I had one of those moments.

I had just gotten Emma down for a nap and snuck off to my room to study my scriptures and try to enjoy some quiet. Only a couple minutes had passed when Grace came running down the hall loudly demanding that I make her some orange juice. I started by offering to make orange juice after I studied for a half hour or so, but Grace wasn't going for that option. So I got some frozen OJ concentrate out of the freezer, got the pitcher down, and told her how to do it herself. ( I was a little worried that I would end up with a pitcher of OJ spilled on the floor, but at that moment peace was worth the gamble to me.)

Grace was delighted with the opportunity. Grabbing a stool and stepping up to get the water from the faucet she said, "Now when I'm grown and my kids need juice I'll know how to make it for them."
I headed back to my room a humbler mother. My daily job isn't to get housework and schoolwork and errands all done. My daily job is to love my children and help them develop the confidence and skills to carry them into adulthood. I might forget what my job is. But they know. And fortunately sometimes they are profound enough to remind me.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Teaching Children about Nutrition

A couple years ago after reading The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Cameron and I began a discussion that lasted throughout the whole year. It started with a question--in 30 years what values do we want our children to embrace, and what do we want their lives to look like? By the end of the year we had drummed out a list of values we want to deliberately teach our children--things like love, faith, gratitude, and integrity. Then, because there were 12 of them, we decided that each month we would celebrate a different value. We try to give each month's value lots of emphasis with family discussions and activities.

In May our value is health. We want our children to understand that when they eat healthily and exercise they show respect for the body God gave them. They will also feel better and live better. This year we stumbled upon a wonderful visual to help bring the point home for the kids.

I got this idea from the book The Human Body: 25 Fantastic Projects Illuminate How the Body Works, but I simplified it a little for my kids' ages. All you really need is a balance and some dry beans (we used pinto beans.)

We used this Learning Resources balance, which we have as part of our homeschool math toys. If you don't have a balance and don't want to buy one, there are instructions for making one in the book.
I started by looking up basic nutritional needs for my kids using the standards on Then I colored a bean for each serving of each food group that my kids need each day. For us that was five beans for grains (I colored them orange with a marker), four red-colored beans for protein (I combined dairy into the protein category to make things simpler), and five beans colored green to represent fruits and vegetables.
Once you have your beans colored you can set them aside.

Choose an equal number of plain, uncolored beans to put in one side of your balance.
Then throughout the day after meals and snacks talk to your child about what they have eaten, how many servings that covers, and which food groups are represented. Move the appropriate beans into the empty end of the balance. At the end of the day if they've eaten all the right things their diet will balance.

We rotated so each of my kids would have a turn on different days to use the balance. They got excited about it and loved seeing their diet balance. I loved the increased awareness of what food groups our bodies need, serving sizes, and how many of each we need every day. Teaching children about good nutrition and how to care for their bodies is a wonderful life skill to begin when they are young.

Monday, June 29, 2015

The Value of Vacation

A few weeks ago we headed out on our first family vacations in a long while--we escaped to the beauties of southern Utah, those breathtaking red rocks, and the natural wonder of Zion National Park. On the way down we stopped for the open house of the new Payson temple. Wow, it was beautiful.

We got to St. George and swam, went to the St. George Children's Museum (a wonderful little gem), and showed the kids lots of local history sites.
The kids on the St. George Temple steps

I love the brilliant white of the St. George Temple--so beautiful!

The temple visitor center is a great stop for Sunday after church.
Then we went to Zion National Park where we stayed in cabins, did a little hiking, and let the kids play in some streams.

With a few weeks behind us now, it would be easy to gush about how wonderful every moment of that trip was. But that wouldn't really be true. Like anything else in a family, there were moments of pleasure and moments when we wondered why we were trying so hard to form good family memories. Some moments were delightful and some moments involved discipline (jumping from bed to bed in a hotel room earns you some quiet time in a chair with your arms folded).

Things had reached a stressful peak around day three when I turned to Cameron and told him I had just decided that family vacations aren't for parents, they're for kids. Vacations for parents are called romantic getaways, right? Yes, it was wonderful to play with the kids and see beautiful sites and enjoy local attractions, but vacations carry extra stresses, too. ("Are we there yet? How much longer?" "I'm tired of hiking. My feet are so sore!" "When are we going to have lunch? I'm starving!" "I don't want to go see that. I just want to go swimming." "This water's too cold!" "When are we going to roast the marshmallows? Can I just get them out right now?")

Fortunately, later that same day we were on a shuttle riding back through the canyon when Jake started offering our licorice to some people from Australia. A nice man sitting nearby lent the kids his binoculars to look through, and afterwards they all thanked him (without even being prompted!)

"You have such lovely children. All of them," remarked the Australian couple.

Vacations are like the rest of family life. They have ups, downs, moments of joy and moments of extreme stress, moments when we wonder why we try so hard, and moments when we feel like we are actually making some headway in our journey to raising respectable adults. I at times wished for a stress-free trip with perfectly well behaved children, perfect weather and water temperatures, ease and enjoyment. But perhaps if I had that, we wouldn't have glowed quite so much when those blessed Australians praised our children's good behavior. Work helps us appreciate play. Heat helps us appreciate cold. Bad behavior helps us appreciate good behavior. And with all that properly in perspective (and any temper tantrums in the long-forgotten past) I am prepared to gush about how blissful every moment of our trip was. I love our family.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Six Years Later

Six years ago this month I was struggling through the worst trauma of my life. I had just been diagnosed with cancer. I was expecting our second child. What did the future hold for me? How would we treat the cancer? What was the best way to do it? Would our baby be safe? Would I live long enough for her to know or remember me? The questions were crushing, and there was nothing to do but keep getting out of bed and trying to tackle each day as it came.

Six years later that baby is an active kindergarten graduate.
Our then-toddler is a bustling, busy eight year old.
And we've been incredibly blessed to give them two younger sisters.

Sometimes I like to reflect on all the beauties I gained from that terrible trauma.

Life can change in an instant.
On the morning of my diagnosis we woke up thinking we were going to have a normal day together as a family. Within a few hours that had all changed forever. Sometimes we think we know what will happen to us and what we should do, but we really don't. Live life well. Express love. Serve and care for people around you. Pause to experience beauty and joy. You never know when the life you have now may change forever.

Tell them you love them.
In the hours and days that followed my diagnosis, we called a lot of friends and relatives to share our news. I was quickly surprised by how much love everyone expressed. People who don't normally tell me they love me every time they talk to me openly expressed love to me then. Everyone needs to be loved. Tell the people you love how much they mean to you.

People matter. Things don't.
The night before my diagnosis we were hammering baseboard in our basement, trying to finish a playroom for our kids. I also had a short list of 2 or 3 last baby items I wanted to collect before our baby was born. When my cancer was diagnosed and I didn't know how long I would live, I realized quite suddenly how much those things didn't matter. I no longer cared about finishing our basement and I wasn't worried about getting a baby monitor or the right baby wrap. What mattered was our eternal marriage, and what I cared about was whether I would live to raise our children. People are eternal--they deserve our love and attention. Everything else is just details.

God will strengthen you.
What we went through in the weeks, months, and years following my cancer was extremely hard, but I learned that God suits the blessings to your current difficulties. We saw miracles and I felt what I can only describe as spiritual power as God gave us the wisdom, hope, and strength for the tasks at hand. His grace is always sufficient for us. He will care for us always, but especially when we need Him most. Afterwards we will know even more surely that He lives, He knows us, and He loves us.

It's better to talk.
In the aftermath of my cancer I desperately needed to talk to people and sort through what had just happened to me. But most people didn't know what to say or what questions to ask, so a surprising number of people just didn't talk to me at all. Some would act like nothing had happened. Others would try to talk to me but weren't really comfortable listening to me or asking questions. A golden few reached out to me repeatedly and asked how I was dealing with things. I cherish the memory of those who blundered forward and tried to listen and love. I learned that when people hurt they need to talk. Sometimes we feel like we don't know what to say or do. But showing love by asking and listening (however awkward we may feel) can go a long way in helping someone feel less alone and more loved.

People are so, so good.
We were blown away by how kind people were to us during that summer. We were enveloped in the love of family and friends who fed us, helped with laundry, helped with yard work, cleaned, helped with the kids, sent cards and packages, dropped off cookies, and literally carried us through. I want to be as quick, kind, and generous as so many were to us.

Perhaps these lessons can all be summed up with one word--love. Love others. Love life. Love God. Feel His love. Love is what really matters.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Teaching Kids to Work

A couple years ago I read a book with some terrific ideas--The Parenting Breakthrough by Merrilee Boyack. When the author and her husband were raising their sons, they made a list of all the skills their kids would need to be independent, functional adults. They then set out to teach their kids these skills in an orderly, methodical way. Good idea, huh? (You can find her list here.)

So after reading the book and talking everything over with Cameron, we made our own list and created our little family plan for teaching our children to work and (eventually) become functional, independent adults. We call it our learning achievement awards.

Our list is divided into five levels--little learners (roughly ages 3-5), happy helpers (ages 6-8), busy builders (ages 9-11), capable crafters (ages 12-14), and the finishing touch (ages 15-17). When the kids finish a level we take them out to dinner at a restaurant of their choice, just us and that child.

I make the kids banners that hang in our kitchen. We try to help them set a goal every month or so of a new skill to master. After we are convinced that they can perform that particular task independently we draw their little "merit badge" on an Avery label and stick it on their banner.

Realistically, in the short run it is easier and quicker to just do tasks myself. But as our family grows (and our children get older) I realize that I can't do everything myself. And even if I could, our children wouldn't be very well prepared for adulthood. Teaching kids to work is hard work. But they feel good when they can do things themselves. And I feel a sense of satisfaction when I realize that I have taught them and they know how to do the things they need.
Grace (age 2) trying to clean her shoe

Abby (age 4) unloading the dishwasher

Jake (age 6) sweeping the kitchen
Abby (almost 6) deciding a nap sounded better than folding laundry