Christmas Gift Ideas- Imaginative Play & Homeschool Favorites


Here is our last Gift Idea list for the season!

I love imaginative toys–the more open ended the better. Play stands and kitchens and dollhouses are all classic, wonderful toys and we get many hours of play a day from ours. (I didn’t have the means to purchase all a play stand and a wooden kitchen so we have a waldorf play stand with a simple wooden grill top and baskets of wooden play food stored beneath, we tuck the kitchen things away when we want to use the play stand for other things).  Now for a few ideas!



Tree Fort from Magic Cabin. This complete set comes with everything pictured. If you want to get creative you can order the bare stand and then you and your child can whittle some furniture, paint peg dolls, find little baskets on sale at Michaels, etc. I know my son will likely prefer to fill this tree house with his own handmade creations.

Nova Naturals

Another great option is a fort or castle. This is another toy you can purchase separate figurines for or make your own by whittling them or painting peg dolls. (Hope also has a set of Castle figures that work nicely!) We like Nova Natural’s Castle Stronghold OR this newly debuted  Wooden Castle you can build and play with, made by one of my favorite Etsy Mamas! And speaking of From Jennifer, these are such a fantastic option:

Wooden swords, crossbows, shields, etc. Our boys play with these sorts of items for hours and hours in the back hollow or up in trees. Speaking of trees! 8015_cable_cars_with_station_ls

Ladders, block and tackle or a Funicular Cable Car Kit for all those tree dwellers looking to send secret messages or small items back and forth. Nova also sells a cute basket cable car kit as well.


Looking for creative dress up accessories? Check out these Unicorn Magic Wands!

Nova Naturals

Or if you want to start collecting dress ups check out Bella Luna Toys or Nova Naturals! I love this Captain costume.

Or some fanciful wings from Magic Cabin.


We also adore finding play silks on etsy for our play stand and to use as capes or backgrounds for playing with our wooden animals.IMG_1628.jpg

I know everyone has their preferred wooden animal toymaker for many different reasons. We love the Holtziger brand. Its the perfect size for my guy and he loves turning them into puzzles and/or stacking them. We get ours at Padilly.

Dilly Dally Kids

There is a lot to be said for a plain, small, sea worthy vessel to adventure with down a creek. Dilly Dally kids has a great collection!

Little Cottonwood

Lastly, one of our favorite imaginative toys comes in the way of TOOLS and Art Supplies.
But that is something to share on the second half of this post, Homeschool Gift Ideas. For now, I will share something wonderful for the little to enjoy. This simple Drawing Board House from Little Cottonwood.  The wee shape puzzle on the bottom and tiny abacus at the top just thrill me.



From Jennifer

Supply Goods/Art Supplies

Crayons. I don’t mess with Crayola anymore. Yes, they are cheap, but at our house this means a SHORT season filled with tons of broken crayon pieces and bit of wrappers everywhere. I might as well shred $6 and toss bits of dollar bill confetti around the floor. We buy stockmar crayons now. I buy them once a year and they last all year long (sometimes even longer) The colors are brilliant and beautiful and oh the joy of finding a Stockmar tin in a Christmas Stocking! We store ours in these gorgeous crayon holders made by Jennifer.
Notebooks. The two shops we frequent most for graph paper notebooks, nature notebooks, blank books, etc. are Miller Pads and Paper and Paper, Scissors, Stone.
Pencils. Ticonderoga. New case in the stocking. I never ever ever buy any other kind of pencil cuz just like Crayola, Mama don’t mess!
Binder Clips. I use them for everything. I used to use black ones. Then I insta-met a gal named Jennifer Naraki and now I only use the gold ones. There is no reasoning for this other than they are gold and that makes me smile. 
I still make homemade playdoh now and then. (The Homegrown Preschooler’s recipe is just too good to pass up). But these days we are using lots of Stockmar beeswax. We love the way it smells, feels and shapes. The colors are beautiful and brilliant and best of all, it never goes bad.
Brushes with grips. So much easier for the kiddos to use.
Bookstand. Actually its a “recipe holder.” But it folds down and its cost effective and its a bookstand and an easel and a display and the kids can set it up by themselves and we have four of them! We use it every single day. Thank you, Amazon.
Watercolors. Again, we use the Stockmar watercolors and dilute a tiny drop in some water. My kids may graduate before these bottles run out. However, for a fun array of colors with good quality, my boys love Artist’s Loft Fundamentals (PS You can get this for 1/2 the price from Michaels with one of their coupons).


Cavallini Gift Wrap from Paper Source. 99% of the posters in our home cost about $3 a piece.
Anatomy Cards and Posters from the only and only TangleWood Hollow. I’ve been eyeing this Forest Floor set for awhile!

Mirus Toys also has lovely nature alphabet cards available!


Pin it! Maps This is a great time of year to ask for these maps. We own and use them all. In fact, we use them every single day and it has really helped to enrich our learning. These maps are great for everyone but I have found them to be one extra blessing and fantastic resource for my visually disorganized/Dyslexic son.

Our FAVORITE microscope of all time was our favorite Christmas gift last year. The magiscope is used widely in children’s museums because it so easy to use (No knobs!) The magnification is excellent and its extremely well made and sturdy. I highly recommend!

If you want to start off with something smaller this simple microscope is lovely.

Our favorite REAL tool set for beginners is from the company For Small Hands. They have lots of wonderful things, but the tool set is our favorite.
JMCremps also has a great set. Check their site for lots of other woodworking tools. Our boys are receiving new whittling knives, thumb guards and woodcarving tools this year.

I hope our list was helpful!

Guess What?

I am making one more list. Because I am crazy and because I love my readers…next week we will release our last Gift Ideas list. Games, Books and Curriculum. Yup. Its gonna be a long one. See you then!


Christmas Gift Ideas- Babies & Tots and Bookworms


Its time for list #2 and first up are the littlest of littles followed by bookworms. Once again, no affiliate links, just products we love! I’ll say from the get go that I never spend tons of money on children’s toys. I would rather buy LESS and get heirloom quality materials that can be passed down and loved over and over, than buy MORE cheap toys that end up in the trash within three months of Christmas. This is a lengthy list with lots of options, particularly in the Babies & Tots list just to help give ideas for various developmental stages and is by no means a laundry list of everything your child should have.

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Sobbing right now


For Babies & Tots

When my boys were bitty they loved gnawing on things. These wood and silk teethers from Bella Luna Toys are ideal. Lovely to look at, easy to clean, and they offer soft and hard sensory nourishment. At a recent conference I attended, Sonya Schafer discussed the importance of training children to have longer attention spans, starting  with babies! She suggested that when a baby drops a toy,  the adult can pick it up and offer it to them from a new angle, something they did not notice before, to help them sustain attention for a bit longer  (seconds or mere minutes is ideal!)  I thought of these teethers when she shared that story. Peek a boo, back and forth swishes for tickles, running fingers round and round the wooden loop, knocking the ring on a hard surfaces, gently caressing the side of one sweet baby face with soft silk. Calling attention to new facet of the teether to prolong that attention just 30 seconds more. Simple, beautiful and nourishing.



An interesting clutch toy, like the Haba Trix or Grimm Spiel & Holz Beads Grasper. These are a tactile feast for littles. Changing colors, patterns, shapes and that nice solid wood feel that weathers their tight grasps with ease.  These sets are made in Germany and are pretty dang near impossible to ruin.


Years ago, in my excitement to provide my children with building blocks, I brought a set of gorgeous heavy wood blocks for my 2 and 1 year old. A well meant gift that arrived two years too early. They ended up stored in the closet within minutes of opening. Two smashed toes and a tot that could not even lift the the majority of these heavy blocks were signs that my eagerness for imaginative play jumped the starting gun. Start with lighter, simpler block sets like Grimm’s Rolling Boat Block set.

Bella Luna Toys


Brimful Toys

For littles that find it hard to sit on your lap for a story or for littles that can’t get enough of good stories, check out these Nursery Rhyme Blocks! Let your squirmy one build away while you read out the rhymes. I love the darling illustrations on these.



Stacking toys are so wonderful for this age. This Nesting set from Magic Cabin or a set of Grimm’s Nesting bowls for young tots can be played with in so many way. Nesting, stacking, sorting, transferring, storing. These are wonderful toys to grow up with.


Grimm’s Nesting Bowls

Another great developmental toy is a simple push toy. While most push toys are in the vehicle mode, you can sometimes find charming animal friends to push along like this two part Rainbow Rolling Turtle. Those captivating rings roll around as the turtle is pushed along. Gosh, I love baby toys!


I’ll be including lots of imaginative play things in our next list for older tots and children. For this list I want to include a simple block puzzle, like this Animals Block puzzle from Dilly Dally. One puzzle with 6 different outcomes depending on how the blocks are turned.

Dilly Dally Kids


If you don’t have time for a long hunt stop by  Brimful . They have a lovely selection of unique characters waiting to be loved.



If you are shopping for an especially bitty babe, a kinderkram mobile is a beautiful piece of artwork that a child can grow up with. These mobiles are lovely to look at and stir the imagination as children age. Bella Luna has an excellent selection of these mobiles.




And speaking of growing….


These You Rule growth charts (made by a WAHM) are a beautiful, well made option for keeping precious memories in one place, even if childhood includes several different homes and locations. My mom has one for my four boys in her home. Its lovely and sturdy and oh so lovely. You can have these personalized too.



For the Bookworms

We purchased a nice set of Lamplighter books at the FPEA convention last spring and have spent this past summer and autumn devouring them. We love these books. Lamplighter has them organized by themes (virtues, characteristics, etc). When one of our children went through a season of struggling with selfishness, I went on the site and ordered a book that dealt with selfishness. We were able to have very meaningful discussions everyday as we read through it. We are currently reading through the Boys of Grit series which is providing many inspirational life stories these boys can look up to and be encouraged by.  Lamplighter also has a theater division which records many of these stories. If you have a little that loves audio books, check them out! (You can also listen to a new episode each week!)

BOG Who Became Men of Honour_s.jpg
Speaking of audiobooks, please visit our HANDS DOWN FAVORITE, Heirloom Audio Productions. These stories are pricey but worth every penny. We listen to them all the time and my boys adore them. (This girl adores them as well and I know I would have been thrilled by these stories as a child too!)  With Lee in Virginia, Under Drake’s Flag, The Dragon and the Raven, In Freedom’s Cause, Beric the Briton and their recent release Cat of Bubastes. These stories by G.A. Henry are recorded by brilliants actors (Joanne Froggat, John Rhys-Davies, Sylvester McCoy etc). Our first purchase was The Dragon and the Raven and the boys were so thrilled they listened to it over and over again for weeks!  Character building themes and fantastic heroes and heroines. We have so enjoyed these productions and are always eager for the next release!


A reading chair of their very own. Our kids started out with a huggle pod but now use the book nook their grandfather built for them in the closet space of our classroom. A comfy bean bag chair like the Big Joe brand or a light weight hammock could also fit the bill. Think snug and cozy and give them their own little corner, it will mean the world to them!

Magic Cabin


Giving children access to books is so important. Does your child have a library card? This would make a great Christmas gift. Their very own library card! Or a gift card to a bookstore.

This year I will be gifting blanks books to the kids for writing and/or illustrating their own stories. Miller Pads and Paper is one of my favorite homeschool supply stores and they have an endless selection of notebooks and bare books to chose from. Here is the link for the one we chose. They also have blank board game materials for designing your own games!

Miller Pads and Paper LLC

A reading light. My boys earned their own lights in second grade once they reached their reading goals. It was a really fun privilege for them to earn and they have greatly enjoyed their extra minutes of reading time after the lights are out each night. These LED clamping lights for headboards are wonderful and currently on sale!

Finally, let us keep in mind what the great CS Lewis so wisely said, “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” Seek out books your entire family can enjoy together. There are so many excellent book list resources out there.  Read Aloud Revival, Aslan’s Library, Still Point of the Turning World, Honey for a Child’s Heart, Give Your Child the World and Simply Charlotte Mason’s SCM Bookbinder are my personal faves.

Now if you follow our blog or know us IRL, you know that we read allllll the time. We check out 50 books from the library every two weeks (+whatever my kids get on their own cards). We have read dozens and dozens of great family read alouds this year (By family read aloud I mean books read outside of our assigned school work) The hands down favorite?


The Green Ember by SD Smith

The Rabbits have swords and they are awesome. If you read it and love it be sure to check out “Ember Falls” and “The Black Star of Kingston” too!

Close seconds were Teddy’s Button by Amy Le Fuevre, King of the Wind by Marguerite Henry, Copper-Toed Boots by Marguerite de Angeli, The Complete Brambley Hedge Series by Jill Barkley, Swiss Family Robinson by Johan Wyss, Little Sir Galahad by Lillian Holmes and Homer Price by Robery McCloskey.

We’ll be publishing our next list in a few days! Stay tuned.


Christmas Gift Ideas- Wild Explorers & Unplugged Kiddos


So many of you have been asking for gift ideas, we decided to come up with a list to share some of our favorites! Well, a few lists. Today is the list especially compiled for Wild Explorers and Unplugged Kiddos. Next will be our list for Babies & Tots and Book Worms. And then finally,  our Schoolroom Gifts and Imaginative Play Gifts. No affiliate links here–just products we genuinely love.

For Wild Explorers

A compass necklace — we have had many a compass meet their doom on the trail. These are sturdy and sweet and oh so fun. Kiddos ready for the next level? Try the Classic Lensatic Sighting Compass.


A sling shot and a little canvas pouch full of our favorite nature trail ammo…beans.


Gorgeous Pocket Identification Guides from clever homeschool mama, Allyson–the heart of Tanglewood Hollow (an Etsy fave of ours!).


A trusty bandana is always useful. We love our “survival” print bandana which is packed with useful information.  There are tons of other print options with the link above. Another great option? The National Park bandanas from Imagine Childhood.


We use a jewelers loupe called The Private Eye on our hikes. This rock magnifier looks handy too.

Imagine Childhood

Our boys love this pocket knife from JM Cremps. If you aren’t ready for the real deal, they also sell little toy pocket knives that look very realistic.

JM Cremps

We’ll be upgrading from mini rucksacks to bigger packs this year. Tuck in an Acme Thunderer whistle if you decide to build a pack for Christmas. These whistles can be heard from nearly a mile away.

For tiny explorers or explorers with sensory needs check out J-stitch’s brilliant backpack vest option.


If all that pick and choose is too much stress and you would rather buy a ready made kit, check out Mirus Toys! Another homeschool Mama hard at work. Her whole shop is lovely.

Mirus Toys

Last but not least, sign up to become a Wild Explorer! We love receiving our magazine every month, completing our weekly assignment from the one and only Ranger Ben, and earning patches every time we complete a level! They have free two week trials, sign up and give it a go!

For Unplugged Kiddos

After a year with Tinker Crate my kids were ready to move on to something with a little more life! Check out Compass Crate, created by two homeschooling mamas and packed with creativity, artistry and love. My boys adored their autumn crate and all the activities inside. What a happy mail day to unpack such a visual feast and then dive in to engaging hands on activity with all the kids. Check them out!


The Garden Game is a recent family favorite, along with Wildcraft, Into the Forest and Out on the Desert.

Then there is our favorite puzzle of all time by one of our favorite shops of all time.  We love all the puzzles in this series, but Animal Folly is far and away our favorite.

Hand roll some beeswax candles! Add some darling bee cards from the incredibly talented Alice Cantrell. (She has lunar phases, insects and butterflies too!)  Speaking of incredibly talented, check out The Rumpled Crow Shop on etsy. That is one creative household!


For those less crafty Mamas, we have LOVED the handicraft DVDs from Simply Charlotte Mason. My boys have learned how to knit and crochet thanks to these wonderful videos.  Pick up needles and yarn and let them create!

Slack lines. They are wonderful and we use ours constantly.

Bella Luna Toys

This gorgeous dollhouse from Mama Made Them. Its currently on our wish list. The size is perfect for a schoolroom with less space and its lovely to boot.

Mama Made Them

These handheld marble mazes are delightful. If I could buy everything From Jennifer…I would. Her traceable alphabet board is a household favorite. I love buying from fellow homeschool Mamas!

From Jennifer




After three weeks in Africa, we wrapped up this afternoon by reading through our favorite selections from our study, which was fitting because of all the great books we found for this study! I was nearly overwhelmed by the sheer volume of excellent book choices available this time around. We had a great time drawing pictures, building model homes for the various regions in Africa out of clay and practicing our beadwork while I read aloud.


One of our first books was “Ashanti to Zulu: African Traditions” by Margaret Musgrove.
26 Traditions through the alphabet explored. This book sparked their curiosity in many different directions. We took a closer look at the Ikoma people of Tanzania and their use of small birds to lead them to honey for gathering. We read up on the Tuareg people and were fascinated by the veiled, largely silent males in the culture and the unveiled womens position of great respect as they told stories and recited poetry.

Next we read “Bringing the Ran to Kapiti Plain” by Verna Aardema and then we went full steam into our study of the African savannah.


We were able to read 8 books while the boys drew out a landscape of the grasslands. Then the younger two went to work with modeling clay while the older two did some map work on their Pin it Maps. We made sure to pin all the regions we read about in the books we looked at this morning and it really helped solidify these places in their mind when they could trace borders and take note of local land water forms.

The boys also enjoyed looking through their Dad’s photo album of his months spent in Kenya. They loved seeing the great variety of animals and the sight of their Dad, young and free, exploring Kenya and making friends overseas.


For the past four years we have raised money as a family to give to Heifer International each Christmas. With advent right around the corner, I was quite pleased to find the book “One Hen” which tells of the story of “how one small loan made a big difference.” This story had everyones wheels turning, not just about our coming donation to Heifer, but about other ways to help stimulate business opportunity and growth in poorer areas of the world. My eldest remarked that he wanted to find ways to help families become self sufficient and take pride and joy in their work. The boys each wrote out a small composition about small business loans and filed it away in their ECC notebooks.


I recently posted about our Friday Exam, we split the three weeks of study between North and East Africa, West Africa and South Africa, holding a Friday exam each week to cap off. Things I never thought to see on my dining room table? Weaverbird nests, termite hill cross sections, secretary birds and long giraffe tongues.


Our nature notebook has started to pick up steam now that the summer steam is lessening. We went for a lovely hike early one morning last week and had several new experiences even though it was a familiar trail. I love that about nature! We got very close to a blue heron and were able to hear its strange call. We found raccoon tracks, a few dragon fly specimens and photographed several specimens of wild orchid.


We came home and journaled together, only to discover that on the same day last year we also saw a blue heron! An exciting moment for us! We are still using the nature journals from Classical Conversations and its wonderful to see how their work has progressed over time.


“King if the Wind” by Marguerite Henry was our lunch time read aloud for this study alongside the Christian heroes Then and Now  edition of David Livingstone.  The days are slowly ripening into perfect outdoor reading weather and I have a feeling we’ll be doing the vast majority of our schoolwork outdoors this winter. We start Marco Polo’s account of his journey on Monday and I can’t wait!


There are a few resources that we use for each study, without exception, that I do not mention every time I post. They are:

1) Planet Earth DVDs  and One Small Square series by Donald Silver for Biome Study. These two together have replaced Properties of Ecosystems for us. We journal and illustrate pages from the Square books and then watch Planet Earth. We still do all the experiments listed in the TM.

2) Hungry Planet: What the World Eats by Peter Menzel*
3) Material World by Peter Menzel*
*These books have been much more interesting and engaging than the majority of the Geography pages assigned in our TM. Oftentimes we skip those entirely and just learn about the countries using these two books along with the book basket recommendations and…
4) Give Your Child the World by Jamie Martin. This is a book of book lists organized by area and country. Its fantastic and has enriched our year.

5)  Pin It Maps. We use the individual country maps, world map, land and water forms and country flag maps.

6) Around the World in 80 Pages by Antony Mason. This little book takes the children through the countries on the various continents. The last few weeks we read through its descriptions of North Africa, East Africa, West Africa, South Africa and portions of the middle east. It really made the continent of Africa so much more vivid for my children and helped them understand that Africa is not one giant plain covered in grass and full of elephants and lions and giraffes. It gave depth and perspective and contrast. Such a great little book!

Africa Book List

Rain School by James Rumford
Ashanti to Zulu by Margaret Musgrave
Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain by Verna Aardema (also a Reading Rainbow episode!)
Two Ways to Count to Ten: A Liberian Folktale by Ruby Dee
Seven Spool of Thread by Angela Mediars
Owen & Mzee by Isabella Hatkoff
We all Went on Safari by Laurie Krebs
Africa is Not a Country by Margy Burns Knight
Beatrice’s Goat by Page McBrier
Jaha and Jamil Went Down the Hill: African Mother Goose by Virginia Kroll
The Boy who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba
The Best Beekeeper of Lalibela by Cristina Kessler
My Painted House, My Friendly Chicken and Me by Maya Angelou
One Hen by Katie Smith Milway
My Rows and Piles of Coins by Tolowa Mollel

I have dropped the ball on crafts, thanks to our focus on handiwork. We haven’t really opened Global Art much of late because of everything else we have going on, especially with crochet and knitting. But I do love some of the crafts in the book so I’m going to try and be a bit more diligent about setting time aside for the boys to make these things.

Next up–the Middle East!

The Friday Exam



A few years ago, I handed my two eldest children their very first math test. They sat together, side by side, and commenced. Within moments they were wriggling in their seats and soon the little game of “oops, I dropped my pencil” began. I asked them repeatedly to sit still, focus, and finish–to no avail. After an hour had passed the last answer was finally recorded. The boys were frustrated and cranky, I was overwhelmed and wondered what on earth I would do once they were middle school age. This pattern repeated itself throughout the fall of that year until we broke for our usual Advent rest.

Throughout Advent we would sit by our little electric fireplace (We don’t need a real one down here!) and read for long periods of time. One day my second born brought out paper and crayons after reading time and he began to draw the first story I read some forty five minutes earlier. I knelt beside him and asked him to tell me the story. Never taking his eyes off his work, he relayed the story with remarkable accuracy and feeling. Sure, he left a few things out, but I was amazed by all he recalled. He was able to narrate with greater depth and accuracy while drawing than when standing at attention during his narration lesson. His eyes and hands had purpose now and were no longer roaming about the room while he spoke.

This was the birth of our Friday Exam, though the children call it something else. Months of observing and adjusting and tweaking eventually produced our current methodology.A way to evaluate our children in a joyful and creative way.


I begin by covering our table in butcher paper (our roll has lasted a few years).  I set out pastels, beeswax crayons and any other useful or necessary visual aides. Then I DO NOT say, “Come and take a test.” The word test is not used. Cuz… yuck.

I invite the boys over and say something like, “Lets chat a while” or “Show me…” or “Tell me about…”

Then they begin to draw their favorite concepts and ideas from our week of study. They love jumping in with something that excites them to get their creative juices flowing.


While I have them engaged and eager, we work through our drills and memory work. Perhaps they will recite a poem or passage from scripture they have learned, or they will work through their classical conversations memory work.  Oftentimes I will have them spell words aloud (which is the best practice for my eldest son who is visually disorganized) or I will dictate ONE FAMILIAR sentence for them to write out next to their drawings. Then we move onto science. We are studying biomes this year under MFW Exploring Countries and Cultures scope and sequence. The boys draw the biome and relay its characteristics and then they get to make up a story about one animal that lives in the biome. I love hearing their creative storytelling! If the story gets off-track, I gently reel it back in by asking a question. Ultimately, I am looking for 3-5 facts about the biome and 2-4 facts about the animal. They have grown better at this over time. Next the boys will illustrate a scene from our family read aloud and we will discuss it. This is not a time for heavy handed literary analysis! We try and relate to the story, ask questions, work through difficult concepts or spend time comparing what we have processed to what scripture says. We are growing taste, discernment, and insight.


History, anatomy, botany, geography, art—we touch on a variety of subjects during the week with our “chase the spark” method and the place where I really see the full tapestry of their work is during Friday exam. It is always ENCOURAGING to me. Imagine that!  An exam that brings consistent encouragement? Now, if there is a lull, which can happen from time to time depending on energy levels, sugar intake, will power of the preschooler to ignite anarchy or current lunar calendar, I will pick up a pastel and draw something and they have to guess what it is and then we discuss it.  I cap the exam off after an hour. No need to strain every bit of information out of their heads. I want the children to leave feeling confident and happy and full, the same way they leave the dinner table each evening, that is what I aim for when they depart after their exam. I praise them for their work that week. We do not address any misbehavior or disappointments, that happens at another time. We end on a high note, praising what they did well so that they go into the weekend feeling encouraged.


As the exam progresses I take notes and once the boys leave I take more. These notes provide highlights from the exams and I am always sure to record what their current interests and delights are. I also jot down areas of struggle or things we need to revisit, perhaps in a new light or meshed in with one of the things they are currently enjoying.

The exam is not given to determine what they do not know. I already know what they do not know because my class is SMALL and I am with them everyday. Why give them a test I know they will not do well on? What does that accomplish? There is no room for a red pen and a bell curve here. Neither is the exam a way to ensure that everyone knows the same thing. As whole persons with unique souls, minds and hearts, the boys are naturally drawn to different aspects of subjects at different times—unstandardized! One brother may absorb his 11 times table rapidly through rote memorization at the beginning of term, another brother may embrace it six months later in song or story form. One brother will look at the Eiffel Tower and be drawn to its structure–the physics and mechanics of wind and steel. Another brother will look at the Eiffel tower and relate to the story of the man behind its creation, its history, and patriotic value. Both children have learned truth, goodness and beauty in ways that cannot be determined by bubbles or multiple choice. I do not need a paper trail to demonstrate who my children are becoming.

Can a person spend his childhood savoring knowledge, gaining wisdom and cultivating a lifestyle of intellectual growth without the presence of thousands of one dimensional tests marking the way? Yes. Yes, of course he can. There is more than one way to demonstrate competency just as there is more than one way to educate a person.

This is not to say that my children will never take a “normal” test. I am sure as the years pass we will have occasion to take a few. But for my children, especially in their tender growing years, I see little need, purpose, or joy in issuing tests for each subject every ten lessons.


So we unroll the paper and cover the table where we our minds  and hearts meet throughout the week. A button is pressed and music floods the room. We spill pastels upon the table and with the guidance of our hands they convey the treasures we have gleaned that week. We laugh and color and sing and recite and tell and share and discuss. It is not a time for fear or nervousness. Its a time for joy and celebration and the formation of new questions.

MFW ECC: Germany



Its been several weeks since we wrapped up Germany, but I have not had the time to post our study until now. We prepared for a hurricane, went on a very long road trip to my 10 year college reunion and attended a wonderful Charlotte Mason conference, all back to back to back! Tomorrow we begin our study of the continent of Africa and I could not start that without posting about Germany!


We get a lot of questions regarding our non MFW studies and how we fit those in. I do not post about everything we cover just to avoid tedious long posts. Each week I’ll try to throw in a “non MFW” pursuit to give you a peak at the other stuff. This week we’ll look at math. During our study of Germany, my boys worked through a few sets in their Saxon math books, went for a Geometry nature walk (finding shapes in nature), and spent a good deal of time playing with their math manipulatives. Check out Richelle Baburina’s Charlotte Mason math approach!  The boys need lots of hands on time with their math work. They love working on their hundreds board and with their arthmasticks, which they often use to teach their 6 year old brother. We usually end our math block with our math memory work from CC. The boys skip count all the way up to 15X15 before reciting squares and cubes and working through their geometry memory work. All of these are sung out loud. On Friday’s we usually play store or pet shop or some other game where math skills are employed.


Now, on to the books! In Germany, what else could we read but fairytales! We had a marvelous time reading Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Well, most of us had a marvelous time reading. My four year old had a marvelous time destroying EVERYTHING IN THE LIVING ROOM while we were reading the first few tales. Then he threw himself on the floor and screamed bloody murder for seven solid minutes. Good times.

But back to the fairy tales! A small warning–many of these fairy tales do not have happy endings. If your child has a very sensitive heart I recommend screening the book before you read aloud. There are also excellent picture book variations available (i.e. Handel and Gretel). We had a little picnic tea party outside for one of our fairy tale readings. The weather went from sweltering to slightly windy for a 30 minute time frame and we jumped on it! And yes, my youngest is holding a duckling in the picture above. Our friend found him after his whole family had been killed by a car. She texted and asked if we could take him in. I learned a few things about myself in the minutes that followed. 1) I will spontaneously adopt all motherless creatures I come across without a moments hesitation. 2) Instead of asking for permission or mutual accord, I just decide. And the way I break the news to my husband is, “Don’t be mad, m’kay?” and 3) I really like ducks. I like them enough to not ask myself practical questions like “what is the long term plan for this duck?” Sigh. The duck is still here and it has stolen our hearts. Oh, that waddle! Squee!!!



In our readings about Germany we could not help but notice the many castles featured. We enjoyed David Macaulay’s book “Cathedral” when we studied France so we decided to look at “Castle” this time. My boys were quite enthusiastic about this project. They made notebooks filled with drawings and notes. We will be practicing our book binding skills later this week when we bind them into books with our awl and waxed thread. (FYI I had no idea how to bind books before my second born asked, “Hey, can we figure out how to bind books?” It something we figured out together). “Castle” is packed with great information and we loved watching the medieval building process from the ground up. Check your local library for Macaulay’s book. You can also find a PBS special on this book here in all its vintage glory.

I love looking at different periods of history as we study each country. We have been reading “Story of the Nations” from Simply Charlotte Mason this year in our morning basket and the story of Otto Von Bismarck serrendipitously popped up during our study. What a fascinating time in German history! The boys were able to narrate the story well and afterwards asked if we could read more about that particular time period in German history.  We read a few books about Luther and the Reformation and Gutenberg’s printing press as well.


If you read about our study of France, you will recall our afternoon painting in the style of various artists of the Montmartre. How could we learn about Germany and not study musicians? We listened to Bach, Strauss, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Handel and Wagner. The boys wanted to paint while we listened so we mixed our tempura paints with dish soap and made fall window murals  after we listened to our daily Chopin mazurka (and YES, we have to make it look like fall around here!)  Afterwards we had our weekly assessment time. LOTS of discussion on medieval architecture which I was not expecting but I am glad they enjoyed it and absorbed everything so well.


Lastly, I have to share about a great blessing we received during our study. My sister married into a beautiful German/Polish family two years ago. I texted her mother in law a week or two before our study began to ask if she had a family recipe to share. Well, she ended up coming to our house wearing a beautiful dirndl, armed with beautiful books, family pictures, a poster with German words and their meanings, a large cowbell and a bag full of ingredients for apple strudel. She was so generous with her time and knowledge. The boys soaked it up! What a gift!



They made dessert, learned about mad King Ludwig and his castle obsession. They learned about festivals and costumes and family members. We learned about the cows yearly parade down from the hills. The lead cow(s) decorated in floral headdress leading the procession of other cows wearing enormous bells around their collars. I don’t know how we would have discovered this on our own.  Thank you so much for the beautiful visit Omi!

Truly, this is a wonderful year for “guest speakers.” Do you have friends in your neighborhood, homeschool group, church, workplace that have roots or beginnings in the countries studied? Reach out to them and let your children interview them or prepare a dish from that country and invite your friend over to enjoy some and share stories of their experiences. Its a refreshing and wonderful way to bring these countries to life!

We are off to Africa next. We’ll check in again soon.

MFW ECC: France



We had a spectacular sunset on the last day of our France study. It was just after dinner when my son noticed the brilliant orange and red shadows on our living room curtains. We ran outside together, jumped the back fence and raced out to the water’s edge. Whenever we have dry lightning storms at sunset, the sky becomes incredibly rich in its contrasting colors. We saw intense red, gold, orange and yellow against brooding black and charcoal gray. It looked ominous and glorious all at once. We saw a flock of ibis flying east and a flock of roseate spoonbills heading west. A kingfisher made his dinner dive and we were nearly ecstatic over the sight of a rare snail kite soaring over our heads. But that sunset, of that sunset made us giddy. We had looked through some of Van Gogh’s work as we were discussing the Montmartre earlier that day. The minute my son saw the full scope of this sunset he let out a joyous little whoop and called to me, “Mom! Its a Van Gogh! Look! We just read about him and now the sky is a Van Gogh!”

Homeschooling is hard and sometimes I wonder/worry what the effect will be on my relationship with each of my children. Moments like the above are a gift from God. Granted, they are not always so flashy and obvious, but He still gives them to me. I tuck them in my heart to remember on days when feelings are hurt, tears run and personalities are at war. I love that we were able to share such a glorious moment together. A few days after this sunset we were reading another book that briefly mentioned Van Gogh. Immediately I raised my eyes and looked at my son, he grinned and gave me a little wink. We are now permanently bonded over Van Gogh. We’ll never be able to look at his work again without remembering that moment.


In our effort to learn French culture, I told the kids we would be slowing down even more than we already have. We would learn to linger well over truth, goodness and beauty. This resulted in some epically long morning time breakfast gatherings. We read so many books together (booklist at the end of the post!), enjoyed at least three pots of tea at each sitting and ate way more treats than we should have.

After reading a lovely little story about life in the french countryside, we decided to have a countryside day. We baked fresh bread and chopped veggies for soup, made a batch of lotion and some chapstick, diffused lots of lavender and read about the production of essential oil, and hand rolled beeswax tapers for our table this autumn and winter (while learning about bees!). The boys loved this particular activity. The smell is so warm and comforting and they loved getting to work on something meaningful for our home. Its good to feel useful, isn’t it?


A few readers have asked about our “unstandardized testing” method, so I thought I would share a bit on this recap about how its done at our house.

First, I cover our table in butcher paper (I purchased a very large roll on Amazon nearly 3 years ago and have yet to run out). Next I give the boys several pastels and beeswax crayons. I choose 7 topics for them to illustrate and work on. This week they illustrated: Heidi on the Alps, a coniferous forest, acid rain effects, the cathedral in Rouen, a cave and its lifeforms, trabecular bone structure grid, and the Eiffel tower. While drawing, they recited their poetry work, scripture memory work, Classical Conversations memory work and they narrated portions of our reading from Spyri’s “Heidi.” I also gave a verbal spelling test to each child. Once the illustrations were completed, the boys went through each one and explained what they were, what they learned and the significance of each one.

My second born (age 7) explained the white stone structure of the cathedral in Rouen. We studied Monet’s painting of this building earlier in the week and then read through David Macaulay’s “Cathedral.” My son pointed out a few architectural elements, their purpose and significance and then talked about Monet’s painting, use of light and its effects on the white stone. He then talked a bit about Monet and the impressionist movement. We studied Monet for close to three months so he is now able to talk about him comfortably. There is great benefit to a slower learning that promotes savoring.


My eldest discussed the Eiffel tower. Happily, our morning time history book, “Stories of the Nations” by Lorene Lambert, gave us a fascinating account of Gustave Eiffel’s life and his construction of the tower. This story captivated my son to such a degree that we spent an entire afternoon learning all about the construction of the tower and its similarities to the human trabecular bone structure. (Aside: I know I have mentioned “Stories of the Nations” before, but I must once again express just how meaningful and enriching this book has been in our ECC study this year. Each chapter is only 2-3 pages long and takes just a few minutes to read at the table each morning. It has captured even my 5 year old and the children have had this beautiful experience listening to the history of the world spread out in an engaging way.)

Our entire “test” took a little over an hour and the boys were so proud and eager to show off what they knew and what they had absorbed throughout the week. The idea of testing to find out what someone does not know is a bit foreign to them and so they look forward to these afternoons of sharing. Once the paper is unrolled I have an opportunity to listen and evaluate what they have retained, what peaked their interest, what was valuable to them and exactly why certain pieces of information were deemed important by them. This helps me in my future planning and gives me a great gauge for where we have been and what we have moved forward with.


For this country study, we decided to really focus in on Art and Food. Big surprise, I know! I tried to tempt them to look at fashion (how cute are these Chanel paper dolls?) but no one took me up on it. One of my favorite Instagram accounts belongs to Terri Woods of @Woodsermom. A few weeks ago she recommended a beautiful book called, “Painting Pepette,” about a little French girl that wants a portrait done of her stuffed bunny. She ventures out to the Montmarte and encounters an assortment of artists that each paint a portrait of the little bunny and very different styles. The book is quite charming. Woodsermom had asked her children to paint on subject in the style of four different painters, so we followed suite. We chose my son’s stuffed hummingbird “Hummy” as our subject and once again the butcher paper and all the art supplies came out.  We listened to beautiful music and spent several hours (I was bit shocked at how long they lingered over this) painting, drawing, watercoloring, sketching and sculpting. We took a virtual tour of the Louvre afterwards.


The internet is incredible (and horrible). How neat to be able to find 360 degree tours of buildings in France or a view of the city from the top of the Eiffel tower? Check out Napoleon Bonaparte’s house!

Lastly, we just had to watch “Ratatouille” and make our own recipe for lunch one day. They wanted to eat their meal with crusty bread and hot chocolate. This would be a fun activity to pair alongside the marshmallow Eiffel Tower, or an apple chunks Eiffel Tower is you want healthy disgruntled children.

Confession: I am a bit behind in posting, we have already finished Germany! I’ll be sure to post our recap of that study soon. Thanks for following along!

France Study Booklist:
Adele and Simon by Barbara McClintock
Anatole by Eve Titus
Grand Mosque of Paris: A Story of How Muslims Rescued Jews During the Holocaust by Karen Grey Ruelle
Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans
Monet by Mike Venezia
Paul Cezanne by Mike Venezia
When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit  by Judith Kerr
Twenty and Ten by Claire Bishop
Marguerite Makes a Book by Bruce Robertson
Kate Meets the Impressionists by James Mayhew
Joan of Arc by Demi