What Birdwatching Taught Me About Homeschooling

What Birdwatching Taught Me About Homeschooling

Like many families, we have a bird feeder on our deck. We have birds and one really annoying squirrel visit every day. We see chickadees, nuthatches, titmice, gold and purple finches, cardinals, and mourning doves. They are used to the two little faces of my children, pressed against the glass, watching them as they dine. Those two little faces are also used to watching those same birds. Sometimes they get bored. They decide the birds are, well, for the birds, and have no desire to see what is at the feeder that day.

But when something new shows up, their enthusiasm for birdwatching is renewed. This week a very large red-bellied woodpecker arrived with quite a stir. He is very striking, and both boys were mesmerized. They listened quietly outside for the peck-peck-pecking noise and tried to find him in the trees. Our new bird visitor has made birding fresh and interesting again.

And so goes the life of homeschoolers. Everything starts shiny and new and exciting. Then as the new wears off the books, curriculum, or unit study, things become less awesome. Less exciting. The pupils want to do other things. Perhaps the teacher wants to do other things, too. And then you have to decide if the problem is a squirrel —something that has to be pushed through— or if you need a woodpecker to boost motivation.

Sometimes the problem is a squirrel. If your child just hates math, perhaps no degree if doing it differently will help. But sometimes greasing the pole to get to the feeder makes it more challenging and more enjoyable. At the very least, trying a new method gives you the satisfaction of knowing you tried. And in regard to the squirrel, the greased pole is satisfying to watch. Don’t be afraid to let go of something that isn’t working, and don’t be afraid to push through if it’s your child who is not working.

Sometimes you need a woodpecker to reignite the spark: open a new book, watch a fresh DVD, play a game, or relocate school to a different part of the house. If math needs to be completed before that new read-aloud about dragons and knights can be pulled out, you may find a new enthusiasm for skip counting. Changing your order of doing things, adding nature walks, or omitting that one activity no one really enjoys are all great ways to change up your usual routine and breathe new life into your homeschool.

A few other points I’ve learned from birdwatching:

  • Mama cardinals first get food to take to the nest and then return to eat. (Proverbs 31)
  • Song sparrows are simply glorious to listen to and watch. (Matthew 10:29-31)
  • Mourning doves have the most soothing song and genteel looks and are most active first thing in the morning. (Psalm 30:5)
  • The early bird makes the best morning coffee and quiet time companion.

What wisdom have you gleaned from watching God’s creation?

This post may contain affiliate links. For more information, please refer to the disclosure policy

4 Don’t Miss Picture Books for American History

4 Don't Miss Picture Books for American History • Bright Ideas Press

Picture books are a wonderful way to introduce historical and geographical topics to younger children in an age-appropriate and accessible way. Here are four of my favorite picture books that include important times and places in American history.

Never miss a Bright Ideas Press blog post. Subscribe here.

When Jessie Came Across the Sea

When Jessie Came Across the Sea is a lavishly illustrated story about a young girl who leaves her grandmother and home in Eastern Europe to travel to New York City. Selected by the town rabbi who has one ticket to give to a villager, he selects Jessie to start a new life there while working in the dress shop owned by his brother’s widow. The story follows Jessie’s experience immigrating to America, living on the Lower East Side, and the relationships that develop in the ensuing years.

The artwork alone is enough reason to read this book. It also adds to the lovely story that brings immigration to life in a new way for young readers.

Potato: A Tale from the Great Depression

Potato: A Tale From The Great Depression is a simple story of one family who lost their job and home during the Great Depression and what they did to get by. It specifically focuses on the time they spent in Idaho, picking potatoes to earn enough money to get back on their feet.

The illustrations are friendly and warm. This picture book is simple in its approach and will work very well to introduce younger children to the topic of the Great Depression.


Homeplace is a lovely look at how seven generations of one family have cared for the home and land built by the great-great-great-great grandfather many years ago. The grandmother telling the story to the grand-daughter tells of how each generation worked the land and improved the house. The detailed illustrations add a great deal to the story, showing the progression of time, implements and activities through the generations.

This is a great picture book for showing young children what multiple generations look like in an easy to follow way. If you love stories about farming and home arts, you especially will want to share this one with your children.

Amber on the Mountain

Amber on the Mountain is a look at how progress comes to a quiet community on a mountainside and the impact it has on one little girl. Amber is lonely on her mountain since the people live so far apart. But when outsiders arrive to build a road on the mountain, Amber becomes friends with Anna whose father is helping build the road. When Anna discovers Amber can’t read, she makes up her mind to teach her. When the road is finished and Anna leaves with her family, Amber makes up her mind to do something even bigger.

This is a wonderful story of friendship and determination set against a backdrop of hard mountain living and few opportunities. It will open up the door to many possible conversations about the characters, setting and important developments in the lives of the two little girls.


This post may contain affiliate links. For more information, please refer to the disclosure policy

Signs of Homeschool Burnout and How to Recover

homeschool burnout: warning signs and how to recover

Here are some notes taken from the Homeschool Burnout hangout video below. Watch the entire recording to get all the great tips, but if you only have time for the highlights, browse these lists.

Never miss a Bright Ideas Press blog post. Subscribe here.

How do you know you are experiencing burnout? What are the warning signs?

  • lack of joy and excitement about homeschooling
  • bad attitude or even dread about your homeschooling tasks
  • giving lectures to your kids, being critical and negative towards them
  • lethargy, lack of motivation, a desire to give up
  • short fuse, easily irritated
  • tired, fatigued, don’t want to get out of bed in the morning
  • wanting to hunker down and hibernate at home
  • forgetful and emotional

Can children experience burnout? What are their symptoms?

Yes! Kids can get burned out if they are over-scheduled, facing a very challenging academic course, or not having enough recreational or social time

Every child is different, but here are some common signs:

  • lazy with school work
  • lack of motivation for school work
  • bickering, complaining, arguing, crying
  • asking to go to public/private school
  • wanting to stay at home and not go out

What are causes of burnout?

  • over-commitment and over-scheduling
  • crisis in home situation or relationships
  • overwhelmed with the task of homeschooling — record keeping, curriculum choices, etc.
  • trying to compete with others or meet an impossible standard

How can you refresh yourself and gain the energy to prevent burnout?

  • take care of yourself spiritually, emotionally, and physically
  • do what builds you up
  • reduce your load; learn to say no
  • take breaks
  • schedule for margin, fun, and breaks
  • get some time alone at home
  • exercise
  • remember what motivated you to homeschool in the beginning
  • listen to your body/emotions and don’t just push through the fatigue
  • ignore the naysayers and critics in your life
  • ask for help


More resources on Homeschool Burnout

Here are some great posts by other homeschool moms on this topic.

5-steps-to-homeschool-mom-burn-out great-day

burnout overwhelms

homeschool-burnout Homeschool-Moms-Relax

No-Homeschool-Co-op RecoveringFromBurnout

This post may contain affiliate links. For more information, please refer to the disclosure policy

Homeschooling Kindergarten the Simple Way

homeschooling kindergarten the simple way • Bright Ideas Press

Never miss a Bright Ideas Press blog post. Subscribe here.

Homeschooling Kindergarten is exciting, but it can also be very stressful. I remember trying to wade through the massive homeschool catalogs, deciding what I needed to teach my five-year-old boy.  I ended up with a comprehensive curriculum that  overwhelmed both me and my son.

Kindergarten should be a time of fun exploration when you and your child ease into a slightly more formal education. It took me a while to figure this out and accept it, but, boy, am I glad I did. My third child will not have to suffer like his/her big brothers did! I finally figured out that I just need to keep things simple, short and fun for Kindergarten.

There are only three subjects that I think are important for Kindergarten. (Actually these are the subjects that I primarily focus on for Kindergarten through second grade).

Teaching your Child to Read

Learning to read is one of the most important skills during an education at home or anywhere else. I always tell my boys that if they can learn to read and comprehend well, they can learn almost anything they want.

Learning to read takes a lot of effort on your child’s part and great patience on your part.

For Kindergarten continue to read with my children, but I also add in about 5-10 minutes of daily phonics instruction. I keep the lessons simple, short, and fun. For example, we use games and magnetic letters as my child learns to blend and read short words. Later, we use Bob Books so he can read on his own.


Learning to write can be a lot of fun as long as your child doesn’t have to slave over rows and rows of letters. I have my boys take their time to copy merely five of their best letters in a row and end the lesson before they get overwhelmed or stressed.

Using lots of hands-on activities like salt tracing, sandpaper letters, and playdough help your child practice forming letters without having to put pencil to paper all the time. Plus those activities are great for strengthening their fine motor muscles!

Living Math

After suffering through a few math curriculums, I realized that I just need to relax when it came to beginning math.  Everyday life presents lots of moments to work on math skills without pulling out flash cards and worksheets (unless your child loves those then godspeed).

  • complete patterns with wooden blocks
  • practice sorting by putting the silverware away
  •  count the number of apples we bought at the store or the number of socks we pulled from the dryer
  • go on shape hunts during drives in the car

Find what works for your family and make it fun! By the end of the year, they will have all the tools and basic skills they need to jump right into a more formal math program or you can continue with living math for as long as it works for you.

The only other subject that I might add to this list for a Kindergartner is nature studies.  Children need to spend lots of time outside, exploring, running, playing, and getting dirty. My guys loved digging for worms or hunting for bugs on our nature walks or while playing at the park. It spark lots of conversations about the world around us.

How do you handle Kindergarten in your home?

This post may contain affiliate links. For more information, please refer to the disclosure policy

Notebooking Your Way Through History

notebooking your way through homeschool history with The Mystery of History by Bright Ideas Press

Never miss a Bright Ideas Press blog post. Subscribe here.

The Mystery of History has been our choice history curriculum since I began homeschooling in 2012.  I knew I wanted something with hands-on activities to keep my boys involved.  So we began plowing through the curriculum starting with Vol I: Creation to the Resurrection.  The kids loved hearing me read aloud from the spine and doing the fun activities such as building ziggurats and wrapping ourselves up like mummies.

One thing I noticed early on was that my sons remembered only the bigger things we did.  Since they were ages 10 and 12, I felt they should retain more of what we studied.  So I looked on the Bright Ideas Press store to see what extras were available.  I settled on these wonderful printables found in the Super Supplemental Collection.

  1. The Mystery of History Volume I Coloring Pages
  2. The Mystery of History Volume I Challenge Cards
  3. The Mystery of History Volume I Notebooking Pages
  4. The Mystery of History Volume I Folderbook, 4 Quarters

When I added notebooking pages to our homeschool history studies, things changed.  The children learned how to take dictation.  They also began to keep track of facts and practice active listening.  When we reviewed the lesson, they remembered much more then when they were merely passively listening without a notebooking page.

Click the images to see them a larger view of my son’s work.

notebook 2 notebook1

We are now starting our third volume of The Mystery of History, and we won’t be without those notebooking pages.  For middle school and high school students, the notebooking pages elevate the course to a higher level of learning.  Yes, you could just have the kids write in a spiral notebook, but my children like seeing the titles and pictures on the pages.

Tips for Using The Mystery of History Notebooking Pages

1. Print out everything at the beginning of the year.

This will save you time each week, and you will always be prepared.  Choose some kind of organization system.  For volumes I and II, I made a file folder for each week.  For Volume III, I’m using two binders with dividers to organize the student sheets into the various weeks.

2. Print with a laser printer to save on ink costs.

Everything will be in black in white (unless you splurge for a color laser printer), but it won’t make that much of a difference.  This year for Vol. III, I printed some in color on my old inkjet (because of the artist’s artwork) and some in black and white.

3. Hand out the writer’s pages before the reading assignment.

Encourage your children to use shorthand notes and not write complete sentences as they take notes while you read. This will help them to write faster which will come in handy for college.  Next, hand out the fill-able pages after the lesson is read to see what they remember. These are great to use as worksheets.

This post may contain affiliate links. For more information, please refer to the disclosure policy

Teaching Geography with the Iditarod

Teaching Geography with the Iditarod

Never miss a Bright Ideas Press blog post. Subscribe here.

Each year roughly at the start of March, the last great race on earth begins. Known as the Iditarod and raced through Alaska from Anchorage to Nome, mushers use dog teams to carry them across the snowy Alaskan terrain on a dog sled. It’s fun to travel along with the racers to learn geography and history.

The History of the Iditarod

The Iditarod is a race begins in Anchorage and ends in Nome, Alaska. The Iditarod Trail, which is now a National Historic Trail, was once a mail and supply route from the coastal towns to the interior mining camps. Mail and supplies went in and gold came out.

The race commemorates the efforts of sled dogs in delivering medication to an epidemic stricken Nome, Alaska during a diphtheria outbreak in 1925. Over the years, snow mobiles have replaced the sleds and dog teams of Alaska and the race is a way to keep this sledding team culture alive.

Iditarod Geography

The trail is 1000 miles long and travels through the roughest terrain including mountain ranges, dense forests, frozen rivers, empty tundra, and windy coastlines on the Bering Straight.

Teaching History & Geography with the Iditarod

  • The Route — Print a map of Alaska by using the poster printing option with  WonderMaps edition of Alaska. Before you print, choose to enlarge by 200% so it will print on six different sheets of paper. Then do the same for the trail map. Now you can mark where the mushers on the trail each day.
  • The Landscape — Map the landscape of the route. What is it like? What dangers do the mushers face?
  • The Weather — The weather plays a big role in race time and trail conditions. If you choose to follow along with the race, then you can get weather updates from the weather channel which has partnered with the Iditarod.

Iditarod Resources

The official Iditarod website has a wealth of information on the race and just about anything you can think of that goes along with it. Check out these wonderful resources.

  • Iditarod: The Last Great Race on Earth — The official website of the race. Here you’ll find information about the race, the route, and you can get updates on the race here.
  • Education Portal —This is the main page for all things education related regarding the Iditarod.
  • Student Portal — There is also a student section of the Iditarod site which includes things like newsletters, puzzles, quizzes, and scavenger hunts for starters.
  • Books about the Iditarod & Alaska — This page has an updated list of reading material all about Alaska and the race.

The race begins on March 7, 2015. Will you be ready to follow along for some history and geography of Alaska?

Geography Quests

If you enjoyed this short geography lesson with ideas on exploration for your students, then you might like Geography Quests. Following the Iditarod can be a long or short term project and it’s one of the many topics for geography through Geography Quests.

Photo Credit: Alaskan Dude via Compfight cc

This post may contain affiliate links. For more information, please refer to the disclosure policy