Santa's Secrets

We ran into these guys today, when we dropped off toys for Porter-Leath. We've heard that Santa's reindeer will only fly on Christmas Eve, which explains why this one stays in his containment area. Flying around Union Avenue would cause quite a commotion anyway! 

We were still a little skeptical about the abilities of this reindeer, as we were warned not to get too close. Perhaps, he is an alternate reindeer "helper"? You know, like the various Santas we see around town. We plan to further investigate the Rangifer tarandus. Our local library is a little lacking in this area, but Amazon Kindle Unlimited has a lot of selections. Time for a free trial!

We got a chance to have a little chat with the jolly old elf himself. No luck with details about the taxonomy of flying caribou. However, Santa did disclose (and I hope it's okay to share this) that he no longer enters homes through chimneys. Turns out, he was advised by the EPA that too many chimneys are just too dangerous these days. Wood smoke can not only pollute the air, but also impact our heath (and Santa's)!    Are reindeer and caribou the same thing?

The EPA's Burn Wise program has a lot of good information on how to prepare wood for burning in fireplaces and updating or replacing old wood stoves, including this plan for building a wood shed.  

This PSA has been brought to you by Peachy Skeen... and Santa Claus.


Martin Luther King, Jr. Month of Service Learning

If you have a child that is interested in active service in our community, please consider joining our group of Service Learners. Kids as young as 5 and as old as 17 can sign up to participate in any number of meaningful service projects for youth volunteers, throughout the month of January! Participants can earn service hours, develop a sense of civic engagement, and learn through active and meaningful service to others.  

While many kids have experience with indirect service like fundraising and soliciting donations, participants in this service learning opportunity will actively engage in direct service.  The efforts of this service will focus on members of our community who are experiencing temporary or chronic homelessness and hunger or food insecurity. Details about each volunteer opportunity are listed below. 

Participation in any of the Service Learning events can be applied to required service hours for students, scouts, etc.  Service Learners who complete 8 hours or more of volunteering with the group will receive a Service Learning certificate and will be invited to an exclusive event, recognizing their community efforts. 
Click here to sign up!


Who was Dorothy Day?
Dorothy Day House of Hospitality (Ages 5 and up)

The Dorothy Day House of Hospitality (DDHH) provides temporary housing and support to families who are homeless. There are many causes of homelessness, but very few options for families to stay together through hard times. DDHH believes that keeping families together while homeless gives them a better chance of rebuilding their lives. The Dorothy Day House of Hospitality depends entirely on monetary and in-kind donations from private donors and charitable organizations. Each Monday night, volunteers prepare and share a meal with the residents of the home.

There are two different dates for which Service Learners may sign up to either prepare or serve a meal (or both). Meals will be prepared at the Skeen House, in East Memphis. Meals will be served at DDHH, located on Poplar Avenue, in Midtown. **Anyone signed up to prepare a meal will be assigned an ingredient to contribute.

Where is Room in the Inn?
Room in the Inn - Memphis (Ages 7 and up)

During the winter months, Room in the Inn (RITI) operates through various churches to provide overnight shelter for homeless members of the Memphis community. From November 1 through March 31, RITI provides dinner and breakfast, a shower (depending on the facilities available) and a warm bed to sleep in for guests one night a week.

The Service Learners will support RITI on four different dates at the Trinity Education Building, located in Midtown. Supporting tasks include setting the table, arranging sleeping quarters, and making beds. How well does your child make his/her bed? After volunteering at RITI, that's sure to improve! Guests of RITI will not be present while Service Learners are preparing the facility. However, you can contact me for details on serving/attending dinner and staying for evening entertainment, such as board games.


How can I volunteer at the soup kitchen?
St. Mary's Soup Kitchen (Ages 5 and up)

St. Mary's Catholic Church Soup Kitchen has been operating continuously for 144 years. Six days a week, the organization serves the poor, homeless and less fortunate in the Memphis community. They average more than 300 servings a day! Every guest of the soup kitchen receives a meat sandwich, a peanut butter sandwich, a 16oz. cup of soup, and a snack.

The Service Learners will support St. Mary's Soup Kitchen by preparing peanut butter sandwiches... A LOT of peanut butter sandwiches! But we're not just going to make the sandwiches, we're going to engage in a little friendly competition, challenging participants to work together to prepare and package the best peanut butter sandwiches EVER!  **Anyone signed up for this event should bring a minimum of two loaves of bread. Please feel free to bring more!

Check back often, additional Service Learning dates will be posted!!

Why We Homeschool

It's an inevitable question that will be asked countless times. Any homeschooling family knows this. It doesn't matter if the kid(s) left a traditional school setting or if if they've never spent any time in a classroom. A homeschool parent will always, without fail, hear a variation of this question,
"What made you decide to homeschool?"
I imagine there are as many answers to that question as there are people who ask it. In fact, there are so many factors that contributed to our decision to leave traditional education that my answer might be different every time I'm asked.

When I decided to blog about our home education experience I thought it would be helpful to include a little background on what lead us to homeschooling. However, I could never really sum it up. So, I put it off until I felt there was something worth telling, which I will post here as a running list.

Service learning is one reason I homeschool my child. Service means contributing or helping to benefit others and the common good. Learning means gaining understanding of a subject or skill through study, instruction or experience. Combining the two  concepts creates learning through active contributions that help meet the needs of our community. This isn't something promoted by traditional schools, public or private. Many schools encourage volunteerism or partner with non-profits, but what it often amounts to for students is a collection of donations with little emphasis on learning through an experience. After all, serving others will not show measurable outcomes on standardized tests and college entrance exams. 

And the list of reasons goes on...


Thanksgiving Without the Teepee

Every year in November, in a multitude of ways, Americans distort the story of Thanksgiving. Are you guilty of blending the facts and myths? Do you perpetuate the stereotypes and generalizations? The answer you are looking for is, yes. Isn't everyone guilty of this at some point? I know I am. After all, most of us grew up with only partially accurate stories about the Pilgrims and the Indians.

Even in some of today's classrooms, students only learn about Native American culture during the month of November. Because all American Indians are alike? Were they all at the first Thanksgiving? Yes, I know. I'm exhausting all possible labels for America's indigenous peoples. Thanksgiving as a jumping-off point for studying American Indians, yes! I've just never really seen that happen. It's more like that one time that all the Native American tribes- usually referred to in past tense, as if there are no Indians left in America- had dinner with the Pilgrims. In recent years I was even in a classroom where the teacher pulled all of her Thanksgiving books into one section for easy access for the students. Among the titles was a book about Pocahontas and another about the Cherokee Nation, neither of which was remotely relevant to the history or tradition of Thanksgiving. I don't think the teacher believed that all of these books were related to Thanksgiving or that all American Indians are the same. However, like so many of us, she either didn't care or want to take the time to think about the implications.

Now that we're homeschooling, I wanted to do my best to set the record straight in our house. I planned to go all Howard Zinn- dialed back a notch for age appropriateness. I'm sharing some of my favorite references here in hopes they might assist others in breaking the cycle of misinformation and also so I can easily access them for the future.

Education World: Teach the Real Story of the "First Thanksgiving" is a helpful guide for positive teaching strategies, avoiding stereotypes, and considering the Native American perspective.
The REAL Story of Thanksgiving by Susan Bates provides details about what a day of "thanksgiving" really meant in early colonial days.

Native Child: Teaching Kids the Wonderful Diversity of American Indians offers teaching strategies, facts, and statistics about American Indian cultures. While it is not a Thanksgiving reference, it does shine a light on some of the stereotypes reinforced by not teaching it accurately. 

The Wampanoag by Kevin Cunningham  This nonfiction book is part of A True Book: American Indians, published by Scholastic. The reading level is 5.4 and offers a deeper look into Squanto's life and the decades of war that ensued after the first Thanksgiving.

explores what life was like for a Wampanoag boy. The reading level is  4.6 and the photographic story includes Wampanoag words, with a glossary and pronunciation key.

We Shall Remain: After the Mayflower is episode one of a five-part PBS television series and it is so phenomenal I plan to keep watching. The episode is long and may be best suited for older kids. We watched it in segments and I paused it several times to discuss the dialogue. This film was more enriching than any other program or book I could recommend, offering an opportunity to hear Algonquin dialect and interviews with Wampanoag people. It's a must see, even if you aren't exploring the first Thanksgiving, which takes a backseat to all of the other history. If you are an Amazon Prime customer, it streams for FREE!


Veering Off Course

One of my favorite things about homeschooling is that learning can be very fluid. Being the type A that I am, I always have a plan. However, I very rarely have a time limit and we never have to worry about veering off course. In fact, we change course quite a bit, usually because we've stumbled on to something that is too fascinating to file away for later. The latest example of this was what I've been referring to as The science we learned from Squanto.

Scroll down for more Mayflower resources.
For several years, I've been using a Peanuts episode to provoke discussion about events leading to what we all think of as the first Thanksgiving. This is America, Charlie Brown: The Mayflower Voyagers, is a surprisingly accurate account of what the experience must have been like for the pilgrims. It's lighthearted enough for early learners, but it doesn't gloss over the hardships of the journey (though it completely glosses over the annihilation of the Patuxet people). 
Every time I watch this flick, discussions always take a different path. Last year, a group of first graders turned it into a math lesson, using the counting up/counting down method for  determining how many voyagers actually made it to the new world. Before that, a group of 2nd graders turned the discussion into an issue of wants verses needs, analyzing what the pilgrims might have taken with them on the journey.

This year was my first time watching it as a home educator and there was one part that really jumped out at me. Squanto taught the Peanuts, I mean Pilgrims, that the best time to plant corn is "when the oak leaves are the size of a mouse's ear." Since I've always stayed away from the Native American content in the program, I hadn't really given that quote much thought- until now.

The Patuxet understood that plants and animals take cues from local climate, using their observations of seasonal changes to make astute agricultural decisions. This is something we learned when we investigated Squanto's instructions for the Peanuts  pilgrims. We also learned that this adage is a principle of a modern-day science called phenology.
Have you ever heard of phenology? 

 And just like that the course of investigation changed from pilgrims to phenology! By the end of the day, we were official citizen scientists, signed up to document our native plants and animals for the National Phenology Network. The organization calls on amateur naturalists to join its Nature's Notebook program to help scientist gather valuable information on plant and animal phenology.

Nature's Notebook is a national, online program where participants record observations of different plants and animals, generating long-term data sets- in the name of scientific exploration, discovery and decision-making. Once signed up, members can scroll though the online database of species to select plants and/or animals specific to their own backyard or community. Finally! There is a reason for letting that scurry of chipmunks live in the chicken run!

Oh yeah, back to the Mayflower. Here are some other resources... 

See ship and learn what the voyage was like with Scholastic's Voyage on the Mayflower  

Take a look at the inside layout with this cutaway diagram of the Mayflower. 

Check out the History Channel's movie Desperate Crossing: The Untold Story of the Mayflower or view it here with a subscription to the Streaming Digital Media Library.

My favorite books about the Mayflower, 



Service learning is one of the perks of homeschooling my child. Service learning can mean different things to different people. To us: Service means contributing or helping to benefit others and the common good. Learning means gaining understanding of a subject or skill through study, instruction or experience. Combining the two concepts creates learning through active contributions that help meet the needs of our community. 

I like to think that all children are compassionate and want to make a positive impact on the world. My husband and I try to nurture that inclination with JK as much as possible. It started with a lemonade stand. Then a week-long Volunteer Odyssey introduced us to hunger and homelessness in our community and really ignited Janie Kathryn's desire to help others. We became regular volunteers at a local soup kitchen and seasonal shelter... that is until school started.

I was student teaching and JK was in second grade. There was no time for volunteering. There was no time for anything, except for the seemingly endless amounts of homework. I often found myself thinking it would be so much better if, instead of useless homework practice, she could apply what she is learning in the context of something she enjoys. Taking a step further, we could do this through serving our community. What a dream, right?

Well, with homeschooling that dream is a reality. Among other service-oriented activities, we have a weekly shift at the soup kitchen. You might question how a child can replace homework by volunteering at a soup kitchen, but it happens. And I contend that the learning that takes place is more meaningful and authentic, with a much higher retention rate than anything she learned in school or practiced at home. 

There are obvious life skills that are practiced- kitchen safety, food preparation, serving, cleaning tables, washing dishes, sweeping and mopping floors. There is a very valuable social aspect. From working with a diverse group of volunteers to connecting with people whose lives are very different than ours. And people always question the "socialization" of homeschoolers. 

Then there are less obvious ways to learn. For instance, we once practiced mean, median, mode, and range using the numbers of people served at the soup kitchen. We've practiced multiplication and division (really, it was algebra) using the peanut butter sandwiches we so often prepare. The possibilities are limitless. You have 15 loaves of bread. Each loaf has 24 slices. How many sandwiches can you make, using 2 slices per sandwich?

It isn't always a dream come true, believe me. Some days 7:15am seems earlier than usual and one or both of us is not up for finding ways to practice newly acquired skills, but we always manage to get ourselves to our shift and make the most of it.  Still, service learning is one of those things I have to file under Why We Homeschool.  

Now that we know the ropes of this learning through service, I hope to invite more kids to join us. Be sure check the happenings for service learning opportunities! 


Read It! Historically Accurate Thanksgiving

Allow me to clarify, before you scroll through these thematic suggestions. I do not mean to imply that these books provide historically accurate information about the events surrounding the first Thanksgiving. On the contrary, I chose some of these books for my Thanksgiving unit because I wanted to have opportunities to identify cultural stereotypes and historical distortions. 

This is our reading list and discussion topics for a well-rounded discussion about the story most Americans cite as the first Thanksgiving. Most of these books are still in print and available in paperback. All of them are likely at the local library if they're not checked out (good luck with that).

 Mayflower  1620: A New Look at a Pilgrim Voyage
National Geographic Society, 2003 | Nonfiction | Level  7
If You Sailed on the Mayflower in 1620
McGovern, 1991 | Nonfiction | Level  4.2
How Many Days to America
Bunting, 1988 | Fiction | Level  3.1

Cunningham, 2011 | Nonfiction | Level  5.4 
Waters, 1996 | Nonfiction | Level  4.6
(Let's Read About) Squanto 
Black, 2002 |Nonfiction | Level 2.9

Osborne, 2005 | Nonfiction | Level 4.2
Harness, 1992 | Fiction | 4.4
Waters, 1989 | Nonfiction | Level  3.4

 National Geographic Society | Nonfiction | Level  7.1
Koller, 1999 | Nonfiction | Level  4.0
Dalgliesh, 1957 | Fiction | Level 4.1