That Time We Got Lost in the Woods

This week, the Virtual Curriculum Fair’s theme is Exploring our World. What better place is there to explore than the woods? And what better story than that time I got lost? With all my children? As the sun was setting?

Getting lost in the woods

It started off simply enough. I drove out to Mahoney State Park, intending on watching the kids at the playground while my daughter attended an event. Except we were supposed to be at Mahoney Park in Lincoln, not Mahoney State Park in Ashland. Thinking back, maybe I should have taken this as some sort of omen. I mean, we couldn’t even get to the right public park on public roads using GPS. Why ever did I think it was a good idea to take my entire brood — six children aged 2 through 17 — traipsing off into the woods?

But I had just been thinking about how nice it would be to get out more with the children. Explore some of Nebraska’s natural beauty. Combine exercise, family time and getting to know Nebraska. And here I was, the brand new owner of a State Park Pass. It was perfect.

And this is Mahoney State Park. 690 acres which consists mostly of lodges, meeting areas a campground and a golf course. I go here for writer’s conferences. What could go wrong? Seriously. My fellow Nebraskans are probably laughing at the idea of anyone getting lost in Mahoney. It’s not like I just skipped off into the back country of Yellowstone. It’s more like I wandered into the trees in a city park and couldn’t find my way out.

So, yeah. I mentioned a hike in the woods and the children cheered. They wanted the longest possible hike. I picked one that had options. The entire trail was a couple miles, but there were several points where we could just leave the trail and go back to the road and walk back. Because it was late on an October afternoon and I didn’t want to be in the woods in the dark, no matter how small and nearly urban those woods may be.

The trail was rough. Far rougher than I was expecting. Most of our hikes have been on the tamed and heavily mulched trails of Pioneers Park in Lincoln. Suddenly, we were met with obstacles. Drop offs. Places where injury could occur if you didn’t stay on the trail. And it didn’t take long until even staying on the path was no guarantee for safety. Not that it was dangerous, per se. Just that it wasn’t like walking on a mulched trail in Lincoln. There were steep inclines and places where you just sort of had to try to keep your feet under you and slow the descent as much as possible. One such spot landed me face first in the mud at the bottom.

Which was actually kind of funny.

But this was not exactly what I had in mind. Upon reaching the first such descent, I contemplated turning back. But the children were so . . . alive. All their senses were alert as they took in the woods and the activity and this sense of real adventure on a real trail that they actually had to climb to navigate. So I staged the children on the trail, passed Asa down to my son who then passed him down to my daughter and we embarked on this adventure.

And it was an adventure. The children decided they were members of the Lewis and Clark Expedition and perhaps the first white people to ever traverse this untamed wild. We saw so many tracks. Deer, raccoon, coyote. There is something about being on a rough-hewn trail in the wilderness that sparks the imagination. And the sense of togetherness.

It was all so right. It was everything I hoped to share with my children through my vague plans of exploring Nebraska’s state parks.

Until the trail we were on just didn’t seem to end. We walked and walked, following the trail, eyeing the sun as it sank lower and lower in the skies. It was below the trees, now, shining through the trunks, calling for us to hurry. It would be getting dark soon. And while I was sure the lights from the campground and the interstate could guide us back to civilization, I was not so sure I wanted to navigate these trails in the dark. Where we could just walk off a drop off and possibly break a leg. I looked at the trail map. It wasn’t a perfect map. But it clearly indicated that this trail should be circling along the outside edge of the treeline and heading back to the campground. But it just kept meandering, on and on. I began to suspect we were not on a trail at all.

At least not one made by park rangers and plotted on a map.

This was one of those spontaneous trails that sprout up in the woods. Trails that seem to be for a ways and then fade away. Trails that disappear when you turn around to try to make your way back.

And I had all my children with me.

I called them to a halt. The first reds and oranges of the sunset were already appearing above the horizon. We had to think through what was best. We could continue forth and hope this trail was indeed the correct one. We had to be close. We had already been walking for too long. Or we could go back. If we got to the creek, it would lead us to the outer fence that would lead us back toward the trail head . . . and several outlets near the campground. This ground was flat. A little less intimidating in the dark. But heading back was heading toward something that was known.

We decided to turn back and move quickly. But the trail instantly turned into a dozen trails, winding this way and that, confirming that we were not on a trail at all.

“We might be spending the night here,” I said aloud.

I hadn’t really meant to say it. I was just trying to figure out what to do.

“We’ll freeze!”

We were just standing in the woods, looking first one way, then the other. I kept staring at the now useless map, trying to make these passageways through the undergrowth into an actual trail.

“No. It’s only supposed to get down to 45 tonight. That’s cold, but I’ve slept in colder. Did I tell you about the time my hair froze to the side of the tent?”

Their eyes were wide. I thought better of telling them that story just then.

“We’ll be fine. We’ll be cold, but we’ll be fine.”

I looked at the colors of the setting sun. That was west. That meant this way was south. South should be the quickest way back to the park road. I could keep us going south as long as there was light on the horizon.

“We’ll brush away a little hollow at the base of one of these trees and you will all snuggle in a family pile. I’ll spread all of our jackets over you like one big blanket and your body heat will keep you warm. I’ll stay up to make sure you’re safe.”

I wanted to give them some sense of calm. Some sense that even the worst case scenario wasn’t that bad. It wouldn’t be a comfortable night, but there wasn’t really anything to be afraid of. But I so wished my husband were home. If he had been home, I would have been certain that at some point, he and a park ranger would come marching through the woods with flash lights until they found us.

Instead, we left what hints of a trail surrounded us and I marched them straight south through the undergrowth as fast as we could move.

We came out of the woods in a clearing and were greeted by five deer. Five breathtakingly beautiful deer. We were on the horse trail. The kids were convinced we would be jailed for walking on it because there were signs at the gate warning against entry. I just felt relief. The trail was broad and clear and regardless of which way we went, it would end up back at the horses.

We were safe. We were free. We were on our way home.

And it amazed me how thin and fragile this line is between civilization and the wild. A trail had been left to overgrow and sent us wandering through the woods, less than a mile from roads and houses and people, and yet there had been a very real chance of getting stranded. One mistake, one miscalculation and we were lost in the wooded area of an otherwise busy state park. There was a time when people hiked off into the wilderness and simply lived off the land for months at a time. Now we aren’t sure what to do for one uncomfortable night and the thought of being forced to fills us with fear.

But adventure is just hardship that ends well.

And do you know what my children ask for every time we go out for a family day? A hike at Mahoney State Park.

I haven’t quite had the courage to go back. But when we do, it will be with a flashlight and a cell phone.

Please visit my fellow homeschool bloggers who are talking about Exploring Our World this week:

Note: all links will be LIVE by Monday 1/23 at noon EST.

Notebooking Our Way through History by Susan @ Homeschooling Hearts & Minds

Studying the Where and How by Michele@Family, Faith and Fridays

The History of Our Mysterious Struggle With History by Laura @ Four Little Penguins

Social Science, Science and Exploring our World – Our Path by Joelle @ Homeschooling for His Glory

Learning History Through Fiction by Kristen @ Sunrise to Sunset

History in Our Homeschool by Amanda H @ Hopkins Homeschool

Exploring Our World Through History And Science by Laura @ Day by Day in Our World

Bringing History to Life! by Yvie @ Gypsy Road

History, Living Books and the Imagination by Sarah @ Delivering Grace

Exploring our world comes in many different forms. by Kim @ Good Sweet Love

Bible, History and Geography by Lizzy @ Peaches At Home

Beyond the Books – Social Studies and Science by Shecki @ Greatly Blessed

Exploring the World with Living Books by Brittney @ Mom’s Heart

High School History & Science without Textbooks by Christy @ Unexpected Homeschool

Exploring the World Starting with Canada by Annette @ A Net in Time

Visit The World Through Video by Lori H @ At Home: where life happens

Nature Study is Our Favorite Way to Do Science by HillaryM @ Walking Fruitfully

What A Wonderful World by Kym @ Homeschool Coffee Break

The Time we got Lost in the Woods by Dana Hanley @ Roscommon Acres

What a World by Jennifer King @ Worth A Bowed Head


Learning is the Adventure

Homeschooling can be rough at times. Sometimes, I have to look for the successes to remember that they are there. That’s why I’ve decided to take the Blogging through the Alphabet challenge. 26 Things I love about homeschooling. Starting with A. For the adventure.

Learning is the adventure

Our strong suits have always been history and literature. I’m not saying that my kids will beat your kids in a head to head history bowl, or anything. I’m not that kind of teacher. Those aren’t my goals for homeschooling. It’s our strong suit because somehow, somewhere, my kids have caught “the spark.

When we go to the library, they are drawn to the history books.

At home, that’s where I get the least resistance. Unless it is a really nice day. Then they might ask for me to take our reading outdoors. And to skip the timeline. Actually, they’ll ask me to skip the timeline any day, but the actual learning they enjoy.

But literature and history are like these little windows into another world. Both represent our struggles with what it means to be human. Both tell us a little about who we are and how we got here. Both can warn us of the folly of a course of action or inspire us to be a little more than we are.

It is here that my children have learned that learning can be an adventure. Every time they open a book, there is a new place to discover, new people to meet, new ideas to unpack.

And it’s not because I have this awesome curriculum I picked up somewhere. I think’s it’s because I don’t have a “curriculum” at all. At least not a curriculum centered on a textbook. We have a library card and an allowance for purchasing really good books.

We delve deeply into the topics we choose to study. Right now it’s Jamestown. We’ve been learning about the Jamestown settlement since we went there back in September. We are exploring facets of the settlement I never learned and my children are enjoying watching the story unfold.

In this one area, at least, I have succeeded at favoring vertical learning over horizontal learning. Of exploring one thing deeply rather than many things shallowly.

On the superficies, horizontally, we’ve been everywhere and done everything, we know all about it. Yet the more we know, superficially, the less we penetrate, vertically. It’s all very well skimming across the surface of the ocean, and saying you know all about the sea. There still remain the terrifying underdeeps, of which we have utterly no experience.

~D.H. Lawrence, The Spell of New Mexico

We are penetrating the surface, trying to learn something of the deeps. Because that is where the adventure lies.


On setting goals and not getting overwhelmed

It’s that time of year again.

setting goals-min

My very favorite time of year to garden. The world outside my window is covered in ice and I’m snuggled up by the fire, looking through seed catalogs and planning the perfect garden.

There are no weeds, no drought, no flooding. No squash bugs, no aphids, no grasshoppers. No cows devouring all the corn just before it ripens. No sheep eating the tops off all the onions. The garden is perfect, laid out in neat rows, producing on schedule.

It’s all so perfect on paper.

But this year is going to be different.

OK, so it was supposed to be different last year. The garden even made it onto my New Year’s Resolution type thing. It was supposed to be different, and I suppose it was. I mean, I got as far as making the cool graphic, didn’t I?

It’s funny, the plans we make. So much like daydreams, with an added touch of hope that this year . . . this year will be the year. This year will be the year that I somehow won’t stumble over all the same obstacles.

I have a lot of plans this year. It’s the first year in a long time that I’ve attempted to tackle much of anything. And I’m plagued by doubts. Can I really do this? Is it too much? What if I fail? Is it too soon? Will failure send me back to that place that used to swallow me every time we met?

The obstacles in my mind are the ones that are the hardest for me to overcome. They are the ones that hold me back from stepping outside my comfort zone, that keep me from challenging what I think I know, that tie me to this comfortable place that plays around with dreams but does very little to realize them.

But I’m taking small steps.

One thing at a time. When I lift my head up enough to see my end goal, I feel overwhelmed. It’s too much . . . I can’t do this . . . the same thoughts that took hold after my son died.

But I don’t have to do all of that. Not yet.  Because this year I applied a little wisdom to my increasing energy. I took my biggest goals and broke them down into very small steps. Very small steps that all should lead forward.

Right now, all I have to do is what’s next.

Do what’s next and have faith that I’ll be ready for the next step when the time comes.

Taking Mathematics out of the Textbook

The 2017 Virtual Curriculum Fair is talking about Discovering Patterns: Math and Mathematical Sciences this wek. I “only” wanted three things out of math for this school year:

homeschool math-min

  1. More practice in basic skills.
  2. More active engagement.
  3. Not to have to change our our whole curriculum. Again.

Basically, I wanted a supplemental program of instruction that was more engaging and showed my children how the mathematics in their textbook was all around them. I didn’t want more books and worksheets. I wanted games and real world applications.

So I started creating my own. This is what I have so far.

Games, games and more games.

In fact, I dumped everything out of our homeschool budget I could in favor of games. I went to a conference once where one of the presenters tied decreasing math skills with the decreasing number of dice, card and domino games played by children. Not only do these games give regular practice in simple math skills, but she said that research indicated that something about the way you visually perceive the arrangement of dots promoted a kind of mathematical grouping and adding rather than “just” counting.


I started collecting games at Goodwill. Anything with dice was open for consideration, even if it wasn’t technically a “math” game. My best find was Shut the Box. Getting it at Colonial Williamsburg probably helped my children’s fascination along, because they were challenged to games by several colonists. But they still play it All. The. Time. And all you do is roll the dice and add. Over and over. I then spent the rest of my budget on games I found on amazon that promoted mathematical reasoning. We got a spirograph, color cubes, a book of animal shapes to go with the pattern blocks and, while not a game, centimeter cubes we use to make pixelated designs.

School breaks . . . to do math!

OK, so my kids don’t even realize that their “break” from learning is to practice math. But when we’ve been sitting for awhile, we have a challenge. I time them for one minute and they do as many sit ups, push ups or whatever exercise we decide. They then plot their achievement on a graph to see how they improve over time. They get some exercise and focus and I slip in some graphing without them really even noticing.

Daily challenges

Each morning, we warm up with a math challenge. This can really be anything, but we are working on geometry at the moment. We talk about a shape and then they transcribe it in a circle to fit certain parameters. I stamp a clock in their math journal (Which is just several sheets of graph paper folded and stapled together) so they can use the minute marks as a guide and they have to figure out how to use those 60 evenly spaced marks to complete the shape. True, this isn’t anything they will likely ever have to do for anything, but I set it up like a puzzle to solve. Working through one a day keeps it from seeming too much like just another assignment!

Building and Gardening projects.

We do this anyway. But some of my children are getting old enough to be a real help. Steffen built me a small shelf to fit in the corner so we could organize his little brothers’ play area. He then built his sister a balance beam and, using the same design, made me a long thin planter to go along the top of the wall to our stairs. This requires measuring and planning, and when buying soil, the ability to figure out volume.

And spring is almost here! It will be planting time and this year, everyone has their own garden box to plan. If you would like more details on how we incorporate gardening into our homeschool lessons and character education, I wrote up a free unit study and have it as a free download: Developing Christian Character Through Gardening.

Developing Christian Character Through(1)-min

For the younger ones, we started calendar math.

Some of you probably know what that is. It is basically a daily routine that practices basic math skills such as number skills, sequencing, skip counting, money and the base ten system with the use of a calendar. I wrote A Guide for Calendar Time last year to share our plans and how we add on graphing, measuring temperature, basic literacy and other skills. Best of all, it’s a free download so feel free to grab a copy and peruse it for ideas!

A guide to Calendar Time

And that’s it. So far, I am happy with their progress. They are practicing math more, using it more confidently and I’m not sure they realize they have actually increased their time spent on mathematics at all. They still think they’re done with it when they close their math book, but I see them working on it all day long. Sometimes even after our “official” school day is over and they pull a game off the shelf!

(Note: “We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites.” )

Please visit my fellow homeschool bloggers who are talking about Discovering Patterns: Math and the Mathematical Sciences this week:

Finding Our Math Equilibrium: Our Plan for 11th, 7th, 5th, and 2nd Grades + Free Printables! by Susan @ Homeschooling Hearts & Minds

Math Resources and Programs for All Ages by Amanda H @ Hopkins Homeschool

Math (doesn’t) Stink! by Jennifer King @A Peace of Mind

When Math is NOT Your Thing by Michele@Family, Faith and Fridays

Math U See and All the Supplements by Laura H @ Four Little Penguins

Discovering Patterns in Our World: STEM Studies by Laura @ Day by Day in Our World

Junior High Math by Jennifer @ A Glimpse of Our Life

Science & Math for Struggling Learners by Yvie @ Gypsy Road

Maths: a subject in progress by Sarah @ Delivering Grace

Taking Mathematics out of the Textbook by Dana Hanley @ Roscommon Acres

Maths for a Very Maths-y Boy by Lizzy @ Peaches At Home

Practical Math by Annette @ A Net in Time

One of the greatest benefits of homeschooling by Kim @ Good Sweet Love

Math, How I Loathe Thee by Shecki @ Greatly Blessed

Math and Logic in Early Elementary and Preschool {virtual curriculum fair 2017} by Meghan W @ Quiet In The Chaos

Low Stress High School Science and Math by Christy @ Unexpected Homeschool

Are these toys or manipulatives? This is math? by HillaryM @ Walking Fruitfully

When You Don’t Have a Math Plan by Brittney @ Mom’s Heart

Clear Horizons by Lori H @ At Home: where life happens

A Few Thoughts on Teacher Math by Kristen @ Sunrise to Sunset

How to Create a Low Cost Elementary Art Curriculum . . . Plus a Free Printable!

Art is one of those things that seems to slip to the backburner in our homeschool. But it’s that time of year again! We are almost two weeks into the new year and calendars are going on sale. Why would this get me excited?

Create your own elementary art curriculum

Because sometimes, without even trying too hard, I can score some good finds and broaden the selection of art for our lessons. This has me dusting off my plans and sharing them with you!

One of the core principles of my homeschool lessons is, “Here a little, there a little.” I firmly believe that children learn more through exploring concepts one at a time, ideally in the course of conversation when they are most curious and most apt to be paying attention. Really paying attention, because they want to know.

And that’s why I collect art calendars whenever I can find them. I then carefully disassemble them, storing them carefully in a folder. This gives me 12 examples of an artist or a style. So far, I have Monet, Japanese block prints and some Australian photographers to begin my collection. Now I just need . . . every one else! Actually, one of the most fun things is to just let your children go through the sale calendars and pick one.


They don’t need to know it’s school.

For the next part, if helps if you have a frame, but matboard will do. Or even something you make yourself. Then hang up one example near where your child plays. The idea is to gain familiarity with frequent, self-directed study of the artwork because it just happens to be there. Then sometime, when your child is calm and snuggly (maybe between books during family read aloud), take down the piece of art and just talk about it.

That’s it. Let your child tell you what he sees, what she feels, what she thinks. The tricky part is responding using the correct terminology. I am so not an artist. My most basic art studies left me woefully unprepared to discuss things like movement and balance. In a picture. Where nothing moves, and even Dali’s melty forms never fall.

But I’m learning. Right alongside my children. I have a list of art principles from our county’s 4H curriculum, but they are also available online. For each piece of art, I pick one or two and we just talk about them.

I take it slow, because that’s how children learn. I want to teach art so that they learn to really appreciate art, both for the skill of the artist and for the beauty and ideas it puts into the world. And so we “read” art, much like we read a favorite book.

After discussing the art, I hang it up for at least another day before pulling out another one. (Well, that’s the idea anyway. I have a chronic lack of wall space at the moment so this is one of my goals!)

Then comes the fun part. Playing with the art concepts you are learning. For this, you have to have a basic set of supplies and an internet connection. I google things like, “elementary art projects with Monet” but here is an excellent list of art projects sorted under 13 different artists. They all encourage exploration of materials and concepts, making art low stress and enjoyable with no need to replicate the great masters, making them beneficial to all skill levels without causing frustration.

This semester I’m going to add a section to their binders about artists to encourage a little research along with our art exploration and so they learn more about each of the artists on their own. I’m all about creating the least amount of work for me so I took a little time to create a basic outline for them to fill out and they can research a different artist each month.

Free printable artist bio

Even better, I’m sharing it with you! Just click here for your free artist biography printable or on the image above to print off your own copy! I have more planned for the future as I get our homeschool back on track so consider subscribing to my email list or following me on facebook so you don’t miss any!

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