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Archive for Homeschooling

The Giving Tree Dinner Party – The Family Dinner Book Club

The Giving Tree Dinner Party, Family Book Club

I am so thrilled to be joining two fabulous bloggers in celebrating The Family Dinner Book Club this month, and planning a celebration and family discussion of The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein.   If you don’t know about The Family Book Club this is a great time to find out! On the first day of each month a new book title is announced, and then on the 15th of that month three blogs share ideas about how to create a wonderful book themed family dinner party and book discussion. Jodie from Growing Book By Book shares discussion starters and conversation topics, Daisy from Daisy at Home creates a book themed dinner menu, and this month I have some ideas on how to create some simple decorations, that kids can help create, for your big book party dinner table.


The Giving Tree - Family Dinner Book Club

This book, with its simple text and black line drawings, tells a very sophisticated and deep story about both giving and taking. One of the major themes, that resonates with me very strongly, is of being aware of the consequences of “taking” from nature. Being aware of the consequences of over-consumption (of which I am guilty), doing our best to reuse what we can, reduce our consumption, re-purpose items, and recycle whenever possible are big topics at our house. We are trying to live those practices. I think our The Giving Tree dinner party gave us a great opportunity to practice! Big A., and I decided to use only items we could find at our house to make the decorations for the party. The end results are just a bit “rustic”, but we learned a lot about trying to use what we had, instead of trying to buy all new things.

The Giving Tree Dinner party invitations

The Invitation

What is a party without an invitation? Right now Big A. is loves to deliver the mail. He waits for our mail carrier each afternoon, and loves to go through each piece of mail and deliver it to its appropriate recipient. It is really fun for him, and it helps him to recognize letters and names. For our party invitations, I did the writing, and A. really enjoyed passing out the mail!


If you right click on the above picture, then save it to your computer, the invitation above should be all ready to print at 5×7”. I printed these invitations two to a page. I used some lovely cardstock that we had on hand. You can find some great recycled cardstock at


The Giving Tree Pop-up Table Cards


Pop-up Place Cards

I love all things pop-up, and I am transferring my love of paper engineering to Big A. These cards made a lovely addition to our table, and gave A. a great chance to write each guest’s name. To make things a bit easier, and to add more pictures without things crashing (I love pictorial directions), I have posted the directions for our craft projects on separate pages. Click here to find out how to make these fun pop-up tree place cards.


The Giving Tree - Paper Bag Kindness Tree Centerpiece

The Centerpiece

The other theme from the story that we are trying to incorporate into our family life is that of giving. The tree in the story gave of itself, and giving of ourselves is something that we call all do. I have found that when I take note of when one of my kids does something kind or loving they are more likely to keep trying to be kind. In order to encourage kindness and giving, A. and I created a giving tree centerpiece to highlight our acts of giving (no matter how small). This tree was simple for even a child with motor problems to make, used materials we saved from the recycling bin, and I think it came out looking really interesting and lovely. Every time I see one of the kids doing something kind or giving of himself, I write the act on a small green leaf and hang it on the tree. The kids love the ceremony of having their deed acknowledged, and I am hoping it will encourage even more kindness. I am also encouraging the kids to “catch” their brothers doing something kind. If they report a kindness they get to put the leaf on the tree. For the direction on how to make this tree, click here.


The Giving Tree Dinner Party - recycled paper tube tree craft

Paper Towel Tube Trees

I thought our giving trees looked a little small and alone on the table, so we decided to create a few more trees to keep our centerpiece company. Again, these were simple to make, the kids can definitely help, and we used recycled or home-found materials. All the boys helped to paint the paper tubes, and A. really enjoyed doing it. He decided to make a hollow tree so animals could live inside it. I love creative thinking!!!!!!! For directions on how to make our Paper Towel Tube Trees click here.


The Giving Tree Dinner Party - Environmentally Friendly Sun Catchers Craft

Tree Sun Catchers

My kids love things that alter the light coming through their playroom. We have strong morning light, and a large window in just the right spot to catch it. We have experimented with many things to catch the light for that window. This activity was one the kids really liked. It took A LOT of trial and error to get the balance of things right on this. I have seen many lovely sun catcher ideas that use melted plastic craft beads, but after consulting with Mr. Mad Scientist, we made a mutual decision that we didn’t want to melt plastic in the oven, or inhale the fumes that would have been released onto the air.   To find out how we made these environmentally friendly sun catcher ornaments from everyday baking supplies click here.


We had so much fun having our The Giving Tree Dinner Party, and I hope some of these ideas will brighten your book discussion dinner table. Please join us in hosting your own Family Book Club Dinner party, and check back at the Family Dinner Book Club site to see the other great parties other families are hosting.  I would love to see your pictures if you try any of these ideas, and I’d love pictures of anything you come up with at your house to celebrate The Giving Tree.

Happy Reading!

Tracy :-)











Paper Bag Kindness Trees Craft

The Giving Tree - Paper Bag Kindness Tree Centerpiece

These paper bag trees are so easy to make, and I think they turned out really well. The kids really enjoy having them on our table, and every time we see it, it reminds us to be kind. Also, the tree really does encourage kind behaviors (now if I could just get them to replace the tattling too!)

The Giving Tree Dinner Party - Paper Bag kindess tree craft

To make your own Paper bag tree, you will need…a large paper bag. You will also need a little recycled paper for the bottom, a pair of scissors, and some green construction paper and string for the leaves.

e Giving Tree Dinner Party - Paper Bag kindess tree craft

1.  Put just a little bit of paper into the bag at the bottom. This helps your tree to stand up properly.

e Giving Tree Dinner Party - Paper Bag kindess tree craft

2.  Use scissors to cut slits from the top of the bag about 2/3 of the way down to the bottom. Cut the slits   all around the outside of the bag. You want the slits to be about ½’ to 1’ apart which will create long paper tabs.

e Giving Tree Dinner Party - Paper Bag kindess tree craft

3.  Then put your hand at the base of the bag, and with your other hand twist the middle of the bag (and paper slits) until it creates the trunk that that will hold its shape.  It may need a few good turns.  Use your hands to adjust the paper until the trunk stands on the paper base.

e Giving Tree Dinner Party - Paper Bag kindess tree craft

4.  Now twist each paper tab from its base (near the trunk) until you get to the end.

e Giving Tree Dinner Party - Paper Bag kindess tree craft

5.  Now all you need to do is cut leaf shapes from the green construction paper. A. really enjoyed using a hole punch to create holes on one side of the leaves. Then lace a piece of yarn or string though the hole in the leaf, and tie the string to make a loop. You can now write your acts of kindness and giving on a leaf, and hang it on your kindness tree.

I hope you enjoy this activity! We sure did!

Tracy :-)


Make a Paper Towel Tube Tree Craft

The Giving Tree Dinner Party - recycled paper tube tree craft

We go through many paper towels at our house; too many paper towels. In an attempt to make a graphic representation (for myself more than anyone else) of our paper towel consumption I saved all of our used paper towel rolls for one week. UGH! I thought the least we could do was use the cardboard rolls for a purpose. We made tube trees with them, and they turned out to be a huge hit!

The Giving Tree Dinner Party - recycled tube tree craft, Mr. Ellie Pooh paper

We used this amazing paper that I recently discovered. I am crazy about this paper!!! It is handmade, has the most beautiful feel and texture, and the best things about it are that it is completely green, and supports a great cause. It is called Mr. Ellie Pooh paper. It is made from 50% post consumer paper and 50% sanitized fiber from elephant dung. That’s right, elephant poo.   This paper company is trying to save elephants. I found out that when trees in the elephant habitats are cut down, elephants are often left out in the open, and become very susceptible to hunters. This paper company is using the profits from sales of this paper to teach villagers in Sri Lanka (where many elephants are killed) to make the paper, and to begin to see the elephants as an asset. It is not ridiculously expensive, and it makes wonderful water color and craft paper!!! It takes watercolor just beautifully! Check it out!!! Lets save some trees, water, AND some elephants, and give unemployed people in Sri Lanka a trade they can use to support their families!!!

To make your trees you will need:

Cardboard tubes

Paint and brushes (we used different shades of brown and black), and we used both tempera and liquid watercolor paint

Construction paper (we used Mr. Ellie Pooh paper and painted it with watercolors)


Glue (I used hot glue, but you could use white or craft glue with equally good results.

e Giving Tree Dinner Party - Recycled cardboard tube tree craft - Mr. Ellie Pooh papere Giving Tree Dinner Party - Recycled cardboard tube tree craft - Mr. Ellie Pooh papere Giving Tree Dinner Party - Recycled cardboard tube tree craft - Mr. Ellie Pooh paper

1.  Paint (we used tempera) your tubes to look like tree trunks (this will vary a bit depending on the age and skill of the painter) ;-)

e Giving Tree Dinner Party - Recycled cardboard tube tree craft - Mr. Ellie Pooh paper

2.  We then used green liquid watercolor paint to paint our Mr. Ellie Pooh paper, which I think created amazing results, but unpainted or painted green construction paper would work just fine!

e Giving Tree Dinner Party - Recycled cardboard tube tree craft - Mr. Ellie Pooh papere Giving Tree Dinner Party - Recycled cardboard tube tree craft - Mr. Ellie Pooh paper


3.  When all of the paint was dry, I used scissors to cut 1” slits in the top of the tube.

4.  Then I folded the resulting tabs out. This becomes the seat of your leaves.

e Giving Tree Dinner Party - Recycled cardboard tube tree craft - Mr. Ellie Pooh papere Giving Tree Dinner Party - Recycled cardboard tube tree craft - Mr. Ellie Pooh paper


5.  Make a playdough ball about the size of the palm of your hand, and then squish the ball slightly flat. It should be at least ½’ thick.Stick a tree trunk into the playdough to act as a stand.

6.  Crumple green paper into a ball. If you want a larger tree, you can place a paper ball inside your green ball. We tried all sorts of ways to make our tree toppers.

e Giving Tree Dinner Party - Recycled cardboard tube tree craft - Mr. Ellie Pooh paper

7.  Glue your green tree topper ball onto the top of your tree trunk, by putting glue on the tabs of the tube.


The kids really enjoyed making these trees, and have also enjoyed seeing the fruit of their labor on the table. They love to see their artwork displayed in many different ways. It also gave us a great opportunity to talk about paper, how to conserve it, and the resources it takes to make it. I hope it helps us all to remember to make the most of the paper we have, and to not waste this precious resource.

Tracy :-)

Make an Environmentally-Friendly Sun Catcher

The Giving Tree Dinner Party - Environmentally Friendly Sun Catchers Craft

My kids love to watch different forms of light, and I have searching for a way to make an environmentally friendly sun catcher ornament that we can hang in our sunny playroom window. I didn’t want to use melted plastic beads due to concerns about the fumes from the melting plastic. So I set to work to create a more environmentally friendly version. I took my idea from some beautiful stained glass sugar cookies that a certain craft maven named Martha created. It all looked so easy!!! Her cookies were so beautiful! I figured if it worked in cookies, melted sugar could be used for the sun catchers too. Well, it took a lot of trial, and a lot of error to find a way to do this, but A., and I figured it out.

You will need:

Bake-able playdough – my favorite recipe follows

Fine colored sugar crystals – like what you would use to decorate sugar cookies (the large sugar crystals won’t melt very well.)

Aluminum foil

Parchment paper

Cookie cutters of different sizes – One of the cutters needs to be small enough to cut a window in a larger shape.

A drinking straw

Modge Podge


1. Make a batch of playdough. For these sun catchers I made trees, so I made the playdough green. I also added peppermint extract that covers up the homemade playdough smell for sensory sensitive kids.

The Giving Tree Dinner Party - environmentally friendly sun catcher ornament tree craftThe Giving Tree Dinner Party - environmentally friendly sun catcher ornament tree craft


2.  Roll the playdough out to about ¼” thickness. You don’t want this too thick.

The Giving Tree Dinner Party - environmentally friendly sun catcher ornament tree craft

3.  Cut shapes out of the playdough with large cookie cutters.

4.  Cut windows out of the larger shapes with a smaller cookie cutter.

5. Use the drinking straw to make a hole in the top of the shape.

6.  Preheat oven to 175 degrees F.

7.  Put playdough cut-outs on a parchment lined cookie sheet.

8.  Put cut-outs in the oven. Bake at 175 degrees for about 15 minutes. You don’t want them to get brown. Turn the oven off, and let it cool completely down. Repeat this process as many times as necessary to dry and harden the playdough.

9.  Don’t let your kids, who think these are cookies, eat them (although it won’t hurt them – I learned this the hard way.  :-)

10.  Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees F.

The Giving Tree Dinner Party - environmentally friendly sun catcher ornament tree craft

11.  After the cut-outs are cool (make sure to do them on parchment paper – or you will have a terrible mess), put the colored sugar sprinkles in the cut-out window.

The Giving Tree Dinner Party - environmentally friendly sun catcher ornament tree craft

12.  Put small strips of aluminum foil over the playdough areas to keep them from browning (skip this step if you plan to paint them anyway)

13.  Place cut-outs in the oven.

The Giving Tree Dinner Party - environmentally friendly sun catcher ornament tree craft

Seriously – don’t do this!

14.  This part is tricky!!!!***Turn the light on in the oven if possible. Watch them carefully. Wait for the sugar to start to melt, but you don’t want it to boil. If it boils you will have caramel (again – learned this the hard way). Remove from the oven the minute the sugar melts.

The Giving Tree Dinner Party - environmentally friendly sun catcher ornament tree craft

15.  When the cutouts are completely cool, you can paint them (we used liquid watercolors and it was lovely). Then cover them front and back with Modge Podge so the sugar doesn’t stick to everything. I also added a touch of glitter, because, well, I love it!

16.  Tie a ribbon through the hole, and hang your sun catcher anywhere you need a little sparkle!

We also tried it by baking the cut-out dough shapes to dry and harden, but left the sugar out. Then we used tracing paper and/or colored transparent plastic sheeting to cut out and glue to the back of the sun catcher. These had great results too!


Here is a great bake-able playdough recipe. A. loves the texture, but does not like the smell, so I add different extracts into it, and he loves it. His favorite are vanilla, lemon, and peppermint. The Littles love it too!

Bake-able Play Dough Recipe

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups warm water
1 1/2 tablespoons cream of tartar
1 cup salt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
food coloring

  1. Mix all the ingredients together with a whisk until completely combined.
  2. Cook over low heat, stirring with a wooden spoon, for three or four minutes or until the mixture changes consistency, becomes thick, and loses its stickiness.  Dump onto waxed or parchment paper.
  3. Knead the play dough for a few minutes or until smooth.


A and I learned a lot by working to refine our process. It was a great learning experience. I hope you like these as much as we do.


Tracy :-)

The Sixth Annual Book-A-Day Challenge

Book-A-Day Summer Reading Challenge and Donalyn Miller

I recently read this terrific post (click here to read it), written by Donalyn Miller, on The Nerdy Book Club blog. Donalyn Miller is a teacher/author/reader whom I greatly admire. If truth be told, I have a teacher crush on her.


The post is a call to join her in her sixth annual Book-A-Day Challenge. The premise is very simple, and it is to read a book every day in order to create a pattern of daily reading, to share the titles of good books far and wide, to celebrate your “reading life,” and to maybe make a new reading friend.


Miller’s rules for the challenge (she also says they are guidelines), are simple and come directly from the blog post:

  1. Set your own start and end date.
  2. Read one book each day of “your” summer season.
  3. Any book qualifies
  4. Keep a record of the books you read, and if you want, share them often on a social networking site or a blog. Use the #bookaday hash tag when sharing.


Here is how we will take on the challenge at School4Boys:

  1. We will start today, June 2. Our end date will be August 15th. I picked that date because Big, Big, Brother is moving into his dorm on the 16th. It is going to be an emotional event at the house, and well, that will end the summer for us because we will all be too busy crying to read.
  2. We will record each title in a log. Also, in order to create a visual representation of each family member’s reading, A. and I are going to create a chart by printing out pictures of the covers of the books we read, and then taping them to the wall next to the name of the person who read the books.
  3. A.’s challenge is to both “read” one book (in his own way – which right now is a combination of “reading” the pictures and searching for known sight words), and to listen to one book each day.   BBB will be participating at his own pace, but is a self-motivated reader (hooray!), and The Littles read or are read a gazillion books each day (this is only a slight exaggeration), so they are already participating in their own way.
  4. I will post our favorite book of the day on my social media sites, along with a numerical rating of its quality (1-5), and the name of the family member who is recommending it.


First up on MY professional development “want to read” list is…


The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller


The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child, by none other than Donalyn Miller. I have had this book on my shelf and my mind for a while now, and I AM going to read it this summer!


I hope that you will join us in our reading adventure this summer! Follow along, or even better yet, share your favorite titles with us!


How about you? How are you approaching summer reading this summer?


Happy Reading!

Tracy :-)


The Big Big Homeschooling Decision – Part II: The Homeschool Epiphany

homeschooling, self-directed, and child-centered learning

When you make a B I G decision, you really have to give it the proper consideration!

Recently, I wrote a post about finally feeling good about making the decision to homeschool A. long term. If you missed that post, you can read it here. The funny thing is, that I had an epiphany not long ago that made the pieces of my decision fall into place. I cannot express how grateful I am for this piece of mind. Here’s what happened that made me realize we were doing the right thing for him…


A. was bored. I am not worried about the kids being bored. I told him to find something interesting to do. And he did! As the afternoon unfolded, I was just blown away by his creativity, his ingenuity, and how much fun he was having. The best part was that it was 100% self-directed learning fun. I didn’t give him any ideas or suggestions. I didn’t make him continue. It was all him, and he had a blast.


It all started because A. loves donuts. He really loves donuts! His father takes him for donuts at least once a week, and it is a really important bonding time for them. He also likes to watch the employees make the donuts when they go to the donut shop. He decided he wanted to build a working model of a donut shop including a kitchen. He figured out how to do an image search for donut shop kitchens on the iPad by using a few known letter sounds and auto spell. He then selected his favorite picture, set the iPad on the window ledge, and went to work.


homeschooling, self-directed, and child-centered learning

iPad Research


homeschooling, self-directed, and child-centered learning

Gathering supplies!

homeschooling, self-directed, and child-centered learning

Slight Setback!

homeschooling, self-directed, and child-centered learningng

Customer seating, and donut conveyor system!

He used large soft blocks to build the table areas.


homeschooling, self-directed and child-centered learning

Making the sign!

We worked together to make a donut shop sign. He asked me to write the words, and he drew the picture.


Homeschooling, self-directed learning and child-centered learning

Time to make the donuts!

He used the playhouse as the kitchen.


homeschooling, self-directed learning, child-centered learning

Making donuts is hard work!

He used play dough and silicone donut molds to make the donuts.


homeschooling, self-directed, and child-centered learning

Ding! We bake our donuts here!

He used a wicker basket as an oven to bake the donuts.


homeschooling, self-directed, and child-centered learning

Ready for Business!

homeschooling, self-directed, and child-centered learning

Nothing better than donuts and conversation (can I have a coffee with that please?)

His shop was finally ready for business, and I got to be his first customer!


The whole process took over two hours. To say that A. does not typically stay with an activity for a long period of time is an understatement.


As I was watching this whole thing unfold, offering help or suggestions only when asked, it just came to me…This is the kind of learning opportunity I want for him on a regular basis! I want for him to have unstructured time and opportunity for exploration, and for creative play, for making discoveries, for solving problems, and for finding his interests. I want him to feel successful as a learner even though much learning is hard for him. He won’t be able to have unstructured time all day long. He still needs to learn specific skills, and he needs visits with specialized therapists. Learning to read, write, and process visual information are very difficult for A. It will take very specific and individualized instruction for him to learn, and to get better at these things. Homeschooling is working for him, and I want his schooling to work for him. Homeschooling is the right thing for him at this moment, and now, I feel REALLY confident that I am making the right decision for him.

homeschooling, self-directed, and child-centered learning

Getting my shield ready!


All I have to do now is put on my criticism shield, and get ready to fend off the mostly concerned and well-meaning people who think A. should be in “school.” Having true confidence in my decision is going a long way to make that shield stronger!

Happy Learning!

Tracy :-)



The Big, Big Homeschooling Decision!

Making the Decision to Homeschool

Something terrific happened last Friday. I finally started feeling like I had made a good decision about school for A. And that, my friends, is an awesome feeling.


You see I have been thinking about A.’s educational future for the whole year. I tried not to. You see, I wasn’t nearly as worried about this school year. I knew in my heart that A. wasn’t ready to start this year, and I had always figured that we would just put A. in public kindergarten in the fall of 2014. I gave myself permission to not worry about public school vs. homeschooling for the next year until at least January, but my brain wouldn’t cooperate. I started thinking about it in September, and I have been thinking about it A LOT ever since.


Mr. Mad Scientist and I made the decision in early February that we felt continued homeschooling was the way to go. As soon as we saw the kindergarten round-up signs go up around town, we knew we had to decide. Frankly, Mr. Mad Scientist was more secure about homeschooling than I was. Even though we made the decision, I was still waffling until recently. The idea of it just seemed so big, so unconventional, and put so much responsibility on me. Despite my outward confidence, I was fighting doubts that I was up for the full challenge.


Then on Friday it became crystal clear what we should do, and now I can own the decision! We are going to homeschool. If it becomes clear that A. just isn’t learning what he needs to learn at home, we will make different arrangements. We also still hope that A. will attend public high school, and very possibly middle school, but elementary grades will happen at home.


Here were the deciding factors:


  1. We are discovering more about A.s learning challenges, and feel they will not be well addressed in the public school setting.
  2. A. is responding well to me as a teacher.
  3. We are finding good social opportunities outside of school.
  4. A. is truly learning a lot by interacting with his younger brothers.
  5. Homeschooling is proving hectic, and sometimes difficult to manage, but it is working well for A., and it is doable for me.


We are getting both positive and negative feedback from others about our decision, but I’m getting better at tuning out the criticisms (still working on that).


To Be Continued…


I felt it would be too much to explain my homeschooling epiphany in one post, so stay tuned for my epiphany in part II.


Happy Reading!