Tuesday, August 1, 2017

A Day In The Life Of A Homeschooling Family, Summer Edition :: The Ruland Family

:: Tell us a little about yourself and your family, as well as how long you have been homeschooling.

I am married to my high school sweetheart and best friend.  We have been married for 15 years and best friends for over well, let’s just not go there because that makes me feel really old.  We have 4 children.  They are 14, 10, 8, and 5.  Our two oldest are boys, then a girl, and our youngest is a boy.  We started homeschooling after my oldest completed 3rd grade.  My degree is in Early Childhood, so I had always wanted to teach our children.  My husband is also in education, so it just seemed like a great fit.  We have homeschooled the others from the beginning.  Our oldest went back to public school last year as an 8th grader and thrived.  He will be continuing in high school at the public school.

:: Do you take the Summer off from homeschooling, or do you continue year round?  If you continue, do you do things any differently? 

I would classify us as year round schoolers, because we learn all the time.  We do more bookwork type learning during the school year, but anytime we are home we are learning.  We try to do a lot of road trips and always use those as education too.  We create maps, learn about the states we are traveling through, do any junior ranger programs available, and learn about what we see on our trips.  

During the summer, we focus mainly on reading, math, and writing when we are at home.  Our other subjects are integrated into our travel and excursions.

We also participate in the Wesley 4-H Hustlers which provides HUGE learning opportunities.  This particular club is the 2nd oldest in the state of Illinois.  During the spring and summer is when our kids are most active in their project areas.  The kids learn about veterinary science, woodworking, robotics, public speaking, journalism, poultry, and whatever other projects interest them.  That is the awesome thing about 4-H is that kids get to choose their interests.  4-H curriculum is AMAZING and very comprehensive.  It is a GREAT supplement to our homeschool.   

:: What are some of your favorite Summer activities to do with your children?

My favorite summer activities are mostly our family vacations and camping.  We love to explore together as a family.  When my oldest graduated 8th grade this year, we told him we were proud of him, but that we weren’t hosting a party.  We asked him what he would like to do, and he said he wanted to hike off trail in the Badlands National Park.  So we hooked up our 1975 airstream Memorial Day weekend and drove out there.  We spent two days exploring and hiking off trail.  All of the kids had a ball.  They also completed the Badlands Junior Ranger Program as well as Buffalo Gap National Grasslands Junior Ranger Program.  We learned about all the animals that we saw and had a very memorable time.  

:: Do you have a favorite Chicagoland spot for Summer fun?

We like to check out the zoo.  Otherwise, we enjoy hanging out with friends and hiking at Matthiessen State Park and Starved Rock State Park.  We are hoping to attend a Chicago Fire game this summer as all four of our children love soccer.  Our favorite is camping and traveling.  We are on the move learning and experiencing most of the summer.  

:: Do you have a special way of storing and organizing your homeschool at the end of the year? 

I keep tidbits of the kids projects from throughout the year.  I have a container for some of their projects that are labels for the year.   I keep their writing journals that are dated as well as each of their math notebooks.  We practice minimalism as much as possible, so I try to only keep what is necessary as well as keepsakes that the kids would enjoy.  

:: As you reflect on the past school year what is something that you felt was a success, and what was something that you would like to change for the coming year.

Upon reflection, I have realized that I like the way we homeschool.  Learning isn’t all worksheets and books, it is learning through doing.  It is participating in 4-H and learning about their project areas.  It is reading books about topics that interest them.  We definitely do our fair share of book learning, but we also use life experiences to focus our learning as well.  I definitely want to remember to live in the moment with our kids.  Life is flying by at an unbelievable pace and I love watching our kids grow and learn.  Each of them has their own strengths and unique talents.  I want to remember to open my eyes to all of that and not miss a thing.  

Thank you for visiting with us Amber!


Friday, July 28, 2017

52 Hike Challenge

For years now I have tried to get outside more and more.  It has become important for me physically, spiritually and mentally.  The cares of the world fade away as I focus on all that Mother Nature has to offer.

As spending time in nature has became an important part for me, it has also become important for my family.  Taking hikes isn't always at the top of their list, but once we are on the trail their smiles grow bigger and their adventurous spirit never fails to show itself.

As a homeschooling mom we have the advantage of experiencing nature more frequently because our days are not scheduled for us.  So, an impromptu trip to the Forest Preserve isn't a problem.

But, even with setting our priorities toward natural pursuits, the busyness of life sneaks in.  Our children play sports, sign up for art classes and youth groups.  Good and worthwhile pursuits fill our days.

But, I always want to make hiking and spending time in nature a priority.  Jon Young, creator of The Wilderness Awareness School says:

"The river of modern life is large and powerful.  The currents are pulling in the opposite direction, while you, a humble, common human being, seek to re-establish yourself with Mother Earth and your original instructions, or blueprint.  There are and will be one million reasons not to got to your place in the forest.  There will always be one billion responsibilities that take you from your path.  This you must know in advance if your are to succeed.  You must be committed.  You must be determined, even downright stubborn about guarding your time in nature."

When I came across 52 Hikes, thanks to my friend Robyn, I knew this was something I wanted to add to our schedule.  Accountability is a good thing.  Being able to track and see our progress can be fun.


There is no cost commitment.  No group you have to meet with.  This is just a chance for you to identify that getting in nature regularly is important, and that you are going to make it a priority.  The idea is simple. Take one hike every week for a year.

It doesn't have to be scaling a mountain, although that would be cool.  Start out on a mile hike and then work your way up to longer hikes.  Take the kids with you and this will become something you look forward to every week.

For all of the details, and to sign up click HERE.

When I signed up I ordered a patch to go on my hiking bag, as well as a few 52 Hike Challenge Stickers.  I would love to share those stickers with you!  I have four of them.  Head over to my INSTAGRAM PAGE and leave a comment that you will be joining me!  I will get one of those stickers in the mail to you.  Display it where it will be a reminder to you.

Are you with me?  See you on the trail.


Thursday, July 27, 2017

Peck Farm Park

"Peck Farm Park is a unique park found in an urban environment that offers residents and visitors a place to slow down and enjoy quality time surrounded by nature."

Peck Farm Park is a wonderful combination of manicured spaces and wetlands full of wild flowers.  One of the these special spots is the Butterfly House.  A lovely little space with a wide variety of beautiful butterflies.  Upon entering the Butterfly room you have the option of taking in a placemat like guide that helps you identify the butterflies you are seeing.  This was so helpful!

1.  Zebra and Female Julia  2. Monarch   3. White Peacock   4. Common Buckeye

Female Julia 
You can determine that it is a female because the black lines go from one edge of the wing to the other.  A male would only have a short black line.

Inside the farmhouse is a Nature Room filled with lovely things to discover.  Books, games, snakes, and other curiosities.  A great space to lull away a hot or rainy afternoon.  In another space of the house is a museum-like display of the history of the area and the Peck Family.  

A very welcome sight was the splash pad and wading area complete with mini waterfall.  The designers did a fabulous job combining a a park like feel with slides and rope climbing with natural rocks, logs and water.  I think we stayed at this spot for more than two hours... it was a crazy hot, humid day.

I knew the kids would have to dry off before we headed to the van, so we made a quick visit of the Observation Silo and Pond.  The geese were super friendly... I think they would have followed us home.

Visiting Peck Farm was a lovely experience, and one that has already been requested more than a few times.  I can't wait to go back in the Fall.


Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Wild Explorers Club :: Richard Young Forest Preserve

It is not so much for its beauty that a forest makes a claim upon men's hearts, as for that subtle something, that quality of air, that emanation from old trees, that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit.

Robert Louis Stevenson

The Richard Young Forest Preserve is a hidden little gem.  You could drive right by the small, brown Forest Preserve sign in the blink of an eye.  

A good friend introduced me to this place back in the Spring when the foliage was still unfurling, and the trees were still in the process of filling the canopy.

With a little over a mile long hike, and fun little diversions like creek beds,  it is the perfect hike spot for a quick nature fix.

Our Wild Explorers Club met here last week for our hike.  A pretty intense thunderstorm the night before left the trail a little soggy and slippery, but it was still a great hike.

Personally, I love the smell of damp earth.  The forest was so green and lush.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

A Day In The Life Of A Homeschooling Family, Summer Edition :: The Long Family

:: Tell us a little about yourself and your family, as well as how long you have been homeschooling.

We are a family of 5. Matt and I have been married for 10 years. He is an IT guy working on becoming a full time pilot, and I am a health and fitness coach. Abbey is 8, Owen is 3 and Finn is almost 9 months old (make it stop!). We began homeschooling when Abbey was 4. We had her in a preschool that we loved, but for a few reasons it wasn't going to work to have her there for her 4K year and I wasn't so committed to the plan that I felt the need to find her a different school so we started early. Owen attends that same preschool now, and we are back to that same plan with him, starting at home in K. 

:: Do you take the Summer off from homeschooling, or do you continue year round?  If you continue, do you do things any differently? 

We lighten up in the summer. In order to get screen time for the day, part of Abbey's to-do list is one math lesson and one other subject of her choice. At some point in the week she has to do language arts, science, history, states, or something from a workbook of her choice. This way we are still keeping things fresh, but not putting so much into our day that we feel like we can't enjoy the summer. 

:: What are some of your favorite Summer activities to do with your children?

We love being at the pool, and neighborhood parks. We spend quite a bit of time with friends and family up in Michigan in the summer. My kids are homebodies, and I at least try to get Finn a decent nap at home every day. I think we find a good balance between routine and adventures.

:: Do you have a favorite Chicagoland spot for Summer fun?

We love Brookfield Zoo. Cosley Zoo is a great option if you want a quick visit, especially with little ones. We also love Maggie Daley Park downtown. It's not unusual for us to pack up a picnic and head down there for the day.

:: Do you have a special way of storing and organizing your homeschool at the end of the year? 

Hahahahahahahahahaha! Oh wait, that's a serious question? Since we go year round, we don't really have an end of the year. Abbey works at her own pace, and when we finish one book we simply move onto the next, whether that is in February or June. We do use a workbox system, so each subject has a drawer. Whether or not things are actually in the drawer is a day to day situation, but at least there is a general rule. It also allows Abbey to work independently when her curriculum allows. 

:: As you reflect on the past school year what is something that you felt was a success, and what was something that you would like to change for the coming year.

With a new baby this was a year of transitions and learning new routines. Between Finn being born in early October and the holidays we didn't really find our focus until late January. We aren't the "3 hours at the table" kind of homeschool family, but I would like to have a much stronger routine next year. I am happy with the progress we made this year, though. We also learned that we can roll with changes pretty well, and learned what works for us in busy seasons. That was eye opening, and settled some worries for me.

Thank you for sharing with us Heather!