Nature journals

Living here in Ohio is wonderful because we have four seasons and we can take advantage of the days by observing how plants, animals, and weather changes as the seasons pass. I think it is important for children to be outside as often as possible, for as long as possible.

One idea for your children to do something outside is to keep a nature journal. These journals are a way to not only observe, but also to write, take notes, draw, and respond to the world around them.  This can be done seasonally, weather permitting. I found some great resources to help you get started with this and explain it in more detail.

Keeping a Nature Journal, Clare Walker LeslieScreen Shot 2018-05-28 at 5.32.50 PM

Here is a blog post that describes what a nature journal is and how-to steps by Rhythms of Play

If you don’t have the time or inclination to make a journal, you can also purchase one. This is a nice journal to get you started. My Nature Journal: A Personal Nature Guide for Young People, Adrienne Olmstead

Nature journals can be for ALL ages, including you! You think you’d like to try it? Here are some ideas and tips that will come in handy! click here

One thing you will need in addition to a journal and items to sketch with and perhaps color are some pocket guides to have on hand or take along if you go somewhere. I have a variety of them ranging from wildflowers to rocks and minerals to animal tracks. In this electronic age, you can even get Ipod/smart phone apps such as bird or leaf identification. I love it! When I went out west my husband I took ibird with us and were able to identify scrub jays and ospreys. There were some small birds we were unsure of so we played the call of a warbler and you should have seen all the birds come near the feeder where we were for a closer look to see what strange bird was making that sound!

Here are some various paperback guides that are compact and lightweight. Golden Guides are easy and will help you get started with nature journaling. I only listed a few since there are many to choose from and it will depend upon what you want to study.


Reptiles and Amphibians


And here are resources to use when you get further along on your nature observations and identifications.

Handbook of Nature Study, Anna Comstock This book has been in use for a long time and has recently been reprinted. It has fantastic descriptions of the plants as well as observations that can be modeled for younger children by reading it aloud. This can be used independently by older students. Look at the Handbook of Nature Study blog that uses this book for its newsletters and ideas.

The Nature Handbook: A Guide to Observing the Great Outdoors, Ernest H. Williams- actual photographs and ecosystems where you would find them

Are your children unsure about how to draw something? Here are some books that will help get you started.

I Can Draw Animals, Ray Gibson (for beginning artists)

I Can Draw Animals, Tony Tallarico (for experienced artists)

Enjoy the nice days and feel to post a journal entry of what your naturalists (and you) chose to draw and study.

Homeschool Must-Haves



When I first began homeschooling I thought there were so many things I needed to educate my sons. I needed the right curricula, a schoolroom, desks, a chalkboard (yes, I am that old!), and a wall of bookcases to hold all of our books. (The picture to the left is something I would have enjoyed having at my house.)

I learned along the way that no curriculum is perfect; my kitchen became our schoolroom, and a chalkboard wasn’t necessary to teach (although someone gave me one several years into my teaching at home lol ). You will notice I am not listing a lot of curricula in this post because I believe that is so much to choose from and it depends upon your philosophy of education and your teaching style. However, here is my list of MUST- HAVES with a few curriculum recommendations sprinkled throughout…

A love for learning- If you do not enjoy learning and want to impart ideas or opportunities for your child to grow, then homeschooling is arduous and difficult. Is it always easy? NO! But, I would say that without having my children’s best interests at heart, looking for ways to encourage a sense of curiosity and confidence, and wanting to see them succeed, I don’t think I could have successfully homeschooled them all the way through to graduation.

Planning Time- Carve some time into your schedule so that you can plan what you want to teach and what activities you would like your child to participate in outside of your home. Without a plan, it is hard to see things through to completion. Even if you are a relaxed or an unschooling family, you still want to have a goal in mind. Take for instance planting a garden and tending it; you have to know when the soil needs to be tilled and seeds put into the ground.  Without some thought and planning, time gets away from us.

Setting a schedule- This doesn’t have to be rigid but start your school day at a certain time, whether that be 8:00 or noon, let your son or daughter know that school begins and all else is to be done later.  Have a time you will end, otherwise, you will burn you and your child out.

Living Books- Perhaps you have not heard that term before, but it is a fabulous way of describing good books that draw you into the story and don’t let you go until you have read the very last page!   Simply Charlotte Mason,  Sonlight, and Memoria Press all have terrific booklists and literature packages you can purchase. Or if you are on a tight budget, get titles from the library or purchase a few at a time because you will want to build your own library. Having a school filled with lots and lots of books is such a wonderful way for your child to enjoy learning and develop interests. If your daughter reads a book about Sally Rider and finds her life interesting, this may spark a desire to read more about space and astronomy. You can always do a unit (mini or larger) and provide opportunities and resources to further that exploration of a topic.

A library card- I know this sounds simple, and it is, but I loved and used the library weekly throughout our years of homeschooling. In fact, the librarians knew all of our names and still ask about my sons when I see them. Libraries are a gold mine of resources from books to movies to programs and even study rooms. See if your library has a teacher’s collection card. Our local libraries allow you to get one if you are a homeschool teacher, which affords you the opportunity to check out books for a longer period of time, forgives a certain amount of overdue fines, and even puts together book collections upon written request!

A good math and phonics program. Both of these, I believe, are foundational to every child’s education. As far as recommendations are concerned, I think there are several solid math programs including Horizons (young students); Bob Jones, Math-U-See, and Modern Curriculum Press (multiple grade levels). Teaching Textbooks begins at 3rd grade, and while I think it is a good curriculum, I am not 100% sold on it if you have a student that is going into a career that will be mathematically or scientifically based. Something more substantial such as McDougall Littel is recommended by my good friend who teaches and tutors students junior high through college.

Phonics programs such as All About Reading or the Veritas Press Phonics Museum are both good choices. Spelling U See and All About Spelling are great accompanying programs once your student has learned to read. I believe in making sure a student has mastered phonics before adding a full spelling curriculum. Phonics and spelling go hand-in-hand, but we did TONS of reading and copywork and, “How do you spell…..?” at the beginning of learning to write.

If you are just starting out and are going the traditional route, I recommend finding a packaged curriculum to give you time to adjust to homeschooling and teaching. Cathy Duffy has an excellent resource on various curriculums called Cathy Duffy’s Top 102 Picks. Her book will help you sort through the plethora of wonderful programs there are available. Rainbow Resource also has fantastic reviews and I like to recommend people to order the catalog and read their reviews after you have narrowed your selection. I have purchased quite a few things based upon the reviews in their catalog. CBD also has reviews that help make curriculum selection easier. I appreciate the information and descriptions that are given.





Children’s Books about Character

Character is defined by Webster’s dictionary as,”Moral quality; the principles and motives that control the life[of a person].” How do we homeschool moms instill that into our child? It certainly doesn’t come naturally! I think it is by modeling, discussing, and expecting things from our children that demonstrate you prefer others and that you live a life of honor.  I found some funny and engaging books for young readers to help.

Mo Willems has a series that involve two friends, Elephant and Piggie, that I think your children are going to love. Listen to My Trumpet is a story about speaking the truth in love. Loving this book was easy because of the illustrations and all of the sounds that Piggie makes with her trumpet. In fact, as I was reading it, I started laughing so hard that my mother-in-law who was sitting in the room was interrupted from her reading.  I just had to read the book to her! Designed for young readers, this book will be read again and again, reinforcing the point of being truthful.



Waiting is Not Easy! is such a terrific book to help children see that waiting IS worth it! Children (and some adults like me!) sometimes have a difficult time waiting, but with Elephant and Piggie’s story you can talk about a part of our daily life- waiting!

Other books in the Elephant and Piggie series that are about character include: Should I Share my Ice Cream? and  Are You Ready to Play Outside? 


Free Informal Assessments



Sometimes a homeschool teacher just wants to know how the pupil is doing with reading comprehension or mathematics skills. While I am a huge proponent of portfolio reviews/ written narratives, I do understand. 🙂 The following are resources for you from Homeschool Giveaways to have an idea of where your daughter/son is in relation to skills. These are not nationally norm referenced tests and cannot be used as a means of assessment to fulfill the homeschooling requirement of Ohio.

State Testing


EdInformatics provides a list of states with assessments and benchmark tests available online (keep in mind that different states have different standards)


Internet4Classrooms has a simple way to find an assessment to meet your needs. When you arrive on the page linked here, you will be asked for information but most is optional. You simply click on the grade level or subject you are interested in testing. There is a wide variety of tests available here for printing as well.

Academic Benchmarks

Academic Benchmarks will give you the state guidelines for different grade levels.

Secondary and College Testing

Test Prep and Test Practice

If you want to give your child a preview of the SAT visit Test Prep Preview or Test Prep Practice. Both websites offer free testing samples which include the GRE, Vocational Exams, Law School LSAT, and many more.

Curriculum Placement Tests

Taking Curriculum Placement Tests is another way to find any gaps in your homeschool academics (these are what I typically use). Several curriculum companies offer free diagnostic and testing tools for your use. Even if you have to register to take the test, you are not obligated to buy the curriculum at all.


Sonlight provides Horizons Math readiness tests.  You will also find tests for Teaching Textbooks, Singapore Math, and Saxon. Once you have your student take the test, look at the results to see where gaps.

Alpha Omega Homeschool

Alpha Omega Homeschool  provides tests for grades 3 and up.  You will have to register but you are under no obligation to purchase anything.

Math Mammoth

Math Mammoth tests are intended to assess end of year mastery.   The tests group the questions by topic, so it is easy to find any gaps in understanding. Let us know in the comments if there are any other assessment testing resources that you like!