Happy New Year!

We’ll be back in 2015 with more on homeschooling and family.


Chanukah, by Lynne

December is my favorite time of year. We are a culturally interreligious family, so the whole month often seems like one big holiday. My husband’s family celebrates Chanukah, while my family celebrates Christmas. Our family attends a local Reform Jewish synagogue, so my experience with the festival of Chanukah is slightly different from a Conservative or Orthodox Jew’s experience. All the same, it’s a beautiful holiday and I love sharing it with my family.

The Story:

The very short version of the Chanukah story is that some brave Jews fought the Greek-Syrian army and saved the great temple from the invaders who wouldn’t let them practice their faith. When the Jews retook their decimated temple, they tried to relight the eternal flame, but could only find oil for one night. It would take them longer than that to reconsecrate more oil, but they used the oil they found anyway. Instead of only lasting one night, the oil miraculously lasted for eight nights, time enough for more oil to be consecrated. To this day, Jews celebrate that miracle by lighting the Chanukiah (the Chanukah menorah) and eating foods fried in oil.

For a detailed account of the story of Chanukah, this entry from is a good resource:

This very brief video is an appropriate version of the story for young children:

The activities:

Like many Jewish holidays, Chanukah is a time to spend with family, playing games and eating delicious food. Some families exchange gifts on Chanukah, or give small gifts only to their children. Some families have parties or attend a public lighting of a giant menorah.

The dreidel game is one of our favorite pastimes during Chanukah, but no one seems to know exactly how spinning the dreidel became a Chanukah tradition. One suggestion has been that during the time before the Maccabees fought the Greeks, the Jews tried to hide the fact that they were having religious celebrations from their oppressors, and pulled out the dreidels to make it seem like they were just getting together to do some betting. Whatever the reason, my kids really enjoy wagering their chocolate gelt (money) on the game. There are four sides to a dreidel, and each side is marked with a different Hebrew letter. The letters stand for the words, “A miracle happened there.” In Israel, there is one different letter on dreidels, so that the letters stand for, “A miracle happened here.”

For instructions on how to play the dreidel game, check out this video.
(Hint: We give everybody only 4 pieces of gelt, otherwise the game can last a really long time!)

Another activity that my kids enjoyed, especially when they were younger, was reading stories about Chanukah. There are many, many from which to choose, but one that makes me cry every single time I read it is The Tree of the Dancing Goats by Patricia Polacco. It’s a crossover Christmas/Chanukah story that will warm the cockles of your heart.

At our temple, Chanukah is very fun. On one of the eight nights that falls on Shabbat (or Friday evening), there is a special service geared toward the children. After the service, latkes and sufganiyot (fried jelly-filled donuts) are served in the social hall. Dreidels and chocolate coins are distributed to everyone and people play with each other and eat their fill. Then, a magician performs a spellbinding show that never ceases to impress the kids and adults alike.

My younger son eating latkes and waiting for the magician.


Because of Kosher laws, meat cannot be eaten with dairy, so often Chanukah is a time for a dairy menu. Although, our immediate family doesn’t keep kosher, extended family does, so if we attend a gathering at someone’s home during Chanukah, the menu is often meatless. I do enjoy sour cream with my latkes!

As mentioned above, latkes and sufganiyot are the two most common foods on Chanukah, but check out this website for more ideas:


My absolute favorite part of Chanukah is the music. The traditional blessing over the candles has a different melody and different words during Chanukah. Here is a lovely video in which a rabbi demonstrates the singing of the blessings.

There are also plenty of other Chanukah songs. This lovely gem of a video is a montage of some of the classics:


Last, but certainly not least, is the lighting of the menorah itself. This holiday is all about the oil, and all about the lights. Menorahs come in so many different shapes and sizes, colors and designs. Some families have a different menorah for each family member. We have two- a very elegant and traditional menorah, which takes center place on our dining table every year, and a more whimsical menorah that makes me happy when I look at it. Do a Google Images search for Chanukiah and scroll down to see the variety of beautiful Chanukah menorahs. The candles themselves can often be very beautiful. If you didn’t watch the video about the Chanukah blessings, you might not know that the candles go in a certain order, and they are lit from left to right. There is always a 9th candle in a Chanukiah, and its spot is higher on the menorah. This candle is called the shamash and is used to light the other candles. Here is a demonstration of how to light the menorah.

Grandma’s menorah

The menorah hand made by one of the congregants at our synagogue.

More menorahs at Mema’s house.

My favorite menorah.

Chanukah Sameach or Happy Chanukah!


Lynne–Lynne has enjoyed homeschooling her two sons for the past 4.5 years, after their brief stint in the local public school.  Her older son is a humorous fellow with high functioning autism who thrives in a home education environment.  Her younger son is a sensitive soul with a great deal of patience. The boys, Mom, and Dad, along with the two guinea pigs, live in Northeast Ohio.  Lynne holds a Master’s Degree in French Language and Literature.  She is also a Harry Potter fanatic, enjoys line dancing and Zumba, spends hours scrapbooking, and loves organic vegetables.  You can visit her soon-to-be revitalized blog at


Free Things for Christmas, by Briana Elizabeth

My house is in a quiet hush.

Only certain decorations have made their appearances, and even though we’ve watched Elf a few times, the tone of the house is quiet expectation. We’re all working on our own projects, and I’ve made one room the Santa Room that’s been blocked off with curtains and a standing rule that if the curtains are closed? No one is allowed to enter — and that goes for all of us, me included.


School has been pared down to the three basics: Latin, math and reading. We’ll idle there for about a month, and fully take off for about two weeks. This is why we homeschool, after all. This is our family culture. These are weeks of lots of art making, of singing, of special books and movies, of planning, and cleaning. We’re having some very special guests this Christmas, also, and we’re adding in what will hopefully become new traditions.

All year long, I collect links to Christmas crafts that I know will challenge the kids a bit, and become heirlooms. Those are my qualifications. We don’t make anything that is going to be thrown away when the decorations are packed away. Today I am going to share a bunch of them with you! Hopefully there’s something for everyone.

For a quick sewing present, Oliver+S published a great little tutu skirt with a matching doll skirt! These are great for your students learning to sew because this company’s patterns are like professional sewing lessons, they’re so detailed.

If you want to make some ornaments that the kids should be able to make by themselves, or use in decoupage, there are some adorable bird print outs that are available. For a table setting, I’m having my kids cut out paper angels that I’m going to put a tea light in as luminaries. Hopefully I won’t set the whole table on fire, but I think it should be pretty.


Every year at my house we make a lot of Christmas stars. I grab free, old encyclopedias when I can so that I have a constant supply of vintage looking paper. Of course you could use any paper you want, so use your imagination! I’ve even used old Christmas wrapping paper for these. You can decorate them, too. When I was in high school I went to visit a friend’s house, and his mother was making Moravian stars for their tree. She taught me how, and every year we add some more to our own trees. We use them as package decorations, for buntings, you name it. Finnish stars are also so beautiful to hang, and though a little more complicated, still fairly easy. There’s a great youtube video on how to make them, and they can be made with different papers and in all different sizes, too. If you get really good at them, there are some more complicated patterns. Here are some simple ones that are folded and glued. From Sweden come some amazing star lanterns that are very traditional and beautiful. OK, only one more star to make, and I think these are the simplest of all. I’ve also used decorative scissors to make the cuts and used all different kinds of papers. (In the summer I make really large ones and hang them on my porch with twinkle lights.) These are not stars, but Danish hearts go from utterly simple to very detailed so that everyone can join in the crafting.

It would be a wonderful afternoon to have a star making party with lots of cocoa and marshmallows, Christmas music, and a table full of papers to make stars with. If you were to do that, I would make sure I had a good understanding of how to make the stars myself so that teaching guests would be easier. You could put up a map and throw some geography in there by asking the children to find the countries where these stars are traditional. Always the homeschooler, right?

Another oldie but goodie is macaroni snowflakes. I know, I know, they can be cheesy, but I think these are adorable, and very accessible for little hands. On the same website is an old fashioned recipe for cinnamon ornaments, which smell amazing and can be kept from year to year until the scent wears out.

Now, this is more for a teen with a very small, sharp pair of scissors, but a circus carousel would make a lovely little mantle decoration or gift. Christmas it up with traditional colors and some glitter.

If you happen to have some tissue paper hanging around, you can make some beautiful transparencies. And for a toddler, I think this nativity printable is adorable. If you really want to get crazy, you can print out this house template, let the kids color them, and make table settings with them, decorate a mantle, or even use them for a mobile like the crafter did! Elsewhere on her website is an adorable garland that could be made for the Christmas tree, also.


If some of you are crocheters, there’s a beautiful snowflake garland pattern. If the thought of a garland is overwhelming, just make one at a time and hang them singly on the tree.

Last but not least are the most detailed ornaments. I live in an old Victorian house that was built in 1880, and when we bought the house, of course we became interested in its history and all things Victorian. Exciting for us to learn was that people of the Victorian era pretty much made Christmas as we know it today, and their ornaments were just as fantastic and over the top as they were. These are amazing reproductions thanks to jet printers! Don’t limit yourself to the suggested pictures! Make circus performers, or ice skaters, hunstmen, fairy tale characters, aliens!…it’s paper, you can throw away what you don’t like! But the ones you keep are treasures because of paper’s delicate nature. Make sure you wrap them carefully at the end of the season and put them in a box that won’t be crushed.

The trick to this stuff is to not go crazy. Don’t try and do all of them. You’re making memories of the experiences, not trying to recreate the pictures. Choose one or two that you really like, and then set aside an afternoon or two to make them together. Put your dinner in the crockpot and relax. Get glue everywhere, and laugh a lot. Eat lots of marshmallows. Have fun.

Merry Christmas, everyone.



Briana Elizabeth has been at this homeschool gig since her 23 year old son was in 7th grade, and his psychiatrist told her that he had to be homeschooled. Her son never went back to public school that year, and the following year, she pulled her 4th grade daughter out of public school. Her five other children have all been homeschooled entirely. It was baptism by fire, but she wouldn’t trade it for the world. Through the years, she has in the end, not only educated her children, but herself, and homeschooling has brought about a whole paradigm change of living for her family. The education that had seemed only possible for the elite was possible through classically homeschooling.

Biomes, Science

World Biomes #9: Wetlands, by Cheryl

Wet lands are areas of land  covered by water for at least a portion of each year. In our study we looked at marshes, swamps, fens, and bogs as well as lakes and pools. Wetlands can be fresh or salt water. They are home to some fun animals!

The axolotl is one of our favorite animals from this group of biomes. The kids first learned about axolotl at VBS this year. Then we found one at our zoo! Then we found it in our wetland studies! I love when our studies and activities come together by accident.

I managed to find quite a few books on this topic – more than we could read! I brought a pile of books home from the library, some from the friends sale and some from the library shelves. In the end, we read the books I checked out and put the others on our shelves to read later.

About Habitats: Wetlands by Catherine Sill is full of beautiful pictures and snippets of information. I think that her books make great introductions to the habitats. They grab the attention of my kids and give just enough information to get us going.

Wetlands by Galadriel Watson (we had been on a Lord of the Rings kick in our house – how could we NOT read this book!) It also contains great information on wetlands!

Horrible Habitats: Marshes and Pools by Sharon Katz Cooper had information on “gross” animals! We had fun with this one!

Biomes Atlases: Wetlands by Richard Beatty, again I love the maps and pictures in this series!

Habitats: Wetlands by Ewan McLeish had some great animal information!

Rivers, Lakes, Streams, and Ponds by Richard Beatty was very detailed. This book would be ideal for an older student doing this study.

Looking Closely Around the Pond by Frank Serafini is from another series we have used for several biomes. It is a fun change to look at the pictures and try to guess what it is. We actually did very well on this book, at least one of us (not always me) guessed every picture correctly! We have become more familiar with many animals and plants over the past year, it made the puzzles easier to figure out.

Lakes: World’s Top Ten by Neil Morris is a great resource for information on specific lakes. We did not read this one. I put it on the shelf and will mix it into our geography studies over the next couple of years. It would fit with this study, but since we own the book, I decided to save it because we just had too many books to choose from!

Wetland Animals

Wetlands are quite varied. We came across many animals that we had already studied. They may not all be found in the same type of wetland. Here are some of our favorites: beavers, salamanders, frogs, alligators, crocodiles, hippopotamus, capybara, flamingo, fish, box turtle, mallard ducks, fish, mosquitoes, leeches, flatworms, dragon fly, and the axolotl.

Wetland Plants

Our favorite tree was the mangrove. They are beautiful and provide great shelter for many animals! For some fun extra reading, look for The Sea, the Storm, and the Mangrove Tangle by Lynne Cherry. I am always excited when I find a fictional story that gives great information. My kids recall more from these living books than from an encyclopedia-type book. Both have their places in a study like this.

Other plants we looked at include: sphagnum moss, Venus fly trap, pitcher plant, lily pad, algae, cattail, cranberry, and rice.


Bog, fen, marsh, and swamps are four specific types of wetlands that we studied. Delta, glaciers, and peat were some new terms we came across in our study. We were able to tie this into our history and Greek studies as we talked about the Nile Delta – how it related to our ancient history studies and how the name came from the shape and its resemblance of the Greek letter Delta. Have I mentioned before how I love when our studies overlap so nicely!

Fun Facts

Wetlands can be salt or freshwater.

Look at our lapbook pieces for all the differences we found between alligators and crocodiles!


I have been making lapbooks for two years of classes now. I did a Map Skills class and a year’s worth of biome book sections. I started to get bored with the same shapes over and over. I tried some new things for this lapbook. When we printed them and put them together, they did not turn out as I had anticipated. Sometimes that happens. Have fun with them anyway!

Four Types of Wetlands, Alligator or Crocodile, Favorite Animals, Fresh or Saltwater

Bonus! We found two more biomes not listed on our map! Next time: Chaparrals and Caves!



Cheryl–Cheryl is a singing, dancing, baking, homeschooling mom of three. She has danced her whole life and taught ballet and theatre for most of her adult life. Her favorite pastime has always been cooking and baking, and as a Pampered Chef Independent Consultant she gets to share that love with others. Home educating her three children has been and continues to be one of her greatest learning experiences! It is an adventure she is ready to continue.