Author Archives: mattchurchfield

Stranger than fiction


This is actually what we read during stories last night…We’ve been reading The Lost Princess of Oz by Frank Baum, straight from 1917. I paused, after reading that page, and Emmett and Glory’s eyes got rather big before Glory stated the obvious.


Homeschool Year 2: The curriculum

No beautiful pictures here, though oh, do I have many! So, I obviously have little interest or time for blogs and computers. This online record of mine may or may not pick up again in the near future. I hope it does…though life is full, and screens are not a priority or as enjoyable as everything else that is going on. But in the meantime, here is our curriculum for our second year. I’m quite happy with it, and I don’t see it evolving much during the year.

Keep in mind that my children are often self-taught, or need minimal instruction from me. They also do not have television, video games, cell phones, I-whatevers, and other gadgets, so they do not need the entertaining texts that many homeschool and regular school curricula offer. They are 6 and 8, and would be in grades 2 and 3.

Math: Study Time series, grades 3 and 4. They each do one lesson per day, four times per week. We generally skip the weekly checkups, unless I feel like it’s moving quickly. Glory was doing Spunky, Grade 2, but it was rather repetitive (too much drill). Study Time definitely covers a lot, but they re-visit subjects extensively, which keeps the lessons from being too monotonous. A workbook plus test booklet cost about $16 per student (I didn’t get the teacher’s manual). This is not a scripted book, and is well-suited for the student who prefers to teach himself with minimal “teacher” intervention. There are no characters or entertainment (though I did make the apple pie recipe given as a word problem, which is my sort of entertainment).

Spelling: Practical Spelling, Grade 3 for Glory. This is a simple book of, well, practical words. She spends about 5-10 minutes per lesson three days per week, with a test once per week. (I also assign points for neat handwriting). Emmett does Vocabulary in Action by Loyola Press. This book has much more challenging, yet still useful, words. There are only perhaps 6 chapters, so we’re spending a month or so on each, and will finish early. Apparently there are online resources for students (such as crossword puzzles) but we haven’t investigated these. There are no tests (these come with the teacher’s manual?) so I have to make those up.  Again, these books are very inexpensive.

GrammarClimbing to Good English series, Grades 3 and 4. These books are great if you want your child to learn grammar well, and without fluff. There is also plenty of opportunity for practicing handwriting in the exercises. It is not heavily religious. It is not scripted, and is, again, well-suited for the self-taught who learn quickly. And yes, they are inexpensive!

Cursive: We use a 1980s textbook of the Palmer method. It is a basic book of worksheets, similar to what most of us probably did in school. They love practicing cursive! I got this book from the library, as it is way out of print, so it was free.

ScienceHandbook of Nature Study by Comstock .ISBN: 978-0801493843 Make sure you don’t get the print-on-demand version, which looks terrible and is incomplete. You can also download this book for free! As this is not a book one would read front to back, we use Exploring Nature with Children by Lynn Seddon to guide us with what to do each week. You could use one of these resources without the other. You could also revisit the same lessons in Exploring for several years, easily adapting it as necessary for your child’s level. We are aiming to study science two or three times per week, though we’re having a bit of a time starting up.

Art: This is informal. Being an artist, I’d like to structure it a bit more, having an organized art lesson once a week or so, but that is unrealistic right now. I have an art cabinet accessible at all times, and they make things literally every day.

Extracurricular: Piano lessons and Cub Scouts for Emmett, and a once-weekly art/craft/outdoor school that both attend. That is plenty for us! And, of course, we spend lots of time outdoors, at home, in nature, and at the park.

Make Yogurt! (and a challenging week)


I didn’t post an update last week, due to a rather difficult week, mostly with, ahem, a certain seven year old. But then I opened the front door, and saw the following, which I found rather amusing, and perfect for one’s blog, in which everything looks so delightful all the time


Yes, they were reading to Sulien, AND not fighting over who reads which page, sits to the east or west of him, or the correct pronunciation of “interesting”.


We visited the Agricultural Heritage Center, which is free and a lovely way to spend the afternoon. E and G brought home the Nature Detectives paper for that site, as part of their quest to visit all the open space sites in that program. After a visit at Carrie’s Honey (recommended!), we came home for an always too-brief visit from my aunt and uncle on one of their cross-country trips. Ruthie suggested a post on how to make yogurt, so here you go!

milk (I use very rich, raw milk, but pasteurized will work)
plain yogurt (with active cultures, which most yogurt has): 1/2 to 1 t. for each cup of milk
jars (I like 2 cup, wide-mouth glass jars)
a cooler large enough to fit the jars

Heat the milk to about 180 F (almost boiling), whisking frequently to avoid scorching the bottom. This changes the protein in the milk so that you don’t get goopy yogurt. Cool it down to about 110 F (cool enough that you can put your finger in it without burning it, but so that it is still a little warmer than you are). Add it to jars with about 1 t of yogurt for each 2 c of milk. Put the lids on, give it a little shake to distribute the yogurt, and set in a cooler of hot water (I use the hottest tap water from my sink). After several hours (usually 6-8) the yogurt will be set and ready to refrigerate and eat.

Much like the above-mentioned soap, this is a natural product, so quirky things can happen. Sometimes it isn’t set enough after 8 or even 10 hours. I usually replace the hot water, and sometimes add a little more yogurt, and give it several more hours. If you get a thinner consistency than you like, either embrace it, or add a thickener like powdered milk, or strain it (but use the whey-like part!)

Resist the temptation to use lots of yogurt. For some reason, more bacteria doesn’t equal better yogurt, and will actually make a worse product. The other quirk of yogurt making is to leave the yogurt still while it is setting, or it will not set as firmly. Ask the bacteria why; i have no idea.

You can use a previous batch to start a new one, but I have read that after time, it will not work well anymore. I like to switch up the bacteria, to make sure our systems are getting a good variety, so I usually use store-bought yogurt as a starter. Experiment with different brands; I love Straus yogurt, and the final product usually resembles the type you used.

And some photos from the week, in which we had rain(!) and continued to appreciate this never-ending autumn:

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Autumn days are finally here (sort of)


Check out those boots!


We spent so much time outdoors this week. Above is the seasonal classroom…is there really reason to whine about having to do math when it looks like that?

There was a much-awaited trip to the Sunflower Farm. This is a fabulous place for kids to play (really anyone…I had a nice time on the zipline). There are farm animals roaming, trees and old tractors on which to climb, a bonfire, long rope swings…and hardly anyone there on a brisk weekday morning.


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We also went to Osborn Farm in Loveland for squash and pumpkins. It’s a pumpkin farm…no corn mazes, bouncy castles, or other autumn tackiness, just pretty squash. First on the menu is squash soup and a pumpkin pie!


One of our art projects was to draw large contour drawings of leaves, and then color them in with chalk pastel.


The Longmont Museum has a free day the second Saturday of each month, so the kids went to see the robot exhibition. It was a little overstimulating with lights and sound, but very fun and interactive. It is open through the beginning of January, so for you locals, go see it! The annual Day of the Dead exhibition opened that day too, which is always exciting (recommended: the festivities later in the month at the museum).

We got a pie cherry tree that will fit in our little yard with the removal of a lackluster tree; Matt is digging the hole right now, and I’d rather dig than be on a computer, so off I go!

Baked Oatmeal

This is our Saturday breakfast, and is evolving a bit week to week, but the current version is so good.

2 c. rolled oats
1/4 c. yogurt
2 1/2 c. water
1/4 c. chopped nuts (e.g., pecans)
2 T. butter, melted
1 c. milk
2 eggs
maple syrup
large pinch of salt
cinnamon, vanilla, or other flavors
2 apples, sliced

Soak the oats, yogurt, water, and nuts overnight. Mix in the rest of the ingredients except apples. Butter an 8″ square pan and layer the apples in, then pour the rest on top. Bake at 425F for about 45 minutes, or until it is set. Let it cool a bit. Serves 4-6

The soaking helps break up enzyme inhibitors, making the grains and nuts more nutritious. In a pinch, you could eliminate this step.

Make it yours! The apples are optional (or you could add a different fruit, dried or otherwise). You could switch out the grains, nuts, or spices, or eliminate the syrup and use dried fruit instead.

Birthday week in the mountains

We stayed in a lovely cabin near Rollinsville for my birthday, after a whirl around the carousel in Nederland.


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One of the highlights was my birthday cake, adapted from the Joy of Cooking (1964) with a cream cheese chocolate icing. Glory wanted to decorate it, went outside to collect bits of autumn, and came up with this beautiful creation:


We did our part-time school day even more part time, with the joy of doing math in one’s pajamas. Art was pretty low-key; Glory and I did contour drawings of aspen leaves, which turned out wonderfully.


And the hiking–glorious! We hiked at the Moffat Tunnel, which is very beautiful, but they had the Big Fan on constantly for some reason. We also did a bit of the Hessie Trailhead–the aspen groves there are very magical right now!




It was warm enough to have morning tea outdoors


Happy 38 to me!


Crafts, cooking, and reflections

The pencil rolls. These are actually really handy for bringing places, having the pencils laid out on the table, and not having them spill in the art cabinet. Made from a 1960s fabric scrap and a thrifted pillowcase, they cost about $1 each!


Good foods this week: vegetable pie with potatoes, carrots, tomatoes, and other goodies from our garden  and CSA. Dreena Burton’s No-Fu loaf (a tofu-free vegan meatloaf). Apple-pear crisp (our tree is dropping the apples right now; unfortunately the bigger trees around here don’t have any apples this year!) Dried pear slices. Homemade vanilla-peppermint ice cream from our cow share. Oh, autumn foods have just begun…


Lovely finds: a wool floor duster that is fantastic for quickly cleaning baseboards. It’s basically the original Swiffer, works way better, and doesn’t use disposable materials. A fairy dress and tiger costume for G and E, which saves me sewing them (sewing fake fur is a mess!) A stash of vintage aprons that jumped out at me at the thrift shop when looking for the costumes.

Emmett is slowly getting that it is in his best interest to try his best for tests. The first math test was today, and he did great.

Week of September 14

A glorious week for being outdoors! Monday’s art was watercolors in the garden, with our new, grown-up brushes and Stockmar paints. They also had some sort of game in which Glory was a sea diver.

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History was the Old Kingdom of Egypt, and the completion of papyrus making. Unfortunately the strips did not stick together. We will soak and roll them again. The history text for Emmett’s class is rather disappointing, so we’re focusing more on books we find and projects. Piano is going really well, despite the book progressing rather quickly. Glory played with a classmate this week for the first time.


Our house is painted, and we are taking apart the old front screen door to make a new back door, since it was so nicely constructed.

Wednesday was windy (which made for fun data for Emmett’s wind observations for science) so we flew kites. Wednesday Craft Day was making fall-inspired tutus for Horsie and Lavender Basil.

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Nature Friday took place at the Sourdough Trail, where we were four weeks ago. It was neat to see the same trees in a suddenly different season. Sulien wanted to walk most of the way, which was a bit much for tiny legs. Horse riding was fun; Emmett and Glory traded horses this week.


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Reflections on the last two weeks

School stuff: the workbooks are a good level for both of them. Since we only do them four days a week, but they are designed for five days, we skip parts of some lessons, or an entire lesson. Emmett would rather not write out any sentences in his grammar lessons, but it is good handwriting practice, so we still do it. The first grammar test is next week! Spelling is not too challenging, but is another chance to practice writing, and gives them a weekly quiz with which they can feel successful.

Things to improve: I love mentoring them with art, but it is so difficult with a baby trying to grab things (like jars of watercolor, yikes). Lots of sewing projects, which will have to get done in bits here and there in the evenings (as if Sulien goes to sleep before us). Finding time for exercise (note: bringing Emmett on his bike is fun, and gets him some exercise). Getting a plan (menu, things in the freezer) for lunches, especially on Thursdays.

Kitchen efficiency: Successful meals included baked beans, having a daily breakfast plan (we soak the grains the night before): Monday (hot cereal with compote), Tuesday (fruit and yogurt and nuts/seeds), Wednesday (chia pudding, or other raw pudding), Thursday (hot cereal with fruit), Friday (see Tuesday), Saturday (baked oatmeal), Sunday (eggs and toast). Making dinner right after lunch, to cut down on cleaning up time. Making yogurt right after picking up the milk on Fridays, and separating cream out then too.

Repurposing/thrifting: redoing our sturdy screen door for another door (McGuckins has galvanized screen!), looking for thrifted winter boots and snow pants BEFORE winter, finding a wool sweater to turn in to pants for Sulien (except Matt snatched it up for himself, so doing this will have to wait), finding a backpack to keep stocked with hats, diapers, etc for trips to town, hiking, etc.

Week of September 7

Week 3 has been more successful school-wise! Emmett was nearly enthusiastic about doing work some days. Monday we hiked the Ceran St. Vrain trail, with, apparently, everyone who had Labor Day off. It appears to be a heavily used trail, but I think this was exceptional. E and G loved their “dirt slide”, and Sulien kept wanting to go in the St. Vrain–brr! The trail is shady, and has large campsites, though they aren’t exactly secluded.


We went to the library and the Egyptian store, since we are reading about ancient Egypt, and got a kit to make papyrus. The process can take two weeks! I am not impressed by the history book Emmett’s class is using, Story of the World by Bauer, but the chapters are short, so we have plenty of time for other books on the subject. Glory lead Wednesday craft time, and we made paper puppets (her own invention). Piano is going well for Emmett; he seems to really like it.

I finished their art smocks, and used some scraps to make Sulien a reversible sun hat. Both projects are from Oliver + S: Things to Sew. This book doesn’t have any of their awesome clothing patterns, but the projects in it are as well-written as their single patterns.

Nature Friday was close to home, with a walk to Golden Ponds and the river. Emmett found some claws, and we saw the cutest frog in the world. Saturday had horse riding, and the finishing of the house being painted! Now we are taking apart our old screen door to use on the back door, and have gotten some lovely red oak to make a storm door. Three cheers for being able to avoid Home Depot.

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