Holiday Gift Guide: Last-Minute Stocking Stuffers

Holiday Gift Guide: Last-Minute Stocking Stuffers

For stockings—and most nights of Hanukkah—I think most of us want small presents that seem useful or fun or (in the best of all possible worlds) both. These gifts fit the bill, from quirky Totoro socks and sushi erasers to laser measures and packable backpacks that smush down to the size of an iPhone. If you’re looking for that “one more little thing,” these are some fun options.

Some of Our Favorite Holiday Posts

Some of Our Favorite Holiday Posts

’Tis the season to share some of our favorite holiday posts from years past, from tips to celebrate the winter solstice on short notice to ideas for a no-stuff holiday season. So whether you're looking for a last-minute gift to make with the kids (the chai tea mix mentioned here is a favorite of ours) or just in need of a quick unit study to round out the year, you'll want to check out these flashback posts.

Homeschool Gift Guide: Everybody Needs Books!

Homeschool Gift Guide: Everybody Needs Books!

The “something to read” is always my favorite part of shopping. I can’t buy all the books for my own family, so here’s a roundup of fabulous titles for many ages and interests.

Transitioning Back to Homeschool After a Holiday

Tips for getting back into your homeschool routine after the holidays or a long-ish break. #homeschool

This week most homeschoolers are getting back into the swing of things after a few weeks off for winter break. It’s hard for everyone – adults and children – to start getting up early and getting back to work, so here are a few ideas to make that transition a little more bearable. Please add your ideas in the comments section!

Play Games :: Instead of pulling out the curriculum, pull out your games. Pick the most educational games you have on hand and do it during your regular school time. If you like to get up a little earlier in the morning for your homeschool routine, use the games as a way to ease back into that schedule. It’s much easier waking up for a fun game than spelling lesson!

Plan a Field Trip :: If you spent a good portion of your holiday in your pajamas, sleeping late and watching movies, you might find that planning a field trip will help you ease back into a routine. You’ll need to get up early, get dressed, and best of all, you can plan a trip to a place that will spark someone’s interest. Ask your child to take a notebook and sketch their favorite exhibits or jot down ideas for follow-up once they get home.

Plan a Trip to the Library :: This is easy, and it feels good to watch our kids pick out their own books. While you are there, you might pick up that history book you’ve wanted to read to the kids too. Once you’re home, you have a stack of books that will kick start your new season of learning.

Find a Good Book :: You might not need a stack of library books, but just one great book that pulls everyone together on the sofa. And especially if you spent most of your holiday visiting relatives, dressing up, and being on your best behavior, you might enjoy easing back into your regular routine by cuddling together in your pajamas for a good readaloud. (Click here to check out some books we've recommended in the past.)

Watch a Documentary :: Do you want to do something educational, but you’re still not ready to do much planning? Try getting the family together to watch a documentary. See Family Time: Our Favorite Documentaries for a must-see list of documentaries.

Make Art Your Lesson :: A great first day back might be an art day for your family. Be sure to check all the past issues of home/school/life for Amy Hood’s great ideas on how to explore art with your children. You can read one of her columns online too.

Ask Your Child How to Begin :: Finally, if your child is just not transitioning well, or even if he is, but you want to make the transition fun, ask him what he’d like to do to get back into the swing of things. How about research a new subject? Make a poster. Make a film. Or do a puppet show? You might kick start a whole new project!

Stuff We Like :: Holiday Break Edition

home|school|life's Friday roundup of the best homeschool links, reads, tools, and other fun stuff has lots of ideas and resources.

We’re taking a couple of weeks off to wrap up the winter issue and just chill (but we do have a few great blog posts scheduled over the next few weeks), so this will be our last Stuff We Like of 2015. We expect to like plenty of stuff in 2016, too, so we’ll be back to our regular posting in January.

around the web

Everybody is talking about Iceland’s Christmas Eve book flood, but that’s because it’s awesome.

I don’t really take selfies, but after reading this, I kind of want to.

Dream trip: The Alice in Wonderland guide to Oxford


at home/school/life

in the magazine: The winter issue may be my favorite issue yet—and it'll be out in just a few weeks. Right now I’m editing a really cool piece on planning your life after homeschool. (Because after homeschooling, you can do anything!)

on the blog: I am inspired by Lisa’s post on making your own wellness a priority—that’s something I really struggle with.

on pinterest: Now all I can think about is making homemade chocolate pop tarts.


reading list

I’m reading an odd little book about early 19th century murders that’s equal parts bizarre and fascinating. If you’re interested in a quirky history of the dark side of the Romantics, you too might enjoy Murder By Candlelight.

We started Sea of Trolls as a winter readaloud—even though it’s not build-a-fire weather at all around here, this seems like the perfect book to read by the fireplace. Maybe we’ll do it anyway.

Both the activity-ish books we got the kids for Hanukkah this year have been big hits: Finish This Book (for our teenager) and Don’t Let the Pigeon Finish This Activity Book (for the 8-year-old).


at home

We are settling in for a few days of much-needed vacation. On the agenda: Harry Potter movies, hot chocolate, cuddling, and starting my ZickZack scarf. (I couldn’t resist!)

My best friend and I are planning a Dollhouse marathon over the break. (Are you a Dollhouse fan? When I first watched it—when it originally aired—I was pretty bummed by what seemed like a lot of unrealized potential, but on further viewings, it’s really grown on me. I’m pretty interested in some of its ideas about identity and consent.)

I am practicing walking in the most comfortable, supportive shoes I have ever owned. Jas teases me that my Alegria Palomas are "prescription shoes" and they are definitely clunky looking, but wow, seriously comfortable.

New Year’s Eve is the best excuse to eat blinis with creme fraiche and smoked salmon.

Monday Pep Talk No. 20

home|school|life magazine's Monday Pep Talk has lots of fun ideas for planning your homeschool week.

Can you believe we've been doing Monday pep talks for 20 weeks? Putting them together has been such fun because it really gets me energized for the week ahead (not to mention filling in some gaps in our weekly menus). I hope you guys are getting fun ideas from them, too.  

3 fun things to do this week

Monday is Pretend to Be a Time Traveler Day, and while the idea of dressing anachronistically, asking strangers for the year, and reacting dramatically actually sounds pretty fun, a time travel movie marathon is an equally legitimate way to celebrate. We recommend Time Bandits, Groundhog Day, and Back to the Future—though you could certainly make an argument for Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure or Midnight in Paris, too. (Or you could just watch Doctor Who all day.)

Celebrate Gingerbread Decorating Day (Dec. 12) by making your own gingerbread creations. (A basic house is all I can manage, but if you are crafty, you could make gingerbread Daleks or a gingerbread hobbit house this year.)

Grow your own crystal Christmas tree with salt and ammonia.


3 ideas for this week’s dinners

Slow-roasted onions take the eye-stinging out of Nigel Slater’s easy onion soup recipe but still deliver classic French onion soup flavor.

Get in the Hanukkah spirit with root vegetable latkes—which are delicious whether you are lighting a menorah or not. (Serve them with sour cream, applesauce, or—my daughter’s fave—tomato jam.)

This dijon and cognac beef stew makes a decadent weeknight dinner, especially if you serve it over a pile of horseradish-spiked mashed potatoes.


one great readaloud

By Michelle Houts

When Bettina’s family forgets the Christmas pudding for their nisse—the tiny spirit that protects their farm—trouble ensues in the charming Winterfrost, which is full of details about Danish Christmases.


one thought to ponder


in case of emergency {because sometimes you need something stronger than inspiration}

two-ingredient Nutella brownies

Holiday Curriculum: Putting the Fun Back in Your Holidays

Pinning this to remember for next Christmas: A day-by-day plan to make the holidays more meaningful and less hectic.

Moms, we know how hard you work all year long. Your efforts truly make the world a better place. So, with the holiday season upon us, I’ve decided to do something different this month. Instead of bringing you my latest, greatest curriculum discoveries, I went digging for resources intended especially for you—and I think I’ve found just the thing!

Amy Bowers blogs beautifully about “creative family living” at She is also the host of periodic online learning labs. This month, for the fourth year in a row, Amy looks forward to helping folks gear up for the season with her online resource, Holiday Lab. The primary aim of this lab is to inspire a calm, restorative holiday season and help readers find ways to be truly present to the beauty of the season.

In a letter to subscribers Amy explains, “Holiday Lab is a process (your process). A yearly reflection and meditation about tradition, creation and the shadow and light in our lives. This is not a to do list, a manifesto, or a guide book. It is an invitation and permission to carve out a tiny bit of quiet and to reclaim ownership of a season whose success and magic is often borne on the shoulders of moms and women.” 

Sound good? I thought so, too! Here’s how it works. As a subscriber, you receive a lab in your inbox ten days in a row—weekdays only. As each lab is yours to keep, you can work at your own pace throughout the season.Each lab opens with an inspiring quote followed by a lovely essay written by Amy. In past years these pieces have been reflections on such themes as maintaining health, making space—both physical and mental, the value of simplifying the holidays as well as her thoughts on family traditions.

Do you journal? Is this a practice you’ve been meaning to establish forever? Get started by using Holiday Lab’s thoughtful journal prompts. Each prompt is a question inspired by Amy’s essays and will get you thinking about the way that you approach the holiday season.

The creative projects portion of each lab is great fun. Here Amy provides ideas to try with your family or, if you prefer, to do all on your own. Previous project ideas include vision boards, making ornaments and surprising someone in your community with a special handcrafted treat. Each idea nicely complements featured essays and journal prompts.

I love the recipe ideas that Amy provides in a section she calls “Soul Food.” Each looks nourishing and delicious, but also simple and straightforward—just what we need this time of the year.

A very special Holiday Lab feature is the private Facebook group Amy moderates for participants. Here members offer one another additional support and ideas to infuse the holidays with meaning and mindfulness.

Holiday Lab celebrates Christmas as a cultural tradition and is secular in its approach. Amy notes that everyone is welcome; the themes explored are “broad enough to serve any religion or ideological framework.”

In the upcoming months of homeschooling, holiday magic-making for family and friends, pause for a second and give yourself a gift. Holiday Lab starts November 30th. The cost for the lab is $30. To register, go here.

In the festive days ahead, you’ll probably find your days are especially full. Throughout this time, give yourself extra self-care. Make time for creativity, reflection and good food. Dance and laugh with friends. Drink cocoa! Make many moments to pause with your little ones and just absorb the simple beauty of the season. Happy holidays, everyone. 

Easy, Thoughtful Holiday Gifts to Make with the Kids

Easy, Thoughtful Holiday Gifts to Make with the Kids

I like my friends, so I want to make them something awesome—but my time and budget are always limited. Maybe you’re in the same boat? We’ve rounded up a bunch of easy DIY gifts that are simple enough to make with your kids (obviously you know their abilities best) but nice enough to make your friends feel like they ended up on your family’s NICE list this year.

Fun Ideas to Celebrate Star Wars Day in Your Homeschool

13 ways to celebrate Star Wars Day on May 4.

Fun list of ideas to celebrate Star Wars Day in your homeschool.


Pull out all your Star Wars-themed Halloween costumes along with the toy light sabers, and wear them all day. Be sure to say, “May the Fourth be with you” to everyone you meet.

Host a star Wars marathon by watching all the movies (or, you know, at least the good ones). You’ll want to do this anyway in preparation for Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens, directed by J.J. Abrams and due in theaters next December.

Make Star Wars cookies with cute Star Wars cookie cutters by Think Geek, or order Star Wars M&Ms.

Make a Star Wars pinata that looks like Yoda or Darth Vadar, or buy this really cool pinata of the Millenium Falcon.

Make your own lightsabers. Use pipe insulation — wrap one end with gray duct tape for the handle, and use colored tape for the lights.

If you live in California, get an early start at the official Star Wars Celebration from April 16-19, 2015 at the Anaheim Convention Center. There you’ll get to meet some of the actors from the movies and shows and maybe even George Lucas himself.

If you are in Seattle, you might enjoy Rebel, Jedi, Princess, Queen: Star Wars and the Power of Costume, a traveling exhibit at the Seattle EMP Museum. View 60 costumes from the first six movies and get a behind-the-scenes look at the artist’s work.

If your kids like Stars Wars and storytelling, they may enjoy the Star Wars Scene Maker app, which is made for the iPhone or iPad. It won “Best Creative Fun Award” at the 2014 Tillywig Toy and Media Awards.

Play a round of Star Wars Monopoly. (There are a few different versions, so shop around.)



If you really want to geek up on your knowledge of Star Wars, The Making of Star Wars: The Definitive Story Behind the Original Film or Star Wars Year by Year: A Visual Chronicle will fill you in on all the nitty-gritty details.


Star Wars: Jedi Academy
By Jeffrey Brown

My eight-year-old adores the Jedi Academy series by Jeffrey Brown. The third book is due to come out this summer.


William Shakespeare’s Star Wars retells the classic space epic, Shakespeare-style. Forsooth! —by Shelli Bond Pabis

Happy Holidays

red berries HSL

However you spend the holidays, we hope you experience joy and peace. 

The staff of home / school / life will be away from their desks during the holidays, but we can't wait to communicate with all our readers again in the new year. Our next issue will be out by mid-January!

Mindful Homeschool: I'm Thankful for My Homeschool Life

Mindful Homeschooling: Gratitude

‘Tis the season for being thankful, and I believe that a high level of gratitude is, indeed, one of the things that makes a person happy. If you are grateful for what you have, it’s harder to be unhappy. I also think this goes along with finding wonder and awe in the world.

My suspicions were confirmed recently as I was doing research for my next feature article in home / school / life magazine, which is on the science of happiness. It seems that happy people do tend to be more grateful. Another value of a happy person is “Learn until the day you die….” as Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D., wrote in her book, The How of Happiness, which draws on real scientific research in this field.

Ah-ha….perhaps we homeschoolers, who often tout the words “life-long learning,” are on to something.

I became a more grateful (and happier) person after I had children. They have shown me more wonders than I had ever seen before, but I admit, I’ve created an environment for them in which finding treasures in the simple things of life are appreciated and even revered. This has had a wonderful effect on me too. As I’ve learned along with my children, I have grown ever more in awe of our world and universe. And in turn, I’ve become so grateful for this life I’m living.

I feel like I could write an endless list of things I’m grateful for right now, but since I don’t have space for that, I’ll write ten things, and then I invite you to write a comment telling me what you’re grateful for, whether it has to do with homeschooling or something else in your life.

  1. I am grateful for living in a loving house with two creative, fun boys, and a helpful husband.
  2. I am grateful for this opportunity to homeschool my children, be with them all day, learn, play and relish life with them.
  3. I’m grateful for our ventures into nature. How we all stop to look at small bugs, lizards or plants. How we’re always on the lookout for a snake…and sometimes we find one!
  4. I’m grateful for my sketchbook, which is purely for fun, and for my son who loves to draw and got me in the habit.
  5. I am grateful for this warm house on a rainy day and handmade mug for my coffee.
  6. I’m grateful for technology because it brings me closer to like-minded people.
  7. I am grateful for friends who make time to meet with us regularly.
  8. I’m grateful for the friendship of Connie, who lives in Australia, but we have e-mailed regularly now for 15 years. She’s the first and only person who kept her promise with me when we said, “Keep in touch.”
  9. I am grateful for the view of trees out my window.
  10. I am grateful that my gratitude for these things rarely wanes. Instead, I often marvel at them. Perhaps this is the result of being unhappy once, which might be a case for saying that a little unhappiness isn’t a bad thing.

What are you grateful for?

Our Homeschool Holiday Gift Guide

Homeschool Holiday Gift Guide

** We use some affiliate links on HSL. Learn more here. **

’Tis the season of giving, so we’ve rounded up 
a wishlist of gifts for your homeschooling pleasure,
Some nerdy, some bookish, some just for the geeks—
Unwrap them in haste and enjoy at leisure.


7 Book Lovers' Editions

Who can resist a good book, especially when it’s a great book dressed up in a fancy new cover?

1 :: Virago Modern Classics have covers created by British textile designers like Cath Kidston.

2 :: The sleek, graphic covers of White’s Books Fine Editions add a modern edge to library shelves.

3 :: Illustrator Jessica Hische designed the dramatic capital letters for the covers of Penguin's Drop Caps editions.

4 :: Melville House’s Novella series reimagines some lesser-known literature with bold fonts and Pantone colors.

5 :: Dover Books’ Calla editions are based on classic novels’ original cover designs.

6 :: Penguin Classics Deluxe Editions feature gorgeously illustrated covers.

7 :: Penguin Clothbound Classics look like they belong on old-fashioned library shelves,

4 Journals for Making Memories

What better way to ensure you never forget those backyard volcanoes and home theater productions?

1 :: Bare Books are an ideal way to show off your best stories and poems.

2 :: The perfect antidote to a no good, very bad day, FU: The Journal to Destroy, Rant and Vent Without the Police Becoming Involved makes a handy vent space.

3 :: Poppin’s Soft-Cover Notebooks come in a wide range of colors, so it’s easy to find everybody’s favorite.

4 :: Every Day: A Five Year Memory Book is the perfect way to keep a record of your homeschool life without all the pressure of a serious journal.

5 Cool Building Sets

Think beyond the Lego with these nifty construction sets that will bring out your child's inner architect.

1 :: Uncle Goose's Periodic Table Building Blocks are a silly science addition to the building blocks box.

2 :: Kapla Construction planks look deceptively simple, but once you start building, the construction options are endless.

3 :: Brio Builder Activity Kits come with the usual building blocks, plus wrenches, pliers, and other tools to put them together.

4 :: You don't need to steal a TARDIS when you can build one. Doctor Who fans will appreciate this Character Building Tardis Console, complete with tiny Eleven, Amy, River, and Rory.)

5 :: You have to take shape and weight into account when building cities with Blockitecture's architecturally inspired building blocks.

4 Cool Subscriptions

Subscription boxes are the gifts that keep giving, delivering a regular infusion of fun to your mailbox long after the tinsel's been put away.

1 :: Kiwi Crate‘s monthly project boxes are ideal for younger creators.

2 :: Teens and crafty kids will appreciate the monthly project-making kits from For the Makers.

3 :: Art Snacks delivers shiny new art supplies, plus detailed instructions on how to use them.

4 :: Loot Crate brings you nerdy, geeky goodies inspired by video games and pop culture.

6 Science Stars

You don't have to be planning a career as a scientist to appreciate the creative fun of these science-minded activities.

1 :: With the Bigshot Camera Kit, kids can build their own hand-crank digital cameras.

2 :: Grow your own insect-eating plants with the Carnivorous Creatures LED Light Cube.

3 :: The Periodic Quest board game is as nerdy as it sounds—but it’s also delightfully fun to play.

4 :: A 3-D printer definitely isn’t cheap, but if you’re planning a big splurge, consider this idea-to-reality generator an investment in creative fun.

5 :: Hook the Prank Star Quick-Attach Microscope to your smartphone or tablet, and you've got an instant microscope ready for impromptu science studies.

6 :: The coolest thing about the Roominate build-it-yourself dollhouse construction kit is that it's totally wired—build it right, and all the switches and appliances will actually work.

5 Crafty Ideas

Give a kid a toy, and he's entertained for a day. Give him a project, and he just might discover a lifelong passion.

1 :: Instant Iron-Ons by Julia Rothschild makes it easy to customize your favorite clothes and accessories.

2 :: A Stop-Motion Animation Kit will inspire young filmmakers.

3 :: A Stitch the Stars calendar lets you review your constellations, practice your embroidery, and keep up with what day it is.

4 :: Remember how much fun you used to have making designs with your Spirograph set? Give your kids the same artistic inspiration with a set of their own.

5 :: Small-scale projects like this cute Mermaid Sew Kit by the Beansters are easy for kids (and newbie parents) to finish successfully.

4 Playful Decks

Never underestimate the fun potential of a deck of playing cards.

1 :: Marshall McLuhan’s Distant Early Warning playing cards shuffle the perfect mix of stinging satire and witty pop culture jokes.

2 :: MOMA’s Tim Burton playing cards are as delightfully whimsical as you’d expect.

3 :: The rules in EcoFlux change depending on what cards you’re holding and how many you have.

4: $1 from every purchase of these quirky, Theory-designed Animal Kingdom playing cards goes to the World Wildlife Fund, so you can feel like a do-gooder next time you deal a hand of gin rummy.