music appreciation

9 Fun Extras (Under $25) That Will Give Your Spring Homeschool a Boost

Add a little oomph to your sunny days homeschool with these spring extras, designed to make learning (almost!) as much fun as the prospect of playing outside.

At Home with the Editors: Shelli's 3rd Grade

Shelli's curriculum and resources for her 3rd grade homeschool

Every year, Shelli and Amy open the door and invite you to step inside their homeschool lives. (Please ignore the mess!) We talk about the resources we're using in our own homeschools and how we structure our days. There are lots of ways to homeschool, and we don't think our way is the best—just the one that happens to be working best for our particular families at this particular time.  If nothing else, you will get a behind-the-scenes look in the homes of the editors of home / school / life, but if something here helps you, all the better!? Today, Shelli's talking about how she homeschooled her 3rd grader this year.

This has been a busy year for my nine-year-old son, and for me, I’m a little in awe with the changes I’ve been seeing in him. He’s becoming more mature and disciplined, yet he’s just as creative as ever.  

Last year, I wrote more about his building projects because he was a “little engineer.” This year he surprised us by becoming interested in playing the piano, and through the year, he’s slowly shifted all his attention to learning about classical music. I don’t think his building tendencies have stopped, but they’re definitely on the back burner for now. His piano playing has become a big part of all our lives, so I’m giving it a heading all to itself! (See below.)

I should also note that this year has shown me how the flexibility in homeschooling is a huge asset. As my son’s interest in piano and classical music took center stage, I was able to let go of some curriculum ideas I had for the year. For example, we have put off foreign language, some Art Fridays, and just general “busyness” that I might have filled our time with, if my son didn’t become so engrossed in his new project. It’s been great to be able to do this, and I feel it’s given me the opportunity to give him what (to me) is more of a priority: time to play and be a kid.

Here is what we’ve accomplished during my son’s third grade:

Language Arts

My son wanted to work on spelling, so we completed Level 1 of All About Spelling, which I thought was a great program. He didn’t particularly like this program, but I think it gave him confidence that he can spell. He is not a child that is going to write anything voluntarily; it’s just not his thing. So we’re moving slowly in this area.

To improve handwriting skills, I have used both Handwriting Without Tears and a calligraphy set.

We are getting ready to do a standardized test, which homeschoolers in my state (Georgia) are required to do in the third grade, so I’m using a test prep book to review, and we’re also using some posters I have to learn the parts of speech. 

We’ve done a lot of reading this year. My son loves reading Calvin and Hobbes, and he’s enjoying reading the Battle Bugs series to himself. A few books I’ve read to him this year include My Father’s Dragon, Charlotte’s Web, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Story of Dr. Doolittle, and On the Shores of Silver Lake among others.



Math was a priority for me this year, and I feel we have made great progress in it this year. We completed four more Life of Fred books, which brings us to a total of seven books in that series. Right now, we’re reviewing math in our test prep book.

I have also begun to require that my son memorize the times tables, and we started with the three times tables. I put a little chart of “the threes” up on the wall, and I covered the answers. We go over it every time we do lessons. To make it fun, I began timing my son on how fast he could recite the 3 times tables, and I got him to try to beat his last time. My six-year-old has joined in on the fun too!

You can read about some of the other math games we’ve played this year here.



My son loves science, and he’s ahead in this subject, so I haven’t made it a big focus this year. However, he attended a homeschool chemical engineering class during the fall, and everyday we watch nature and science documentaries. This summer we’re going to begin using a middle school level science curriculum, which my son can’t wait to try. I’ll write about that at a later date.


Social Studies

I don’t do a lot of formal work in this area because we learn so much through our daily routine. Occasionally we watch history documentaries, and my son keeps up with current events with the New-O-Matic app. I also did a short study this year on the Cherokee Indians because there are so many local attractions in our home state of Georgia with historical references to the Cherokees.

Last year I made a Big History Timeline for our wall that we update whenever we learn something new about history, and we’ve made good use of it.



During the fall, my son took a pottery class, and we’ve done some art lessons at home. I usually do art on Fridays, but I let it slide for a while. Now I’m getting back into that routine again. We also visit our local art museum regularly to see new exhibits.



As I mentioned above, this has been my son’s big focus this year. He will have been taking piano lessons for one full year at the end of May! When he started, my husband and I casually said we’d be happy if he lasted one year since music is part of a well-rounded education. We had no idea how far our son would take it! Here’s a more specific list of what we’ve done this year:


  • Because our son progressed so quickly in his lessons, we went from a digital piano, to an upright piano, and now to a grand piano! Crazy, I know! But we feel it’s very important he has the right tools to work with to accomplish his goals. We have all enjoyed learning about how a piano works and the different brands of pianos, etc.
  • When we met a piano teacher whose knowledge and focus better matched our son’s goals, and he expressed an interest in working with our son, we took the opportunity to switch teachers. (Though I’ll ever be grateful for his first teacher who helped instill a love of piano playing through her warmth and enthusiasm.)
  • My son has begun studying the great composers. We use Meet the Great Composers, Greene’s Biographical Encyclopedia of Composers, and the Internet.  My son watches many classical performances on YouTube.
  • At two nearby universities, we are able to attend faculty and student recitals for free, and some of the bigger student performances are inexpensive to attend, so my son has attended 10 performances this year!


What are some of your favorite curriculum, resources and accomplishments that you have made this year?

The Music Gap That Filled Itself

We worry so much about gaps in our kids' homeschool educations, but the truth is, sometimes a gap is just a pause. Love this example of how a kid filled a learning gap on his own initiative. #homeschool

Sometimes I see articles by homeschoolers referring to “gaps” in a child’s education. That is, can we teach them everything? Can we cover all the subjects? The usual consensus is that no, we can’t possibly teach our kids everything, and we really shouldn’t worry about gaps. After all, kids going to public school have gaps in their education, and, learning does not end after twelve years of formal education.

I always thought that music would be a gap in my kid’s education. Neither my husband nor I play an instrument or read music. When my kids were younger, paying for music lessons seemed a bit pricey when they didn’t seem interested in it. Although I knew we would listen to music, and I could introduce them to the basics with a book or two, I resigned myself that further education in music would be one of our “gaps.”

But then my son expressed an interest in taking piano lessons. I should note that occasionally he’d seen people play piano live, and my husband enjoys listening to all kinds of music, so it’s not like he didn’t have any exposure to music. We also had a small, cheap digital keyboard that the boys liked to play with. But before this time, he always said no when we asked him if he’d like piano lessons. Then he changed his mind. This came at a time when we seriously wondered if we could afford it.

Ultimately, we decided that if he really wanted to try the piano, we wanted to support that, so I asked on a local homeschool list if anyone could recommend a teacher near us. Not only did we find someone who lives just ten minutes away, she gives affordable lessons. We told ourselves that if our son kept taking lessons for one year, we’d be happy because, of course, music is part of a well-rounded education. I was thrilled that he was getting some instruction in music that I couldn’t offer him at home.

Now he’s been taking lessons for nine months, and to our surprise, he is proving to have talent and a passion for it. He’s moving ahead quickly through his lesson books, practicing diligently, and he says he wants to stick with it. I don’t know what he’ll ultimately do with this, but we’re so glad we didn’t say no when he expressed an interest. We are going to have to make quite a few sacrifices to give him the tools and instruction he needs to keep moving forward, but that will be worth it to us. As a pianist recently told us, many parents say they aren’t going to make those sacrifices until their child gets “good” at the piano, but because the child doesn’t have the tools he needs to get better, he gets frustrated and loses interest.

Playing the piano has only been one aspect of this endeavor. My son has taken a keen interest in classical music, and now he will sit and watch YouTube videos of symphonies, piano concertos, and sonatas. He’s learning who’s who in the music world. He’s also learning about the classical composers, and we’ve taken him to some free classical concerts at nearby universities. Best of all, my younger son is benefiting from all the listening he’s doing, and I’m learning more than I had ever hoped to learn about music too.

All this makes me think that if parents are doing their best to educate their children, introducing them to all sorts of things and giving them a variety of experiences, the “gaps” are going to naturally fill up – at least the ones that are supposed to.

I don’t know if we are embarking on a lifetime project, a project that will last for a few years, or one that will end next season – but I wouldn’t trade the last few months for anything. Being able to dig deep into any subject over a long period of time is a perk of homeschooling: we have the time, if we have the inclination.

Monday Pep Talk No. 3

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

Here’s a little boost to help you get the week started on a happy note. (And a little bonus motivation: Check back tomorrow because we’ve got an awesome giveaway coming up.)

3 fun things to do this week

The first Saturday in August is National Mustard Day, which is a great excuse to make your own mustard. (I am partial to this honey-tarragon mustard, which is just the right balance of sweet and tangy.)

Get outside and make these awesome rainbow bubble snakes.

Alternatively, camp out in the air-conditioning and become an expert in music appreciation with Yale’s free online course.


3 ideas for this week’s dinners

These avocado spring rolls are a little fiddly, but they taste great — and are perfect for those nights when it just feels too hot to eat anything

Shrimp pizza feels like you made an effort when all you really made was garlic sauce.

This baked corn and tomato risotto makes a different twist on all the corn, tomatoes, and basil that end up in your shopping cart this time of year.


one thought to ponder

homeschool inspiration
homeschool inspiration

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

watermelon-tequila cocktails

Opera for Everybody: Adding opera studies to your homeschool

Opera for everybody: Adding opera study to your homeschool

To celebrate the 150th anniversary of the first production of Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, we’ve got 6 tips for bringing a little opera to your homeschool.

1. Match your opera to their interests. Kids who dig Shakespeare can get excited about Verdi’s Macbeth or Otello,while Greek mythology fans might dig Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice or Montiverdi’s Ritorno di Ulisse in Patria. Being at least vaguely familiar with the characters and plots of an opera can make the new experience more comfortable.

2. Watch one of the Looney Tunes operas. (No, really!) The Rabbit of Seville (1950), in which Bugs accidentally becomes the Barber of Seville and torments Elmer Fudd and set to Rossini’s Barber of Seville, or What Opera, Doc? (1957), set to parts of Wagner’s Der Ring Des Nibelungen and Tannhauser, are both good options.

3. Familiarize your kids with classics operas by reading a book like Sing Me a Story: The Metropolitan Opera’s Book of Opera Stories by Jane Rosenberg or The Barefoot Book of Stories from the Opera by Shahrukh Husain.

4. Don’t make your first opera a marathon test of stamina. If your child is ready to go after an hour, leave at the end of the act while your child is still excited about the show instead of forcing him to stick it out till the end.

5. Encourage kids to pay attention to the sets, which are often as interesting as the stories. In The Saturdays, Rush makes his Saturday splurge a ticket to Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen, where he’s especially impressed by the machinery that controls the fire-breathing dragon Fafner onstage.

6. Play opera music at home, and act out stories together based on the way the music feels. Encourage kids to focus on the feeling of the music, not the specific words — especially when they are in another language.