Growing borax crystals-a homeschool science project

Last week, the Home crew grew crystals from borax soap. Borax soap-as in laundry detergent, just check the laundry's a powder. This project was instigated through our Classical Conversations group, I am a tutor this year for master's class. I admit, if I didn't have to do this for the class, I most likely would not have done this cool project. I spend most of my time working to get our basic school work done, special projects get left by the wayside, unfortunately. But, I'm here to tell you...

*This one was fun! *Didn't take much preparation!

*Didn't need many ingredients! *Wasn't messy!

Each time I pull off a neat project, I am inspired to do more with my kids- I hope this inspires you to do the same!I chose to use Borax powder instead of sugar to make rock candy, because I had heard and read mixed results with the success of getting the sugar to grow. (and then I cheated and just bought rock candy!! The sugary final product to eat is the point, really now-admit it)

I found the directions by googling on the internet. Here is roughly what we did:


  • jar
  • boiling water
  • pipe cleaners cut into small pieces, we then twisted them into star shapes
  • string and a stick to tie them to
  • borax powder (3 tablespoons per cup of hot water, I used 2 cups of water in my jar)


Prepare your pipe cleaners and string first, make sure they will hang in the jar without touching the bottom, yet will hang low enough for the 2 cups of water to cover them.

Boil your water. Once boiling, measure out 2 cups and pour into jar. Parent needs to do this.

Next, stir in borax 1 tablespoon at a time, stirring to dissolve. This part is fun for the kids.
After the borax is all in, put in your stars and then set the jar somewhere where it will not be disturbed. Check daily to see crystal growth.

I made lab sheets on Word, typing in the name of the project on the top, with the directions to draw what they observed.

I made a second comprehension sheet that listed the experiment, the hypothesis, and our procedure. Then, I typed in a short paragraph describing what occurred and why- the Science behind the project, leaving blanks for key-word like "crystal", "dissolve" "salt" "cube-shaped", "molecule", "saturation" and the kids filled these in as we discussed the why.





try it!

Play School

Heart Stress-Test

describes the jumpings and flutterings my heart muscle did as I watched my youngest 2 race around this empty pool at the skateboard park. They raced, several times. I don't know why.

-watched from far away, on a balcony. Too far to shout to them.

too far to shout or get their attention. close enough to make my exit strategy:

  1. grab expensive camera
  2. grab purse
  3. run screaming down stairs
  4. until the worst happens, mutter to yourself as a mantra: "the children's emergency room is just across the street! least they are wearing helmets, they won't break their heads!"

Discovery: some serious moves going on down there. Look, big brother is teaching baby sister the robot.

It all falls into place some-how.
relax...just bust'n a move.

We had our Classical group class today.
For one of our Science activities we made plaster fossil moldings.

it was pretty cool.
and not as messy as I thought it would be.

For Fine Art, we studied a little about Fra Giovanni Angelico and the halos she painted in real gold. (Art Studies inspired by this* book)

Then we turned the kids loose with a little paint, some chalk, and some tin foil.
not case you were wondering.

Glad to report no war scenes today. We had a ballerina (my only girl student) a Bible, a light pole (I think) a paint-splatter modern-piece, and a fish with bright scales and bright bubbles.

Here is mine.

(take time to play school) :)

This week at home

A peek at our homeschool week that was...

Monday found us very busy, our first day back-to-homeschool since our winter-holiday break.

I started the day with a walk/run, and then had the kids dive enthusiastically into the meaty part of our studies. We started the morning off with a Bible reading, then table work for all 5 kids. This Monday, table work began with Math for everyone. We use Math-U-See for all 5 kids right now. Each child opens to the next page, and I help or explain as needed. Today I had to que up the computer with a Math chapter lesson for Josie ( I love Math-U-See!, it's on dvd!!)

Next, the 3 littles (my youngest 3 students) began their handwriting work. Meg began working on her grammar, I started Josie on a writing assignment. After the writing, I worked with the 3 littles on grammar/writing from a Flashkids workbook...I have all 3 on the same page for simplicity sake. Next came the all important snack break.

After snack break, Josie and Meg took out their Sonlight assignments already put into their weeks-work binders, and they decided which books to tackle first. I began one of the boys on the computer with Explode the Code online, while the other did...I don't know what, can't remember...played with the dog maybe? Practiced the piano, possibly... I opened up Explode the code in workbook format for Amie, she prefers the workbook to online...(She did 3 pages) After 15 minutes, I switched the boys on the computer. Teddy's special-ed tutor arrived at this point, so he sat down to work with her...and I turned Demi and Amie loose to play outside.

I sat down, watched the Math dvd with Josie, who was stuck...and then explained to her how to find the area of a trapazoid. We went on a rabbit trail with avarages...since we had to first add the two bases of the trapazoid and then find the average...We completed 3/4 of the page together, then I turned her loose to finish the last 4 problems solo, no coaching. I then wrote the equation for finding the area of a trapazoid in her math notebook, and had her copy a whole page. Then I assigned a whole notebook page of a multiplication family, and then a page of area and primeter formulas for review.

Amie came inside and experimented with our new colorix colors. She did the above house painting. I began lunch prep.

Teddy's tutor left at lunch-time. While they ate, I read two poems from our Sonlight Core 2, and then after I ate my lunch, I read to them about Ethiopia from the book Windows on the World, which is also from Sonlight Core 2. We got the world map out and located Ethiopia, and reviewed our continents and Oceans songs.
Next, I pulled out A Child's History of the World(also from SL2) and read to the littles about Charlemagne while they colored a picture of his palace. I asked them some questions while I read. Meg and Josie completed a vocabulary workbook assignment. And then I turned them loose for the day, because I was's been a long holiday break...

Tuesday was our Classical group day. The highlight for me was our art activity, we learned about the artist Giotto. We looked at examples of paintings he had done, and then we tried our hand at crushing up color pigments (in our case, color chalk) and mixing them with egg whites and water to make our own paint, the way many painters of old did.

Here are Teddy and Demi-Sky hard at work on their paintings. Did I mention before that I have 6 boys in my class, and 1 girl? Only half the paintings were on war themes...I was relieved.

  • Relieved to be pleasantly surprised that I didn't get 99% war themes, or
  • relieved that my two boys aren't the only ones who paint/draw constantly on this theme?...

I'll leave you to guess...

Here's a look at the time-line cards we memorized this week for the classical class. They are from Veritas press. We also did two science experiments from The Van Cleave Science book. One was about the Earth's tilted axis resulting in different seasons in the two hemispheres. I had to use a styro-foam ball and a flashlight to demonstrate this. We also did one on water molecules expanding when frozen and the effect glaciers have on rocks...that one was kind of cool to draw. I handed out lab worksheets, and spent a good amount of time reviewing the scientific method with them. These experiments are not real on the 'wow' -factor...nothing fizzing/exploding (yet), but the point really, is to teach them how to use the Scientific method.

The math that day was memorizing the formula for the area of a rectangle...Josie was pleased, since she's been writing this for weeks! :)

We arrived home from our classical group around 1 p.m. -had lunch and then everyone did Math. Then I had Amie, Demi and Josie do a pre-writing exercise for a persuasive essay due on Wednesday. I turned them loose after that...our Classical group day is kind of a heavy day, with a lot of memorization work, we are all kind of fried afterward. My friend Gracefulmom is down for the holidays from Singapore, so she came over and we hung out at the dining table, while the kids played around us/inside/outside the house. Just like old times. :)

The rest of our week, to be continued:

*part 2 can be found -here (part 2)
*part 3 can be found -here (part 3)

Nature walking, classically with zombies

Today was set aside for a nature walk with our Classical Conversations class.

The only close venue available? The cemetery. It turned out to be a really good spot. We saw several different types of trees, including huge pines, magnolias and wonderful magnolia seed pods with bright red seeds- which were a revelation to the kids. There were yellow ginko trees, sparkling golden in the sun, a revelation to me.

I love the bark on this pine.

The best part? Not the humming birds, mourning doves, mocking birds or even the hawk.

Not the morning glories growing on a wall, beautiful, full and blue.

The best part

was warning my class of 5 boys to quiet down or risk waking the zombies.


(I'm a quiet soul, so when I come out with a zinger, it has a good effect...!)

Wol pellets for a silly old bear

We had a fun day at Classical Conversations today, we dissected owl pellets! This is something I've always had a hankering to try...when I was young, I read a lot, and somewhere I read about owls coughing up pellets- yet I wasn't sure exactly what that meant, or what one would look like, but I went looking for them out in the orange groves that were near our house.
Now that I've seen one, I doubt I would have recognized one! We found a bird and a shrew in our pellet. I divided the room into two groups, the other group found a rodent and a shrew.
My van wouldn't start after class. It just had to be the day I decided to not pack lunches and to just go home for lunch. I had a van-full of hungry kids. Luckily, it was just the battery, Sky came down and gave me a jump. Later, he came home and presented me with this...I'm a lucky girl! He then installed it, filled up my gas tank and washed my windows. He's a full-service kind of guy! Again, I'm a lucky girl!
This is the first year my dwarf apple tree is bearing apples. Look, they are turning red! Apple trees in So. Ca are not an everyday thing...we don't get the cold spells needed, this tree is a special tree for our area.
Lastly, here's my baby. Who could not love a face like that? Again, I'm a lucky girl!

The dry- erase- board of ultimate power

"Padawan, discovered the seat of ultimate homeschool power, have I? -Yes."

Behold the ingenious white-board concept I discovered through our Classical homeschool group.
I mentioned it here briefly in *this post

Here is the deceptively simple, yet brilliant concept: The grammar to-do list is written on the board, in list form on the left-for what we will cover, and then else-where on the board in actual content. And then we erase it has we go. No more ambiguity about what else I need to cover or when I should get to it...if it's there, it still needs to be done.

The second photo has the timeline cards we memorize for the week on the bottom ledge, we do those first and get them out of the way.

I can see this working for a general homeschool mom's day- plan...list all the subjects and pages you need to get through and even things you forget to do like, "call the vet", "drop off books at library" and then erase as you go.

I'm so doing this. Sky is going to put one up in the dining room for me, since that is where we do our homeschooling.

Embrace the force.

Classical Conversations, my view

I joined a new Classical Conversations group, without understanding what it was. Actually, I didn't just join, I had to Jenny-fy it and sign up as a tutor, too. I like things messy.

Not totally my mistake, really, Classical Conversations is kind of hard to explain. Here's my take, as I see it, after going through tutor training and having taught now 3 weeks....

The clearest way I can paint what CC is, would be to say it is closest to a co-op, but it's NOT. Clear?

It looks like a co-op, walks like one...but is not. Classical Conversations is a community of homeschool parents (mostly moms) who come together once a week to hold "Classical" classes. The big lure, the reason it is so brilliant,-- all the decisions about what to learn/memorize, when, how, how much...have all been made by Classical Conversations-the organization; and---- I love this part----they even have ready made materials such as songs and flashcards to help you do it.

I love the thought of Classical homeschool, I agree that memorization is very important at the grammar stage. But.- it just wasn't happening at my house. I'd research, collect some catchy songs to memorize things, intend to put it on my ipod and "start me some learning"...and never get around to it. Kind of busy doing the basic three R's, teaching phonics, keeping the dog from loving the hens too much, cleaning, laundry, making meals, being taxi mom...

My Classical Conversations day looks like this so far.... stay up way too late Monday night gathering my materials, packing them the bell for family feud game, flashcards, cd player, maps I printed out from the CC website. But, I'm getting better at it and each Monday has been less late.

Tuesday, I arrive early, set up my classroom and then we all meet in a big assembly. There we have prayer, pledge of allegiance, Bible memory work and one family does a public speaking sort of presentation. We run through the history timeline cards with hand motions, too.

Next we split up into individual classes, which are set up by age. I have a 4th/5th grade group. I then have from 9:30 to 12 to push them through all our material before we break for lunch. It is a dizzying large amount of material and so far, as I'm setting up, I'm thinking..."why am I doing? This is crazy? I don't want to do this..." I clearly have issues with teaching in front of a classroom, but I knew this going into it... I should mention the class size is 8 students, it's kind of cozy and not as scary as facing a class of 30...

And yet, it is a fast ride, we have a blast, and before I know it, it is lunch time. And, get this...

The kids are eating it up, and they are learning all the material. The material I keep thinking is too much. They memorize it, and spit it back at me with glee.

I write up my white-board diagram the night before. People, I have to tell you, the white-board idea is inspired! It's genius! I've decided it's the answer to my life's problems...but that will have to be another post...

ahem, I set up my white-board, it has listed on one side each subject we will go through, including 'review old grammar work' and also I write out the new grammar, such as geography terms, Latin nouns, the history sentence, etc. As we work down our list, I erase each item.

It's stinking brilliant, I'm telling you!

The kids start each week with a public speaking turn. We then work through our new grammar, reciting/singing/using flashcards. I throw in some quick review as we are doing it and award tickets that they can cash in once a month. We have a time slot for a science experiment and a slot for a simple art lesson. We have a big slot for reviewing all the old material from previous weeks, this is the kid's favorite part. We play games, such as jeopardy style, family feud style, what-ever the tutor comes up with...and the kids just love it!

and then it's time to stop, and we all meet for lunch...the moms visit and the kids play.

After lunch, there is a class for the older kids covering English grammar, math games and writing. It's like a co-op because all the moms have to attend with their children. But, it's not a co-op because the moms do not take turns teaching, one tutor teaches each class all year. The moms are there to learn from what the tutor is doing, so they can run their children through the material at home. As a tutor, I'm not really teaching...just facilitating, presenting the material. The moms do help out and pass out papers and help with bathroom breaks and such. Or, like last week, I tried to sing the parts of an animal cell to the tune of 'happy birthday' and could not pull it off...I asked one of the moms to bail me out!

So, this is a view of what CC looks like from where I am sitting. In case you were wondering.

did I mention I now know the 5 kingdoms of living things, and the classification of living things? Also the definition of a preposition. I have to say the Latin is just enough to make me dangerous...

homeschool- we are forever learning.