What did the Pilgrims eat?

What better way to celebrate Thanksgiving on a nutrition blog than learn about what the Pilgrims ate!  I came across this book at the library while searching for Thanksgiving books for my own kids.  Wow – this is a great book!

Eating the Plates: A Pilgrim Book of Food and Manners
by Lucille Recht Penner

A lot of what the Pilgrims ate, they ate because they had to.  They didn’t want to starve.  Aboard the Mayflower, supplies were limited and were largely infested with bugs.  The book mentions that some Pilgrims preferred to eat at night so they couldn’t see what might be crawling on their food!  (This garnered a round of “EEEW” and “YUCK! from my kids!)  They couldn’t risk a stray spark from an open fire burning down their ship, so they mostly ate cold foods.  And while they kept a goat, chickens, and other animals on the ship, they weren’t used for food.  They were merely bringing the animals to the New World with the intent of starting a new herd or flock there.

teaching analogies

Worm is to apple as cow is to___________.

Does this sound familiar?  Teaching your 4th grader about analogies is a great strategy to improve their logic and reasoning skills.   In addition, it deepens their vocabulary and increases reading fluency.  It’s worth a few minutes each week of your time!    Try this one:
vitamin C : oranges
_______ :  milk

Oranges contain vitamin C.  What important nutrient is found in milk?  Calcium!

Yea!  You’re on a roll!  How about one more?
red, shiny : apple
yellow, curved : __________

Banana!  Analogies aren’t just for the SAT test anymore.  Kids can really enjoy analogies, and if you start when your kids are young, they’ll have lots of time to master them way before SAT-time.

handwriting skills

Some kids pick up the skill of handwriting more quickly than others.  Different school districts may advocate different writing styles, for many different reasons.  One of the perks of homeschooling is that you don’t have to go with what the public school wants, but you can determine what works best for your individual child.  Two of the major handwriting styles are Zaner-Bloser, which is a traditional block printing style, and D‘Nealian, which is a more recently developed curvy style of writing meant to make the transition to learning cursive a bit easier.

By fourth grade, most children have mastered basic handwriting.  But remember, practice makes perfect!  If your child is struggling, there are several handwriting programs designed to help.  A program called Handwriting Without Tears seems to be especially popular with public schools in this country, and it works very well to help kids learn proper letter formation.   There are other programs too, so be sure to research the subject if your child needs a little extra help that simple repetition isn’t providing.


Even in the world of homeschooling, there are some constants and there are some things that are constantly changing.  One option currently popular with parents is to hire a tutor for subjects in which parents may not be proficient.  This isn’t a completely new idea, of course, especially as kids get into the high school years and need help with their calculus homework!  My own daughter takes Spanish lessons from a tutor, since I don’t speak Spanish myself.   Tutoring is a great option to consider in trying to round-out your child’s homeschooling curriculum.  You can really round-out some of the areas you might be weak in as an instructor, and keep those weak areas from developing in your child’s knowledge base too.

My child hates creative writing!

I know it’s something I need to push, but on the other hand, it’s probably pretty normal to dislike creative writing.  Did you ever have to do that writing experiment in elementary school where the teacher makes you close your eyes for a minute and try to clear your mind?  Then you open your eyes and write down whatever pops into your head.  Most kids hate this kind of thing because the lack of direction makes them a bit uncomfortable.  It’s one thing to have a writing assignment, and quite another to be left floundering, trying to figure out what you’re “supposed” to write!

But this sort of experience is a type of creative writing, and sometimes it’s actually quite a good idea to write in a more unstructured and free-flowing way.   In second grade, many kids enjoy telling stories, so you can ask your second grader to write a story, either anything they want, or within certain parameters, and this is a painless and fun introduction to creative writing.

Is your child gifted?

This is a question many parents find themselves asking.  Each family has their own reasons for choosing to homeschool, but for many parents of gifted kids, homeschooling is an excellent option.  Public schools are stretched with tight budgets and overcrowded classrooms, and even those with gifted programs have likely had their budgets cut in recent years.  Besides that, gifted programs in public schools are limited by what the school district considers appropriate materials to teach, and curious, intellectual children may want to explore something completely different.  Instead of pushing a child in a certain direction, as happens in public school, homeschooling allows a gifted child to explore their interests in depth.  As we all know, kids learn best when the material is interesting to them!

Whatever curriculum you choose, the basics will still need to be covered.  Math, reading , spelling, writing, science, and history.   These are the staples in any student’s life.  But the manner in which you teach these subjects, and the speed at which a gifted child is able to master a lesson and move on to the next one, varies a great deal.

homeschooling on the computer

Most 4th graders these days are pretty adept at computer skills.  So much of our lives is handled through computers these days, from scheduling our days to storing family photos, so it’s no wonder a vast array of options for homeschooling has developed utilizing computers.   There are several publishers that market CD-ROM programs with everything you need for a given grade.  The student can sit at the computer and work almost completely on their own.

Of course, the parent will still need to help out, particularly if the child finds a particular concept difficult.  Homeschooling parents can also choose to supplement the curriculum with other materials of their choosing, as needed.  This is a great option for parents of multiple children or those homeschooling with a baby or toddler who also needs their time.

Computer skills are an invaluable part of modern society, and starting kids on the computer by 4th grade can be quite beneficial to their long term education.

choosing which curriculum to use

Choosing which curriculum to homeschool with  is a huge decision, and a very personal one.  While the available options may be very similar, each family approaches the decision differently.  Your outlook may be colored by the circumstances of how your children were previously educated.  Maybe you’re pulling them out of a troubled public school system with a substandard curriculum, or your spouse lost their job and suddenly expensive private school is out of reach.  Or perhaps you’re beginning to homeschool right from the starting line, in kindergarten, and don’t know where to start.

One option that some families transitioning away from public school prefer is commonly referred to as “e-school”.  This is basically a public school curriculum done from home on a computer.  There are several private companies that each state contracts with to provide these services. Often, the state even pays for children to have a computer at home for doing their schoolwork.

However, most homeschoolers choose their own curriculum from the multitude available.  Some choices include curriculum-in-a-box options where the texts and workbooks for an entire grade level are bundled together.   The great part about picking and choosing your own curriculum is that you can choose a math book from a publisher known to be strong in that subject, and a science program from a publisher respected for its science texts.  You can also have a child working at grade level in one subject and either up or down a grade in another subject, so that your child’s curriculum is tailored to their needs.

Year-round homeschooling

Which is better?  Year-round homeschooling, or giving the kids the summer off?   The first several weeks of public school each fall are spent reviewing the previous year’s material, and this trend is evident in some homeschooling curricula as well.  So while some school districts have gone to year-round schooling just to help eliminate the expense of empty buildings and downtime in the summer, you have to wonder if maybe some of them figured out it was more efficient for the kids too!  Kids learn better in a continuous fashion, not with starts and stops in their education.

Homeschoolers have wonderful flexibility in their schedules.  Sometimes it may be necessary to take some time off due to family issues, or travel, or maybe just whenever that burned out feeling sets in and everyone needs a break.  It’s much easier to take some occasional time off when you’re not worried about falling too far behind, and if you’re homeschooling year-round, you have plenty of buffer time to allow for breaks.


What does “socialization” mean?  One of the biggest complaints about homeschooling that you’ll hear from folks who don’t understand it is the issue of socialization.  How can your kids socialize with their peers if they’re stuck at home all day?  They’ll grow up in isolation and their social development will be delayed.  Right?

Wrong!  Homeschooled kids are some of the busiest around.  There are so many activities available in most communities that if you did all of them, you’d never be at home to do any schoolwork.  The YMCA often offers homeschool classes, such as swimming lessons, and depending on the YMCA, they may offer even more.   Some have computer and foreign language classes for homeschoolers, and even art and music lessons.  Your local community center probably has planned activities too, and these things provide time for kids to learn and interact with others.