Living Simply ~ The Challenge

If any of you read our Learning Room post on Henry David Thoreau, then you know that this study spurred something in our family. Living simply and sustainably has been a goal of ours for quite some time. We would love nothing more then to buy some land, grow and preserve our own food, and move a step back from what society says is normal and healthy. And, to a point, we are doing just that through planning and saving for land within our budget, learning how to garden and starting the process of preserving our own food, ridding our life of unneeded chemicals and cleaning naturally, cloth diapering and breastfeeding our children, ridding ourselves of a microwave, etc.

But how close are we really to that goal? How enmeshed into society and current culture are we still? How many technological doodads do we have that suck away our time through – what the professionals call – screentime?

We have this beautiful huge widescreen T.V. (not of our own choosing) that only has basic cable on it. No MTV/reality show theatrics of inappropriate nature go before our children’s eyes. No commercials between Nick Jr., Disney, or Noggin cartoons to entice our children’s desire. Only wholesome PBS, educational shows that teach while they entertain. We have no current Wii system to contend with, not even a Play Station. Our kids are not allowed to run whatever games they want on the computer and the their educational computer games and for-fun Nintendo Mario games are limited within boundaries. We avoid normal T.V. primetime hours (7-9ish) as a family because even basic channels are too risqué for what we want our children to be absorbing, even subconsciously while playing beside us while mom and dad have downtime.

But, despite the careful monitoring, our kids are still being pulled along by technology. All Gabe can think about is the next Mario fix. It permeates his thoughts, his conversation, his school work. And the younger kids find themselves in front of the television beyond what is actually healthy for them, even if it is in the name of education, often in the form of a babysitter while mom is busy with the older students. Adam has found himself sucked into the time-wasting, gossipy, self-promoting, witty comments of Facebook. And I…well, even I have been pulled along in despite of myself. More of my hours have been spent on well-meaning educational research (a link leading to a link leading to a link…you know how it goes) then actually implementing the wonderful educational tools right under my nose. And how many times have I done the, “Uhuh, that’s nice dear” routine as a kid was seeking my attention and I was too caught up in what was happening on the computer screen? How many of my hours could have been spent playing with them, reading to them…things I long to do but never “seem” to have time for?

So, our plan: to give up on technology and ALL screentime for a full month. That means no T.V., no computer, no video games, and Adam will give up his cell phone. We will use the month to get back in touch with what’s really important ~ spending time together as a family, playing together, reading together, rediscovering hobbies, and working on developing good character traits and work habits.

Our purpose is not to condemn others who watch T.V. or use Facebook or the Internet (all useful tools when used properly), rather it is a reflective look at ourselves. What motivates our actions? What draws us to this screentime? What is the condition of our hearts? Isn’t that what the Lord desires most in us ~ our hearts? I think we are so busy filling our lives up with things and escapism entertainment that we never even pause to consider the condition of our heart. So I will take this time to journal ~ old-fashioned pen and paper journaling ~ how we do end up spending our time and how this project affects us. I think we may be very surprised at the answers we find. The obvious will be the time gain and quality gain of family life. But I have a sneaking suspicion that it will be harder on us adults then we think it will be. There will be times of silence that will force us to deal with ourselves. No distractions means no excuses.

So for one month, starting tomorrow ~ Monday, April 19th ~ until 4 weeks from today ~ Monday, May 17th ~ we will give up on technology and take a step back to a simpler time. This means no emails. I will try and set up appointments and playdates in advance, but if you really need to get a hold of us, you can always call my cell (our only home phone connection that we will be disconnecting in July and reverting back to good ol phone jacks) or you’ll just have to drop by. Remember when people used to do that? I will post again here on the 17th. Until then the blogosphere will have to go on without me. Adam officially took down his Facebook site and will only be using the computer to type a story if it’s due for the Reader/El Perico magazine, otherwise it will be powered down. Since we are using this time as a school break/get-the-gardening-in, even I will be off the computer for everything including journaling and researching. My research will have to take place with a physical trip to the library and my journaling with have to be done with a trusty pen and notebook! And we will be monitoring our OPPD bill to find out just how wasteful our normal technological habits are concerning electricity.

Feel free to leave your comments here (will check back one more time this evening before powering down and then again in a month and will respond to all) about what your thoughts are. And, if any of you feel even slightly brave, I challenge you also to take the challenge with us and report back in a month how it affected your life – for positive or negative!

Now, let the games begin!

The Learning Room

April 12 – 16

United States Geography Unit Study

We decided to make this last week before taking a spring break a light week. Our next history unit will be on Lewis and Clark, which will take several weeks so I didn’t want to start just yet. We spent this week reviewing our U.S. geography map skills and tying in our bird theme by coloring/drawing state birds. We also used these bird drawings as a chance for penmanship practice by labeling which state the bird belongs to and then filing them in our State Binders. The kids had fun this week. They love coloring and drawing birds so it made the week easy to get through. I’m looking forward to taking a 4-week break, especially with nausea coming to an all-time high right now. I’m excited to work on getting all our gardening done and enjoying playing outside before the weather gets too hot. At the end of the four weeks I’ll post what kind of schoolish things we did (books read, field trips taken, interests followed) because that still counts towards our Nebraska state requirement hours even if they weren’t formally planned! Learning doesn’t necessarily stop just because you’re taking a break!

History & Geography

  • Read United Tweets of America: 50 State Birds by Hudson Talbott. This book is one of my kids favorites. They just love the humour infused with all the facts and this is one that they beg me to read, especially the bird captions (done in a cartoon format). I will buy this for next year. We check it out too often to keep borrowing from the library!
  • Colored several state birds and labeled then placed in the kids State Binder.
  • Took a review quiz of labeling a U.S. map. (Find free map pdf files here.)
  • Practiced learning states through Learn Disover Explore: The United States of America (a fun little book we picked up last year on the Target $1 shelf!)
  • Practiced state abbreviations.

Language Arts

  • Poetry ~ read The Cuckoo’s Haiku and Other Birding Poems by Michael J. Rosen (beautiful pictures, by the way, and useful for Gabe in reviewing what a haiku is).
  • Literature ~ read chapter 6 of Charlotte’s Web.
  • Penmanship ~ practiced manuscript (Lily) and cursive (Gabe) with labeling bird pictures.
  • Phonics ~ Lily practiced reading independently and read I’m a Seed for me (a Hello Reader level 1 book).
  • Independent Reading ~ Gabe spent a lot of his free time reading this week. Stared Charlie and the Chocoloate Factory for the millionth time. Read Franny K Stein: The Fran that Time Forgot and a Magic School Bus chapter book: The Giant Germ. Lily played outside more in her free time but spent a lot of time reading her library books (mainly Dr. Suess) before bed. She’s getting more confident every day!


  • Colored pictures of a Meadowlark, Goldfinch, Robin, Eagle, Mockingbird, Baltimore Oriole, and Wood Thrush.
  • Used original drawings of a Cardinal, Bluebird, and Robin.
  • Listened to our Revolutionary Freedoms CD with an emphasis on the song “Fifty Nifty United States”.

Science & Physical Education

  • Read I’m a Seed by Jean Marzollo to everyone. The kids asked for this to be read three times in a row and then Lily read it out loud to me. They loved this book because it is about a marigold and pumpkin seed, both seeds we plan to plant in our garden and both seeds we did plant last year. Luc is especially excited about the pumpkins this year and clapped everytime the pumpkin seed talked. This is a very informative book for being so simple and much in the style of Nancy Wallace’s books (which I love!).
  • Did lots of gardening work this week. Kids helped with sifting our compost and bringing it to the new beds to spread. They also helped with sifting our rocks and digging out weeds.
  • Gabe and Lily started rock collections. They used recycled egg cartons – just the perfect size to fit a rock in! We will have to dig out our rock field guides.
  • Found (and washed REALLY well) several bird feathers for their nature shelf. We think one is from a meadowlark. I can’t tell what the other two are from. They are darker in color w/a rainbow sheen at the tip and quite large in size. (Luc has been desperately chasing the Robins trying to get one to let him pet it!)
  • Read Storms by Seymour Simon and A First Discovery Book: Weather (Scholastic) after we had a sudden impromptu spring thundershower!
  • Gabe independently read The Senses: Seeing when he wanted to know how a piece of glass (he thinks his lenses are just a piece of glass) can make you see better. (The answer: different shaped glass, concave or convex depending on if you are near or farsighted!)

The Learning Room – Part II: Henry David Thoreau

April 5th – 11th

We did a study  on Henry David Thoreau this week. I know, not something young elementary students usually study. Not even something I studied in high school! But I just found a fantastic kids book on it and it just fit in naturally after talking about John James Audubon. Both were from around the same time period (about 50 years difference) and both were pioneers in the naturalist/environmentalist movement for their times. I’m sure the kids won’t retain that much from their study but for me, personally, it was very eye opening. I have never read Walden before, though I have wanted to for years after I found out he was one of the first to move out of society into that – what we would call these days – sustainable lifestyle. He purposefully led a simple life. And it is to this movement that Adam and I feel drawn to. I will continue to read his book, even though we are technically done with him this week. Adam and I have proposed a little experiment to the kids based off this study (you will find out more details in an upcoming post!).

Lily’s biggest (and somewhat profound) question to his lifestyle was: “If he chose to live simply and wanted more free time then how did building his own house get that because then he just did a lot of work and had to cook and find his own food which is more work? How did he have free time?” Which I thought was a wonderful question that we should all contemplate on. What is real, purposeful work? And is that enjoyment in itself? And do our modern conveniences create more free time or put us in a continuous, perpetual cycle of bondage with respect to time and time management? Anyway, I digress. On to the work we did this week.


  • Read Henry David’s House edited by Steven Schnur (edited by is the important part here, as this book is all from Thoreau’s original writings about building his house by Walden Pond!)
  • Gabe and Lily did narrations (oral and picture to go with) on Thoreau.
  • Gabe independently read A Man Named Thoreau by Robert Burleigh


  • Read chapter 5 of Charlotte’s Web, which the kids are really enjoying…especially the goose who repeats everything. They think she is hilarious! We would have read more of this but kids being slow to pick up and tidy at night has earned some lost privileges.
  • Listened to the audio of Ivy & Bean Break the Fossil Record by Annie Barrows. (These are just so delightful to listen to…the kids love them and so do I!)
  • Read more of the Peter Rabbit series.

Language Arts

  • Gabe – learned about how to use quotation marks; cursive copywork; poetry reading; picture study; creative writing story
  • Lily – phonics practice; manuscript copywork; picture study; poetry reading; creative writing (wrote a wonderful story this week!); reading practice; more review of sentences and punctuation

Latin – Gabe

  • New words: amicus, specto, natura.
  • Reviewed flashcards.


  • Gabe – Math U See chapter 21 – multiplying with double digits, place value notation.
  • Lily – started her new Kumon workbook: Easy Telling Time (which she is very excited about)


  • Worked in the craft room making thumbprint art and decorating a wooden birdhouse.

The Learning Room – Part I: John James Audubon

March 19th – April 4th

Because my morning sickness strikes in the afternoon and gets worse as the evening progresses (ironic that I don’t have it in the morning!), my only time to type on the computer is moot as I want only to lie on a couch at that point, not typing anything! So I am taking one morning where I am feeling okay and catching up on what we’ve been learning. I will break it into two manageable parts – a part one over our John James Audubon study and a part two over our Henry David Thoreau study.



  • Read Birds at Home by Marguerite Henry (our favorite living book on birds!)
  • Read Birds at My Feeder by Glen & Loates (our other most read living bird book)
  • Used Stokes Beginner’s Guide to Birds field guide to identify birds in our back yard and see where in the United States certain birds live.
  • Read Birds: Nature’s Magnificent Flying Machines by Caroline Arnold and discussed how feathers and flight work.
  • Read An Egg is Quiet by Dianna Aston & Sylvia Long. The kids had most fun finding camouflaged eggs and picking which egg they wanted to draw.
  • Read Birds at Night by Roma Gans a great overall book on how birds act, what they eat, how they survive. The kids favorite I think.
  • Read A Nest Full of Eggs by Priscilla Belz Jenkins a good book to herald in spring as it is mostly about the arrival of robins returning in the spring.

Gabe's cardinal.

Lily's cardinal.

Mommy's cardinal.

Lily's cardinal after seeing mommy's cardinal and then deciding she needed to redo hers!

Luc's cardinal.


  • Practiced studying a bird and trying to draw it realistically. The kids enjoyed this as the best part of the week both weeks and they loved using their new colored pencils!
  • Looked through The Living World of Audubon by Roland C. Clement to see samples of Audubon’s work and read journal entries.
  • Used Nature Book to Color to color different birds realistically.
  • Read Henri, Egg Artiste by Marcus Pfister and had fun discussing the “real” art used on the eggs. Good picture study for the kids.
  • Used Art For Kids: Drawing in Color by Kathryn Temple to practice drawing an egg and working on how to shade and how light hits an object.

Gabe's Woodpecker.

Lily's Woodpecker - probably my favorite of hers! Makes me giggle whenever I see it!

Lily's Bluebird.


  • Kids played with The Bird Songs Anthology by Les Beletsky almost daily.
  • Listened to  music CD For the Birds full of bird folk songs, poetry, and bird calls!


Language Arts

  • Lily – in Language Arts Lessons book: review of sentences and punctuation; copywork (manuscript practice); phonics practice; poetry reading; reading practice
  • Gabe – in Language Arts Lesosns book: pronouns, paragraphs,  initials and abbreviations (also used his history narration in practicing editing and when to use pronouns and paragraphs properly in real-life writing); review of plurals, adjectives, adverbs, and capitilization; copywork in cursive; poetry reading
  • Luc – phonics practice with mom in the Blue Book; Kumon cards


  • Lily – Filling in 100’s chart (partially blank 3x, all blank 3x); Math U See chapter 21 – addition of missing number
  • Gabe – Math U See chapters 19 and 20 – skip counting and multiplying by 8

Latin – Gabe

  • New words: sed, via, porto, quid, tuba, ager, paro
  • Review of flashcards.

Independent Reading

The smell of clean

What does clean smell like?

To me it smells like fresh cut lemons and the scent of newly fresh spring air breezing through open windows.

That is what I want my kitchen to smell like everytime I clean it. And, ppsstt,  I have the secret: Palmolive dish soap (the cheap, old-fashioned $1 green bottle), lemon oil, rosemary oil, water and a spray bottle.  When mixed together, this wonderful concoction cleans, deoderizes, and sanitizes all kitchen/bathroom surfaces. It is my all-time favorite all-purpose cleaner. The Palmolive cuts through grease and food particles, the oils act as an antibacterial/antimicrobial agent, the water and spray bottle dilutes and spreads the cleaning agents to a large surface area.

I made a fresh batch today and cleaned up after lunch and just stood there inhaling clean.

So easy to make. Just put a few drops of Palmolive soap into a spray bottle, add about 10 drops of essential lemon oil and 5 drops of essential rosemary oil, fill spray bottle with water and shake. Easy as pie! Less then a minute to whip up and you won’t find greener or cheaper cleaning than this (a small bottle of essential oil will last you a whole year of cleaning)!

Try it today! You’ll be glad you did.