One more for geograhy

I recently blogged about the systematic way we teach geography in our homeschool, but I also wanted to share one activity we did at the beginning of our studies that was very fun and helpful.

I read the Grapefruit Lesson and thought it would be neat way to illustrate the idea that flat maps only approximate the way the world actually looks.

I wasn’t confident I could peel a grapefruit well enough to flatten it out into a “map” so I just took a little rectangular piece of paper on which I drew some continents and I asked Mackenzie to wrap my map around a tennis ball. She quickly ran into difficulty at the top and bottom, so we discussed how mapmakers try to account for that.

We then printed out a map (I think it was the one shown above), and I carefully cut it. Mackenzie and I worked together to fit it into a globe and tape it.

It’s a miracle our paper world survived, with Daniel’s curious hands nearby.

This appealed to my detail-oriented six year old and the lesson stuck with her. :)

Posted in Life as we know it | 1 Comment

Apple Picking with Daniel

Daniel recently turned 2. He is a sweet, mellow, and loving little boy and it’s been fun to watch his personality unfold bit by bit. I enjoyed reviewing the pictures I snapped last night as we made our annual pilgrimage to an apple orchard as a family.

Daniel would like me to come with him, wherever he goes. So if he takes off in one direction, it’s only a few steps before he turns and beckons me. “Tum,” he insists.

I find this absolutely irresistible.

In fact, sometimes I only “tum” a few steps just so he needs to turn around and beckon me again. :)

I’m not the only one powerless to resist this boy’s charms.

Mackenzie spent most of the time delighting Daniel with bumpy rides up and down the rows between trees.

This was helpful, because when Daniel wasn’t riding, he was determined to pick apples.

First, he’d carefully choose an apple and delicately remove it from the branch.

Every bit of stem or leaf must be picked off.

Then he would hold the perfect apple firmly in both hands and toddle slowly over to the bucket.


He’d slam dunk his apple and then hustle over to get another one.

My repeated instructions on the proper manner of placing apples fell on deaf ears. He loves loud sounds and it was too thrilling to hear those apples bang into the bucket.

A few more signature Daniel moves:

The Shrug

The Finding of the Only Piece of Trash in the Orchard

Sometimes I forget that the world looks different when you’re so close to the ground.

Caitlyn brought her personality to the orchard as well:

Before I realized that I hadn’t brushed anyone’s hair after naps, I had held out hope that I might get a shot at the orchard that would work on our Christmas card. My children are notoriously tricky to convince to look at the camera and smile… Here’s what my children looked like immediately after Scott said, “Look like a llama!” I’m pretty sure this photo is out of the running for the card, but it did make me a laugh.

Caitlyn jumped instantly into character, though her llama interpretation was admittedly a little loose. Mackenzie smiled with her eyes but is a tough egg to crack. Daniel clearly didn’t know what a llama was. :)

Posted in Life as we know it | 3 Comments

Teaching the Way I Wish I’d Been Taught: Geography

One of the things that attracts me to homeschooling is the opportunity it presents to learn things myself… beyond just patience and better organizational skills. :)

My own education was extremely weak in geography. I remember my older brother studying for a geography bee once, and I recall learning a song to help me memorize the names of all 50 states in my country in elementary school. Interestingly, I can still sing bits of the song that taught me the capital cities in Spanish during college but I can’t recall any larger, systematic instruction in geography at all in my 17 years of education.

A few years ago, I read The Core: Teaching Your Child the Foundations of a Classical Education and the chapter on geography grabbed my attention. I pondered how valuable it would be for my kids to have a map of the world in their heads.

Adding anything to our homeschooling schedule consistently is a big deal, but I concluded that the study of geography would indeed be worthwhile if it resulted in lasting, meaningful knowledge. I knew my approach would need to be systematic and “sticky”. Knowing odd bits of information isn’t nearly as helpful as having a firm grasp on the big picture (or map, in this case).

Scott and I decided to approach the study of geography in two different ways, which I’ll outline below. We added this subject about six months ago and it was humbling to realize how very basic my knowledge was.

Example: I’ve gone to Sunday School for nearly twenty years and never bothered to learn where Jerusalem was in relation to the Sea of Galilee or the Dead Sea. In fact, I realize now that I had been mentally glossing over all geographic references in the Bible because I didn’t have any context for them. I had to laugh when in 10 or 15 minutes of deliberate study I had internalized the major features of the Holy Land. Why hadn’t I ever bothered to do that before?

Example: I have talked about how amazing it would be to go to Thailand one day, but I would have been hard-pressed to point to Thailand on a map – seriously – or name any countries it borders. Again, this knowledge is readily available but I’d never bothered to acquire it until now.

I think that because I live in the information age, I have a sense that I can just “look up” anything I need to know but in reality, I rarely do and the moment of connection and insight has usually already passed by the time I get around to googling.

My kids and I been memorizing something by T.S. Eliot lately that reads, in part:
“Where is the life we have lost in living? Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”

I think the overabundance of information has actually reduced my individual knowledge base in many areas. (And the dilution of knowledge of what is truly good and beautiful undermines wisdom, but that’s another post for another day.)

In short, my anemic grasp on geography was embarrassing but like so many things in life, it was within my power to change. It’s been rewarding to see the improvement that I’ve made in competence so far.

Here’s how I teach (and learn) geography in our homeschool:

Mapping Memory Work

I have a ring of memory cards we’re continually adding to and the green ones are all maps. (I’ll write more on these memory cards in another post at some point.) These are based on the Classical Conversations Foundations memory work, but I modified them to fit our approach.

Front side:

The back side of the card has the map number marked in the corner:

We spend ~30 minutes on memory work cards every day. One day a week we devote that time to maps. We pull out our cards and flip to the green ones, and we get out our map binder. Mackenzie and I quiz each other on the locations we’ve learned previously and we add an additional card if we’re up for it. My girlie loves maps so we are almost always up for it. :)

My daughter gets to use dry erase markers and mark everything up. She colors the Red Sea red and the Black Sea black, traces the Ganges River, puts stripes on the Bay of Bengal… whatever helps her remember. She’s 6 and doesn’t know how to spell most of the places so she just marks them with a letter or two and gives many answers orally.

So far, we’ve learned the names and location of: the continents and oceans (these I did actually know beforehand :) ), eight rivers, the ancient cities of Antioch, Ephesus, Athens, Rome, Alexandria, Constantinople, Babylon, Jerusalem, and Carthage, the Upper and Lower Kingdoms of Egypt, Mesopotamia, Phoenicia and Sumer, the Kingdoms of Judah and Israel, the location of seven different seas, four different deserts, and many different countries.

I organized the geography cards to coincide with our history studies as far as possible so that we learn the names and places before we hear the stories.

Periodically, I change up the way we approach our 30 minutes, to make sure our knowledge isn’t linked to a specific map or the prompts from the cards. I’ll just point to a blank world map and ask Mackenzie to tell me what she knows. She’ll hunt for the Mediterranean Sea, for India or for China as a starting point and then from there her confidence will grow and she’ll point out all kinds of stuff.


I bought an earlier edition of The Foundations Curriculum Guide for $25 and used it as a reference for what to put on my memory cards. This was convenient but not strictly necessary. They have 72 chunks of geography written out, which was a helpful starting point for me, though I ultimately changed some up.

I bought several packs of these pre-drilled colorful cards at $3.50 each. I used my copy of WonderMaps ($35 on a great sale) to find and print maps that covered all the memory cards I chose. I numbered the maps, slipped them into page protectors and snapped them into a binder. I typed up, printed, cut and glued all the memory work onto cards. I then put the cards in order to loosely coincide with our chronological study of history, and put a map number on the back of each memory card.

After that initial effort months ago, we’ve just used it and enjoyed it. I anticipate learning the cards over 3-4 years and it’s locked and loaded so that I’ll be able to use with all my kids. I anticipate just starting over when we get to the end and it’ll be new for my younger kids and review for me and my oldest.

Incidentally, this is the pattern I naturally follow in building all of my curriculum… initial cost and effort but hopefully useful for many years to come.


I cannot count the number of times that our ears have perked up as the places we’ve memorized have been mentioned in books or conversation. When we read the Black Stallion aloud, we knew just where the Red Sea was and how Alec’s boat would have had to travel to get home. Just last night we listened to a children’s choir from South Korea (9:09) and Mackenzie jumped straight to the right spot on the map – in her head!

When we read history together and the chapter mentions traders from Phoenicia, for example, we already know where Phoenicia is on the map in our heads. The result is that we are immediately drawn deeper into the story with helpful context pre-loaded instead of being hung up on the mention of an unfamiliar place.

A knowledge of geography has already enhanced our studies of literature, current events, history, art, and much more.

I’m hooked.

Map From Scratch

Once a week, Mackenzie and I each grab a piece of scratch paper, a pencil, and a ruler and we draw a map of the world.

Here is a wipeable 11×17 map ($1.25) we often look at to help us make our own:

We started with a compass rose, the great circles and the prime meridian. When we became confident grid makers, we added Africa, then North America, and then South America. For this school year, my goal is to be able to make a map from scratch with all the continents very roughly outlined (basically blobs) and correctly positioned, without looking at an atlas. I usually start with drawing from my head then I check on a map and outline things in greater detail.

When we have the continent blobs down, my plan is to focus on one continent each year and draw and label countries, and several geographic features and major cities.

Here’s my freehand map from yesterday:

Mackenzie’s from last month:


As long as you have access to a map, a ruler, a piece of paper and a pencil, the setup on this is zilch.

Building this into our routine once a week means I don’t ever have to remember to make it happen. Because sitting down and drawing are actually relaxing and restorative, the net effort here ends up being negative for me. :)

There are lots of ways to approach this. A post here has you start by tracing an existing map, for example. This post lays out in video clips how a child learns to draw a world map from scratch. There are step-by-step instructions in the geography chapter of The Core as well.


Any way you do it, there are so many benefits:

- It’s fun. We sit down and draw and color and listen to beautiful music together. Even preschoolers and toddlers will want to jump in (and can, on their own level… scribbling with or consuming crayons).

- We get better at drawing. The ability to look at a larger map and transpose details onto a smaller paper increases with practice and it has carried over into our other artistic pursuits.

- We get better at focusing. For a 6 year old, sitting still and focusing intently on something for a period of time is great brain stretching. For a 30 year old, sitting still and focusing intently on something for a period of time is great brain stretching. :)

- We get a hard-won understanding of the relationship between different locations. Particularly as we get into a single-continent focus, we’ll learn which countries share borders and the relative size of different regions.


How about you? Did you get a good geography education yourself?

If you homeschool, does geography have its own place or is it taught along with other subjects?

Posted in Curriculum, Homeschooling | 1 Comment

Summer Harvest and Shots from Sunriver

Our garden is nearly non-existent this year. In fact, I planted three cherry tomato plants and called it good. But Salem has wild blackberries everywhere and we have a huge patch in our yard. We also make a point to hit the excellent farmers’ market every week this time of year and we look for opportunities to pick our own fruit.

One of the things I love about the way we eat is the variety and seasonality that naturally follows.

Here are some of the things I ate today:

- local zucchini

- local crookneck squash

- local eggplant

- red bell pepper

- local poblano pepper

- local fresh oregano

- local jalapeno pepper

- local tomatoes

- local corn on the cob (well, off the cob and pan-roasted, actually)

- Scott-picked local peaches

- Scott-picked local plums

- Scott-picked backyard blackberries

I’ve got a local cantaloupe and a watermelon on the counter, a fridge stuffed with local chard, local leeks, and an enormous head of local red leaf lettuce.

Thanks to the farmers’ market (with the exception of the poblano peppers) that local label means I got a better price than at a grocery store and the food is fresher. Yum.

Just 7 years ago I was a vegetable-hating fairly picky eater. Sometimes I have to pause and appreciate how far I’ve come. Change is possible! :)

In case anyone is curious, lunch was leftover ratatouille, except ours was not nearly as pretty as those pictures. My three year old and I just threw the veggies into the pan in layers like a lasagna. As usual, we made a boatload because I don’t like to cook every night! Dinner was this yummy pasta salad, but we doubled the herbs and halved the oil.

From Sunriver

Photo by Chris MacAskill
I loved this shot of my daughter and her grandpa, the ultimate healthy eater. My dad does plants. In fact, he might tie with the horse for leafy green consumption. Thank goodness because he has a strong family history of heart disease and his diet is keeping his arteries squeaky clean! We want him around a long time…

…even if he does try to break my stroller while delighting ten kids in one fell swoop. Count ‘em!
Photo by Meghan MacAskill

Photos by Chris MacAskill
Unlike my dad, we are happy aiming for 90% whole plant foods with our diet. We definitely indulge in a sprinkled cupcake now and then. :)

Photo by Meghan MacAskill

While in Sunriver for a SmugMug retreat, my dad and I hiked to the top of Mt. Bachelor. He usually swoops me off my feet like this for photos but right before this photo was taken, he also tossed me into the air. It totally caught me off guard!

Sometimes when I look around at what normal people are eating, I have to remind myself that my goal is to be abnormal.

My dad is 60 and thanks to a great diet and consistent, vigorous exercise, he’s in fantastic shape and totally smoked me up that mountain. That’s what I’m aiming for.

Posted in Healthy Eating, Life as we know it, Trips | Leave a comment

Three simple ways to have healthier teeth with a healthy diet

A healthy diet loaded with whole plant foods will prevent or reverse diabetes and heart disease. It prevents obesity and dramatically reduces your risk of many different kinds of cancers. (More on how we eat and why.)

However, it can actually harm your teeth.

It’s tempting to think that because you’re eating far fewer “sweets” and no soda, your teeth are protected from cavities. But there are several potential pitfalls even in a healthy diet.

Why I pay attention to our teeth

Dental health can impact your whole body, and it certainly impacts your wallet. Spending hundreds of dollars and hours of time sitting in a dentist chair is miserable, even if you like your dentist. I try to be diligent about brushing and flossing (we love our waterpik!) and I also keep my eyes open for anything else that may help.

Perhaps because we follow an alternative method of educating our children (homeschool!) and eat an alternative diet (plant strong!), we’re exposed to lots of alternative theories on dental health. I’ve read everything from eschewing root canals to drinking bone broth and avoiding fluoride. As far as I can tell, there’s very little data to support those practices (unlike the practice of eating an “alternative”, plant-based diet, for which there is an abundance of scientifically-sound data).

What you’ll see here is much more straight-forward. It’s backed by common sense and data, where possible.

Three simple ways to have healthier teeth with a healthy diet

1) Rinse, don’t brush, after eating acidic foods – particularly citrus fruit.

For more info on this, check out this short video over on, my favorite place for good science about diet. All the sources are cited below the video.


Photo Credit: cobalt123 via Compfight cc

2) Watch out for dried fruit.

Be aware of when you eat it. We eat raisins and dates or dried apples often for breakfast, and we generally brush our teeth in the morning ~30 minutes* after the meal, instead of before the meal.

We don’t snack on dried fruit between meals. Although dried fruits shouldn’t have added sugar, they are sticky and naturally sweet so they are bad news if you leave them on your them.

*I don’t look at a clock or anything, I just consciously put teeth brushing after our memory work and hair stuff, so it naturally falls a while after breakfast.

Photo Credit: (Mariam) via Compfight cc

3) After dinner, clean the kitchen and clean your teeth!

After dinner is my most common time to enjoy a treat. If I let that sugar sit on my teeth for hours afterwards until I’m ready for bed, or worse… engage in mindless munching until bedtime, it doesn’t help my health or my teeth. The reminder to “Clean the kitchen and clean your teeth!” that I picked up from one of Dr. Fuhrman’s books has helped me a lot.

As I explain to my kids, even if you take great care of your teeth… they still fall out sometimes. ;)

Posted in Healthy Eating, Life as we know it | 1 Comment

Things We Do (these days)

In my last post, I wrote about things we did in May. But I think as I look back on this season of life, I’ll treasure fewer of the special things we did during a certain month and more of what we do in regular life.

Here are some snippets I want to remember.

We Have Late Nights

My kids get the chance to earn a Late Night. It’s 15 or 20 minutes (depending on how many checkmarks they’ve earned) and they make the rules. It starts after their siblings go to bed and they can choose one or both parents to spend that time with and up to two activities to do.

On this night, Caitlyn picked running in the sprinklers with Daddy.

Scott was excited.

(I have dozens of great photos of this, but I am pretty sparing about the pictures I’ll post publicly of my kids when they are less than fully clothed. )

Mackenzie often chooses listening to me or Scott read aloud while she eats a big bowl of homemade banana ice cream (our favorite healthy treat… mmm).

We look adorable in our sleep

I can’t resist the cuteness of my kids sleeping.

We eat like kings (sometimes)

Scott still loves to cook. When he does, it usually takes a very long time and looks and tastes amazing. This is a kohlrabi salad that he and I ate around 11pm one night.

(For those keeping score at home, we don’t eat cheese very regularly but those are aged parmesan shaved triangles on top, along with sliced kohlrabi, apple, toasted hazelnuts and fresh mint.)

We dress up

At any given moment, there’s a good bet that at least one of our kids is wearing fancy shoes, a tutu, or a hat. Caitlyn, in particular, emerges from her closet wearing the most amazing combinations.

Dressing up like Daniel is a favorite pastime, since all three kids can wear his clothes:

One evening, the girls were having a hard time finding motivation to pick up the house and I commented that they needed a hero to help them.

They got one! Scott strode in to save the day wearing a cape and mask. He has a talent for voices and stayed completely in character, and when the room was clean he excused himself to go rescue someone from a burning building. Scott came back sans mask and cape several minutes later and claimed no knowledge of any hero. The girls ate it right up and I’m not sure I’ve ever loved my husband more. :)

We love our snuggly blankets

Daniel enjoys rubbing his cheek on his blanket. I melted the day he found it hanging out to dry and kept visiting it. :)

We especially like our snuggly blankets when we’re sad. Side note: Little kids get sad a lot. I had no idea before I became a mother.

We I occasionally take pictures of myself so my kids know I was there for their childhood

We lose teeth

Well, one of us does. The rest of us celebrate enthusiastically, lest the kids catch on to the fact that I’m secretly creeped out by the whole concept of losing teeth.

We play in the yard

We climb trees…

… and sometimes we get stuck.

We ride bikes. (We usually wear helmets, though! Not sure what happened here.)

See? Helmet. :)

Posted in Life as we know it | 1 Comment

Things We Did (in May)

Marathon in a Month

Mackenzie completed another Marathon in a Month (which she has done twice before).

New friends in Oregon added to the fun and even brought silly string to make the Final Mile more of a party. (Note: Silly string is not actually a party to clean off a rubber track.)

Caitlyn (3 1/2) was not quite ready to join this year, but she gamely lined up at the start line and accepted a popsicle at the end. :)

After realizing in her third season that she is not a big fan of soccer and having to stick it out until the last game anyway, it was really great for Mackenzie to focus on something she loves: running!

(Caitlyn’s medal was for finishing her reading lessons that same day!)

1/2 Marathon for Me

I signed up for my first long race since I became a mother! Since being pregnant with Mackenzie, I have never been able to run more than a mile at a time without pain, but I was determined to figure out what was wrong and get back to running. After over 7 years, I missed it.

So I committed to a race and with some trepidation and a trusty foam roller to help my IT band, I ran 2 miles on my first training run… and thought I might die. I was in good shape but not running shape and definitely not running on hills shape. Fast forward two months and many more hills, and I completed the Newport 1/2 Marathon in just under 2 hours, meeting my pie-in-the-sky time goal, and feeling like a million bucks because I was able to run without pain!

Caitlyn’s Joy School Graduation

I love Joy School but this may be the only official semester Caitlyn does. It was a bit tricky to work in with a consistent homeschool schedule so I think we may just adapt the lessons and hit the highlights in the future.

She loved it and graduation included singing adorable songs and wearing adorable caps. However, she wasn’t digging pictures that day and so most looked like this:

or this:

or at best this:

Though I laughed out loud when I saw this gem:

I’m pretty sure he was swatting her with the cap and there was certainly no kissing going on in that picture… but it sure looks like I’m wrong.

Caitlyn finishes her reading lessons!

This will need its own post at some point, but I wrote previously that my (first) three year old could read. Mackenzie is now 6 1/2 and I honestly didn’t intend to start her little sister on reading lessons quite yet… but sometimes I don’t follow my own plans. Caitlyn (3 1/2) finished lesson 100 in May and is becoming a great little reader.

This is one of the highlights of motherhood so far, seeing the world unfold to my children as they take off on reading.

Naturally, we danced to celebrate.

May was quite a month around here!

Posted in Homeschooling, Life as we know it | 1 Comment