Inside the Mommyvan

Homeschooling & Life Inside the Mommyvan - an old dog learning new tricks


My kids, like my husband and I, are fascinated with anything that has to do with outer space. We kicked off our school year with a star party at Kennedy Space Center during the Perseids meteor shower, and the educational activities that UF Astronomy students provided really inspired me to find ways to make science more interesting this year.

One thing that really caught the attention of my crew during the KSC visit was that a few different people talked about the “Mars generation” — that the first astronauts to travel to Mars are, right now, kids around their age. I thought I’d capitalize on this surge of interest, and a little poking around on NASA’s websites found a page chock full of Mars resources for educators. The main Mars Exploration site is another good starting point, and NASA’s main educational resources page if you have interests outside of just the red planet.

You’re in training, I told them. If you want to be the first humans on Mars, now is the time to start learning all you can about your mission. They’re eating it up. Even when it’s about side topics like what’s up with all those GPS satellites?

A big hit has been the Surviving and Thriving on Mars [PDF, 5.3Mb] activity booklet. Color printing makes a striking front-and-back cover page holding 16 (B&W) pages of games, coloring, puzzles, and Mars facts.

Destination: Mars [PDF, 1.1Mb] from Johnson Space Center has activity guides for teachers/parents and worksheet pages for students on everything from orbital dynamics to imaginary Martians.

I loved the Mars Match game [PDF, 4,2Mb] from the Phoenix Mars Mission robotics lessons page. We got into a great discussion about how scientists can figure things out about places we can’t get to ourselves from images alone, and what other types of data they use to answer questions about what might be happening on planets in our solar system and elsewhere!

If you have access to Discovery Education videos, Red PlanetRover [43 min.] is a great addition to these activities, following the Curiosity rover and the NASA engineering and science teams through the first 200 days of its mission.

Science is, for me, the easiest subject to make into interesting learning that they maybe don’t even realize is schoolwork, but it still takes some imagination and some preparation. NASA has a wealth of resources that make all of that even easier!

We all made lots of music on Christmas Eve!

This year’s summer musical camp at our church was twenty (soon-to-be) 3rd through 6th graders performing a 45-minute musical with a great message. They had some time before the camp week to rehearse their lines and the songs, and in 5 mornings they learned all of the choreography, polished the show, and performed it that Friday evening.

Each child had at least a couple of lines plus a solo in one of the songs. A couple of the older kids had bigger parts, and we had one of our youth volunteers playing the “coach” – he did a terrific job!

We are truly blessed to have so many wonderful music experiences at our church, with a music director who loves kids and is so versatile in her talents.


I don’t art very well, so my kids attend summer camp at a local fine art center each year. This morning a local news station was there. My youngest had a moment in the spotlight, but was too busy to give the interviewer much.

My husband, ladies and gentlemen:

Living the meme

To the women in my life, past and present, who do not have children this Mother’s Day: I honor you today, and thank you for mothering me in your own ways and helping me become the Mama I am today.

You were role models and cheerleaders through my career in a field dominated by men. You showed me what fulfilling independent lives looked like when my own future was unclear. You gave me hope and comfort during my journey to motherhood. You allow me to enjoy your lives vicariously, with tales of travel, adventures, career paths, and other things that I traded in for my life as a full-time mother. You give me perspective and clarity from a point of view that isn’t so intertwined with little developing personalities. You care for, and about, my children with love and kindness.

Whether this is a day of happiness, sadness, or indifference for you, know that this grateful Mom appreciates you today.


I’ve spent quite a bit of time pondering what, if anything, I wanted to write about this issue. The thought that keeps coming to the front of my mind is this: They will know we are Christians by our LOVE.

For those who haven’t heard this news, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), of which I am a member, last week altered its constitution to define marriage as involving “a unique commitment between two people, traditionally a man and a woman, to love and support each other for the rest of their lives.” I wrote much of what’s below as a comment on a friend’s post, but I would like to give it a wider audience.

Our interpretation of God’s word can’t help but be influenced by our culture. As that culture changes so do our interpretations (just in recent years: slavery, women in church leadership; before that the Reformation that brought about the Presbyterian church).

Even more important is that as Presbyterians we realize that where we disagree on some particular interpretation, love and grace mean allowing that we might be mistaken, that no one in this world has all the answers. That the greatest commandment means accepting our brothers and sisters in Christ fully, as they are, and leaving the judgment to God.

We accept people who lie, people who harbor jealousy, even people who have been divorced and remarried (adultery, according to scripture). We accept many who flub one or more of the Ten Commandments, not to mention other less definitive instructions in the Bible. Every person sitting in the pews, every couple married in our church, all of us are sinners.

Now, finally, we as a church are accepting fully those whose most cherished, committed earthly relationship happens to be with someone of the same gender. If it turns out that one belief or another is wrong about if and to what magnitude this is sinful, aren’t we better off erring on the side of love and compassion?

I posted a quip on Facebook today, something about tallying the number of times my kids said “I hate you” during a tired and difficult day of homeschooling. A few of the responses my friends posted got me thinking beyond the shared mom-joke of ruining our kids’ lives (according to them) by simply carrying out our parental duties.

On our family’s checklist of daily expectations, one item for all three kids is to use gentle hands and kind words. Showing repect to adults as well as their peers is also a requirement. Those are easy things for a parent to say, but have I ever taught my children how to do those things in the midst of frustration, disappointment, or jealousy? Heck, I have trouble when emotions flare not saying things I’ll later regret; how reasonable is it for me to expect a 7 year-old to consistently exercise appropriate restraint?

Being taken outside to spend some time surrounded by nature, without toys, was one childhood experience shared by a friend. For my crew, nature is full of toys so I’m not sure that would lead to the introspection I’m shooting for here. The idea, though, I like. Find a quiet, private place where a kid can sit with their feelings, reflect on their words and actions, and begin to understand what emotions are behind that impulse to say or do something hurtful.

Once they have a chance to figure that out, perhaps it will be easier in the future to verbalize the real feelings instead of lashing out. For my part, I’ll have to remind myself to validate and respond to those feelings, once they’re figured out, with something positive. I may not be able to fix the source problem, but I can certainly reward the effort to redirect an outburst appropriately.

Journaling has never been of much use to me, but perhaps it will be for them. Perhaps a blank book where they can write or draw what happened, how they feel, or just let out the negative onto paper instead of directed at someone else. Not a requirement, but a tool they can learn how to use if it’s helpful.

I’ll be gathering resources and giving this a try, stay tuned for an update on how it works down the road.

The latest addition to our point system is a new set of prizes, and they’ve been a huge hit!

In the clearance bin at a local craft store, I found some packages of reward cards made for this purpose, with a blank to write in the prize and scratch-off stickers to place on top. The hidden rewards include choosing dinner, staying up 30 minutes late, picking a show to watch on the big TV in the living room, and baking something with Mom.


You can find tutorials online, like this one at The Dainty Squid, to make your own; you’ll need acrylic paint, liquid dish soap, and clear packing tape. I’ve heard of people using a heavy coat of crayon over the tape as well.

Simpler is to buy online: has a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. I am using a couple of different 2″ x 1″ rectangular stickers (links below) and, although they are smaller than the ones in the kits, they are easier to scratch off and come off much more cleanly.


With some index cards (or cardstock) and my own fun stickers, I now have a nearly endless supply of surprise prizes. The kids are as excited about the mystery as the reward itself!

They made their own! (Sorry, the post title popped into my head and I couldn’t help myself)


We have a basket of fabric remnants, ribbons, pipe cleaners, and other embellishments that the kids can use for crafts or whatever else they want. The girls love to create their own costumes; sometimes they even put on a show using what they’ve made.

This is an activity I don’t ever suggest, they pull it out when they are feeling inspired. The fabric all goes back into the basket afterwards, so they do all of this knowing that their creations are temporary (I do try to get a photo or two of the finished product, though).