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!

Well, <h1> (in html) used to strike me. But i do html with ease <h1> is heading (h) 1! I started with javascript, went to python, then to html, then css. 4 languages fast I enjoy this. You should too, or at least try to!

If you learn other languages like java, python, or css first. But it’s very wise to start with python. And how did I learn it? You will say “of course” but, i used python for kids! Its not just for kids. Adults find it fun! They find it most fun doing it with their kids! (the kids think it is very very very fun with parents too!)

I hope you find yourself telling everyone else this:

(you don’t need to read all this, its the same thing up there! 🔝🔝🔝)

“Well, <h1> (in html) used to strike me. But i do html with ease <h1> is heading (h) 1! I started with javascript, went to python, then to html, then css. 4 languages fast i enjoy this. You should too, or at least try to! If you learn other languages like java, python, or css first. But its very wise to start with python. And how did i learn it? You will say “of corse” but, I used python for kids its for adults to! Trust me! Do it with your kids and both of you find this activity fun!”

We spent some time at the Museum of Science and Industry in Tampa yesterday. One topic of discussion this morning was the high-wire bike, and why the kids woule never ever go on it.

We did a little science project about center of mass and how it affects balancing, and now they can’t wait to ride!


Amidst all of the adorable back to school pictures our friends posted on various social media, these were ours:

11953314_10153545551544727_8293208923135990811_oYep, THIRD graders! (Who haven’t seen the inside of a classroom since preschool)
These are the days I need to remember when the going gets tough!

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.

We had an exciting performance experience just sa our summer is wrapping up. The crew is signed up for a week of summer musical camp at our church. A couple of weeks before that began our music director send around a message asking if we could get a group of children together to sing our National Anthem at a baseball game… the following Sunday!

We did, the kids rehearsed hard, and they had a marvelous experience (as did I, videographer & assistant kid-wrangler) going “backstage” at the stadium and then out onto the field to sing in front of a sellout crowd. Take a look!


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.

I spent the past week at a church music workshop. The week’s theme was grace, which gained (along with several new humorous definitions from our youth team) new depth of meaning for me.

As we rehearsed our choral music each day, we received the gift of grace, not from God this time, but from a man. Kevin, our choral director and a Black man, stood in front of a room full of middle-aged-and-up White people, and he gave us _his_ music. He gave us a wonderful hymn set in Gospel style by Rollo Dilworth. He even gave us a spiritual arrangement commissioned in memory of his mother. He led us through these songs, along with the other selections for the week, teaching us the nuances of the style and doing his best to infuse into us a little bit of “chocolate” understanding: the rich history and meaning in every word, every note, every syncopated beat. He taught us, without a hint of irony, about the origin of Negro spirituals passed along in the oral tradition and sung unaccompanied out of necessity by slaves in the fields.

When we weren’t singing or attending workshop sessions, Kevin became a newfound friend to many of us. We worshipped together and we broke bread together. We talked, and joked, and laughed for hours.

Then, halfway through the week, the news from Charleston. While our group of church musicians were enjoying fellowship late into the evening, a young White man was invited into fellowship at a Black church. Instead of appreciating the grace he was shown, he murdered nine of the people who had welcomed him.

The next day, Kevin stood before us once again with a smile on his face. He showed love and grace to a room full of White people, many born and raised in the South at a time when he wouldn’t have been allowed to go to the same school, eat at the same table, or use the same restroom as they did. He shared his history with us, he shared similarities and differences between us, and he shared the memory of his mother through his stories about her. I felt truly privileged to take in not only his masterful instruction in choral technique, but also to receive his music, Black music, songs that were born of the cruelty that White people inflicted upon other human beings. Thursday evening at our talent show, we got to see two Black girls, who were part of our youth music camp, perform sacred dance in a style we would probably never see in a White church. They shared with us not only their talents, but also their culture and their spirituality.

Friday morning — Juneteenth, as it happened — we performed our closing concert. As we began Dilworth’s “I Sing Because I’m Happy”, Kevin looked a little worried. Once we got into it, he was smiling. When it ended, he turned to the audience and said, “Now _that_ was a chocolate experience!” I can’t imagine a greater compliment he could have given us at that moment. On our trip home, I learned that the Charleston victims’ families spoke of their forgiveness and God’s grace when facing the man who murdered their loved ones.

The terrible juxtaposition of love and hatred during this week brings me to this: I am sorry.

I apologize for my own unthinking, uncaring words. They were born not from hatred but from ignorance, but that’s a lousy excuse. I apologize for the times I have heard and seen the hateful or ignorant speech and actions of others but have remained silent. I apologize for my part in creating a world where a White person can grow up thinking that the sort of hatred and violence we saw last week, and in so many other times and places, are OK.

I cannot fix the past, but I can do my part in fixing the future. I will continue working to remedy my ignorance. I will speak up when I see it in other White people. My children will learn that hate is never OK, and that they have the same responsibility to carry that message into the world, to educate themselves, and to speak up against intolerance and ignorance.

The pencils. Oh, the pencils. I had no idea that homeschooling would involve purchasing pencils by the hundred.

Here is my son’s starting pencil lineup for a math page this morning.

He drops pencils on the floor like I’ve greased them before laying them out in the morning. The time spent bending over, hunting for the fumbled implement, attempting to grasp it with his toes, getting settled back into his seat, and similar maneuvers means that his math work stretches on to very near the end of my patience. That’s before the bathroom trips, drinks of water, banging some body part on the edge of the table, or perceived offense from a sister.

I try to minimize some of the distraction by having a ready supply of replacement pencils and handing him another when I hear one hit the floor. I am amazed at how quickly a pencil can go from the table, to this boy’s hand, to the floor without ever touching his schoolwork paper!

Between the dropping, the tapping, the poking into erasers, the overzealous sharpening, and the growing-legs-and-wandering-off, we go through a lot of pencils. I’ve become something of a connoisseur. Decorative pencils, while fun for the kids, are usually round. Round pencils roll off the table very easily. The designs are sometimes printed on a plastic wrapper, which gets mangled in the pencil sharpener and gives fiddly kids one more thing to distract them from their work. Cheap pencils break easily, resulting in freshly sharpened pencils that fail the moment they are touched to paper. There are so many of these that I give each pencil point a little wiggle test after sharpening; about 25% lose the end of their lead and need to be sharpened again. High quality pencils are well worth the small difference in price. Nothing beats good old bright yellow Dixon Ticonderoga wood pencils. They’re sturdy, the erasers work, and the flat sides mean they stay put on the school table.

Sometimes I even splurge for the Pre-sharpened Dixon Ticonderogas! Especially when we’re out and about, it’s so nice to pull out a pencil that is not only perfectly sharpened, but with a shallow angle on the point such that it doesn’t break easily floating around in my bag.

Speaking of sharpening, I don’t know what I would do without my pair of heavy-duty electric pencil sharpeners (plug-in, not battery). One for me (Staples “Power Pro – works great, but the next one I buy will have a larger bin for the shavings and not spill as much when I empty it), and one for the kids to use. Tip: if you can’t bolt it down, get an upright model for the kids so that they are pushing the pencil down into the sharpener instead of pushing the sharpener across the table.