Five STEM Activities to Do With Your Kids to Get Them Unplugged

Heart for Home School has just completed our 2nd Annual STEM Boot Camp for Middle School students!  We had a lot of fun-filled hands-on activities.  Our goal was to introduce the idea of STEM-related careers and encourage parents to help keep their young students motivated throughout the year by continuing with STEM-based learning.

I thought the perfect finish to our ten-week camp is an article written by a guest blogger. Her name is  Shenek Alston, and she is a native of SC,  but now resides in NC with her husband and her three children, and is soon expecting a fourth child.

Enjoy this article, chock full of encouragement, ideas, and tips.

Is your child engaged with some type of electronic device for hours a day or at least more than you think they should?  Would you like to learn a few tips to help you encourage your child to spend less time on their device while also integrating STEM activities?  Keep reading to find out the five different things you can do with your children offline.

Here are 5 STEM activities you and your children can do:

Compete in a contest where they have to invent their own toys.  You can supply each child with a box of supplies and let their imaginations run wild.  The great thing about this idea is that they can play with the toy later. To make a toy with a moving part, check out a video posted by those at
Challenge your children to make different flavored honey.  My kids enjoy going to a local Farmer’s Market to purchase flavored honey sticks.  Have your kids research the health benefits of honey, and then let them try their hands at flavoring the honey in different ways.  Remember, take a trip to the library to have your children do research instead of looking for information online.
Play chess with your child.  If they don’t know how to play chess, first teach them the game.  Playing chess involves problem-solving and developing strategies.
Have your children design and make their own kites.  Experiment with different shaped kites and kites made out of different materials.  Get some of their friends involved and afterward take the group to a park to fly their kites.
Fill a container with jelly beans or some type of candy.  Have your child try to guess how many jellybeans are in the container.  You can also use this as a time to talk about volume and to introduce them to statistics.
Try to plan a time at least once a week to do a STEM  activity with your child and be unplugged for while.  There are loads of STEM activities on Pinterest. If you want to do some STEM activities with a certain learning objective, check out my blog post  “STEM With Purpose:  5 Things to Expose Your Budding Engineer To.”  In this blog post, I list 5 things my brother (an MIT Mechanical Engineering graduate) suggests exposing a child to who is interested in engineering.  Let’s be intentional and make time to help our kids become more unplugged.

Many children spend a lot of time watching television, using tablets or phones to watch movies, or to play games.  I believe if they are properly engaged, they would have fun doing other activities, Try to make it a habit to regularly do screen-free fun  with your children (I’m talking to myself as well.)  It can be SO easy to stick a tablet in our kids’ hands, but engaging with them in person can lead to memorable quality time.

Despite her busy schedule as a homeschool mom, one of her recent endeavors is writing a STEM-themed fiction book for children called Anna, Kid Engineer, the first in what she hopes will become a series of STEM-themed children’s books.  Shenek has a Ph.D. in Statistics and enjoys spending time with her family and attending church.  Find her blog at :



Keys to Effectively Communicating with Your Children

We’ve all learned as adults that communicating with others is not just important, it is necessary. Whether we do it well or only effectively, to have our basic needs met, or function in a work environment or with our family at home, there must be some form of communication.

From a very early age, our children learn their basic communications skills from us. Encouraging them to talk with us, and the freedom to talk about any subject no matter how uncomfortable will pay off down the road as they begin growing up and trying to navigate life more independently of mom and dad. Conversations with your teens and young adult children do not have to hit an impasse if you build a strong foundation for spending time together talking and discussing matters both small and great. Verbal and non-verbal communication are equally important, but we will focus on verbal communication skills to strengthen, energize and enliven your ability to stay connected with your child.

Today I will share three of seven keys, I’ve found worked well for me and my children.

  • Make talking a part of the daily routine

When we are intentional about spending time talking with our child(children) consistently, it becomes easier to deal with difficult subjects as they arise. Set aside time to talk with your child each day.

This will help to offset the times when busy schedules or crises may use up our available time.

  • Sometimes, the conversation may go longer than at other times

Sometimes, there may not be much to say. That’s okay, the point here is to make time to chat regularly.  This will help to head off forced interactions, allowing both you and your child or children opportunities to develop a relationship with spurts spontaneous growth or set the pattern for planned conversations: after meals, before bedtime, or throughout the day.

  • A silent mouth and sympathetic ear

As parents, we are inclined to try and fix our children’s problems.   We want to prepare the road for the child rather than preparing the child for the road.  Learn to listen without offering an immediate solution to help your child to develop the skills needed to problem solve and work through whatever is bothering them.  I remember once while giving a presentation, a mom offered a comment about a situation that had recently taken place with her teenage daughter.  The mom had noticed her daughter was feeling a little down or discouraged, and asked: “what was wrong?”  The daughter respectfully answered that she wasn’t ready to talk about it yet, she just needed some time to figure a few things out.  “Plus mom, she offered “whenever I tell you about a problem you jump right in and start trying to help me figure it out and this time I need to do that for myself.” May I come to you if I can’t or once I do to make sure I’m on the right track?”  What a wise mother to know she needed to give her daughter some space.

Be sure to follow this blog to learn more about communicating with our children and how the four other keys helped us to stay connected and keep our communication open.


Connect the D.O.T.S (Days of Teaching School)

Can you relate to experiencing days when your efforts to create a positive, peaceful, and pleasant environment in your home school seems to suddenly get out of control and remain there? Most moms do—sooner or later.

As a veteran home school mom, I realize the success of my home school was dependent on my ability to visualize the big picture of successful home schooling or rather my idea of it being successful but not perfect.

With the sometimes overwhelming responsibilities and activities that make up our day, we’ve got to connect them in a salient way that makes sense for our family.

Connect the Dots” as it relates to home school is keeping our goals, bonding, teaching, listening, and time for ourselves all in balance or connected with what we do daily. At the same time, we hope to avoid disconnects throughout our other many roles.

Oh, I know, people often paint an unrealistic picture of the home schooling mom—confronting us with comments like “You must be really patient,” or “I’m not that smart or gifted,” or “You must really love being around your kids all of the time.” Can we just be completely real and admit that this is not the case all of the time, nor is it 100 percent correct by any stretch of the imagination?

There are those days where patience or the lack thereof causes us to disconnect from our desire to teach or, from the children’s standpoint, to learn anything.

In all the many ways we can become disconnected, half the battle, as the saying goes, is realizing and admitting that we are starting to disconnect, or have already disconnected, and as a result are willing to do something about it.

In either case, we simply need to regain our focus, re-visualize that picture of our ideal home school, and keep our end goal in mind!


Staying Connected



I recently traveled across the country to St Louis, Missouri.One morning while sitting in the dining area of the hotel I was staying in and enjoying my breakfast, I watched the comings and goings of groups of individuals and families.  I must admit that I am a confirmed and addicted people watcher.

It didn’t take long for me notice at least two or three devices in hand among each of the parties I observed. My attention was particularly drawn to a young mother of an eighteen-month or two-year-old child who she had seated in her lap. He was trying his best to feed himself. They were sitting at the table right next to me and, I think because he is a little boy, he immediately began his antics of trying to capture my attention by waving a spoon wildly and making a mess with his bowl of oatmeal. Moreover, his actions were those any little child would use just to say, “Hey, look up, I’m here!” However, I didn’t think that it was necessarily my attention he was trying for but that of his mom’s.

Although he was seated in her lap, she was also holding her phone.  Perhaps she was checking Facebook or email, maybe sending a text, but she never looked up to see me waving at her little boy. Her eyes never left the phone, even as I answered him with a little laugh and a “Hi there, how are you; what are you doing?” just to engage him a little bit.  She did smile to let me know that she heard the interaction, but our eyes never met.

While this is not a rush to judgment, I found myself wondering what causes families to disconnect.  Could our attraction and attachment to our devices be part of the reason for our disconnection from family members around us? Of course, I couldn’t tell if this mom was a single parent who perceived the need to break away from the reality of all the demands of a toddler and spend some time catching up with far-away friends or family.  Maybe she had just decided to come  to breakfast to feed the boy so Dad could sleep in a little bit, but the part that drew me to look over her way, of course, was the little boy.

How well I remember the advice I was given as a young mom—to cherish my time with my little ones because the years with toddlers are fleeting.  Time seemed to stand still, though, because my days were often filled with endless piles of laundry, dishes, housekeeping, and the constant running behind a little one. In between chores and the ongoing list of things to do, there were also those very special moments—even after so many years still dear to me—that happened with our children that occur only once or rarely or as a matter of development stage by stage, like taking a first step or the first tooth. Those are great occasions. There are also, however, the special times when our children are attempting to interact with us for no other reason but to divert our attention from electronics to their pointing fingers to show a flower or a bug or just them being silly.   And it’s so easy to miss it if we are involved with our devices and social media to the point of distraction.  How ironic that the very purpose of our devices and social media is to help in connecting friends and family together, but without intentionality, it can ultimately be the very thing that disconnects us from our immediate circumstances and our family.

So treasure the moments and watch for those small events that are happening to your children when you least expect it. You’ll be glad you did!

School Them

I’d like to share with you a poem from my friend and fellow blogger Julie Lynn. View more of her writing here.

We were a home school family for over a dozen years.  It was an exciting lifestyle.  All three of our children learned to be strong, confident, and adventurous.  The wonder of exploration continues well beyond graduation.

 School Them

Cultivate the desire to learn.

Carefully place seeds of curiosity.

Nourish cravings with a compost

of uncommon possibilities.

Saturate strengths

and safeguard steps of faith.

Reap what is sown.

Enjoy the crop.

Cherish each season.

                                  Julie Lynn   

Buried Treasure

Buried Treasure

You may have noticed that home schools often have a certain bent in the focus of the learning that takes place. Some schools lean more towards missions and service, others are heavy in math or science, some focus on classical learning. We home educators tend to be a fairly eclectic bunch.

Our family seemed to be more interested in history, with no specific time period.  We just enjoyed learning about all things history. So, much of our studies, field trips, and projects centered around history lessons.  It’s actually not a hard goal to reach when you base your classes on unit studies as I did, because it was just easier with our having six students, from K- 5.

We tended to be a pretty contented lot, yet some teaching days were much more difficult than others.

For instance, in my early novice years of home schooling, at the end of the week, we would often have a 15 minute exercise I called “fast facts.”  This is where each student would take turns and state one fact that they had learned during our week’s lessons based on a question I asked them.  They only had a 5 second delay allotted for responding to the question. That generally was a lot of fun, went well, and left me feeling pretty good about my teaching and their learning. Yep, I basically considered it some sort of ‘affirmation’ of the progress and eventual success of our home school. Little did I realize, I had it all wrong. I continued along this unrealistic merry little path of ‘what my students know shows what a great teacher I am,’ until one day, I was stopped short during a fast fact round.

We’d been studying the Revolutionary War, and as we ended the week on a very successful note, I made the announcement for starting the ‘Fast Fact’ rounds.  As was our routine, we clapped and cheered.  Now, they may have been cheering because it signaled the end of the school week, but I was cheering because they were going to recite fast facts – hmmm.

At any rate we were zipping right along, then I asked the question that gave me a reality check.  “Which war did George Washington fight in?”  One of my older students, who had some processing challenges, proudly answered with a happy smile on his face: “the Vietnam War.”  Slightly stunned, I asked him again slowly ( after all I didn’t have to ask the question quickly, they just had to answer quickly) “What‘s -the-name-of-the-war-George-Washington-fought-in ?   This time, I read a slight bit of confusion on his face as he slowly repeated, “the-Vietnam-War?”  Surely he read the disappointment on mine. I gave him the right answer and then we moved on.  As I reflected back over the day, I wondered what had gone wrong?  Every one of the students knew the correct answer was the Revolutionary War except him. About that time I caught a glimpse of him hanging around the house while the others were outside playing. I walked over and gave him a hug.  He said, “Mommy, I’m sorry I didn’t get the question right today, but I know some other things, wanna hear?”  As I listened to him telling me what else he knew about the American Revolution and then other interesting non-subject related facts, I understood immediately the lesson I was learning. I had discovered a treasure trove of knowledge in my son’s heart, waiting to be uncovered.

I realized that, while I had rested on my laurels at the end of each week by having the children recite facts to the questions I asked, I was missing the greatest treasure of all, allowing them opportunity to share with me what they’d discovered, or wanted to learn more about. Ouch! I had placed too much emphasis and priority on teaching, and, therefore, became unbalanced and unable to realize that it’s not just their brains that are involved in our home school, but their hearts as well.  What a treasure to tap into, while becoming all the richer as a family.


Standardized Testing Is Not the Standard

In my state, arrival of spring time signifies the start of standardized testing for hundreds of home school students. The CAT, IOWA, Woodcock-Johnson, ACT, PSAT, and SATS, etc., will be strewn across desks and tables in homes, churches, gyms, and any other venue available to home school groups for test taking.

The beginning of this major season for test taking-denotes the seemingly unavoidable stresses for parents, who want their students to produce results supportive of the long and laborious hours of teaching. Tensions are also felt by students who may not test well, or hate the test-taking period. In either case, the subject of testing sometimes is not a pleasant one.

In general, there are a few things to do ahead of test-taking to help avoid most of the stresses waiting to overtake your otherwise peaceful mindset. Ensuring your student has paid attention in class, studied, and completed assignments, testing should go well.

Here are a few tips from the chapter on testing in my book “Take Heart 26 Steps to a Healthy Home School (Amazon, Barnes & Nobles, as well as Apple iBooks. :

  • Prepare for the actual test day, whether your participate in group testing or test at home;
  • Curtail extra activities a few days early; and take control of your testing environment.
  • Help your child to relax. Remember your child’s attitude greatly affects his test performance.
  • If you’re testing at home and have young children, restrict their play area and play things to a certain area of the house to minimize distractions.

The test is not the summation of all your child knows. There are as many reasons students do not test well as there are students. Focusing on test results before, during, and after test-taking months may build undue stress in your student. Test results are not a judgment of your overall teaching ability, or the point at which you should begin to compare your home school with that perfect home school family who lives down the block. Understanding that and walking through this season in maturity, confidence, and balance to any pressure is the true test. Our character as teacher and actions as parent will speak the loudest to the anxious heart of our children during this time.

So relax, rest in the Lord with your continued commitment to let Him lead your home school, and leave the results to Him.