Making a Model Cell Cake – Part 3

Back in 2011 (when the kids were 9, 8, and 4 years old) we first studied the structure of cells in biology and the kids first tried their hands at making various cell models, including a cake version of a plant cell. It was a big hit! The kids had a blast both making the project and eating it. Then in 2013, the boys’ science curriculum covered cells again and Katie joined them in the fun of making another cell cake, though the second time around it was a model of an animal cell.

Well, this time Katie’s science curriculum is tackling the subject of cells as the building block of life and guess what? Yep, since it has been five years since she tagged along on the boys’ science project and she didn’t remember much about the experience, she wanted to make the cell cake again, this time totally on her own and with no help from me. So, after strolling through the Japanese grocery store in our neighborhood to look for candy and cookies that resembled organelles, Katie got out the recipe for an easy yellow cake and built her model from the ground up. This time she went a step further from our past models and made labels for the cake as well. I think it turned out great and the taste was to die for! Here are a few photos of her project:

Seizing the Moment

Homeschooling, like any other educational style, has its pluses and minuses, ups and downs, joys and challenges. But one thing I really enjoy about how we do school is the freedom and flexibility in how we organize our homeschool day.

I like to be planned and have a schedule so at the beginning of each school year I always come up with a written schedule for each of our kids that I print out and put inside a clear plastic cover so each subject can be marked off with an erasable pen and then reused each week. This school year I thought I’d be super organized and I worked hard to plan the exact times for each class and when each person would be working on what subject throughout the day.

But in addition to being scheduled, I also like being flexible and I soon realized that those exact times aren’t all that useful for our family. Sometimes kids wake up really excited to work on a writing project or other subject and want to get started on that first. Bryan (who teaches algebra and geometry to the boys) often needs to plan his math class for the day around other commitments, which means algebra could start at 9 am one day and 9 pm the next. I used to feel discouraged and frustrated that I couldn’t get us to stick exactly to the schedule, but now I realize that our flexibility is actually one of our biggest strengths.

Each kid (and parent) in the family gets to help decide how each day will flow, depending on what we feel like tackling first. And we can also schedule impromptu breaks between subjects into the day, like a some jumping on the mini-trampoline to get the blood flowing again or a few minutes with Ethan watching his favorite nature show on YouTube, Brave Wilderness.

A couple of days ago, we had beautiful weather. The sun was shining gloriously in the cloudless sky and the ducks in the river next to our house we’re quacking away. After lunch Katie asked if she could take a quick break to go feed the ducks some bread. She came back a few minutes later and excitedly told us that she’d spotted a mother duck and her six ducklings swimming along in the water. So, Ethan and I hustled out to see if we could spot them too. We did and the three of us enjoyed a nice break from math and English together as we oohed and ahhed at their fluffy sweetness.

After a little while, the task master in me reappeared and I called us all in to get back to our regular studies, but I really enjoyed that nature break with my kiddos. We don’t do that as much as we did when they were little tykes, but I hope we remember to do it more from here on out. It felt great to seize the moment!


Bread in hand and on our way to find the ducks!


Mama duck and her ducklings



Trying to get a better view.


Heading home



This is our humble abode. It’s fun to live next to a river.

Hands-On Fun at Tochigi Prefectural Museum of Fine Arts

Today the kids and I had an open Saturday afternoon so we decided to use our free passes to the Tochigi Prefectural Museum of Fine Arts where a dear friend works.  We pedaled our bicycles through the blustery weather to the museum, which is only about ten minutes from our house.  After the kids goofed around a bit outside with the sculptures that decorate the grounds, we headed inside for a little art viewing.  Our good friend, Yumi, happened to be working that day so we got to ask her questions and hear her explanations about some of the art. Katie is the biggest art enthusiast of the family.  It was fun to see her looking closely at the art and even taking notes on which paintings she liked and why she liked them.

Highlights of the visit included seeing a painting by famous British artist J.M.W. Turner and getting to participate in some hands-on activities that helped the kids pay closer attention to works that are currently on display.  And it was fun to see our friend Yumi in action as well!  Then on the way home we stopped by the local convenience store for a little snack.  It was the perfect ending to an enjoyable day.

Here are some photos.  You can click on individual images to see them more clearly.



We Love Science!

If there’s any topic in our homeschooling that gets all three kids cheering, it’s science.  They all enjoy learning about the human body, animals, the microscopic world, dinosaurs, and space, especially when we are reading in our awesome Sonlight science books that have tons of great pictures.  But what REALLY gets them excited is the hands-on activities we do and the occasional field trips we take.  We live close to a great kids’ science museum so we often hop into the car to check out a new exhibit (the most recent one was about space) or pop up to the second floor where the museum staff always have neat crafts for the kids to do.  The last time we went, the craft was to create paper characters (called “Balance-kun”) who would balance on the characters made by other children and then get hung from the ceiling to decorate the second floor of the museum.  Another time, each child created one scale of a carp which was added to a giant carp craft that hung at the entrance of the museum.  It’s fun for the kids to come and see their artwork hanging where everyone can see it.  The museum also has a huge outdoor park area where we can rent funny bicycles for an hour and ride them around a track.  The last time we went, our whole family crammed into a car-like “bicycle” that was peddled from the back seat.

Our latest hands-on experiments at home have related to electricity.  The boys have built electrical circuits to light light bulbs and make a buzzer go off.  Bryan joined the fun recently to help the kids make a frog-themed maze with a buzzer and light attached. The kids take turns taking a paper frog across lilly pads, trying  to go from start to finish without making the buzzer go off.  If the buzzer sounds, it’s the next person’s turn until someone goes through the whole maze without setting off the buzzer and light.  Bryan helped the kids design the game so that the wires can be changed to create a new maze every time.

Bryan and the boys also recently had the opportunity to attend a fun science class for elementary school kids which was led by a BEST Club friend of ours.  The theme was electricity (which went perfectly with our science curriculum!) and the boys got to use a kit to build circuits to make a car go, power a fan, and set off lights and buzzers.  They also enjoyed creating a battery with a lemon (which Bryan was especially excited about!) 🙂

Another fun field trip for us was going to the Tochigi Prefectural Museum to see a special exhibit about dinosaurs.  They had tons of dinosaur skeletons and had a large exhibit about some Japanese scientists who went to the desert of Mongolia to dig up dinosaur bones.  It was interesting to see how the scientists lived during their time in the desert and to see details about what  dinosaur bones look like when paleontologists first find them and how they go about carefully digging them up.

Here are some photos of our various scientific endeavors. 🙂