Family, Fun & Homeschooling! Featuring Brenda from Counting Pinecones

Welcome back to Family, Fun & Homeschooling!  I am having so much fun with this series—I hope you are as well!  It has been such a joy to meet other homeschoolers who blog and share them with you.

F,F & H finchnwren.comThis week, my friend Brenda (another displaced Texan) from Schoolhouse Review Crew is sharing her family’s story with us.  Brenda blogs at Counting Pinecones, where she tells the story of her family and homeschool.  Like us, her family is wild about space.  You’re going to love getting to know this beautiful family.  Meet Brenda!

Brenda P real headshotTell us about your blog.   How did you come up with this very creatively-named blog?

My blog is Counting Pinecones which originally started as just a way for me to keep track of what type of activities we were working on in our homeschool as well as a way for our families to see their schoolwork.  Since we were a military family, we live a long ways from our families.  My family is in Texas and New York, my husband’s is in North Carolina and Indiana and right now we’re stationed in California.  Needless to say, we haven’t seen our families since we moved here 4 years ago, but we wanted a way for them to keep up iwth what the kids were doing each day and feel as if they were part of their lives.
Counting PineconesThe idea for the name came from my son who is special needs (Einstein’s syndrome).  He had this huge fascination with collecting all the pine cones he could find and would play with them for hours on end.  At one point, we had so many pine cones in our house so when we started homeschooling, we used them as counters….  And so Counting Pinecones was born.

Do you have a favorite blogging topic that you return to again and again?

Not typically.  My brain is wired so crazy that I can’t remember what I blogged about two days ago.  At first, my blog read more like a diary.  Now it’s all over the place with anything from a recipe I feel like sharing that day, pictures of the desert sunsets and homeschooling stuff.  I’ve only been blogging for about 8 months (and only actively so in the last 3), so I’m still trying to find the direction I want to go with it and figure out what works.  I’m willing to be in another 8 months, it will be totally unrecognizable from what it is at this point as I figure out the style that works best for me.  Also, the kids are young and are learning reading and writing—you can only blog, “Hey, the kids wrote a sentence today!” so many times.  As they get past the basics and we start working on the really exciting school stuff, then I will probably have topics and themes that I will visit multiple times.

brenda prince son and daughter

Tell us about your family.  How did you and your husband meet?  And what would you like to share about your children?

Our family is a blended family consisting of my husband (Charles), myself, my 15-year-old daughter from my previous marriage, our 8-year-old son and our 6-year-old daughter.  Charles and I actually met online and have been together for 10 years and married for 8.  We were married on the 4th of July so I always joke that if he forgets our anniversary, he’ll really see fireworks. 😉  Charles is 10 years younger than I am and is currently serving in the U.S. Air Force as an avionics specialist on the F-22.  He’s been in for 5 years now.  Prior to that, we lived in Michigan where he was the stay-at-home dad and I was the working breadwinner, so the roles have been reversed.  alyssa head shotAlyssa, our 15-year-old, is currently a sophomore in the public school here on base and is involved in JROTC and the Robotics club.  She is also the founder and president of the school’s Creative Writing Club.  She’ll be turning 16 in a few months and I’m dreading the whole driving and dating stage.  Ash and Garrett are practically inseparable and are the best of friends.  We are all certified “Disney Addicts” and have been planning our big cross-country trip for this summer for the last two years.  (Which is how the Destination Education series on my blog was developed.)

What made you decide to homeschool?

garrett Brenda Prince

It had a lot to do with the fact that my son is special needs and verbally delayed.  When it was time to start talking about starting kindergarten, we had a meeting with the school in regards to what type of educational setting he might need.  His pediatrician had written that he needed to be in a special education class due to his delay (at that time, he was 6 years old and had the speech ability of a 9-month-old and was considered completely non-verbal.).  The school’s speech pathologist sat with him for about 15 minutes and basically told us that they couldn’t accommodate him but that they would pay to send him off base to a nearby school—nearby being 30 miles away.  I couldn’t see putting him on a bus every day for 60 miles’ worth of travel and I was already a SAHM, so I thought long and hard about if I would be able to teach him.  After a long discussion with my husband, we decided it would be best to try to homeschool him.

Brenda Prince ash picA year later, when it came time for my daughter to start kindergarten, we again debated if we would send her to public school or not.  Originally, our thought was that we would send her to the school on base so that I could have more 1-on-1 time with Garrett for school.  The decision was made because we found out they were combining classes together.  Kindergarten and first graders would all be in the same classroom with 1 teacher who would teach one grade half the day and then switch.  We had a few friends who had kids in a similar class set-up the year before and it was not a good experience for the kids.  Needless to say, both kids are currently homeschooled and I have no plans to put them into public schools.

What does a day in your homeschool look like?

We’re pretty laid back in our homeschooling situation and would probably be an interest-led situation.  I allow the kids to pick and choose topics they would like to explore when it comes to science, history and literature.  (They have no say in regards to math and reading or they would never do it!)  A typical day for us is waking up whenever, and they play Minecraft or read books quietly while Mom has coffee (loud voices before Mom has her coffee can be considered hazardous to their health).  Usually an hour later, we sit down on the floor in the living room with their binders and work on our lessons.  M-W-F we work on math, literature (where I read to them and we discuss what we are reading) and independent reading (where they have to read to me).  Tuesdays and Thursdays are spelling, history and science which also includes a lot of writing for them.  Teaching a special needs kid is tough at times, so our schooling has to accommodate for him.  I actually held him back a year, I guess you could say, because last year he absolutely refused to do anything—wouldn’t write, wouldn’t read, wouldn’t sit still and do schoolwork.  He just wasn’t ready and there was no way I was going to consider him a 2nd grader.  It was the best decision we made as now he’s able to pay attention and concentrate better than last year.  However, there are still days that we might have to regroup or take a day off because of a meltdown or because he’s too agitated or excited about something.  Hence, why the laid-back approach–a strict schedule just won’t work for us and things get shifted around a lot.

Do you have a favorite “date night” you love to do?

We have a few things we enjoy doing together.  My husband is huge into astronomy and astrophotography, so when we know a meteor shower is going on, we drag out a huge inflatable mattress to the back yard, throw a few blankets over it (if it is really cold we throw an electric blanket on it) and we lie out there together alone (kids are usually asleep by that time) and we snuggle and watch shooting stars.

Occasionally we head to town (town for us is a 45-minute drive) and we might catch a movie and have dinner together; but those types of nights are pretty rare.  Usually a “date” for us is grabbing a quick lunch at the Taco Bell on base while we’re out grocery shopping LOL.  Yeah, 2 soft tacos is a pretty cheap date but honestly, it’s not about going out and spending lots of money, but more about just reconnecting with each other without the distraction of the kids.  We’re able to sit at a small 2-person table in the food court, share a drink and enjoy a quick lunch while we’re able to have a discussion about whatever crosses our mind without hearing “MOM!!!” every 20 seconds.  LOL

What are some of your favorite mama-child activities?

Does going to the bathroom count?  Because it seems to be their favorite activity to do with me?  J/K.

The kids love going to the park that’s directly behind the house.  During the summer months, we have to wait til the sun goes down as it’s way too hot, so they watch for the sun to go down.  We also like watching the wildlife together.  We have hummingbird and seed feeders outside our windows so we can watch the birds.  We also get coyotes, bobcats, rabbits, squirrels, and ravens who visit our yard a lot.

Garrett enjoys playing Minecraft which means that every two minutes he enjoys showing me his creation.  Ash is probably happiest just cuddling on the couch or in bed with me and letting me read to her.  On the weekends we have family game night and we play games like Scene It Disney, Pictionary and stuff the kids can play.  We’re pretty boring as far as activities go.  LOL.  Also, every so often, usually on a random Saturday night, we have music night where I pretend to be the DJ and I just play random songs most of the night, whatever pops into my head.  The kids enjoy this a lot.  We do silly dance (“Kid in Play,” anyone?) and all three kids get introduced to various musical artists or styles that kids these days just don’t know about.  How many 15-year-olds know who Red Sovine is?  If you can’t tell already, we’re more of a stay-at-home family and be-a-family together type of family, than we are a constantly-on-the-go and do-as-much-as-possible family.

Brenda Prince hubby pic

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Hmmm, like I said before we’re kinda boring….LOL.  Oooh, I mentioned that we’re big into astronomy here.  My living room has 3 telescopes sitting in it right now.  That’s how serious it is.  My husband started Chuckwalla Observatory here on base which grew into an astronomy outreach program for kids on base to learn about astronomy and telescopes.  Originally, we started with just a 3.5-inch reflector telescope, the type that many people buy for a few hundred dollars.  Slowly, the habit progressed and that 3.5-inch scope turned into an 8-inch scope, and that turned into a 12-inch scope, which is way bigger than anything the casual stargazer would have.  It’s really great for the kids though, especially as we do the astronomy course from Apologia; because as we read about each planet, the kids are able to actually see them.  My husband is able to hook the scope up to a computer, making it easier for the kids to see (as the eyepiece for the telescope is close to 5 feet off the ground…lol).  Eventually, I’ll be getting him to write the occasional article for Counting Pinecones on things like “Selecting Your First Telescope” or to highlight upcoming events that are observable without special equipment; and I’m hoping to be able to start sharing some of his photography on the blog as well for everyone to see.

Charles is also starting an astronomy Q&A.  Does your child have questions about stars, planets, comets, or any other space-worthy category?  Email him at with your questions by the 13th of each month.  Be sure to include your student’s age and grade so that he can tailor his answers to the child’s understanding.  The answers will be published on the 15th of each month at  Counting Pinecones!

I’ve loved getting to know Brenda and her family a bit more.  Thank you, Brenda, for sharing your story with us!  And be sure to visit her at Counting Pinecones and leave her a comment!

We’ll be back next week with another episode of Family, Fun & Homeschooling.  Thank you for stopping by!

Enjoy!  –Wren





6 thoughts on “Family, Fun & Homeschooling! Featuring Brenda from Counting Pinecones

  1. Thank you Brenda for letting us peek into your life. We’re not as die hard astronomers but it is so neat to look up in the sky and see the wonders. We discovered that last year and need to get our own telescope (borrowing one now).

    • Neat, Kemi! We don’t have one either….but it would be amazing to have one! Looking forward to Brenda’s and Charles’ new series!

    • I know! It is so cool that Brenda’s family has three! Btw, thanks for popping over. If you’d like to know more about Brenda, you can visit her at Counting Pinecones!

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