Category Archives: Homeschool

Learning at home with a second-grader and a fifth-grader.

Enhance your homeschool science class with MEL Chemistry

Disclaimer: MEL Chemistry sent Nichole a starter kit to review here at Butterscotch Sundae. All opinions are Nichole’s own, and Nichole is paying for subsequent kits.

“Can we blow stuff up?”

This is, naturally, a question one frequently fields when teaching a middle school chemistry class, and I anticipated that when I started planning our semester. So I started scouring Pinterest for experiments that walk that fine line between safe and exciting, and we started the class.

Things were going pretty well. The experiments were probably closer to the “safe” end of the spectrum than the kids had hoped for, but I felt OK about it.

And then one evening as I was browsing Pinterest, and a post about MEL Chemistry caught my eye. “Exciting experiments delivered to your door every month”? I clicked and looked around, and I was sold.

They were equal parts thrilled and nervous to wield the fire in the carbon snake experiment.
I contacted the company and explained that I was interested but wasn’t sure it would work in a class setting, and they said they’d send me the first kit to try out. A couple days later it arrived, and I was and am so impressed with it. The starter kit includes a flask and a beaker; a VR viewer; a solid-fuel stove; safety glasses; and a macro lens for your cell phone camera. They also send you two kits with the starter set, and each kit includes two experiments.

The kits include full, clear instructions and most everything you need to perform the experiments. MEL Chemistry sends enough of the reagents to be able to do each experiment twice. With 7 kids in our class, though, that’s not quite enough for everyone to do every experiment. It’s working well for us to run the experiments as Lab Demonstrations, with two kids doing the work and the others either observing or working as photographers and videographers.

The included camera phone lenses have proven to be popular.

So far we’ve made fiery little carbon snakes and a foam eruption from the Chemistry of Monsters kit and a wee little hedgehog from the Tin kit. The kids enjoyed the carbon snake and the foam eruption a bit more than the tin and zinc “hedgehog” — because of the fire and movement — but I thought the formation of the spikes on a little ball of zinc was pretty incredible.

The carbon snake was very cool and somewhat creepy, though.

MEL Chemistry has made 80 virtual reality lessons, and the ones I was able to check out were phenomenal. The atom structure and electron orbital lessons were particularly great for helping the kids visualize a pretty esoteric concept. With the kits and the virtual reality lessons, I think this could be a complete chemistry curriculum. Unfortunately, the cost of the full VR license — $499 for 10 devices for a year — is far out of my price range. Some of the VR content is available just by downloading the MEL Science app, though, and the lessons available are well worth the download.

A MEL Chemistry kit subscription is $35 per month for a single set of experiments or $50 per month for two sets each month. I don’t think the kits alone would be sufficient for a full year of middle school science on their own, but they sure are a fun complement to whatever chemistry curriculum you’re using. The glassware and other hardware is excellent quality, and I love that they include all of the chemical materials you need as well.

The only thing on my MEL wishlist (other than $500 for a VR license) is that it would be nice to be able to choose the order in which the experiments arrive so I could make sure they correspond to what the kids are learning that week. I’m going to subscribe even without that option, though, and I’m looking forward to seeing what lab demos MEL Chemistry drops on my porch over the coming year!

A few words about school

I used to write about our homeschooling adventures all the time, and then this year came along and I stopped writing about it altogether. There’s a reason for that, and the reason is not that the children have stopped learning but that I have for the most part become more of a homeschool administrator. And that’s just for Poppy. Pete isn’t homeschooling at all this year.

The last time I posted about homeschooling was in April, in The Evolution of a Homeschool Mom, in which I said I was struggling to figure out my new role. And that’s just what I’ve done this year. My job this year has been to keep up with their schedule and get them where they need to be and make sure they’re doing their homework. And it’s gone pretty well, for the most part.

Our semester of co-op just ended. Poppy took video production (in which the kids made a sequel to “Pretty in Pink” with puppets), French and literature, and I taught Creative Writing to 9- and 10-year-old girls. One of them wrote an amusing little poem about Elvis meeting Nixon. It was a fun class. I had fun, anyway. I don’t know if the kids did.

Poppy’s also taking US history, physical science and writing elsewhere, and she’s also participating in a book club and working on a monthly newsletter there. She loves her classes there, although she’s a little disillusioned with it today because one of her teachers assigned a lot of homework over Thanksgiving break.

Pete got his first report card recently, and he’s done just fine. He made the A/B honor roll, and he’s made a few friends. My primary concern for him and public school was that he’d be in trouble for talking all the time. That hasn’t been an issue at all, though. I had to laugh in our parent-teacher conference earlier this year when his teacher said, “I was worried when I saw he’d always been homeschooled, but he’s fitting in just like he’s always been here!” I’m not sure if that’s good or bad.

So all in all we’re having a fine school year. I’m mostly just driving people hither and yon and saying “Did you do your homework? Do your homework!” a lot. The kids are happy and healthy and they’re learning, so I’m OK with that.

The evolution of a homeschool mom

We have about a month left in our school year, and as the end of our 6th- and 3rd-grade year draws near I’ve been feeling a little reflective. Specifically, I’ve been trying to figure out why I’ve struggled so much this year. I’ve been stressed all year because I’ve felt that we weren’t getting enough of our schoolwork done. The kids have a lot of away-from-home activities, and I feel like all I’ve done is play catch-up.

And suddenly a few days ago something occurred to me: I’m evolving. I’ve been the kids’ primary teacher for their entire school career, but that isn’t really the case any more. Poppy is taking classes elsewhere for almost every subject this year, which means I’m more of a coordinator than a teacher for her now. That time hasn’t entirely come for Pete yet, but it’s getting closer.

Here’s a glimpse at what our weeks have been like these last few months:


Monday

Poppy’s taking a creative writing class from me at Monday co-op, Pete is taking a class called World Building that involved making up his own country, and they’re both taking a class in which they play board games. We’ve been a part of our Monday Co-op for almost five years. It’s a very sweet group, but it skews toward young kids and it isn’t really meeting our needs anymore. It’ll be a bittersweet departure, but it’s necessary.

Tuesday

Poppy has been taking an Shakespearean acting class, a lot of tae kwon do and some extra training for soccer on Tuesdays, while Pete meets with his spelling tutor and has a swim lesson — all worth activities that do not take place at the same time. Tuesday was meant to be a day that we stayed home and focused on our schoolwork, but best laid plans and all that.

Wednesday

Poppy spends a good bit of the day away from home taking writing, science and a culture and civilization class on Wednesdays, and Pete has chess class. This is one of the days that we actually do get a bit more work done at home, especially for Pete.

Thursday

Thursday is New Co-op day. That’s winding down for the year, too. It’s been a terrific addition for us, academically. Poppy is currently working on a presentation on Nirvana for her History of Rock ‘n’ Roll class, and she did a presentation on Australia this week in World Geography. She’s also taking a literature and writing class, in which her most recent assignment is to write a persuasive paper. She’s trying to persuade the world to adopt a pet. Pete is working with a small group on making a stop-motion film about the parts of a computer for his Technology class and researching javelin in Sports & Games and the Marquis de Lafayette in literature, and he just finished a project about The Sun for his Astronomy class.

Friday

Fridays are my least-busy day, because the piano teacher and the spelling tutor come to us. This is the day we get most of our at-home work done.


Don’t you hate it when you get a demanding text from the principaw?
My personal goal for next year is to embrace my new role. I’ll handle the registration and help them figure out how to juggle homework and sports and free time, and I’ll plan field trips, and I’ll drive them all over town and back again. And most important for my peace of mind, I’ll stop worrying that we aren’t getting everything done, because they’ll be doing quite enough.

Want to peek into some other homeschoolers’ lives? Check out the weekly roundup at Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers!