Home School Life Journal

Home School Life Journal ........... Ceramics by Katie Bergenholtz
"Let us strive to make each moment beautiful."
Saint Francis DeSales

Building Lab, Part I: Compression, Tension and Torsion in Building Materials

In order for students to understand how to choose the best building materials for the project they choose to build, students must understand how physical science comes into play. Forces act on building materials in many ways, and to help students learn about this, they can perform hands-on tests on basic building materials that can be found around the house, and then apply what they have learned to analyzing actual building structures. But first they must first learn some vocabulary words.
Compression (Squeezing)

Compression is a force that squeezes a material together, which tends to make the material become shorter. The lower columns of a skyscraper, for example, are compressed by the heavy weight above them.

Tension (Stretching)
Tension is a force that stretches a material apart which tends to make the material become longer. For example, the cables in a suspension bridge have the weight of the roadway and all the cars traveling on it pulling on them, creating tension on the cables.

When a straight material becomes curved, one side squeezes together and the other side stretches apart. This action is called bending. The top side of the metal bar is pulled apart in tension, and the bottom side is squeezed together in compression. This combination of opposite forces produces an action called bending.

Shear (Sliding)
Shear is a force that causes parts of a material to slide past one another in opposite directions. For example, during an earthquake, parts of a roadway can shear or slide in opposite directions.

Torsion (Twisting)
Torsion is an action that twists a material. For example, a bridge can twist violently in strong winds and collapse. The twisting force is called torsion. 

Builders Need to Know Their Materials

Different materials have varying abilities to withstand compression, tension, and torsion. Students can get a chance to test materials around the house to learn about these terms and about the building materials. Send your students on a scavenger hunt to find building materials such as yarn, popsicle sticks, pipe cleaners, clay, sponges, erasers, rubber bands, paper-towel tubes, pencils, cardboard, aluminum foil, drinking straws, tiles, or cloth.

Testing the Materials

Students can perform three tests on the materials gathered to determine the tension, compression and torsion abilities of each of the samples. 

Tension: To test the material in tension, pull on it or tug it from both ends.

Compression: To test the material in compression, push it together from both ends.

Torsion: To test the material in torsion, twist the two ends in different directions.
Demonstrate how to test the materials by choosing one and tug, push and twist on the sample to test tension, compression and torsion. For example, using a rope to demonstrate the tests, have two kids tug on the ends of a rope (tension), then push the ends together (compression), and finally twist the ends of the rope (torsion). They should find that the rope is strong in tension but weak in compression and torsion.
Now have each student pick a few items from what they have gathered and predict which ones will be strongest in tension, which in compression and which in torsion.

Now, have them test the materials by performing the same tests which you had demonstrated on them. Students will have to help each other in pairs to accomplish this. Then they should record their findings, ranking the materials from 1-4 (1 Very weak! It crumples or breaks with hardly any force. 2 Only fair—it can't withstand much force. 3 Pretty good—it takes a lot of force to break it. 4 Super strong! We can't break it.) They should find that the materials that are strongest in tension:  are the string, yarn, pipe cleaner, popsicle stick, ceramic tile, cardboard, drinking straw, cloth, rubber band (strong but very flexible), rubber eraser, paper-towel tubes and the pencil. The materials that are strongest in compression are the popsicle stick, clay (limited), ceramic tile, rubber eraser, paper-towel tubes (limited) and the pencil. The materials that are strongest in torsion are the ceramic tile, rubber eraser (limited), paper-towel tubes and the pencil.


Which materials were strongest in resisting each type of force? Did any of these results surprise you? Why or why not? 

Which materials were strongest across all three tests? How would you describe those materials?
Discuss how some materials are flexible under a type of stress–they change shape as opposed to breaking outright. When might flexibility be desirable? When is stiffness required? (Parts of structures such as the cables of suspension bridges that are built to withstand shaking caused by wind gusts often have some "give." Other parts of structures, such as floor beams that support great weights, need to be rigid.)

Building Lab

I am going through some of the activities we have done years ago and writing posts on how to do some of these hands-on projects to learn skills in a variety of topics. 

Starting soon I will be posting a series of posts all about building and some basic physical science concepts related to building structures. It is a collection of fun, simple hands-on activities for pre-K-8th grade. Here are the topics we'll cover...

  1. Compression, Tension and Torsion in Building Materials
  2. Shapes and Building
  3. Columns
  4. Paper Bridges and Loads
  5. Cables
  6. Suspension Bridges
  7. Geodesic Domes and Other Paper Dowel Designs
  8. Towers
  9. Dams Under Pressure
  10. Building Dams
source: Building Big

How to Host an Paint Night Art Party (Paint and Sip or Coffee and Canvases)

It seems that Painting Parties, both Sip and Paint and Coffee and Canvases types, are all the rage right now. Did you know, however, that you can host an entire party for several friends for the price of about one admission to a standard paint and sip night?

This is not the painting we used for our party, but is another of the paintings you can do from The Art Sherpa's tutorials. This was done entirely by my autistic son, Alex.

How To Begin

Your first task if you want to host a party is finding a painting that you want to paint. This decision will be influenced by how artistic the host is, how experienced your guests are and their ages or if it is a mixed-age group. If you are artistic enough yourself, you could come up with your own design, perhaps with just a quick browse for what types of paintings are usually done in a party setting. Remember, you want your guests to be able to paint the entire painting in length of time of your party, typically a few hours.
Katie's painting of Happy Chickadee and Apple Branch

I used one of the over 700 acrylic painting tutorials offered for free by The Art Sherpa. She ranks the difficulty of her paints into three categories, between 1, for the easiest, to 3 for the most difficult. I chose Happy Chickadee and Apple Branch because it was a level 1 painting as some of my guests had never painted before. The nice thing about the tutorials is that even the easiest projects are not boring the the more advanced painter.
My painting of Happy Chickadee and Apple Branch. Note the slight variations between Katie's and my paintings. Be prepared for this. Even though we each watched the same tutorial, each person's painting turned out a little different...all good, but each a bit unique.

You, as host, should paint the projects yourself before the party. This gives you an example for your guests to look at in case they have a troubling point and keeps the steps in your mind so you can help if they need it. It also gives you a chance to troubleshoot any possible difficulties in advance.

Notice that I have the painting I did in advance set up on an easel for guests to refer to.
I also have set the paints all at one end of the table. They will be passed around as needed, so you don't have to buy a separate set of paints for each guest.

Buy The Supplies

I usually buy my supplies at Michael's simply because it is a one-stop shop for me (I live in the Boonies, so it is an hour long trip, minimum to any store) and they often have sales for the items needed (not everything all at once, though, so if you live near a store, you might want to go multiple weeks to see if they have more of the items you need on sale each week). If you have another craft/art supplies store near you, you might want to check on their prices. You can find the items you will need at Walmart or Amazon as well.

What will you need? Well, if you are choosing to use an Art Sherpa tutorial, she has a concise list at the bottom of her tutorial. Just click on the title and look at the description below. 

Acrylic Paint and Canvasses

You will need several colors of paint. For our Happy Chickadee painting, we needed seven colors (Burnt Sienna, Cadmium Red, medium shade, Cadmium Yellow, medium shade, Mars Black, Titanium White, Ultramarine Blue and Yellow Ocher), which is a typical amount of colors. If you go to a store like Michael's, you will find that there will be at least three grades of paint, ranging from the beginner's Artist Loft, which is less expensive (around $4 a tube) to the Golden's professional paint, which is the most expensive (around $9 a tube). If this is a one time event, you might not want to spend a whole lot on the paints. However, I did want to tell you that if you buy the least expensive paint, you might have more trouble with coverage as the companies of lesser quality paint save money by putting less pigment in their paints. They are certainly fine for a party, but just be aware that you might have to paint the canvas twice, especially at the places you use lighter color paints, such as white and yellows.

You will need one canvas per guest. I usually buy 16 x 20 inch canvasses. They often come in five-packs. They also come in grades. The lowest grades may also have paint coverage problems with the gesso on the canvas. Not a big deal, but just be aware that if the paint does not go on your canvas smoothly, it is probably not your fault, but the canvas'. You can solve this problem by just drying the paint and applying another coat of paint.


source: Art is Fun!
You will need a variety of sizes and styles of brushes. I have found for the beginning painting lessons that it doesn't matter a whole lot if you have the exact brushes called for in the tutorial, but it is important to have a variety so that if one type of brush is not getting the results you want, you can try another one. Of course you will need enough for everyone at your party to have a variety to choose from. If you want to know more about brushes and how the different shapes affect painting, Art is Fun! has a great post on this subject. Brushes, like paint and canvasses, have levels of quality, which will affect how easy the painting is to accomplish. If you are not sure how much you will be painting, I would start with the least expensive ones and add to the collection if you get hooked on painting as I have. Professional brushes can get very expensive.

Other Supplies

You will also need either cloths or paper towels to wipe your brushes out and clean up any spills or messes. I love kitchen flour sack cloths, but paper towels work just fine and are inexpensive.

You will need a cup of water and something to use as a pallet for each painter. I used regular plastic cups and paper plates for this.

Your guests may want to use a piece of regular kid's chalk to sketch in their painting. You may also want to provide a table easel for each guest. We had a few around the house (I have a college student daughter who is majoring in art) but they are not necessary and many of our guests just painted with the canvas flat on the table. 

Unless you want to just watch the tutorial and then teach how to do the painting yourself, you will need to have a way to display the tutorial from YouTube. I set up a television so that all the guests could see it and my husband worked the technical side by stopping the video periodically while guests painted and caught up to the tutorial.

You will also need to cover your table (and maybe even the floor and chairs) with a dropcloth. I used a thin plastic tablecloth that I picked up for a dollar.

You may want to buy refreshments, whether they be wine or coffee any other beverages of your choice. You might also want snacks or even a dinner. Since we needed to have the background of the painting to be dry before painting in the rest of the painting, I set up our party so that we painted in the background of the painting and then set it aside. While this dried, we ate dinner and then after dinner was over, we went back to painting. This required two places, one for painting and one for eating, however. You could, instead, just have finger foods and have everyone eat standing up or sitting in the living room while the paint dries. We served wine coolers while we painted the second part of the tutorial. An alternative to allowing the paint to dry, is to use a hair dryer to dry the paint.

The Day of the Party

On the day of the party, set up any decorations you might want to use and set up your drop cloths. Set up individual painting stations with all the supplies your painters will need. I just set the paint tubes at one end of the table and we just squeezed out a bit of paint as we needed it and then passed the tube around the table.
Prepare any refreshments you are serving. If the tutorial has a traceable, you will want to print that out for any guest that wants to use it. I find that rarely do you need one for the level one tutorials, however, as she explains how to paint everything very clearly. If you want to use a traceable, you will want to watch this tutorial on how to transfer an image to canvas.

The Party

Unless you have invited all experienced painters, expect your guests to be nervous about their ability to paint. Prepare them to expect the paintings look like children's art until the final highlights and lowlights are added to the painting. Reassure your guests and be prepared to give them step by step help. You may choose to paint with them, or just be available to give them the help they might need. It's a good idea to take a break at some point, even if you are not serving refreshments.

I hope this post reassures you that a painting party is not too difficult to host. However you choose to do your party, an art party is an inexpensive way to have fun with friends in a way that is tailored to your and your guests.

A Day in the Life of a 13 and a 17 Year Old and February 2018 in General

A Day in the Life of a 13 and a 17 Year Old (plus their siblings, ages 26, 23 and 20)

8:30 My day starts like most others, with me being awoken by the getting ready to go to college noises my 26 and 20 year olds make. My husband has been up for some time and has taken the dog out as well as several morning activities such as paying bills, picking up the house, and starting his work day. He works via a computer in the family room. He also greets me with a good morning and a cup of coffee made just as I like it as soon as he realizes I am awake. I will be the first to tell you that he is the cream of the crop husband/father. While I sip my coffee, I read the blogs I like to follow, my Instagram account and other such social media.

9:45 I finally get out of bed and begin my day. By now the college kids have left. Thankfully someone has emptied the dishwasher, do I begin to fill it and otherwise clean the kitchen and do whatever morning chores that seem the most urgent. While I was doing my wake up routine, my autistic 23 year old has gotten up and I see that my husband has already fed him breakfast (my husband and my 23 year old are the only two that eat breakfast in our household). I go to put on a load of laundry and see that my husband already has a load completed and hanging on the indoor clothes line we had to get recently when our clothes dryer finally died. We will have to wait until the Income Tax check comes back before we can replace the dryer.

11:00 I get a text from my 20 year old saying that they have made it to college.  They indulge me with texts ever day because the college is almost two hours away, in a good bit of traffic and over a large bridge. They know I worry about them when they are in the road.
Since everyone else (ie: my two students) are still asleep, I decide to finish the painting I started yesterday using The Art Sherpa's video Acrylic Painting lessons. It is of a Zen Garden and I have really been enjoying painting this tranquil painting. My 23 year old is now watching The Magic School Bus, which is currently his favorite show. My painting goes well and I finish it, snap a picture of it and send the photo to my college kids via text. 
I set up an art project to do with the 23 year old. Since he has graduated, it is one of the few things we do together. 

11:45 Time to start lunch. Today I am making a Kale and White Bean Soup for Steven (the vegetarian) and myself (the hopeful Dieter). I am also making frozen chicken nuggets, both regular and gluten free, and french fries for the boys. Some time while I am making lunch, my 13 year old makes his appearance downstairs. I call up the stairs to my 17 year old once lunch is ready. Turns out that he has been awake, but was watching videos on the computer in his room.

12:15 We decide to watch an episode of The Andy Griffith Show as we eat out lunch. Many days my husband has to work through lunch, but on this day he joins us for a bit of the show.
1:00 After lunch, the boys complete some household chores. I decide which dinner off our weekly menu we are having and take the steaks out of the freezer to defrost. My 23 year old plays with a present he received for Christmas, a cardboard castle with stickers.

2:00 My 13 year old and I work together on the parts of school in which he wants my help. We discuss how he will work out the mechanics of the Oregon Trail board game he is making. I help him go through his Latin flashcards. We discuss what work he needs to do on the paper he is writing on the development of weapons. I quiz him on the chapter he just finished in his biology book.

3:30 While the 13 year old begins working on his own, I begin helping my 17 year old. He has severe learning disabilities and has a lot of trouble reading. Despite this, his is very intelligent and already knows 85 percent of the material we are covering, so I use this time to help him work in his reading skills, while making sure all the material is covered. We get through history, science (his favorite subject), geography and English. He does some math on his own, but when he reaches a point where he needs help he puts it away until the weekend when my 20 year old does math lessons with both boys. The college kids send me a text that they are on their way home.
Coffee-Rubbed Beef with Red-Eye Beans
4:30 I am grateful that tonight's dinner is an easy one to make as it is getting late. I am making Coffee Rubbed Steaks, Red Eye Beans and Cucumbers in vinegar. Normally I have to make three separate main dishes to accommodate the dietary needs of the entire family, but this is an easy fix for tonight.
Katie's Birch Bark Vase

5:00 The college kids arrive home and we all have dinner. Everyone talks about their day and it is a lively conversation, jumping around to all sorts of topics, from politics to art to the Civil War. My 26 year old tells us a bit about her Small Business class she is taking. She wants to start her own Ceramics shop. She also asks for my help with formatting some photographs of a piece ( a ceramic vase made to look like a birch tree) she has made that she wants to enter into a contest which has a cash prize.

6:00 After dinner I work on a menu and shopping list for the next week, while the college kids settle into completing their homework.  Mid-terms are approaching and the are particularly busy finishing up multiple papers and projects. My 13 year old gets his fencing gear ready and the 17 year old works on deciding what cards he will include in his Magic the Gathering deck for the game he is going to this weekend at his gaming club.

6:30 My husband and I take the 13 year old to his Fencing Academy (an hour from our house) and then go on to do the grocery shopping.

8:30 We finish in time to catch the last couple of his bouts. He is doing well and notice that he is making the more advanced students he is bouting work harder to get points on him than they used to. I enjoy talking to a couple of the adults we see there regularly. The 13 year old decides that he is finished after completing five bouts and we leave. He is drenched with sweat.

9:30 We arrive home, bring in the groceries and put them away. My 17 year old tells me about some interesting medical videos he has watched while we were gone and we watch a couple before it is time for me to go to bed. I watch a couple more of the medical videos before Steven comes up, bringing the dog and a steaming cup of Chai tea for me.

During the other days in February, we...

Quentin, 13 years old, 8th grade

American History: Quentin has reached the Pioneers period in American history, and is working on a game with that theme. He will be continuing on in his history reading an writing while he is working on the game.

Biology: He has just finished the section on biological chemistry.

Physical Science: We finished up our study of the atmosphere and air and are beginning the study of water.

English: We are working on writing, writing, writing. Mostly he has been writing various types of papers.

Middle School Math: We are plugging away with fractions.

Voice: He went to voice lessons several times this month.. Quentin is auditioning on Saturday for a part in Pippin and he has been working on his audition pieces, which are to be sung acappella.

James, 17 years old, 10th grade

American History II: Key topics: Colonial housekeeping, molasses, newspapers, the first Twelve Amendments, War of 1812, the Santa Fe Trail, the National Anthem, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams; national symbols, pledge and creed; Second Great Awakening, mountain men, windmills, Cornelius Vanderbilt, steam engines

World Geography: Key topics: Latin America Mexico, South America, Central America, Caribbean Islands, Sierra Madre, Andes Mountains, Darien Gap, Mount Aconcagua, Guiana Highlands, Amazon River, Panama Canal, Strait of Magellan, Sao Francisco, Iguazu Falls, deforestation, Amazon Rain Forest, Atacama Desert

Integrated Physics and Chemistry II: Key topics: organic chemistry, hydrocarbons, black gold, benzene, organic acids, ethers, plastics, alcohol, changing molecules, carbohydrates, nitrogen compounds, fibers, vitamins, protein, colloids, Pasteur, Baekeland, Eijkman

English 10: Composition Skills: Key topics: verbs—action, linking, helping, present tense, past tense, future tense; present perfect, past perfect, future perfect, present progressive, past progressive, future progressive; participles—present and past, phrases, dangling; sentence fragments; parts of speech: noun agreement; simple sentences, diagramming, coordinating conjunctions, compound sentences, subordinate conjunctions, clauses; verbal: gerunds, infinitives

Basic Math Skills: Key topics: graphs, negative numbers: addition, subtraction, multiplication and division; grouping, operational symbols, associative and distributive properties, exponents, PEMDAS, square power, square roots, cubes, English weight, fractional measure, interest

The College Kids


Katie is enjoying all her college classes...
but she particularly loves her ceramics class and we delight in getting her pieces!

Other Happenings This Month

After finally getting our health back after being sick for the whole month of January, we had much to celebrate. We had a Saint Valentine's day dinner with friends in which I made heart shaped individual pizzas and Pots de Creme.

We celebrated Mardi Gras with the traditional pancake dinner. I colored the pancakes with the traditional Mardi Gras colors.
We had a (month belated) Paint and Sip Birthday party for Hope.

How was your February?

The Atmosphere, Physical Science Topic for Middle and High School and Our 22nd Year of Homeschooling, January 2018


Atmosphere exerts pressure on everything that is in it. You can easily demonstrate this by putting a thin layer of water in a small bowl. Take a glass and invert it over the bowl. You should have no more water than is necessary to cover the lip on the inverted glass. Now you can take the glass away and add a few drops of food coloring to the water, so you can more easily see the water. put a candle in the center of the water in the bowl. Light the candle. Invert the glass over the candle and into the water as before. As you already know, the candle will eventually go out, but this time observe what happens to the water level within the jar. Because the candle used up all the oxygen (so there are less molecules), the air in the glass could not exert as much pressure as it did before. There becomes more pressure on the water outside the glass than on the water inside the glass. As a result, the greater outside pressure begins pushing water up inside the glass. Eventually, however, the water level goes back down because the extra water added to the force from the air pressure, and at some point this weight makes up for the lost air pressure. This is really the principle that makes barometers work.

Previous Knowledge

Topic Questions for Research

  • What are the layers of the earth's atmosphere, and what makes each layer unique?
  • What are the layers within the homosphere and what are the differences between these layers?
  • What are the layers and unique characteristics of the heterosphere?
  • Discuss atmosphere, atmospheric pressure and the barometer.
  • What ate jet streams and where do they exist?
  • Discuss the difference in temperature and air pressure in the layers of atmosphere. 

Sources and Resources

Our 22nd Year of Homeschooling, January 2018

In January we struggled to get back on our feet from the Christmas holiday. We had a few days (during the coldest of temperatures) when our furnace needed work and we were confined to the upstairs of the house, which had heat. We also had a bout or two of illness, which kept us from completing consistent school work.
Quentin continued with Voice lessons but he did not pick Fencing up this month.


In Physical Science, we studied the properties of air and humidity. In Biology, we studied the basics of organic chemistry, starting with carbohydrates.
In Math, he is still working on fractions.
He is plugging away with his Latin workbook, working on 
Second declension (-us and -ius) nouns.
In History, he is notebooking on American History in World Context, which means that his work focuses about half the time on American History and half the time on what is happening around the world during the time of the various events we are studying in American History.

I am finding, now that I have a curriculum that James can easily do, that he already knows most of the material that we are going through. We are advancing him now to 10th grade and giving him a whole new set of material to work with. He will be keeping his science, Integrated Physics and Chemistry and Basic Math Skills.
For English, we are concentrating on Composition Skills, beginning this minth with the Key topics: word tone, denotation, connotation; how to alphabetize, use a dictionary, synonyms and antonyms, analogies with homonyms; how to use a thesaurus; idioms, nouns—singular, plural, possessive; pronouns—antecedents, gender, person, number, case, exceptions, personal, indefinite, demonstrative, relative, declination, interrogative and reflexive and for Social Studies, we will be using People, Places, and Principles of America II.
We picked up World Geography, beginning with North America Canada, United States, Mexico, Greenland, Caribbean islands, Cuba, Canadian Archipelago, Rocky Mountains, Yucatan Peninsula, Appalachian Mountains, Brooks Range, Yukon River, Kuskokwim Mountains, Mt. McKinley, Aleutian Islands, Mackenzie Mountains, Arctic Cordillera Mountains.
We began the second year of Integrated Physics and Chemistry with these key topics: exploring the Periodic Table, elements, fingerprints, noble gases, argon, chemical bonds, atom, electron, chemical bonding, fluorine, chlorine, bromine, iodine, astatine, halogens, acids, bases, salts, covalent compounds, water, ice, solutions, aquifers.

A picture Katie took on one of their trips over the Bay Bridge, coming home from their day at college.

The Graduates


One day we received this in the mail, which was a nice little treat. Sam seems to be enjoying this semester's classes and is getting good grades on his work so far. For his International Politics class, he will have to work one day calling people for a political poll.


Katie is the happiest I have ever seen her. She absolutely loves her Ceramics II class and bubbles over every evening talking about the various technicalities of various slips and methods of ceramics making. She is so happy that she has found her calling.
She also likes her Sculpting class, but as she is doing a bust of one of her classmates, I cannot show it to you until she gets permission from the student. I can only tell you that it is amazingly wonderful. She is enjoying the fact that some of the things she is learning in Sculpture can carry over to ceramics. She is even enjoying her Small Business Marketing class as it relates to starting her own ceramics business. The class she is struggling with the most is Statistics, but Sam is helping her, and hopefully she will be able to complete it this semester so that she can take Genetics next semester.


Alex has been enjoying playing with the gifts he received for Christmas. He especially likes anything to do with art.

How was your January?

January 2018: Snapshot Summary

We had a lovely first day of the New Year, complete with Hoppin' John stuffed peppers.
 On Twelfth Night, we had our traditional party, which includes finding the pickle ornament...
 and receiving the "pickle prize" of the last gift of Christmas. 
It was a chess set this year, which inspired many games of chess.

I got this lovely set of soup bowls, and so I just had to make each of the soups. The recipes for the soups are on the backs of the bowls.

 The kids have been enjoying their Christmas presents.

I have been enjoying painting. I did most of these during the really cold spell. Our furnace went out for the downstairs and so we were all confined mostly to the upstairs until it was fixed, so I did a lot of painting. I decided that I didn't want to paint on canvases for the most part as I did not have the wall space for them, so I bought a painting sketchbook to paint in. Overall it has worked well, but it is much harder to paint on paper as opposed to canvas. 
(top left) Decorating the Christmas Tree, (top right) Saint Nicholas Day, (bottom left), Decorating the House, (bottom right) Shopping for Secret Santa Gifts
Another project I have been working on is making a permanent Advent Calendar to use beginning next year. My plan is to have a board with 24 spots in which to hang miniature canvases which depict the various advent traditions we have. I then can arrange them in any order each year. These are the first four paintings I have done for it. Most of them are based off of The Art Sherpa's video tutorials, but I did Saint Nicholas by myself. The canvases are about 2 inches square.

And how was your January?