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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Morphology, a game review


MSRP: 29.99

Ages 13 and up

can be modified for younger players

available at and various retailers

If you build it…

…we can only guess what it is.

Can you guess? (answers to follow, no peeking!)





Morphology is a game of imagination,

of building,

of acting out,

and of stretching the outer limits of abstraction.

It’s fun.

It’s also challenging.

What comes in the box?


  • Rules
  • game board
  • hour glass style timer
  • die
  • cards (each has an easy side and a hard side)
  • 4 frog playing pieces
  • various and sundry items for creating


It all fits neatly into this box.


How do you play?

The basics

  • You divide your players into teams and decide if you’ll be using the hard or easy side of the cards.
  • Each team member takes turns being the team’s “morphologist.”
  • When it’s your team’s turn, the morphologist chooses a card from the deck without showing it to anyone.
  • The timer is flipped and the morphologist starts building the word.
  • Other members of the team start guessing the word.
  • If you guess correctly, your team can move their frog to the next lily pad.

There are also special lily pads and you can add in the die for a more challenging game---imagine building with your eyes closed or building using only the string, that kind of challenging.


What did we think?

My husband and I played Morphology with my 4 kiddos: David (age 11), Mary (age 8), Peter (age 6), and Emma (age 2).

We played by the rules, but without the timer, the die, or the board. Oh, and we were all one team. ;0)

We also allowed the 2 non-readers to create their own without using the cards. (Shh, don’t tell!)

Now, that does take away the competitive nature of the game, but it doesn’t interfere with the challenge of getting it.

And it is a challenge.

We had a lot of fun, but Morphology really makes you think (I like that), it stretches you cognitively, and forces you to think outside of the box.

It’s different from Pictionary. It’s different from Charades. It’s much more abstract and, I think, requires more creativity.

You have to see a glass pebble as something other than a glass pebble. You have to see a bead as something other than a bead. You can’t just draw what you mean.

And you never know what you are going to get. It could be a noun or a verb or ? There’s no particular theme. Mary got this one:


How might you do that one?

I found that some of the “hard” words seemed easier than some of the “easy” words, too.

Morphology game can be very open-ended depending on how you play it and I loved letting the children exploring the pieces and seeing what they came up with. I’m looking forward to slowly moving towards using the timer and the game board as they get older.

I hear that they are also coming out with a Junior edition. We’ll be looking for that.

So what were the answers?


soup by Mary


a man being beamed up by a flying saucer as an alien monster emerges

by Peter (yeah, that was his own creation)


loud by David


a pumpkin patch

by Emma (yeah, also her own creation)

Morphology has made it onto our short list of favorite games!

Disclosure: I received Morphology for free to keep in order to facilitate my review. I received no compensation and all opinions expressed here are my own.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Getting a Grip on Things

It’s here, the final week of the 2012 Virtual Curriculum Fair!

It’s been fun, but even good things need to come to and end, eventually. I’m looking for feedback on this homeschool blogging event, so if you are interested in a 2013 Virtual Curriculum Fair (and if you have any ideas for making it even better), please leave me a comment. I’m always open to new ideas.

Previous weekly themes for the Fair:

January 2--- Playing with words: The Language Arts
January 9--- Discovering Patterns: Mathematics, Logic, and some Science
January 16th---Exploring Our World: Social Studies and more Science
January 23rd---Seeking Beauty: the Arts and Everything that Brings Beauty to Our World

This week’s theme is:

The Nuts & Bolts: Pulling it all Together!

This theme can be really practical, and include any helps you use for organizing, making plans, keeping little ones occupied, remembering to do your laundry, etc., etc. Or you could take a spiritual approach to it. I encourage you to use this week to explore how you get it done,whether it’s due to scheduling and planning or putting your faith in a higher power or somewhere in between.

As other participants send me their links, I’ll be adding them to the bottom of this post. I encourage you to visit my fellow bloggers and find out how they chose to tackle this topic.

So, Let’s Get a Grip!

I’ve got a confession to make.

Ha, seems like I’ve always got an confession to make. Winking smile

The past few weeks on our learning journey have been kinda messy and not in a really good way.

Part of this comes from some personal challenges going on with the kids that I’ve talked a little about.

But part of it comes from me getting my head turned.

Every year, about mid-year, I evaluate how things are going and try to make some needed changes. That’s a good thing, sometimes changes are needed.

But I also tend to encounter some doubts.

My faith gets shaken. Blame it on my OCD tendencies, or even my ADD.

Or blame it on my broken human condition.

But there are so many lovely home educating families out there who are definitely not like mine. I’m attracted to what they have (the grass is always greener), and sometimes it clouds my vision of what I have.

Which is a lot.

A lot of challenges, yes. But a whole lot of good things.

So, I admit that I got a little off track (I want to post more on that at some point). Maybe the grass is greener (or not), but my wheels just don’t turn so well in that green grass, anyway.

Things tend to de-rail

…because that’s not who we are.

And then I snap out of it.

Get a grip.

And get back on track. This week I am getting back on track.

So, I just wanted to let you know that it’s ok to explore, question what you are doing and experiment to see if something else fits better, but remember that you and your kiddos are individuals. And that’s a big part of why our family believes in home education, because we know that a one-sizes-fits-all education doesn’t fit anybody very well.

So, how do we do things around here?

We are not unschoolers, though that life is attractive to me.

I’ve tried it, but my kiddos simply need more structure than that. They become aimless and don’t seem to remember much of anything.

We are not classical scholars, though that life is also attractive to me.

I feel it’s constraining in some ways and my children have other interests.

We are not Charlotte Mason-ites, though I love and respect Ms. Mason’s work.

Don’t always agree with her, but I think every parent could benefit from reading her work.

We don’t keep a strict schedule, because I don’t want to control every moment.

But we do need an outline of what we are doing each day to help keep us on track.

We do incorporate some elements of all of these approaches into our learning adventure.

Our way of doing things is uniquely ours and it changes from season to season as our family grows up and changes in its needs.

Let me talk about how we get things done in our current season.

We have 4 children:

  • David, age 11-3/4
  • Mary, age 8
  • Peter, age 6-1/3
  • Emma, age 2-3/4

I include the fractions, because I think you’ll agree that there’s a big difference between a child who just turned 2 and a child who will be 3 in a couple of months.

Our biggest challenges are:

  • keeping everyone on track while I am working one-on-one with someone
  • making sure that everyone gets the individual attention that they need
  • helping the oldest become a more independent worker (he has some learning differences which complicate this)
  • keeping the “baby” out of trouble, because somehow climbing the banister is always more fun than playing with play dough

The logistics

We have activities that we do together (mainly Bible, catechism, classical studies, art, history, and science---things like read alouds, experiments, craft activities, and so on).

We have activities that the children can do on their own.

We have activities that I do with each of them one-on-one.

The way I accomplish this is by giving the 2 older children each their own “assignment sheet” which lists for them what I want them to accomplish each day (this includes everything, whether it be independent work or group work). When we are not doing a group activity and I am working with another child, they know they can always go their assignment sheet to work on their independent work. When they have completed those things, they know they can do some independent reading or explore something, but they can’t “disappear” until everything is done (because once they disappear I waste energy getting them back).

009 I’m actually using a different sheet, now, but you get the idea.

The kids’ assignment sheets also keep me accountable. If Mary has on her list that she’s to do spelling with Mom, you better believe Mom is going to be doing spelling with Mary.

Each of the younger 2 children also have their own “school box” with little things in it to keep their hands occupied and happy, and Peter and Emma are always free to draw, play with play dough, build with blocks, and so on.


Actually, we each have our own box, so our stuff stays accessible. Because I hate wasting time looking for missing books.

I have a master list that shows me what each child is doing on any particular day. I also make notes of chores, things I personally need to accomplish, appointments, taking the meat out to thaw, and so on.


Check out my “FREE Stuff” tab for free downloadable planner and assignment pages.

Now in an ideal world, I would always have those assignment sheets filled out the night before, but the truth is sometimes I flub it. I put it off and don't get it done.

I always regret it. Having those little forms might seem constraining, but it's actually quite freeing.

Everyone knows what's expected of them. They can get started as soon as they come downstairs and eat their breakfasts, they don't need to wait for me to get my act together.

I do want to emphasize that the key to making this work (for us) is that the kiddos know that “school” is done when they have finished everything on their lists. I never add stuff if they finish early.

They have plenty of free time each and every day to explore their personal interests.

We typically start around 9-10 am and finish by 2 pm, and that includes a snack and lunch and maybe often recess. Sometimes it takes a little longer, but my goal is not to keep them glued to their seats all day every day.

We also make regular visits to the library (at least once a week) so they can access info and check out new books to read. And we do field trips, nature walks, and lunch at the park when the weather is fine just because we can.

This is not some revolutionary system or anything. It’s just what works for us. I encourage you to find what works for you, even if someone else is doing something completely different.

Now, have some fun getting more ideas by visiting the other participants in this week’s edition of the Virtual Curriculum Fair:

Weekly Homeschooling Schedule by Julie @ HighHill Homeschool

Virtual Curriculum Fair: Week 5: The Nuts & Bolts: Pulling it all Together by Leah @ The Courtney Six Homeschool

Our Schedule's Working! by Eunora @ All Things NoriLynn

Homeschooling: How do I do it all? by Debbie @ Debbie's Digest

Virtual Curriculum Fair--- Wrap-up Angie @ Petra School

Virtual Curriculum Fair: 5 Ways to Use an iPad in Your Homeschool by Pam @ Everyday Snapshots

A Peek Into Our School Day by Melissa @ Grace Christian Homeschool

A Day in the Life... by Nicole @ Schooling in the Sun

Homeschool and Life: How we get it done by Jen @ Forever, For Always, No Matter What

Homeschooling at My House by Jessica @ Modest Mama

Making Home School a part of LIFE by Cindy @ For One Another

Now Where's That Pencil Again? by Beth @ Ozark Ramblings

Something About Homeschooling I Really Didn't See Coming by Letha @ justpitchingmytent

Curriculum, Kids, and a Frazzled Homeschool Mama leads to Controlled Chaos! by Laura O from AK @ Day by Day in Our World

The Virtual Curriculum Fair – Nuts and Bolts by Kristen @ Sunrise to Sunset

Staying on Top of Everything by Brenda Emmett @ Garden of Learning

How Does This Homeschooling Thing Actually Work? Fitting it all Together by Joelle @ Homeschooling for His Glory

Nuts & Bolts: Pulling it all together by Christa Darr @ Fairfield Corner Academy

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Resumes for Children, a review


Resumes for Children 17 Years Olds and Under

Yes, Really!

A Guide to Giving a Child that Edge to Succeed!

by Donna Kristine Manley

ISBN 9780977783502


Mom’s Choice Awards Gold recipient

Kids have so many interests and abilities, more than can possibly fit into neat little subject categories or a standard academic transcript. Part of the reason that we homeschool our children is to give them opportunities to experience things outside of our 4 walls. There are all kinds of programs they can participate in, classes they can take, teams they can play on, and talents they can pursue.

Sometimes it’s a challenge to document it all. We’re looking ahead, thinking of college, of internships, of summer programs…those with fuller experiences are definitely going to have an edge when it comes time to apply for scholarships and elite programs.

That’s where resumes come in, they’re not just for job applications, you know. A guide to how to create one for you child seemed like the perfect thing to add to my homeschool library.

At 8-1/2” x 11” and 99 pages, Resumes for Children contains:

  • a 3-page introduction with
    • reasons your child may need a resume
    • a list of possible activities to include on your child’s resume
  • 21 samples of 1-page child resumes (I don’t know if these are actual resumes with pertinent details changed or fictitious. The author is a resume writer, so either is a possibility.)
    • kid ages range from about 6 to 17
    • includes examples of various interests, hobbies, work experience, etc.
  • 1-page sample of various types of references
  • 3 sample cover letters
  • 1-page list of suggestions for areas to explore (titled “Pearls of Wisdom”)
  • 10-page section of blank, lined pages called “Reflections”
  • 15-page section of blank, lined pages called “Ideas”
  • 10-page section of blank, lined pages called “Resources”

If you are looking for a resume workbook that will take you by the hand and ask you specific questions that you can explore the answers to, then this isn’t it. While the author throws out plenty of ideas, it would be misleading to suggest that this book will truly guide you in creating a resume from start to finish.

But, if you are looking for a little inspiration and some models to emulate while doing your own resume brainstorming, Resumes for Children is just the thing. The samples do a good job of showing you how those things your kiddos love are valuable experiences to share on a resume. They are part of what makes your child unique.

Think of Resumes for Children as an open-ended tool for getting you started.

Disclosure: I received a free copy to keep of Resumes for Children to facilitate this review. I received no compensation and the opinions expressed here are my own.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

So What’s the 2:1 Conference?

A conference for Christian…



And it‘ll be happening less than 2 hours from my home?

How sweet is that?

So many of the ladies speaking at the 2:1 Conference are bloggers I read and love.

Some day I’ll put aside some of my homeschool budget to attend a conference.  It’s been awhile and I’m in need of a recharge.

A refocus.

I need to take a look at what I’m doing and why as a Mama and an educator.

And how does blogging fit into all that?  Or does it?

I would love to attend this conference, but I can’t afford the $200.  Sigh.  Maybe I’ll win the giveaway for a ticket they are having at The Homeschool Classroom.  Wish me luck!

Disclosure:  This post gets me entered into a random drawing for a ticket to the 2:1 Conference.  I received no compensation for it.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Friday Freebies: Art Resources

Earlier this week, I talked about exploring art in an informal way, but we do pursue some more formal art studies in our homeschool.

Here are some of the things we use:

Meet the Masters is a free to download 247 page pdf that includes all you need to introduce elementary kiddos (K-5) to history’s great painters. Includes full color prints of the masters’ works (you can print them on high quality paper or just view them on your computer), discussion questions, and art activities.

A well-known illustrator of children’s books, Jan Brett, has a page of video drawing lessons on her site.

The ABCs of Art is a series of handouts in the elements and principles of art from Awesome Artists, available both in color and in black and white.

The Art Project powered by Google has virtual tours of art museums around the world.

Famous Paintings: Art Appreciation Lessons for Kids has been a wonderful resource for art appreciation. I ask the children to choose a picture that interests them and then we explore that artist. Includes biographical information and other works.

The National Gallery of Art Kids (NGA Kids) has a plethora of interactive online activities for exploring art.

Do you have any free resources that you use for art in your homeschool?

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Art of Exploration

Homeschooling Hearts & Minds

This is week 4 of the Virtual Curriculum Fair and our homeschool topic this week is---

Seeking Beauty: the Arts and Everything that Brings Beauty to Our World

I will be linking to the other participants’ posts at the end of this post as I receive their links.

Art is a big part of one very special boy’s everyday life.001

With a pencil in had, Peter (age 6) can conquer math facts, battle monsters, and even understand some pretty complicated (and gross) aspects of the animal kingdom.

Case in point, on Saturday the boys learned about assassin bugs. Ever heard of assassin bugs?

An assassin bug basically stabs its prey (another bug, don’t worry it’s not out to get you) with its proboscis and injects it with toxic saliva, which dissolves the prey’s innards, whereupon the assassin bug has a little buggy shake.

Peter decided that if God created an assassin bug, He must have created an assassin for the assassin bug. This is his suggested design for an assassin bug killer. ;0)


You see, he has a head-lopping claw, poison spikes, and ichor suckers. I think he’s got it covered.

ichor (from

  1. the liquid that in Greek Mythology was said to flow in place of blood in the veins of the gods
  2. (poetic) any bloodlike fluid
  3. a watery, fetid discharge from a sore
  4. yellow bile

My older son informs me that “ichor” is bug blood and guts and Peter confirms. Um okay, I’ll go with that.

And they say that homeschoolers are limited by their parents’ knowledge. I guarantee they didn’t learn that from me.

Here’s the assassin bug killer in action.


And here’s the “10 monster” that Peter defeats every time he practices his math facts.


Peter also tells stories through his drawings, he has real knack for visual narration.


I was driving when my car broke down

so I went to town for help!


then suddenly



He’s even explored theological concepts through his drawings.


Souls waiting for Jesus to release them upon his descent into Hell.

Peter draws constantly. Drawing is his way of processing the world around him.

If he’s bored, he draws and then he’s not bored anymore.

If he’s excited, he draws to calm down and get the ideas out of his head.


He can explain everything with a few pencil strokes instead of a few thousand words.

Sometimes he takes it 3-D.


Chinese Dragon

To Peter, art is more than just something pretty to look it, it’s a way to help him explore his world and to share it with others.

While we are doing art appreciation this year and my oldest is using a formal art curriculum (Artistic Pursuits), today I just wanted to encourage you to look at art from a less formal perspective.

We always keep drawing materials readily available to all the kiddos and plenty of paper.

Drawing can be a story-telling, a form of self-expression, an affirmation of understanding (Peter often draws narrations of things he’s learned during the day), and even a way to calm the fidgets.

But it needn’t stop with drawing. Imagine sculpting while hearing your history lesson, for instance. Wouldn’t that be fun!

Homeschoolers are pretty good at working hands-on crafty type projects into their studies, we make little lapbooks or build pyramids out of sugar cubes. We color coloring pages and weave cloth from hand-spun threads. Or some such.

And that’s all good stuff. But it’s all extras, the icing, things for reinforcing the main event, right?

Getting the real point across.

What if you turned it around?

Take another look at that Chinese dragon. Peter wanted to make a Chinese dragon that would be 3-dimensional and stand up on its own. He designed and drew all the pieces. He even drew dotted lines for folding. I helped with the cutting out and assembly, because he asked me to. He learned that he needed both right and left feet (symmetry) from the doing. He learned about form. He learned that his folds were in the wrong places. He learned lots of things. And you can bet he’ll remember those things the next time he wants to make a paper creation.

He’s internalized them. He’s ready to make connections.

But he didn’t set out to learn all those things. He set out to make a Chinese dragon. And he did. He learned in the doing and all that conceptual learning was the icing, not the main event. He didn’t need an assignment telling him to explore symmetry and form by creating a 3-D object. He simply did it.

What the mind needs to know, it will learn in order to achieve its purposes.

Sometimes the children need some direction and guidance. And other times, they just need a chance to explore.

I invite you to visit these other great homeschool bloggers who are talking about Seeking Beauty this week. (I will update this post with links as I receive them)

Memory Making by Christine @ Crunchy Country Catholic

Learning Art at Our House by Jessica @ Modest Mama

history, up close by Jennifer @ a glimpse of our life

Fitting in the Arts When Homeschooling by Laura O in AK @ Day by Day in Our World

Appreciating the Arts by Cindy Horton @ Fenced in Family

Beauty in Homeschooling? by Cindy @ For One Another

Heart of Dakota- The Fine Details- Part 4 Poetry & Bible by Lynn @ Ladybug Chronicles

The Art of Art by Brenda Emmett @ Garden of Learning

The Beauty of the Arts - Where Does It Fit? by Joelle @ Homeschooling for His Glory

Learning and Art Library by Angie @ Petra School

Seeking Beauty: The Arts and Everything that Brings Beauty to Our World by Christa Darr @ Fairfield Corner Academy

How to Fit "The Arts" in School by Christine @ Our Homeschool Reviews

Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder by Debbie @ Debbie's Digest

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Keurig MINI vs. Tassimo T20: A side-by-side comparison

This is an unsponsored, unsolicited review.  I won the Tassimo T20 on someone’s blog several weeks ago, and then we received the Keurig MINI as a Christmas gift.   It just seemed natural to do a side-by-side comparison between the 2 machines, because if I was in the market for one of these brewers, I’d want to see a side-by-side comparison. 

I am not comparing the quality or taste of the coffee in this video review, but how the machines work and what they can do, for 2 reasons:

  1. Taste in coffee is so very personal.   I, for one, am not crazy about Starbucks coffee, but know that many are.
  2. There are so many varieties available for each brewer and I’ve only tried a few.  Can I say that I’m utterly amazed at the number of “donut” varieties available for the Keurig? ;0)

One of these machines will be staying in my kitchen, while the other will have a new home in my husband’s office, because there is a limit to how many coffee brewers I need in my house at any given time.  Or, at least there’s a limit to much space I have for coffee brewers.  And coffee brewing paraphernalia.  Ahem.

For the record, I’m keeping the Tassimo at home simply because I think it’s more versatile.  Hubby doesn’t care as much about versatility, he just wants coffee.

So, without further ado, here’s my review. 

For those of you who don’t want to listen to me blather on about coffee for 18 minutes (or have a sleeping child in arms), the key points:

Snapshot 1 (1-21-2012 7-01 PM)

Keurig MINI (pictured on the right)

  • retails for $80-$100, other models available too
  • single cup machine with no water reservoir (must refill for each cup), other more expensive Keurigs do have a water reservoir
  • proprietary K-cups
  • punctures the K-cup with very sharp metal spikes which are exposed when you open the machine to clean it (they call them “needles”)
  • very short cord
  • can accommodate a regular coffee mug or cup, not large travel mugs (larger Keurigs can accommodate a larger cup)
  • can brew up to 10 oz., you choose the amount of water to use (6-10 oz)
  • automatically shuts off if you forget, so no energy waste
  • easy clean up
  • brews coffee, flavored coffee, tea, and hot chocolate
  • can find K-cups at most grocers, Wal-mart, etc.

Tassimo T20 (pictured on the left)

  • retails for $100, other models available too
  • single cup machine with a water reservoir
  • bar code reader that determines water amount, temp, etc.
  • can adjust the brew somewhat with more or less water
  • proprietary T-discs
  • longer cord than the Keurig
  • no auto shut-off
  • can accommodate from a demitasse cup to a tall travel mug with an adjustable platform
  • splatters some if the gap between spout and cup is too big (would like to be able to fine tune that adjustment)
  • easy clean up
  • brews coffee, flavored coffee, espresso, crema, tea, and hot chocolate
  • T-discs are harder to find in store, at least in my neck of the woods.

Friday, January 20, 2012

On Daleks, Bobcats, Houseboats, and other things

This week, my husband and I celebrated our 14th wedding anniversary.

We got our wedding bands back from the jeweler

mine sized down, because it slipped off my finger and got lost at a Christmas party and was thankfully returned,

his sized up because he broke his hand last year and forever changed the shape of his knuckle.

And I gave him a CubeeCraft Bad Wolf Tardis and the 9th Doctor by Cyberdrone.  Doesn’t seem like much, but how does one find the time to build more than that and keep it a secret when the kiddos are always around, hmm?

Of course, once the kiddos found out about these, they each had to have their own dalek.

David is flying his around the room right now, saying “EXTERMINATE!”

They also have ideas about building all the doctors.  And, of course, Sarah Jane Smith.  And Ace.  And the other companions.  But I’ve vetoed Tegan.

Because, yeah, we’re a little geeky around here.

And paper crafts can be a fun homeschool project, as long they aren’t too complicated.

Took Peter and Mary for well-child checks.  At the same time.  With the other kiddos in tow.

Because sometimes that’s how schedules work out.

Won’t do that again.

Mary needs a spine study, because at the tender age of 8, she shows some signs of scoliosis.  No curvature, it’s in the muscle development.

I have scoliosis, my Dad had it, my brother has it, and my husband’s sister actually had her spine fused for scoliosis, so this is no surprise.

Sometimes genetics stink.

Talked to the doctor about some other stuff.  Like Mary’s anxiety issues.  She fears natural disasters.  She fears small animals.  She fears, well, everything.

Not really abnormal stuff on the face of it, but she tends to go to extremes.  And it makes me crazy.

Because I feel utterly at a loss when it comes to helping her with this.  I need to find a way to help her.

Being afraid all the time surely stinks.

So we talked and agreed that talking to a pediatric counselor might be helpful to her.

And that brings me to the other lunatic in our house.  Ok, he’s not really a lunatic, but he sure makes me crazy some times.


That’s not his problem, by the way, it’s mine. 

The past 6 years have been a constant struggle to work at improving Peter’s quality of life and to learn how to parent him.

He stretches me in so many different directions.  Sometimes it is very painful.

But it’s always very worth it.

It’s just been very stressful lately.

I’ve talked before how Peter is very different.  He processes things differently.  He reacts differently from the average kid.

His ped ophthalmologist suggested Asperger’s Syndrome.  Just certain behaviors he was noticing.  Of course, it’s more complicated than that.  Because there isn’t an average anything in real life, not even an average kid with Asperger’s.  If that’s even a part of what’s going on with Peter.

And so we talked about Peter, our family doctor and I, things I know he does, things the doctor notices.

Things I’ve read about.  I’ll talk about this more in-depth at some point, but I don’t want to bog you down with details right this minute.  

His glasses really have helped some things.

But he still has issues.  And so we will talk to a counselor and have him evaluated to see if we can put together the particular pieces of his special puzzle.

The good news is that he’s doing much better with the glasses.

And he’s almost completed the Cub Scout requirements for Bobcat, which required a good bit of memorization (he has to know the Cub Scout promise, Law of the Pack and so forth) that I wasn’t sure he could handle…he’s getting it!

Cub scouts has been really good for him.  We didn’t know how he would do there.  Peter typically doesn’t do well in big groups, but his den is very small (like a half dozen boys?) and everyone has been very supportive and accepting of him.  He’s thriving and feels at home with this group.

This week we’ve been trying some different things “school” wise.

I hate that word.  School.

My kiddos hate it, too. ;0)

At some point, soon, promise, I’m going to share with you some of the thoughts spinning around in my head, but, again, I don’t want to bog you down here.

Let’s leave it at:  we need to make some changes.

Again?  Yeah, again, sigh.

One of those changes is more family read alouds.  Because we had gotten away from that.

This week we started The Wind in the Willows.

I wasn’t sure about this particular book, because it seemed like it just might be a little too, well, prosaic for Peter and Emma.

But they listened in rapt attention to the first chapter yesterday.  Absolutely enthralled.

Oh, this didn’t keep Peter from peppering the air with constant questions every other line…

When they got home, the Rat made a bright fire in the parlour,---“

“What’s a parlour?”

“It’s a room where you visit with guests in your home. ---and planted the Mole in an arm-chair---“

“What’s ‘planted’ mean?”

“It’s another way of saying he put him in the chair. ---in front of it, having fetched down a dressing-gown---a dressing gown is like a robe--- and slippers for him and told him river stories till super-time.  Very thrilling stories, too, to an earth-dwelling---“

“What’s ‘dwelling’ mean?”

And so on.

He’s paying such close attention.  This one is very sharp.  He misses nothing.

But, understandably, reading to him can be quite exhausting at times.  And there’s a tendency (at least in me) to stick with well known or simple stories because reading more difficult books becomes a marathon.

There were a number of things and animals mentioned in that chapter, things the kiddos knew nothing about and explanations seemed so…inadequate, so today has been a little research day.  I located images, articles and even a few videos on the web to help them better picture what they were hearing about.  It’s a whole different world, you know.  So, we learned about punts and houseboats.  And water rats.  And moorhens.

And I thought I’d share those links here with you.  These are just some of the things mentioned in the first chapter of The Wind in the Willows.  What a learning experience!

Illustrations of the Wind in the Willows, includes Toad in his wager boat

On rowing and various row boats

Various rowing and sculling boats

Punt boat, includes diagrams
Poling the planet---vid by two punters who make their living offering punting tours of the River Cam in Cambridge, England.

Houseboats (lots of great pictures included of houseboats around the world)
Manufacturer of houseboats (lots of pictures of houseboats with modern conveniences)

History of steamboats
Some of the animals mentioned
Water rats (European Water Vole)
Video of mama river otter and her pup
Video of mom teaching baby otter to swim
Heron Pictures

How was your week?

Friday Freebies for Learning, Lots of Good Stuff

As promised, 100% free learning resources for your homeschool!

In this week’s post for the Virtual Curriculum Fair, one resource I talked about was Ellen McHenry’s Mapping the World with Art.  Ellen also has tons of freebies for download on her site!   Many of them seem to be activities excerpted from the curricula she sells, so this is a great way to “try before you buy,” but they are also great just stand alones to supplement what you are already doing. 

We really liked the “brain hats.”   She’s got several things for studying anatomy, but also other sciences, history, geography, math, and more.

You can find all of Ellen’s freebies at Ellen McHenry’s Basement Workshop.

Here’s another freebie for you…how about a complete K-6 science curriculum?

Math Science Nucleus includes free, downloadable teacher guides, lab instructions, student worksheets, and even animated science storybooks you can view online.   This is a very meaty curriculum.  

Note:  while the teaching materials are free, many of the labs call for materials you might not have lying around the house.  Math Science Nucleus is a secular curriculum, and does present evolution and an old earth as fact, from what I have previewed. 

Disclosure:  I have no connections with the producers of these resources, just sharing some cool freebies I found on the web.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Mapping Out Our Social Studies

Homeschooling Hearts & Minds

Welcome to Week 3 of the Virtual Curriculum Fair! You’ll find the links to all the other homeschool participants at the bottom of this post. (Update: a total of 19 posts this week!)

Our theme this week is:

Exploring Our World: Social Studies and more Science. This theme can include history, geography, world cultures, worldview, biology, botany, geology, etc., etc., etc.

In other words, we are all over the map (literally and figuratively)!

Obviously I can’t talk about it all in this post and I’m not going to. I’ll be giving you a brief overview of what we have done in the social studies department for the past 5 years, ending with the history and geography curriculum my 6th grader is studying this year. I like to share materials that are “off the beaten path,” and this one fits that description. ;0)

In the Beginning…unit studies from scratch

When we first started educating our children at home, David, our oldest, was in 2nd grade, Mary was preschool age, and Peter was a baby. One of our challenges was getting David excited about learning again. His school experience officially turned him off. I needed to turn him back on. Unit studies seemed to be the answer, but due to a lack of funds and not being able to find just what I wanted, I decided to create my own rather than buy a guide and a box full of books. Buying a guide and borrowing the books from the library wasn’t an option, as our bitty library simply didn’t have the books. I needed to improvise.

We started with a short unit on Daniel Boone over the summer. Created a lapbook from scratch. Made a board game. Did Daniel Boone math. It was very good.

Daniel Boone lapbook

Daniel Boone board game

I gained some confidence. David became interested. And so we ran on into a year long unit study on ancient world history.

Mesopotamia lapbook

Mesopotamia lapbook 2Mesopotamia lapbook 3

Educationally, it was an excellent year. But, frankly, all the prep work, the research, the locating of books, the planning, finding free online resources…it all got to be too much. And I was dealing with Peter’s special needs. It seemed like I was living and breathing homeschooling plus Peter’s medical issues. I simply burned out.

We also tried some pre-designed lapbooks.

We do like creating lapbooks. From scratch. Somehow all the cutting and pasting and filling in of blanks of the pre-designed type takes all the joy out of it for us. It’s like a 3-D fill in the blanks worksheet. And the kiddos very quickly slip into “get her done” mode. I have a number of digital lapbook files I’ve picked up here and there, and we do occasionally use some bits and pieces. But not really our thing. There’s something about creating it from nothing that helps them to synthesize what they have learned better. So we do the occasional lapbook, but as it’s a truly involved affair, we don’t do them too often.

I didn’t want to just give up on unit studies…enter Patchwork Primers

Patchwork PrimersWe tried Patchwork Primers Vol. 2: Inventions and Discoveries. That’s out of print, but you may still be able to find it used. What I liked about Patchwork Primers was that it was set up as an outline with topics to cover, complete with discussion and activity suggestions, but what what actual books and materials you used is up to you. I didn’t have to find any particular books, I could use what was available at my library or through interlibrary loan. Patchwork Primers actually tries to cover not social studies and science, but art, music, grammar, Bible, literature, and even math. So, for instance, in Inventions and Discoveries, while you were studying communication inventions, like the printing press, the typewriter, Braille, the telegraph, the telephone, and the radio, you were also studying how the eyes and ears work, and how sound travels. And various elements of art and music. And so on.

Patchwork Primers unit 1

By this point we were living in a new area with a stellar library system, which did help. But I still burned out. There were simply too many choices. My ADD/OCD brain isn’t very good about picking and choosing and wants to do it all! And I was beginning to feel like trying to work every subject into a unit study was just…too forced. Maybe it would be better to stick with a strictly history or literature or even science based unit…hmmm?

Time Travelers from Homeschool in the Woods

I really love Amy Pak’s work. She’s a talented artist. So, when we decided to study the New World Explorers and then American history, The Time Travelers Series seemed like a perfect fit. Unit Study, artsy stuff, the right time period, all the work done for me, what’s not to like?

The New World Explorers study is probably the dullest unit study we have ever done. I thought we’d love it. We love maps. We love adventure. We got about halfway through and then moved on to Colonial Times. Because if we did one more map overlay, somebody was going to scream. ;0)

I don’t fault the unit study, it simply didn't fit us as well as I thought it would. And we certainly didn’t have to do all the maps. Ok, we didn’t do all the maps. Or all the vocab cards. Or all the other cut-y out-y things. Not that you have to, as with any unit study, you have to pick and choose what you want to do. But there’s a whole lot of cutting out and coloring with one of these Time Traveler units and after a while it's gets tedious. We did enjoy learning to tie knots. And some other things. But I found that the text was not really capturing their interest and the activities became too repetitive. Once more were slipping into “get her done” mode.

Plus, the age and ability gap between my oldest child and the next two was becoming more and more apparent (4 year difference between my oldest and my next oldest). I was holding my oldest back a little and expecting too much of his sister.

So this year we tried something totally new and different.

All together, we are doing some Classical Studies. Our read alouds include daily Bible stories and then once a week we read from the D’Aulaires Book of Greek Myths and from Famous Men of Rome. We follow the readings up with narrations. Oral narrations for the two oldest children and Peter draws his narrations.

In addition to the Classical Studies, David is also doing an independent study, Mapping the World with Art by Ellen McHenry. You really should check out Ellen’s site, she has a number of freebies available.

David loves to draw. And he loves to draw MAPS! What’s unique about this curriculum is that in addition to reading and learning about the history of map-making, he is learning to draw the whole world. Mapping the World with Art has 3 parts:

  1. Readings
  2. Activities
  3. Mapping

This program is designed for about 5th grade and up. The readings are relatively short, the front and back of a page. More research could be added for an older student (David is almost 12 and this is about right for him).

The course is basically a survey of world history from the perspective of mapmaking. So you’ll learn about the very first maps, early navigation, latitude and longitude, the explorers, and so on. The activities vary, some are simply watching a video on youtube or reading articles online. Others are hands-on, like creating an edible map (everybody loved this one). And then there are games, making navigational tools, and so on. Many of the activities are appropriate for younger children. The course includes detailed instructions for making the maps, both in the book as well as videos on DVD.

Overall, this has been a good choice for David. Monday, he does a reading and then a short written narration (there are no discussion questions included). Wednesday he does the map or maps for that lesson. Friday he does one or more activities for that lesson, with the younger children joining in if it’s appropriate for them.

Occasionally we hit an online activity where the link is no good, but I can generally find a replacement. And occasionally we hit a hands-on activity that simply requires too much prep for us, and we just skip it. There are plenty of other activities, so that’s not really an issue. His favorite part, of course, is the maps.

aegean sea map

Nile river map

I can honestly say that this was a good buy ($47 plus ship for the physical copy plus DVDs and the whole book on CD-rom) and a good choice for David’s first truly independent social studies program. He can do it entirely on his own.

And what will we do next year? I don’t know, yet. But I’ll fill you in when I figure it out. ;0)

That’s enough about what we are doing, now go see what the other participants are doing in their homes (I’ll add the links as I receive them):

Science and Worldview by Beth @ Ozark Ramblings

Nature Study as Science by Christine @ Crunchy Country Catholic

Virtual Curriculum Fair Week 3- Social Studies and more Science by Leah Courtney @ The Courtney Six Homeschool Family

Curriculum Fair–Exploring Our World by Angie @ Petra School

Paths of Exploration by Jen @ Forever, For Always

Learning Geography at Our House by Jessica @ Modest Mama

The Fascinating World Around Us by Cindy Horton @ Fenced in Family

More Heart of Dakota Praises by Nicole @ Schooling in the Sun

Our History by Melissa @ Grace Christian Homeschool

Playful US Geography for First Grade by Pam @ Everyday Snapshots

Heart of Dakota-The Fine Details-Part 3 History by Lynn @ Ladybug Chronicles

Exploring Our World Through History & Science by Brenda Emmett @ Garden of Learning

Two History Must-haves by Letha @ justpitchingmytent

Learning About The World Around Us by Laura O from AK

Social Studies and Science - What do we do? by Joelle @ Homechooling for His Glory

History Chronologically and with Living Books by Debbie @ Debbie's Digest

Why History? by MissMOE @ Homeschooling While Living the Life of Easier

Exploring Our World by Christa Darr @ Fairfield Corner Academy

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Our Homeschool Week: Seeing the World More Clearly

It’s been a long week.  But in a good way.  I’m going to start from the end and rewind to the beginning.

Peter finally has his glasses!


Doesn’t he look like a cute, little professor? 

He had his new eye exam early this week and it was full of revelations.  Not only is he very farsighted (more so in one eye than the other), but he has astigmatism in one eye, so he needs very special lenses.  And frames to fit a biggish head.  But we already knew about the big head.  ;0)

This kid gets more and more unique by the minute. 

I’m trying hard not to question why his “special” vision wasn’t revealed by all the eye exams he had in the first few years of his life, especially as they are telling us now that he’s had these issues since birth.  I just need to put that aside for my sake and his.  For some reason, we didn’t find out until now.  His progress in math and reading astounds me, given the challenges he’s endured.  The important things is that his eyes are getting the correction they need and this is good!

Getting the glasses was an all day affair, as the nearest place that could accommodate his vision needs and get them on his face quickly (how could we make him wait another week or more?) was an hour drive away each way.  I missed the reveal because I stayed home with the other kids. 

According to Chris, Peter’s first words after trying on his new glasses for the first time:  “Everything’s so BIG!”  Some things were a little scary.  Like stairs.  You have to understand, so much was  a blur to him before.  Now there are all these edges.   It will take time for his brain to learn to process all the new information.  He goes to back to the eye doctor in 3-4 months.

I’m already seeing a positive impact.  He’s watching a movie right now and sitting on the sofa with the rest of the kids instead of 2 feet from the TV. ;0)

Our academics this week were kind of mixed up, between Peter’s eye exam (that was an all day affair, too) and taking the day off on Monday for Mary’s birthday.

Mary is now 8!

Mary birthday 2012-001


You’ll notice a little furry critter in that scrapbook page.  That would be Hamlet, the other big change in our family this week! 

Hamlet is a Chinese dwarf hamster, and our gift to Mary for her birthday.  She’s been wanting to have a hamster for several months and has actually done a whole bunch of reading and research on them.

The first few days, all anyone wanted to do was watch Hamlet.  Hamsters are pretty easy to care for, I give them a thumbs up if you want a small pet.

The only caveat:  never ever leave the 2-year-old alone in the same room with the hamster cage.  Seriously.  Don’t even consider it.

So what did we learn, other than about Peter’s eyes (maybe it’s time to do another quick study on eyes and vision…hmm, I think I have just the thing) and about hamsters and how to feed them and care for them?  Isn’t that enough?

Peter and Mary both started an online supplemental program called K5 (I’ll be reviewing that some time in the coming weeks).  Covers phonics, reading, math, math facts, and spelling.  So far Peter really likes it.  He did much better on the assessment than I expected.  Mary’s doing well with it, too, but doesn’t like it as much as he does.

Peter is also making progress in Right Start Math.  He learned about the commutative property.  Actually, he already knew about it, he just knows what it’s called, now.  He investigated making larger rectangles and squares out of smaller rectangles and squares.



But that was boring, so he started making robots instead.


He read 2 books from level 3 of the I See Sam readers.

And he explored his own spin on theology.


After having a discussion with Daddy about Jesus dying on the cross and descending to open the gates of Hell, freeing the good souls that had been waiting there, Peter drew this.  It’s the waiting room where the souls are waiting.  The skeleton is reading a book because that’s what you do in waiting rooms when you are bored.  This is actually the bottom of a 3-panel picture.  The tippy top has a picture of heaven with a sign on it saying “W R Closd.”  Because the Resurrection hasn’t happened yet.

Emma is still waiting for the non-washable dry erase marker to wear off of her body.  But it’s fading.

Mary is reading Mary Poppins.  She’s learned addition with regrouping.  She is 2 steps away from finishing level 2 of All About Spelling---this is actually a source of a disagreement between us.  She thinks she shouldn’t have to do any more spelling for the rest of the year , but I think she’s wrong about that. ;0)

David read about John Cabot, read about the Battle of the Bulge, converted fractions into equivalent fractions, learned about averages, and found averages from data in a grid.  He’s reading My Royal Pain Quest.

He also played with Peter’s math manipulatives.


What is it with math manipulatives that makes everyone what to build with them?

We all experimented with gravity and mass using a Physics Quest kit that I forgot I had.

Overall, it was a busy, but good week.

Linking to Weekly Wrap Up at Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers.

You might also like:

Learning Unintended Lessons

Building Imaginary Caves and Forts

Setting Goals:  The Kiddos Have Their Say

Friday, January 13, 2012

Friday Freebies: Funtastic Science Unit Studies

Here’s a new feature at Homeschooling Hearts &  Minds, each Friday I’m going to post a couple of freebies from the web to spice up your homeschool.

This week’s freebie is from Susan Kilbride, creator of Funtastic Unit Studies!  She’s sent me a copy of her book, Science Unit Studies for Homeschoolers and Teachers, which I’ll be reviewing sometime in the next few weeks.  In the meantime, here are a couple of sample units from the book:

A Plant Unit Study for ages 4-7:

An Atoms & Molecules Unit Study for ages 8-13:

Monday, January 9, 2012

1st, 2nd, 6th Grade Math in Our Homeschool: How We Got HERE

This week’s homeschool topic for the Virtual Curriculum Fair is---

Discovering Patterns: Mathematics, Logic, and some Science. This theme can include anything to do with mathematics, mathematical thinking, numbers, arithmetic, symbolic logic, critical thinking, and math-y sciences (physics, chemistry, etc.).

Make sure you check the end of this post to see all the wonderful articles that have been contributed to this topic! (Update: We are up to 21 24 posts total for this week!)

And since I don’t believe in absolute rules when it comes to education…you just might see some posts on sciences that are not so “mathy,” too. I’ve always some some trouble dividing things up into strict categories and generally only do it to fulfill our state requirements anyway. ;0)

This week, I’ll be giving you a glimpse of what we are using for mathematics in our homeschool.
Three of our kiddos are doing math this year: David (age 11), Mary (age 8), and Peter (age 6). The interesting (crazy?) thing is that each of them is using an entirely different math program! We didn’t end up here intentionally, in fact I tried really hard to use the same math program with each child, but these are 3 very different children. I’m going to start with a little history of…

How We Got to Where We are Now (or, previous Math FAILURES!)

David is in 6th grade going strictly by age, but his skills in various subjects cover a wide range of abilities. He’s definitely an individual, not fitting into the accepted “norms,” and, frankly, this has a lot to do with why we homeschool.

David attended kindergarten and first grade at a small Catholic school. He excelled in the language arts, in fact they simply couldn’t (wouldn’t?) accommodate his advanced reading and spelling. But he was bored by their colorful workbooks and what’s more, he really wasn’t getting it.

When we brought him home, we tried workbook approach for math first, because I didn’t really know yet how much it wasn’t sinking in. You see, he could do the workbook pages fine, but he didn’t really understand what he was doing. Plus, having survived and graduated from public school myself, I really didn’t know what other approach to take. Sometimes you have to learn from your mistakes.
So, in spite of spending plenty of time on addition, subtraction, telling time, “counting” money, etc., by the end of 3th grade he didn’t really know these things. He knew the mechanics. Sort of. But math facts just fell right out his head (I wouldn’t learn until further on that he has a slight learning glitch that makes transferring those facts into long-term memory more difficult). Timed quizzes were pure torture. We needed a change.

So we tried…

Math on the Level

Math on the Level is a complete math program that can be used with multiple kiddos from kindy on up to pre-algebra. To say that it was about as far as you can get from workbooks is putting it mildly. I’m not going to go into a complete description of the program today (or I’d be writing yet another book), just a brief overview of what it’s about (you can check their website for more info) and why we ended up putting it aside.

What I really love about MotL:
  • Mastery based, with built in review
  • Completely keyed to your child’s level of knowledge and maturity
    • Concepts are built on top of each other, you’ll never be teaching a topic that they haven’t gotten the proper background
    • You never have to teach topics until your child is developmentally ready for them
  • It’s possible to teach multiple-levels at the same time
  • Heavy emphasis on using real-life math and learning “adventures”
  • Sounds expensive (costs about $300 for the set, ouch), but that covers you for grades kindergarten through about 7th or 8th
  • Provides all the background material you need to actively teach the material to your kiddos
  • There’s a free forum for getting ideas and advice on using the program
Hmmm, I really do love this program and sometimes thinking about getting it back out (I do use it for reference). I’m so changeable. ;0)

Why we had to put MotL aside:

While the hands-on, teacher-intensive aspect of the program was a big selling point for me, I felt like I was constantly preparing to teach math. Plus, I had a little baby to take care of and, at that time, Peter was only 4 and not at all interested. Each day would have a teaching element, but also a review element (called “5-a-days”) where the children would practice concepts already taught. This review element was crucial for David, by the way, and the fact that it only consisted of 5 problems or questions made it as painless as possible. But, to work optimally, you have to update your reviews daily (you shuffle concepts to be reviewed daily, 2 or three times a week, weekly, etc.) to reflect materials that have been mastered and materials that need more review. This didn’t take a huge amount of time, but it was time spent each and every evening before the next school day, and that time adds up.

Plus, the program is not strictly scripted, you can’t just pick it up and teach, you need to read ahead, prepare what topics you will teach, find manipulatives and life experiences to reinforce the teaching, etc., etc. The tremendous flexibility, much as it was exactly what I thought I wanted, became a burden to me.

Plus, David still was not getting his basic math facts and I did find MotL lacking on suggestions in that area. They basically do timed drills. Just like what we did before (we used Calculadders). And he simply doesn’t learn that way (more on this in a bit and how David is finally mastering his multiplication facts).

The other side is that as much as I love the idea of a hands-on, non-traditional curriculum, 8-year-old Mary is my workbook gal. She doesn’t think it’s real math unless it’s in a workbook. Really. And finding worksheets to supplement exactly what I was teaching, while easy enough, still was a time drain (not to mention a printer ink drain).

That said, I still believe in the program, I’m just not sure I’m the one to carry if off. Especially now that that baby is 2-year-old little Miss-Chief (if you know what I mean).

We’ve also tried…

Math Mammoth
Oh, David hated that. Mary did, too. I like the way Maria makes you think in her curriculum, but the children found the pages to be too full. Not enough white space and the answer blanks were too small for their handwriting. I would have them do half-pages, but they still found it daunting.

So last year I did a ton of research. I really loved the idea of a mastery-based, hands-on curriculum, but I needed something that would tell me what to do each day. I needed to have all the manipulatives on hand. And it would be great if all the kids could use the same program. My husband and I talked it over and plunged into buying…

RightStart Math (Peter’s Math)
018I wish that I could say that this was the last stop in our elementary math journey. But RightStart was a dud for both Mary and David, and you can click over to this post to read why (no reason to repeat what I’ve already written ;0). We are using it with Peter this year and it seems to be a pretty good fit for him, because…
  • He likes using the abacus.
  • He’s a hands-on kinda kid.
  • This is the first real math program he’s done, so he’s not having to repeat stuff he knows.
  • It’s easy for me to set the pace to his speed.
  • He needs the one-on-one time to get it.
  • In addition to basic addition, months, days, time, and more are also taught.
Here’s what a typical lesson looks like:

Here’s Peter’s staircase on the abacus:
RightStart places a big emphasis on recognizing patterns. The “staircase” is a visual reminder of all the numbers that add up to 10. The abacus is not used for counting, in fact children are trained to slide beads over by complete numbers, not singly. For example, if I ask Peter to add 2 and 5, he would slide over 2 beads together, and then 5 beads (or vice versa, he knows about the commutative property, though he doesn’t know what it’s called). The bead colors (you’ll notice that for the first rows, the first five beads are blue and the second five are yellow and then it reverses for the next five rows) are designed to get them to see at a glance patterns, like that 7 is 2 more than 5.

In addition to the abacus, we also use other manipulatives including bead cards, abacus tiles (each tile represents a complete abacus, so 100 beads---this is to help demonstrate how to partition hundreds, just as you partition tens), game cards, a clock, a balance, and more.

Written work is minimal. While each level has a workbook, in the lower levels you rarely get it out and usually we just do those problems on a whiteboard. While Peter does not object to writing, it is developmentally challenging for him, so less is more.


How do you like his “ten monster?”

RightStart is, for the most part, non-consumable, you can use it over and over again. You will need to buy a new workbook for each child (unless you choose to just write the workbook problems on a whiteboard).

What I don’t like about RightStart: It’s still not really a pick up and teach curriculum. While it’s all scripted out and includes manipulatives, many of the bits and pieces need to be copied and cut out or otherwise prepared, or involve grabbing some toys or blocks from the toy bin. It’s a little messy to keep all organized. I do need to look over each lesson the night before to make sure I have all the bits and pieces and I’m a little lazy about that. And Peter needs the manipulatives. Abstractions are too abstract for him at this point.

It has been working well for Peter, with some minor tweaking. Most of the lessons (there are about 120 in the book) are meant to be completed in a day (there’s a warm-up, a review and then the new teaching), and some are intended to take 2-3 days. I’ve actually slowed down the pace much more than that with Peter. He is a young 1st grader (he turned 6 at the end of September), and somewhat delayed developmentally (maybe by a few months) due to his unique physical condition. He’s very capable of learning the material (book A would have bored him), but needs shorter sessions. Personally, with any child this age, I might divide each lesson up into 2 shorter sessions and do one in the morning and one in the afternoon, but one short session each day is best for him.

So, we are progressing through the book, but much more slowly. I would expect to finish it in about a year and half or so at our current rate.

JUMP At Home (Mary’s Math)

This program is new to the American market, it was developed in Canada. JUMP stands for Junior Undiscovered Math Prodigy. It’s a great fit for Mary. She is using Grade 2 this year, which has a little overlap, but she wasn’t quite ready for Grade 3. She is going through it at a faster pace.
JUMP looks like a black and white workbook, but it’s really more than that.


What I love:
  • It makes Mary think, something she doesn’t really like to do.
  • The emphasis is on understanding the why behind the procedure, not on memorizing a procedure.
  • She can work on it independently, one-on-one teaching is brief.
  • It’s cheap, each book is less the $20 (it is consumable).
  • Not too much on a page. The pages are clear and simple.
  • It’s more than a workbook, the front section contains a whole bunch of suggestions for games and other activities for reinforcing concepts.
Mary thinks it’s okay. She doesn’t care for the use of visuals like number lines and dots (she’s a left-brainer, abstract kinda girl). But she’s learning the material. Here’s a look at a couple of pages on adding with regrouping:

Mary also seems to be allergic to Calculadders for math facts, so for extra practice on the math facts, we supplement with Add-It, a game from the Math-It program.
The idea is to place the cards on the correct sum as quickly as possible (you can try to place them all while holding your breath for fun ;0).


David was also able to use Add-It to shore up his addition facts.

Key to Fractions (David’s Math)

We started this school year with David using Life of Fred Fractions. Much as we like the novelty of Fred, we found it to be a poor fit for David. He is concept strong, but procedurally weak, and Fred did not give him enough practice using what he’d learned. When he doesn’t use it daily, he forgets it, to the point where he needs to totally relearn it. There simply isn’t enough material in Fred to cement things for him without heavy supplementation, which we were actually doing, but in the end I found it simply wasn’t enough. It was like doing Math on the Level, making up 5-a-days without actually using Math on the Level. If I didn’t rotate the procedural things right, he would forget how to do something he had demonstrated complete mastery of just a week before.

Learning glitches stink!

But, I came to a conclusion: Life of Fred did not have enough building up of smaller concepts. And it didn’t take advantage of his strong visual memory. So we switched to Key to Fractions by Key Curriculum Press in December. I’m still reserving my opinion, but so far so good.
Fractions is just one of several topics available in the series and is covered in 4 thin books (topics vary in size, so each topic has a different number of books), plus an answer key.

What I like:
  • The topic is broken down into little chunks.
  • The books encourage David to think and truly understand why he’s doing what he’s doing.
  • Even though they are black and white, they are actually pretty visual and allow the child plenty of opportunities to color the concepts to help them stick.
  • They are cheap. I paid about $15 for the 4 workbooks and answer key from Rainbow Resource. (This is consumable)
These are from the first book. I had him start about midway into the book, which will overlap some with what he already knows, but the review won’t hurt him.


I love these strings of equal fractions. One of the procedures David really had trouble with in Fred was adding together fractions with different denominators. He could never remember how to find a common denominator. This is going to really make it click for him, I think.

In addition to Key to Fractions, David continues to work with his custom multiplication flash cards.
Using some tips from Dianne Craft, David’s cards are written in colors and each has the complete fact. He has a semi-photographic memory and the cards capitalize on that gift by helping him lock strong pictures of the facts in his head. I use 4”x6” cards. You could use 5”x8” if you want. Or colored cards. Or add vivid pictures to the facts. We tried it this way first and it seemed to be sticking so we have stuck with it.


Looking up while viewing the card helps, believe it or not.


He had a little bit of fact loss over the break, but not too much.

In the new year, David also started using Time-Travel Math: An Advanced Geometry Adventure for Grades 4-5 (I ignore grade labels, this is appropriate for his current skill level). It’s too soon to tell if this is going to work well (David’s already complaining about it, but that’s not an accurate sign ;0). This is a thinky book, it encourages him to think things out and to represent his understanding through simple diagrams and then convert them into abstract equations. Pretty sophisticated, really. And the worksheets for doing the exploratory activities are reproducible, so I’ll be able to use this with Mary when she’s older.

OK, I could talk more about the little informal things we do in math, but I’m going to stop there because I promised myself I would write less than last time. And I have. Just barely. ;0)

I invite you to bookmark this page and visit the other bloggers participating this week in the Virtual Curriculum Fair. I will link their posts here as I receive them:

Math Lapbooks---Virtual Curriculum Fair Week 2 Angie Wright @ Petra School

Virtual Curriculum Fair Week Two: Discover Patterns, Mathematics, Logic and Some Science by Leah @ The Courtney Six Homeschool

Our Choices For Math by Melissa @ Grace Christian Homeschool

A Magnificent Math Manipulative by Letha Paulk @ justpitchingmytent

Our Math Choices - Virtual Curriculum Fair by Tristan @ Our Busy Homeschool

Math Literature?!?! by Christine @ Crunchy Country Catholic

Learning Math at My House by Jessica @ Modest Mama

Math Using Hamburger Paper by Debbie @ Debbie's Digest

Math Facts or Fun? Why Not Both! by Beth @ Ozark Ramblings

Heart of Dakota- The Fine Details- Part 2 Science by Lynn @ Ladybug Chronicles

Learning Math Block by Block by Laura O in AK @ Day by Day in Our World

Plugging Along with Math by Cindy Horton @ Fenced in Family

What's Working and What's Not: Math Edition by Leann @ Montessori Tidbits

Math Anyone? by Cindy @ For One Another

Ahh, Math. by Nicole @ Schooling in the Sun

Flying Without a Parachute: Math with no Curriculum by Pam @ Everyday Snapshots

Math in Our Homeschool by Christine T @ Our Homeschool Reviews

Math, Math, and More Math by Dawn Chandler @ tractors & tire swings

Thinking Mathematically- How I Choose Math Curriculum by Kristen @ Sunrise to Sunset

Discovering Patterns: Math, Logic, and Some Science by Christa Darr @ Fairfield Corner Academy

The Science of Math by Brenda Emmett @ Garden of Learning

"Mom, did we do math today?" by Chrissy at Learning is an Adventure

Math, Math, and More Math by Joelle @ Homeschooling for His Glory