Sunday, October 21, 2012

My new favorite thing!

Homeschooling will never be the same for us!  I have discovered 360 Cities - a website that lets you access interactive 360ยบ panorama images of user-submitted locations all over the world!!  The interactive and spherical nature of these images really bring the locations to life and make it feel like you're standing there in person - a night and day difference from a 2D image.  And the way the images are cataloged makes it incredibly easy to search for exactly what or where you're looking for, and you even have the option of clicking on a global map to explore images from any area of your choosing.  The homeschool applications are unending!  Are you studying China's great wall?  Why not try standing on it?!  Or might you be studying geology and cave formation?  Have a look around one for yourself!  You could visit the Louvre, see what it's like inside the engine room of a submarine, pay your respects at Ground Zero, go scuba diving in Egypt, stand on top of a volcano!  The possibilities are truly endless!!  And ds10 and I COULDN'T be having more fun.  :)  And isn't that how it's supposed to be??  :D

Monday, September 10, 2012

Online verb conjugator

For when there's ever any doubt...  an online English verb conjugator (with options for French, Spanish, German as well).

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Crash Course videos

Add this to your toolbox: the Crash Course YouTube video series from Vlogbrothers.  As of this posting they have made 64 videos, 32 each on World History and Biology.  The videos are silly, exciting, very visual, interesting, and extremely engaging.  Their geeky-silly style is akin to Bill Nye, Alton Brown, and Horrible Histories.  And through this unique combination, the producers are incredibly able to cram you full of more information in 12 minutes than you've probably learned in your lifetime on a subject, and have you able to not only understand but retain it all.  IMPORTANT NOTE: these videos are targeted toward older kids or young adults, and are sometimes quite blunt in their content matter, so you should preview each video before having your child watch it to determine the level of appropriateness.  But don't worry - they're so fun, you won't mind one bit watching the video a second time with your child!  ANOTHER IMPORTANT NOTE: these videos are also blatantly secular in their perspective, so often there will be philosophies in them that don't line up with the philosophies of most conservative homeschoolers.  So again, preview each video first.  However, I still maintain that these videos are useful, despite some of the content, due to their ability to engage and interest the learner and effectively give them a big-picture understanding of a topic before delving into the topic for further study.  Please consider using them as a sort of preview of a subject, and following up each video with questions and conversation and further learning.  And for parents of younger children, or children for whom the videos aren't appropriate, parents should also consider watching them for themselves, so that YOU can have a working understanding of the topic at hand before you delve into it.  Or, you know, for pure entertainment, because these videos are CRAZY FUN!!

The list of videos to date, not in any particular order...


Your Immune System: Natural Born Killer
Evolution: It's a Thing
The Big Guns: Your Muscular System
Your Skeleton: It's ALIVE!
The Excretory System: From Your Heart to the Toilet
The Digestive System
Circulatory & Respiratory Systems
The Nervous System
Animal Behavior
Complex Animals: Annelids & Arthropods
Simple Animals: Sponges, Jellies, & Octopuses
Comparative Anatomy: What Makes Us Animals
Taxonomy: Life's Filing System
Population Genetics: When Darwin Met Mendel
Evolutionary Development: Chicken Teeth
Animal Development: We're Just Tubes
Speciation: Of Ligers & Men
Natural Selection
Meiosis: Where the Sex Starts
Mitosis: Splitting Up is Complicated
DNA, Hot Pockets, & The Longest Word Ever
DNA Structure and Replication
ATP & Respiration
Plant Cells
In Da Club - Membranes & Transport
Eukaryopolis - The City of Animal Cells
Biological Molecules - You Are What You Eat
Water - Liquid Awesome
That's Why Carbon Is A Tramp

Coal, Steam, and The Industrial Revolution
Latin American Revolutions
Haitian Revolutions
The French Revolution
Tea, Taxes, and The American Revolution
The Amazing Life and Strange Death of Captain Cook
The Seven Years War
The Spanish Empire, Silver, & Runaway Inflation
The Atlantic Slave Trade
The Columbian Exchange
The Renaissance: Was it a Thing?
Russia, the Kievan Rus, and the Mongols
Venice and the Ottoman Empire
International Commerce, Snorkeling Camels, and The Indian Ocean Trade
Wait For It...The Mongols!
Mansa Musa and Islam in Africa
The Crusades - Pilgrimage or Holy War?
The Dark Ages...How Dark Were They, Really?
Islam, the Quran, and the Five Pillars All Without a Flamewar
Fall of The Roman the 15th Century
Christianity from Judaism to the Constantine
The Roman Empire. Or Republic. Or...Which Was It?
The Silk Road and Ancient Trade
Alexander the Great and the Situation ... the Great?
‎2,000 Years of Chinese History! The Mandate of Heaven and Confucius: World History
Buddha and Ashoka
The Persians & Greeks
Ancient Egypt
Indus Valley Civilization
The Agricultural Revolution
Columbus, de Gama, and Zheng He! 15th Century Mariners

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Best online kids dictionaries

When we first started homeschooling, my little boy was in the 2nd grade, and at that time I voted as the best online children's dictionary.  I am now slightly altering my vote.  I still hold that this online kids dictionary is the simplest to use and has the simplest, most concise all-in-one definitions for most words - which is GREAT for young elementary kids.  But now my boy is in the 5th grade, and our dictionary needs have changed.  My current favorite online kids dictionary is  This dictionary lets you chose from 3 different "comprehension" levels - beginner, intermediate, and advanced - beginner being usually as simple and concise as WordCentral, if not more, working up to advanced having a more expanded definition, usually with multiple possible meanings for a word, but always with definitions still easily understood by a child.  Plus all levels of this dictionary include more information about the word than WC's entries do, more like you might find in a "grown-up" dictionary, which is great for the older ages.  It's a little less streamlined to use, but still easy-peasy for my highly internet-capable 10 yr old.  :)

Example definition for "comfort - (v)" from each:
1 : to give strength and hope to CHEER
2 : to ease the grief or trouble of CONSOLE 

WordSmyth - beginner:
to make someone feel less pain or worry.
WordSmyth - intermediate:
to give relief from a painful or difficult situation; soothe.
WordSmyth - advanced:
to give (someone) relief and strength in trouble or distress.

And there you have it.

Horrible Histories, and much MUCH more!

Getting your child interested and engaged in learning a subject makes teaching and learning tremendously more effective and enjoyable. The "Horrible Histories" videos that were put out in the UK are a brilliant and fantastically comedic way to do just that - especially for one the most notoriously "boring" subjects ever. But be warned! The humor is crude and bluntly honest, and though there's no foul language or such, parents may want to preview these videos first to determine the level or appropriateness for their child (I recommend pre-teen and up). That being said, I reiterate, THEY ARE HILARIOUS!!! And full of interesting tidbits you never would have imagined. Here is a list of all the videos that were made, and they can all be found through a simple YouTube search such as this one.

There is also the related book series, which is equally comical, gruesome, and intellectually engaging.  My 10 year old boy is eating them up like candy!  Here is a complete list of the Horrible Histories books, which are available for purchase in many different combinations and formats.

And THEN there is the Horrible Science book series, which ds10 finds absolutely amazing!
And THEN there is the Murderous Maths book series, which ds10 finds utterly astounding!
And THEN there is the Horrible Geography book series, which ds10 finds incredibly intriguing!
And America's Funny But True History series, which we haven't read yet.
Oh, and we musn't forget the Boring Bible series - which makes learning about God's word anything BUT!  :)
...and several other minor book spinoffs that I don't have room to list.

There is also a Horrible Histories website, a Murderous Maths website, and a Horrible Science website, each with some fun games and bits of trivia on it, but IMHO they are utterly lacking compared to the books and videos, and not worth looking at except to preview the kind of material you are likely to find in the books.

Magic Tree House books

The Magic Tree House books need little introduction - they are a well-known series of books telling the adventures of a brother and sister who time travel through the use of a magic tree house and get to participate in famous historical events. For your (and my) convenience, below is a sorted list of the books chronologically or by topic, so you can easily find a book to tie in to your lessons.


Dinosaurs Before Dark (UK title: Valley of the Dinosaurs ) The Mystery of the Tree House #1 BC 10000 Jack and Annie discover the tree house and, using the magical books there, they travel back to the Late Cretaceous period (65 million years ago) where they meet a Pteranodon that saves them from a T-rex. Jack finds a gold medallion with the letter "M" on it.

Sunset of the Sabertooth (UK title: Mammoth to the Rescue ) The Mystery of the Magic Spell #3 BC 10000 In the last Ice Age, Jack and Annie encounter Cro-Magnons, wooly mammoths, and a saber-toothed cat while looking for the third object to help Morgan le Fay.

Mummies in the Morning (UK title: Secret of the Pyramid ) The Mystery of the Tree House #3 BC 1500 In Ancient Egypt, Jack and Annie help Queen Hutepi find her missing Book of the Dead.

Hour of the Olympics (UK title: Olympic Challenge! ) The Mystery of the Lost Stories #4 BC 750 Jack and Annie travel to Ancient Greece and see the first Olympic games.

Vacation Under The Volcano (UK title: Racing with Gladiators ) The Mystery of the Lost Stories #1 AD 80 Jack and Annie travel to Pompeii on the eve of the eruption of Mt Vesuvius.

Season of the Sandstorms Using Magic Wisely #2 AD 750 Jack and Annie must help the caliph of ancient Baghdad spread wisdom to the world.

Viking Ships at Sunrise (UK title: Voyage of the Vikings ) The Mystery of the Lost Stories #3 AD 800 In medieval Ireland, Jack and Annie encounter Vikings.

The Knight at Dawn (UK title: Castle of Mystery ) The Mystery of the Tree House #2 AD 1000 In England during the Middle Ages, Jack and Annie explore a castle and meet a brave knight.

Dragon of the Red Dawn Happiness #1 AD 1200 Jack and Annie travel back in the Magic Tree House to feudal Japan to find the first of four secrets of happiness for Merlin the magician because Morgan has noticed that he does not feel well, does not eat or sleep, and is tired. To do this, they must spend the day with famous Japanese haiku poet Matsuo Basho.

Monday with a Mad Genius Happiness #2 AD 1500 Jack and Annie travel back in the Magic Tree House to Florence, Italy, to find the second of four secrets of happiness. To do this, they must help Leonardo da Vinci all day, "morning, noon, and afternoon, till the night bird sings its song."

Stage Fright on a Summer Night Type of Magic #1 AD 1585 In Elizabethan England, Jack and Annie meet William Shakespeare.

Thanksgiving on Thursday Type of Magic #3 AD 1621 In Plymouth in 1621, Jack and Annie share the first Thanksgiving with the Pilgrims and Wampanoag Indians.

Pirates Past Noon (UK title: Pirates' Treasure! ) The Mystery of the Tree House #4 AD 1650 Jack and Annie encounter some pirates in the Caribbean Sea and meet Morgan le Fay.

Carnival at Candlelight Using Magic Wisely #1 AD 1700 Jack and Annie must go and save Venice, Italy from a flood disaster, but Merlin's instructions are confusing. The next four books are part of an arc where Jack and Annie complete missions to prove to Merlin that they can use magic wisely.

Moonlight on the Magic Flute Inspiring #1 AD 1765 Jack and Annie head to 18th-century Austria, where they must find and help a musician by the name of Mozart. Decked out in the craziest outfits they’ve ever worn—including a wig for Jack and a giant hoopskirt for Annie, the two siblings search an entire palace to no avail. Their hunt is further hampered by the appearance of a mischievous little boy who is determined to follow them everywhere. But when the boy lets the animals out of the palace zoo, Jack and Annie have to use the only magic at their disposal to save themselves and the naughty little boy.

Revolutionary War on Wednesday Morgan's Library #2 AD 1775 Jack and Annie cross the Delaware river with George Washington.

Buffalo Before Breakfast The Mystery of the Enchanted Dog #2 AD 1800 In the American Old West, Jack and Annie encounter a Lakota boy on the Great Plains.

A Ghost Tale for Christmas Time Inspiring #4 AD 1840 The kids are whisked back to Victorian England to help famed author Charles Dickens. The kids know Charles had everything he wants. Will the kids find the thing Charles wants? The kids are thrown in jail, only to be saved by Charles Dickens! To find Charles' secret, they will need help from three ghosts and get to know Charles very, very, well.

Ghost Town at Sundown (UK title: A Wild West Ride ) The Mystery of the Ancient Riddles #2 AD 1850 Set in the American Wild West, where Jack and Annie meet a cowboy named Slim.

Civil War on Sunday Morgan's Library #1 AD 1855 In the American Civil War, Jack and Annie encounter Clara Barton.

Abe Lincoln At Last Penny's Spell #3 AD 1855


Twister on Tuesday Morgan's Library #3 AD 1870 In the 1870s, Jack and Annie encounter pioneer settlement of the Midwestern prairie. They have to save a teacher and some kids before they are hit by a Tornado.

Dark Day in the Deep Sea Happiness #3 AD 1870 The magic tree house takes Jack and Annie to a deserted island, in the 1870s, looking for another secret of happiness. They get rescued by scientists on a ship, in the Atlantic Ocean, and end up helping the scientists, who are looking for a sea monster. Will they be able to help the scientist and find the secret of happiness? This book is 128 pages long, making it the longest book in the series.

Night of the New Magicians Using Magic Wisely #3 AD 1889 Jack and Annie travel to the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1889 in the Magic Tree House. They have to save four new magicians (Alexander Graham Bell, Louis Pasteur, Thomas Edison, and Gustave Eiffel), before an evil sorcerer kidnaps them and steals the secrets of their magic. As it turns out, there is no evil sorcerer and the only one that shows up is Merlin himself who had wanted to meet the four.

Leprechaun in Late Winter Inspiring #3 AD 1900 The kids meet a leprechaun girl in their third mission to put "artists" on the right path. The leprechaun girl grows up to be Lady Gregory, a famous legendteller of the Irish lore. Can the kids save Gregory and put the third artist on the right path? This is the first time that something that one of the kids has written has been used to travel through time: the kids time travel by wishing using Jack's notes on where they are traveling to.

Earthquake in the Early Morning Morgan's Library #4 AD 1906 In 1906, Jack and Annie experience the San Francisco earthquake. The two are able to use what they find to inspire King Arthur to battle Mordred, although in a later book its shown that he wins without dying in these stories.

Tonight on the Titanic The Mystery of the Enchanted Dog #1 AD 1912 Jack and Annie travel back to 1912 and are on the RMS Titanic during her fateful voyage. In this arc the two are assisted by a dog named Teddy that they must find gifts to free.

Blizzard of the Blue Moon Using Magic Wisely #4 AD 1938 Jack and Annie travel in the Magic Tree House to the New York City of the Great Depression in 1938. They must help a unicorn under a spell. However, two evil sorcerers in training, Balor and Grinda, are up to the same challenge. In this book, Jack and Annie are given the power to make magic on their own via a magic wand.

A Good Night for Ghosts Inspiring #2 AD 1940 Jack and Annie are on their second mission to find—and inspire—artists to bring happiness to millions. After traveling to New Orleans, Jack and Annie come head to head with some real ghosts, as well as discover the world of jazz when they meet a young Louis Armstrong.

Lions at Lunchtime (UK title: Lions on the Loose ) The Mystery of the Ancient Riddles #3 Africa Set on the African savannah with lions.

Dogs in the Dead of Night Penny's Spell #2 Alps Jack and his sister Annie travel to Swiss Alps to get the second magical object to break the beloved baby penguin, Penny. They face a dog rescue and many other adventures.

Eve of the Emperor Penguin Happiness #4 Antarctica Jack and Annie go to Antarctica to try to find their last secret of happiness, but they only find penguins. Only the penguins have the answer to this question. This is the only book where it is specifically stated that Jack and Annie did not travel through time. They also use the wand to make magic twice: once to find the penguins and a second time to teleport to Mount Erebus, the only time they use its power twice.

Night of the Ninjas The Mystery of the Magic Spell #1 Asia In ancient Japan, Jack and Annie encounter ninjas and samurai.

Day of the Dragon King (UK title: Palace of the Dragon King ) The Mystery of the Lost Stories #2 Asia Jack and Annie travel to China as it was 2,000 years in their past. The Dragon King is also known as Emperor Qin.

Dingoes at Dinnertime The Mystery of the Enchanted Dog #4 Australia Set in ancient Australia. Jack and Annie receive the final gift and return home where Morgan removes the spell on the dog who is revealed to be a boy named Teddy who is a young magician who trapped himself under a spell. This story introduces the character of Teddy who becomes a friend and ally to Jack and Annie over later stories.

High Tide in Hawaii Type of Magic #4 Hawaii Jack and Annie travel to the Hawaii of the past and almost get caught in a tsunami. They also make two friends who share an adventure with them.

Tigers at Twilight The Mystery of the Enchanted Dog #3 India Jack and Annie explore the Indian jungles of the past.

A Crazy Day with Cobras Penny's Spell #1 India The kids travel to an Indian desert because Penny, Merlin's beloved penguin (from Eve of the Emperor Penguin ), has been put under a terrible spell. Jack and Annie have to escape a swarm of king cobras and defeat the infamous All-Power Great Mogul. To start their quest, Jack and Annie must find a giant ruby emerald to find the first piece of breaking Penny's spell.

Polar Bears Past Bedtime (UK title: Icy Escape ) The Mystery of the Ancient Riddles #4 North Pole Set in the North Pole.

Dolphins at Daybreak (UK title: Diving with Dolphins ) The Mystery of the Ancient Riddles #1 Pacific Ocean Set in the Pacific Ocean with bottlenose dolphins.

Afternoon on the Amazon (UK title: Adventure on the Amazon ) The Mystery of the Magic Spell #2 South America Jack and Annie search the Amazon rainforest for Morgan le Fay.

Good Morning Gorillas Type of Magic #2 South America In the Congo rain forest, Jack and Annie encounter gorillas.

Midnight on the Moon (UK title: Moon Mission ) The Mystery of the Magic Spell #4 Space Forty years into their future (2036), Jack and Annie travel to the moon to look for the fourth object needed to help Morgan le Fay. In the end Jack and Annie learn that their mouse companion Peanut was a transformed Morgan Le Fay who was trapped under a spell. Jack and Annie break the spell and return her to human form before returning home.

Educational graphic novels for kids

Rosen Publishing has a huge series of Graphic Nonfiction books covering many historical, scientific, and educational topics, each in "graphic novel" story format.  This is a GREAT way to get your visually-oriented or easily-bored readers thoroughly engaged in a topic.  They're not to be used as primary source material, but as a supplement, but a great one!  Book sets in this series include:
  • Grammar Ray: A Graphic Guide to Grammar – grade 2-5: Adjectives, Adverbs, Nouns & Pronouns, Prepositions, Punctuation & Sentences, Verbs
  • Graphic Battles of the Civil War – grade 4-5: Antietam, First Bull Run, Gettysburg, Shiloh, Wilderness, Monitor vs. Merrimac
  • Graphic Battles of World War II – grade 5: D-Day, Pearl Harbor, Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, Midway, The Bulge
  • Graphic Dinosaurs – grade 4: 18 books, each profiling one dinosaur species in story format
  • Graphic Discoveries – grade 5: Ancient Treasures, Fantastic Fossils, Incredible Space Missions, Medical Breakthroughs, Spectacular Shipwrecks, The History of Flight
  • Graphic Forensic Science – grade 5: 6 books, each profiling one aspect of forensic science in story format
  • Graphic Mythology – grade 4-5: 6 books exploring the mythology of ancient cultures
  • Graphic Natural Disasters – grade 5: 6 books
  • Graphic Nonfiction Biographies – grade 4-5: Abraham Lincoln, Christopher Columbus, George Washington, Harriet Tubman, Hernan Cortes, Sitting Bull, Alexander the Great, Cleopatra, Elizabeth I, Julius Ceasar, Richard the Lionheart, Sartacus, Bob Marley, Martin Luther King Jr., Muhammad Ali, Nelson Mandela, Rosa Parks
  • Jr. Graphic American Legends – grade 2-3: Casey Jones, Jim Bowie, Paul Bunyan, Davy Crockett, Johnny Appleseed, Daniel Boone
  • Jr. Graphic Biographies – grade 2-3: Sitting Bull, Hernan Cortes, Harriet Tubman, George Washington, Christopher Columbus, Abraham Lincoln
  • Jr. Graphic Colonial America – 6 books, grade 2-3, telling famous stories of America’s history
  • Jr. Graphic Founding Fathers – grade 2-3: , each profiling one of America’s founding fathers in story format
  • Jr. Graphic Mythologies – 5 books, grade 2-3, exploring the mythology of ancient cultures
  • Mandrill Mountain Math Mysteries – 10 books, grade 2-3, solving adventurous mysteries through math and logic
  • Superheroes on a Medical Mission – 12 books, grade 5-8, exploring medical conditions

You may also be interested in a similar series, the Interactive History Adventure books, which I reviewed in an earlier post.