Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Online math games

Whenever possible, I like to substitute online games for repetitious math homework, such as multiplication drills and such. Following are the three best websites I could find for elementary level math games to play online. Each website is well organized, has a large collection of games, and has multiple levels of games so that you can tailor the activities for your little learner. And, of course, they're all free, with few or no ads cluttering up their site.

1st up - fun4thebrain.com. Page after page after page of truly entertaining and well-designed games, most with customizable levels. Website is divided up in sections for multiplication, addition, division, and subtraction. This is ds9's favorite math website.

2nd up - shppardsoftware.com. There are games on this website that cover the full spectrum of math, such as operations, money, geometry, time, and much more! While the website is extremely easy to navigate, I wished that some of the games were more customizable as far as their skill level is. But, as it is, most of the games are RIGHT at ds9's skill level, so I can't really complain. :) Also, this website has a LOT of other really well-made games in many other academic areas as well. I might have to explore the website further and give you a more extensive report on it another day.

3rd up - funbrain.com - math section. This section of their website has all their math games listed out according to possible grade level, which is really handy. You can also filter the games by a keyword search, such as multiplication or fractions, so you can find exactly what you're looking for. Fun, highly customizable games! There are also games covering a number of other subjects available from their home page, though not quite as academic as ShepardSoftware.

Know of a great math games website? Comment and let us all know about it!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Animated history maps

Ds9 and I are both visual learners. You can describe something to us, or tell us where something is located, but unless we SEE it with our eyes, the memory will be lost on us. Ds9 and I have been learning some ancient history, about how various empires took over this area or that, over this time period or that. But we needed to SEE what that meant, with the entire atlas as a reference. Luckily, we weren't the only ones. After gobs, and you know I mean gobs, of research, here are the two best options out there for framing up the events of western history. Both are free.

Option #1 - Map of Imperial History. This animated interactive flash website shows you the spread and regions of all the greatest empires of the "world", as relates to the middle east. And as you'll see, that covers just about all of them. It's a lovely map, and my first choice because it's so simple and to the point. Pros: very well made, easy to read; covers 1450 BC to 1980 AD - quite an inclusive time span; doesn't require any software installation; quick moving. Cons: It doesn't show the rise and fall of lesser civilizations; doesn't include Chinese empires or Russia. Note: the company who made this also made several other fascinating maps, including a map showing the spread of different types of governments, and a map showing the spread of the world's major religions.

Option #2 - Atlas of World History. This interactive animated piece of software takes seconds to install, and is great if you want an option that has more detail than the options above. Pros: covers almost the entire globe except the Americas; includes the rise and fall of smaller civilization; runs continuously over a steady rate of time so you can see just how the civilizations grow; allows you to customize your choice of map, time frame, and starting year. Cons: software must be downloaded, though small and easy to install; timeline ends at the year 1000 AD, though it does start quite a bit earlier, at the year 3000 BC. If you want to preview the software before installing it, here is a sample video of lesser quality that will give you an idea of what it can do.

Both of these options are great for a (almost) global perspective, and I recommend them both. If you happen to be looking for an option that shows the animated history of Europe, with its' ever-changing boundaries, here are my 1st and 2nd choices for that (both are Youtube videos), though I have not researched options for this region as extensively.

Family tree of languages

This is just neat. It's a large and detailed chart showing just about every recorded language that evolved from the pre-historic Indo-European language, in the form of a family tree! (Click image to enlarge.) Ds9 and I are learning Latin, and it's brought on a ton of never-ending questions from my little linguist about how the different languages are related, but though I answer his questions time and again, he keeps getting them all jumbled in his head. Who can blame him?!! But now, thanks to this lovely tree, it's SO much easier to visualize. Yay!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

6-sided paper snowflakes

'Tis the season to cut out snowflakes with your kids! Unfortunately, most people cut snowflakes the WRONG way, and don't even realize it. Thing is, real snowflakes don't have 4 sides, nor do they have 8. They have exactly 6 sides. (See photo to the right of a real snowflake!) This year, I encourage you to teach this fact to your kids by having them cut out 6-sided snowflakes instead.

Here is a pattern for cutting out a 6-sized snowflake out of paper. This is the method that I've been using since I was a little girl, and the results are FANTASTIC every time!!

Here is a pattern and tutorial for a similar method, but the steps are in a slightly different order, which some people might find easier to follow.

This pattern is adapted for use with a coffee filter. It's basically the same thing, but the diagram shows a circular pattern as you go, so it's easier to follow if using a coffee filter.

Please comment on my blog if you use one of these, and let me know how it turns out! HAVE FUN!!!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Workbook calendar spreadsheet

Now, I know there's a ton and a half of homeschool record keeping options out there. And I did research several of them, but only enough to quickly realize that a complicated piece of software wasn't going to work for me, nor was tearing out my workbooks pages and dividing them up by month, or anything like that. FOR ME, simple is best, because anything more than simple gives me cause to procrastinate. Or just not do at all. :)

So, here's my answer to simple. *giggle* I designed an Excel spreadsheet that has a formula in it that automatically calculates the workbook page number which we're supposed to have completed by the end of any given week. :) And I REALLY LIKE it. :) This is an example of what it looks like:

I've decided to share my invention with you. :) I created a spreadsheet template for you which you can use to create your own "calendar" for the workbooks you're using. It's not as complicated as it sounds. Give it a try! Download the template here, and open using Microsoft Excel 2002 or later. (Be sure to click "enable macros" when you open it. No, I won't give you a virus.)

And here I've actually created you a TUTORIAL on how to use this template! This is my VERY FIRST video tutorial (applause, please!), so you'll need to use the "pause" button frequently, as I did go a little too fast through my mouse movements. But this should answer any questions you may have on how to use the spreadsheet.

I hope this method of record keeping works as well for you as it does for me! PLEASE COMMENT and let me know how you like it! -or if you have any questions. :)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Critical and Creative Thinking Activities

One area that ds9 and I and much of our extended family is weak in is "critical thinking". What IS critical thinking? Well, Wikipedia has a fairly comprehensible generalization of it. "Critical thinking clarifies goals, examines assumptions, discerns hidden values, evaluates evidence, accomplishes actions, and assesses conclusions." Basically, it is active thinking - as if interacting with the problem in one's mind. But more than that, it is the skill of actively deciding HOW to think - that is, deciding how to look at or approach a given problem.

There are countless examples of educational exercises which require critical thinking. Story problems, analogies, riddles, visual puzzles, code breaking, and so, so much more. And there are tons of workbooks out there with activities designed to help kids develop these thinking skills. But nearly all of these workbooks concentrates on just one area, such as thinking skills that relate to words and language, numbers and math, or geometry and visual perception skills. And very few workbooks have any exercises at all that challenge students with creative and abstract questions, requiring students to step back and actually decide how to think about the problem - which is the one area my ds9 needs the most help with. (And I know he's not alone in this!)

Evan-Moore's Critical and Creative Thinking Activities workbook is the exception to every workbook trend in this category. Not only does it have a HUGE variety of activities that exercise kids' critical thinking skills in every way imaginable, but it consistently goes about it in a way that requires kids to think outside the box a bit in order to come up with an answer. It's difficult to explain just how special and challenging these activities are - but if you sample the pages for yourself, I have no doubt you'll see what I mean. These are 3rd grade activities, and I find them challenging. Of course, that could be saying more about me than about the book... ;)

With kids like my ds9 who a little too bright for their own good and have a very black-and-white way of looking at the world around them, these types of activities are ESSENTIAL to help develop the part of their brain that is weakest, and can reap benefits to them across the board. There is no doubt in my mind that Evan-Moore's Critical and Creative Thinking Activities workbook is THE MOST VALUABLE WORKBOOK WE HAVE IN OUR HOMESCHOOL CURRICULUM. Needless to say, I highly recommend these workbooks. :)

Note that these workbooks are available for grades 1 through 6! Yay! You can sample these books almost in their entirety on Evan-Moore's website, but cheapest prices with free shipping are always to be had on Amazon or elsewhere.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Handwriting fonts

Handwriting fonts are great for printing out your own handwriting practice sheets. For this purpose, I have researched handwriting fonts extensively - and the options are numerous. Following are the best free or cheap options, in a wide range of styles. Note: if a font is available in a lined or dotted variation, it will be displayed as such.

Print Clearly - Free - available in 3 variations here

Trace Font - Free - available here in this variation only

Jardotty - Free - available here in this variation only

AbcDN - Free - available in 6 variations here

JoinIt - $30 - 30 variations available as a complete package available here

AbcCursive - Free - 6 styles available here

Maternellecolor - Free - available in 5 variations available here, including a font of nothing but pre-writing shapes that are perfect for preschoolers

Spelling Bee - Free - available here in this variation only

And, for your reference, here is a collection of 20 fonts that are used by various handwriting workbook publishers and school systems. They are downloadable, for $50 EACH, which is a bit much. But what's useful about this page is comparing all the widely used options out there. Very handy if you're considering purchasing a handwriting workbook or curriculum.

Send me your requests!

I take requests! If you are looking for a certain curriculum, teaching tool, website, etc., to help you with a certain subject or learning style or difficulty, let me know! I might already have something up my sleeve that would work for you, and if not, I'd probably enjoy the challenge of trying to find just the right "something" to fit your needs! And if I do, I can pass it along on my blog, so that everyone else can benefit from your solution as well! :D

Latin endings memory songs

I'm attempting to teach ds9 Latin this year. Yes, I know this is a bit crazy. But I know of gobs of other kids his age, in public and private and home schools, who are starting their 3rd-graders in Latin, so I'm not the only crazy one. :) I hear it will be immensely beneficial to him at some point, *giggle*, but for the time being I'm just looking at it as tool to help him with English vocabulary, and a just plain fun challenge. We're using the Classical Academic Press curriculum, which seems to be a very well-balanced curriculum! I didn't discover this curriculum - I'm simply following the suggestion of my best friend who is teaching this curriculum in her class of 3rd graders this year. But it's a solid enough curriculum that I have no need or inclination to look further for something better.

But that's not my point. I'm getting to my point. :)

Latin is... CONFUSING. For each single word in English, there are some 6 corresponding verbs in 4 possible configurations, or 10 corresponding nouns in 6 different possible configurations - a total of 84 possible word endings. Just reading that sentence is probably enough to make your head spin. Well, the little third graders are supposed to memorize half of those this year. The curriculum I'm using comes with video and audio files of children chanting the words and endings in catchy rhythms, which does help, but songs always help more.

I LOVE memory songs, and ANY time there is something that needs to be memorized, I will search high and low to find a song to memorize it with, and will even write one if necessary. Luckily, having no prior knowledge of Latin, I am SO thankful that some creative people have written some awesome Latin memory songs for me. :)

First up: the Latin verb endings song. Cute video, catchy tune! EASY to memorize with this baby! According to the comments, the pronunciations are off on the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th conjugations, but so what, because when all is said and done it's the tune and format that matters. The rest can be sung on your own. Note: this song WILL get stuck in your head, be that good or bad... :)

Second up: the Latin noun endings song, 1st, 2nd-m, and 2nd-n declinations, being sung by a homeschool co-op teacher and her class, to the tune of "She Will Be Loved" by Maroon-5. Talk about creative! The full lyrics are available here. And here is a karaoke version that I took the liberty of chopping all up and rearranging to fit the lyrics, and speeding up to a more comfortable pace. Feel free to borrow!

Third up: for someday in the future, when ds9 will need to know the rest of the noun declinations, here's a cute little ditty that this adorable old man and his daughter wrote and filmed. Lyrics available at the address at the top of the video. I'm so thankful for the creative people out there who put these songs together!

Note: I have SCOURED the internet videos for Latin memory songs. These ARE the best options there are, in video format. Know of any others? Let me know!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Claw!

No, not the fictitious evil bedtime story character from whatever that Jim Carrey movie was... No, this is just a innocent rubber pencil grip. But don't let its innocence fool you - this little doodad will blow all the other pencil grips out of the water! My ds9 has a strong, almost unbreakable tendency to cross his thumb over his pencil when writing, often aiming his hand towards himself so it looks like he has a broken wrist. I've tried all kinds of memory tricks, demonstration videos, incessant nagging, and every style of pencil grip I could find (in town), but his improper form persists. And it's evident in his tedious and laborsome writing and awful penmanship. So, about a month ago, I did a bunch of research to see if anyone has invented some sort of specialized device that will FORCE his little fingers to stay in the right position, perhaps for disabled or special-need children (there's some great inventions for that market that are very applicable for other children as well). And I what I found was the CLAW! It's PERFECT! Unlike the Crossover grip (the only other pencil grip that had any potential), ds9 finds the claw comfortable and natural to use, almost as if he's using nothing at all, but with the correct form. One other lovely feature about the claw is that it stretchable, and can fit around even the biggest kid pencils or markers. PERFECT for getting your child to start out holding a pencil the right way from the get-go, so you don't have to conquer their bad habits when they're 9. :) The only "con" to this product is its durability. The centers are prone to breakage, especially if you have a kiddo who tends to fidget with whatever's in their hands. It's still very much worth getting - just be sure to get a bunch of them when you do. :) Oh, and make sure to get the right size - the Claw is available in small (up to kindergarten), medium (through elementary), and large (through adult).

Thursday, November 25, 2010

SpellingCity and workbook options

The turkey's in the oven, dh is ahead of schedule on the food prep, and I actually have some spare time.... to tell you about SpellingCity.com! I have explored many MANY spelling websites, because when we first started homeschooling I had no idea what curriculum to use, and I was hoping I could find a website that was worked well enough that we wouldn't need to purchase a curriculum. And after trying out everything I could find, there is no doubt in my mind that SpellingCity is the best there is on the net - that is, the best there is for free or cheap, which was what I was looking for.

The website is well-designed, visually engaging for kids, and easy to navigate. The website is not cluttered up with ads, like so many others (though there are a few low-profile ads that you probably won't even notice). The primary "teaching" activity teaches one word at a time, spelling through and displaying each letter one at a time while it says the letter out loud. This method is great for kids who have a disconnect between their "eyes and ears", or have difficulty tracking the letters in a word as they sound it out. But that's not why I love it so much. What I love are the games and the customizable lists. You can enter in your own words, either individually or in batch-entry for bigger lists, and then set your child free to play several fun and effective spelling games with just those words. Your child can also do the "teach me" spelling activity with your custom words, or even take a regular test on that list. Additional noteworthy features include several sets of ready-to-go word lists for each grade level in various types of groupings, and fun games activities that quiz you on vocab and writing skills.

Because I tend to need something more tangible to guide my teaching, we opted not to use SpellingCity as a primary curriculum. We do rely on it heavily, though, for practice sessions on trouble-spot words, and for those times when I'm short on time and want to have the computer give him his test. I find consistently that ds9 retains difficult-to-spell words VERY WELL after having some time to play with those words on SpellingCity. Love it!!

So, now you want to know what primary spelling curriculum I DO use, don't you? :) Okay, here goes. There are many different approaches to spelling - literature based, spelling-vocab combo, chanting, handwriting, application through sentence writing, sequential spelling, etc. The method I decided on is phonics-based, and the two workbooks that I thought just nailed this method, were by BJU press, and Purposeful Design. With both, each word list emphasizes one main phonics group or spelling rule, and teaches helpful new info about the phonics group or rule whenever applicable. Both workbooks also incorporate a variety of fun activities designed to grow visually familiar with the words, and mentally familiar with the spelling rule or letter combos. Ultimately we picked the Purposeful Design workbook for this year, but it was a close call.

Note on spelling rules - there are MANY websites out there that provide useful info on spelling rules. If your child has a question about spelling, such as when the letter c makes a hard sound vs. a soft sound, simply do a google search for your question, and behold the wealth of information. I have not yet found a SINGLE website that comprehensively covers all the spelling rules out there - I have an easier time searching for spelling rules on an individual basis, as needed. But rest assured, if I do, I will surely let you know. :)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Geography memory songs

It's been a busy day, so I'm going to share a couple short and simple discoveries with you. Firstly, Wakko's states and capitols song. Ds9 and I learned this over the summer, and had a BLAST doing it. And yes, he now knows the capital for every state off the top of his head - it indeed worked! And see how adorable! Learning is best done when a kid is having fun, yes? :)

Second, is a simple U.S. states memory song, without capitals. Ds9 did this with his class last year before we started homeschooling, so I can't take credit for the discovery. But the format of this memory song is very effective, in that the song takes you across the northern, southern, and eastern borders of the U.S., and then fills in the remaining "middle". This format makes it very easy for navigation, and ds9 has no trouble finding his way around the U.S. map. The memory song his class used can be sampled and purchased here (note that each of the 4 song sections must be purchased separately). It's a little cheesy, but most memory songs are, and you have to remember that most of the time your child will be singing them alone or with you, and not necessarily with the annoying background music. :) Here is a video of a 3-yr-old child singing 2 of the U.S. border songs in their entirety, as well as a handful of songs naming the countries on various continents - adorable! All of the songs this little cutie sings are available from the same company, and can all be purchased here. Ds9 and I will be working on some of those world-country songs this year for sure. If you listen to the whole video, you'll see they also have their own "states and capitols" song, but I maintain that Wakko's song is WAY COOLER. :D So there.

It might be a few days before you hear from me again. Enjoy the rest of your Thanksgiving week, everyone!!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Kids devotions & Bible translation

For those of you who do, or would like to do, a Bible study or devotion time as part of your school day, I have a couple of discoveries for you today. First up is the daily devotions for kids at Kids4Truth.com. I first discovered these when my ds was about 7, and thought they were a little old for him, but now at 9, they're just perfect - and probably would be good for several more years. The devotions are very well-balanced, with scriptural truths, life application lessons, and thought-provoking questions. They're also interesting enough to hold attention, and even come with an optional audio track for those that need help reading, or just are better at learning with their ears instead of eyes. The rest of the site is delightful as well, and includes a "stuff to do" section, where kids can ask a theological question, submit a prayer request, send e-cards, "meet" a missionary, or print out coloring pages. There's also a Kids4Truth "club", much like AWANA, which could be done small-scale at home. The K4T club tends to focus less on memorizing verses, and more on teaching kids basic Christian apologetics through dialog with parents/teachers. Neat stuff all around!

Discovery #2 is my FAVORITE Bible translation EVER: the International Children's Bible. It is a complete "thought for thought" Bible translation (same type as the NIV), with each and every verse translated into a 3rd grade vernacular. Unlike most children's Bibles, it is not a paraphrased translation or a storybook. And unlike most "grown-up" Bibles, there are no fancy or "churchy" words in this Bible that you wouldn't find yourself using in everyday conversations. Instead there are crisp, clear, and to-the point sentences, making it the easiest to understand Bible I've ever read, for adults and kids alike. This Bible just says it like it is. A great example is Psalm 1:1, usually memorized as "Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night." Now compare to this: "Happy is the person who doesn't listen to the wicked. He doesn't go where sinners go. He doesn't do what bad people do. He loves the Lord's teachings. He thinks those teachings day and night." Yay, it makes sense!! I highly recommend this Bible for any child old enough to start memorizing verses, to help them understand what they're memorizing, as well as for adults to read when they're just reading the Bible to read it and grasp the content, not necessarily for in-depth study.

Like other translations, the ICB Bible is available in many styles. I have the stylish Mary Jane Bible, and I bought a Treasure Chest Bible for my ds9. The ICB is also available in a really awesome ILLUSTRATED version, with complete verse-by-verse text cunningly integrated into "comic-book style" pages. See for yourself - thanks to Neely Press, select Bible books are now available for viewing online in their complete text with illustrations, for free! To purchase the illustrated ICB, you can buy individual OT books online, or buy the complete NT as one book.

I know there's many other WONDERFUL options out there - if you have a kids Bible study or book or website that you love, please comment and share it with me!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Housework and kid chores

Well, it may seem a little strange to begin my first post on a "homeschooling" blog by talking about housework... But the thing is, I've just spent a day and a half working on setting up this blog. And you all know what happens to the house when it's neglected for a day and a half. Oh, yes. It doesn't take long, does it?! *sigh* And since it's what I happen to be thinking of at the moment, my housework finding are what I will first share with you. Plus, I figure, part of homeschooling is the seemingly impossible task of juggling everyday home maintenance when so much of your time is taken up with your kiddos. So there. :)

I use the software program Let's Clean Up to keep track of my chores. I have an awful memory and attention span, and can't a) remember when I last did any of the hundred+ chores on my duty roster, b) remember how often they should be done, nor c) figure out which chores need my immediate attention in the visual noise of a messy home. The Lets Clean Up software relieves me of all of these burdens - I LOVE IT. Every morning I simply print out a list of what chores need to be done that day, check them off when they're done, and check the boxes on the software at the end of the day to update. Voila! - one less thing to have to think about in my already overactive mind! :D

There's also an ADORABLE program for kids that's quite similar, called My Reward Board. Delightfully fun interactive graphics let kids drag animated smiley faces onto their own little chore chart, which then whoop and holler with encouragement at each completed chore. Bonus features include the ability to earn points for chores and spend those points on "coupons" for things like special family outings and movie nights and such. Love it!! I'd say this program is good for preschool through probably 4th grade - it's quite versatile!

Both software programs are around $15 each and have a free trial period to see if they'll work for you.

Last but not least, I RECOMMEND HIRING A HOUSEKEEPER for a once-a-week helping hand. This was my gift to myself when I decided to take on the monstrous task of homeschooling, and one of the BEST DECISIONS I made! Do not, for a second, think that you "should" be capable of "doing it all". If you CAN, great! But if you can't, then you're not alone, and don't think of yourself as a failure for getting a helping hand. Think of it as just another "tool" or "resource" in your homeschool toolbox - something to make the job just a little more manageable.

...NOW... off to print my own chore list and get busy! zooooooooooooooooom....