Friday, February 26, 2010

A Magic Show

Today after our lessons my Schnickelfritz decided to put on a magic show for me.  Fritz has been fascinated with magic since he was called up as a volunteer at a library sponsored magic show.  The magician used his red shirt to "wipe" the red off his wand, changing it to a black wand.  Fritz was only five but he walked around the rest of the day looking at his shirt and asking "How did he do that."  

Then came the Masked Magician on television.  Learning how the tricks were done did not seem to sway his enthusiasm for the art.   When our co-op announced a talent show for the end of the year, Fritz and I decided on a magic act and magic became a part of our curriculum. 

Now our classes are nothing like Harry Potter.  We found a video at the library on the Science of Magic--it covered optical illusions, perception/ perspective, a dabble of psychology.  We've found a lot of "mental magic" tricks really have math principles as their base and you know how much Fritz likes math.  

He dazzled  me by having me select any 4 digit number, then rearrange those 4 digits to form a new number.  I subtracted the smaller number from the larger and multiplied the result by a third, entirely new 4-digit number.   This gave me an 8 digit answer (I was using a calculator).  I read the number off to him but purposely left out one of the digits.  He was able to tell me what that digit was almost instantly, having never known what my original numbers were or anything.  Now magicians never give away their secrets so I can't tell how he did this, but maybe you can find the EZMath Tricks DVD at your library.

Of course he days have some purchased magic tricks as well.  He loves his cups and balls.  And I found a great trick on ebay for beginners called "Block Escape"  which is the trick you see him performing here.


The wooden blocks are all held in place with a dowel

Two blocks of my choice "magically" melt through the dowel

If you have a child interested in magic, I'd suggest you visit The Magic Nook.  I've never met these gentlemen, but they appear to work with underprivileged children using magic to boost self esteem and provide on alternative to joining a gang.  They make their own magic props with hardboard, duct tape, and items from the dollar store.  You can buy directions for building and performing their tricks individually or in sets of ten.  (Look for tricks marked with asterisks as they easy for kids to build and perform).   According to Professor Spellbinder  "As far as educational benefits [of magic], don't forget that besides building the props, the young magician has to acquire public speaking skills to present the tricks. Magic is a performing art like drama, but it can also involve direction following, reading and writing, art and design, etc."

So for us magic is just another way homeschooling can be fun.


Monday, February 22, 2010

How Cool are Co-ops?

The last time I participated in the Homeschool Blog Cruise the topic was about socialization.  I mentioned that since I only have one child/student and I look for opportunities for him to interact with other kids.  When we moved to Missouri I was thrilled to learn about two co-ops in our area.  They operate quite differently.

The first co-op was set up much like public school where the day was broken up into hour-long segments and students moved from class to class.  There were weekly art classes, choirs, Spanish, guitar and violin lessons.  As a mom, I paid the teacher for my Schnickelfritz to attend her course and that was the extent of my involvement.  Well, that's not quite true.  I sat in on the Spanish class so I would know how to pronounce the vocabulary Fritz was learning.  Since Fritz was just learning English phonics, I didn't want to confuse him with trying to read Spanish words.  The teacher, a former missionary, adapted the classwork for him so he could do it all orally.  

The moms had to stay on site, so we tended to gather in an empty room.  Some graded papers and worked on lesson plans.  Others, like myself, worked on craft projects--one mom offered an impromptu knitting lesson.  As someone new to homeschooling and to the community I was just glad to have other like-minded people to talk to. 

The second co-op only met once a month and fellowshipped--often with a potluck lunch.  A theme-of-the-day would be announced and age appropriate activities would be provided for the theme.  One of the annual favorites was the country study.  Each family would pick a country and do a presentation.  Usually the older students did most of the talking, but even 4 & 5 year olds would participate in some way.   One time we did a backyard critter study.  There were several box turtles, a snake (brave is the mother who brought that in her car!).  Everything was returned to the wild afterwards.  I credit that day with sparing me or my dog from great pain as one of the fathers showed us what a "cow-killer" bug looked like.  We saw one just a week or so later and knew to avoid it.  Fritz has been practicing magic tricks for an end-of-the-year talent show.

Both of these co-ops met in churches and unfortunately, they both lost their meeting places this year.  With the poor economy, the churches weren't able to provide free space and utilities anymore and since most of us are one income families, we didn't have much money to offer as rent.  One co-op has found a new, much smaller facility.  There is no longer space to offer more than the violin and guitar classes.  The once a month co-op  is still looking for an appropriate space in a centralized location (families are spread over several counties).  My Fritz misses his friends and we both hope that the co-ops can return, stronger than ever as people realize what a precious resource they are.  In the meantime, we sometimes meet  at the McDonald's playland or an afternoon of bowling or rollerskating.

 If you know someone who organizes a homeschool co-op, go and give them a big hug-- they need the encouragement.   It takes a lot of effort to coordinate finding space, thinking of activities, gathering supplies, assigning duties, etc.  One mom I know went to a lot of effort to host an apple butter making activity and of the dozen signed up families only Fritz and I showed up.    

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Review: Math Mammoth

My Schnickelfritz and I have been doing a lot of math lately.   He's been adding, subtracting, even multiplying his little heart out.   When Math Mammoth gave us the opportunity to select which of their 75+ downloadable products we wanted to review, I chose to move away from straight equations and word problems and cover more practical living skills.  We received three worktexts from the Blue Series: U.S. Money, Measuring 1, and  Early Geometry.

U.S. Money contains 15 lessons beginning with counting coins.   The student is first introduced to dimes and pennies (probably because this most closely resembles the place value he's familiar with) and finally nickels.  It appears scanned images of actual coins are used although the dime is a little fuzzy.   After finding the values of displayed sets of coins, Fritz was then directed to use real coins to come up with the amounts shown.  He's a real kinesthetic learner so hands on stuff is always more fun.  If you don't have a lot of change around, you could draw the coins.  Quarters, half dollars, and various denominations of dollar bills are introduced in later lessons.

I would consider the worktext very thorough.  U.S. Money uses physical representations, written words (e.g. nickel, dime) and symbols (e.g. $x.xx).  There is a page of  links to various money teaching games on the internet if the student is interested in learning/playing more. 

U.S. Money costs $3.25 to download. Samples of this worktext are available here.  You may also be interested in the Canadian or European versions of Money.

Our second worktext was Measuring 1.  Fritz has always been a little confused when it came to which units are used to measure what concept and that units for different concepts can't be compared.  For example, he might ask how many miles are in a day or which is bigger, 100 feet or 2 hours?  Measuring 1 has 24 lessons covering the concepts of length,  liquid volume, weight and temperature in both U.S. and metric units.  I loved  the opening exercise:  we used  my shoes and Fritz's shoes to measure the length of the sofa.  We both used shoes, but it was six "mama shoes" or nine "Fritz shoes" long.  This lead into why we need a standard unit size.

While this is a workbook (something I usually avoid), it also provides some hands-on learning activities.  We had to find various containers throughout the house and measure how much liquid they hold.  He had to find food containers in the pantry and look at weight on the label and put them in order from lightest to heaviest.  We weighed things on the bathroom scale (note: we skipped the activity on weighing family members--I wasn't volunteering and the dog was too wiggly).   We did hit one snag in measuring length--when the concept was first introduced there were various lines on the page that we were supposed to measure.  They should have been  in whole inches but when we used our ruler we kept coming up with something like 3 5/8".  Apparently when I printed the sheets on both sides of the paper it compressed the images.   I told Fritz we would make it a rounding exercise.  You may also cut one of the sample rulers off of the page and use it for measuring as it should be compressed by the same ratio as the lines and objects.

Measuring 1 costs $4.50 to download.  A free sample is available here.

We've just started the Early Geometry worktext.  It covers basic shapes, right angles, parallel lines, symmetry, area, perimeter, and solids.   We jumped into the lessons on perimeter and area as it ties in with his regular math curriculum.  The shapes for area are made of  blocks on a grid so if the child can't multiply, he can count the blocks.  I have scanned the other exercises and I'm impressed with how advanced the material is.  Rather than just use terms like "corners" if teaches "vertices."  Instead of limiting 4-sided objects to squares and rectangles, it covers parallelograms and other quadrilaterals. 

A sample of Early Geometry is available  here.  It worktext costs $2.75 to download.

If you find you enjoy Math Mammoth worktexts, as we did, you may be interested in their package deals.  You can buy all the blue lessons in pdf download ($70) or on CD ($75). You do have permission to make copies of the sheets for each student so only one purchase of each text is necessary.

You can read what my fellow crewmate thought of Math Mammoth and the worktexts they reviewed by clicking here.  

Disclaimer: I received free downloads of the three worktexts mentioned here for the purposes of completing this review.  I received no other compensation.


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling

If this were a twelve-step program, I would introduce myself and confess that I was a book-aholic.  Don't stand between me and a used book sale.  I won't say I'm rude enough to knock you down to get in first, but I could stumble over you because I couldn't see over the stack of books I leave with.  I like to collect the old treasures that libraries and schools are throwing away from lack of interest: Landmark books, Junior Illustrated Library, Winston Adventure Series.

I also have a shelf  I call my Homeschooling resource center.  There are "how to" books, encouragement books, and reference books.  A new book was added to the shelf this past Christmas, Debra Bell's The Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling.   This one book can truly be your guide at all seasons of your homeschooling walk.

Perhaps you're just considering homeschool as an option.  The first seven chapters are directed at you.  

  1. Determining Your Destination

  2. The Advantages of Homeschooling

  3. The Challenges of Homeschooling

  4. Do I Have Time to Homeschool

  5. Single Parents, Special Needs, Careers, and Other FAQs

  6. Six Ingredients of a Successful Homeschool

  7. But I Don't Want to Homeschool

And if you haven't figured out what questions you need to answer for yourself to determine if homeschooling is right for your family, the section ends with a worksheet of questions to do just that.  I'll confess, I wasn't able to determine my Schnickelfritz's learning style from the sample profiles provided but the book does say these styles don't solidify until age 9 or 10.

Perhaps you've made the decision and are gearing up for your first year.  You'll find what you need in following sections.  Part 2 has five chapters on choosing curriculum.  Part 5 is full of lists, what to teach--when & how. Part 3 covers organization and planning.  I'm not usually one to compare myself to other moms on either teaching, organizing  or maintaining a home (since I started with a confession, I'll also say I'm a messy).  The educational plan that the author provides for her third grade twins left me on the floor.  Here were 11 pages of Objectives to be met in the school year.  She had to do it to meet state requirements.  I will be looking up her home state with a mental note to NEVER move there. 

 At some point, the homeschool road will get tougher and you may question whether you've made the right choice to homeschool.  Part 4 holds five chapters to prevent burnout.  Part 8 deals with specific challenges: schooling with a toddler underfoot, transitioning from school to home, motivating a reluctant learner.

And if you persevere, at some point you'll be homeschooling teens.  As you near the end of the race you have to consider transcripts, college admissions,  what to do about sports, etc.  That's when we turn to the four chapters in Part 6.

This book is truly a guide.  It provides some information but also steers you to other sources when you need more research.  I love the list of 150+ books that you should be able to get through the library (remember I'm a confessed book-aholic).  It's organized by subject: Art & Architecture, History/Geography, Mathematics, Science, Music, Language Arts & Reference. Like the "Dummy" series, there are icons in the margins to direct you to other books, websites, anecdotes from the other and experienced homeschoolers.  The wide margins also leave plenty of space for you to add you own notes.

 This updated edition of Debra Bell's guide is available from Apologia.  (For you veteran homeschoolers: Yes, that's the science company but they're expanding their product line).   The book retails for $20 but it's a book you'll be turning to again and again as you enter new seasons of homeschooling or you just need a pick-me-up.  To see what other homeschooling families think of this title, click here.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of The Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling for the purposes of this review.  I received no other compensation. 

Monday, February 15, 2010

TOS Review: Ray's Arithmatic


Have you every seen one of those tests from the 1800's floating around on the internet?   There will be a math question like: Find the interest of $512.60 for 8 months and 18 days at 7 percent.   And after seeing how difficult they are you learn that they're for the Eighth grade--not even high school level.  When I worked one of these problems (in college), I had tables and a financial calculator to work with.  How were these kids on the prairie learning math?

Now I know the answer: Ray's Arithmetic -- a series of books used almost exclusively in U.S. Schoolhouses from 1865 to 1915.   We received a copy of all the books in PDF format to review.  And there are a lot of books, beginning with Primary Arithmetic and going up to Integral Calculus.

I made the mistake of jumping right into the Primary Arithmetic text.  All I found was a list of questions for each lesson.  Here's a sample below:

I was totally lost until I went back to read the Manual of Methods and the Manual of Arithmetic, both of which instruct the teacher how to teach the lessons.  For the Primary lessons, all math is to be done orally and with manipulatives (the book doesn't actually use that word, it refers to "counters" or "objects").   So the lesson above is really questions for the teacher to be asking her student while she is demonstrating with concrete objects.  

Fritz was very comfortable doing math orally--in fact, he'd rather do that than have to put pencil to paper.  Ray's suggests the teacher use something like matchsticks and make bundles of ten matchsticks to teach place value.  I chose to use the color coordinated manipulatives from our normal curriculum for units, tens, and hundreds rather than make more work for myself. 

The lessons begin with adding and subtracting up to 10 + 10 = 20 and then switch to multiplication.  This is where I started with Fritz (Lesson 38).   By using real objects, he picked up the concept quickly (of course he had been unknowingly memorizing his times tables by watching Schoolhouse Rock videos).  I was surprised how quickly the lessons grew into multi-step problems.  By the lesson 50  review, he was being asked "How many are 2 and 5, less 4, multiplied by 3?"  Again, this is done orally.  It's not until Lesson 64 that students are introduced to the symbols we use (+,-,x, =) and the equations we recognize (11 + 5= 16).

The lessons at the end of the Primary text teach the students the units for U.S. money, English Money, weights, dry and liquid measures,  time, distance, etc.  There are some very obscure references here (24 sheets of paper make 1 quire) and also some equivalents for a more agricultural society (60 pounds of wheat make 1 bushel).  It's still all math and if you study these things you'll be ready to answer that 1800's eighth grade test that asks   "What is the cost of a square farm at $15 per acre, the distance around which is 640 rods?"

All of the texts appear as bookmarks to the left hand side of the screen.  Without consulting my Webster's 1828 dictionary, the titles seem to overlap each other: Primary Arithmetic, Rudimentary Arithmetic, Elementary Arithmetic.  I presume they are listed in order and as you finish one you'd just going to the next text on the list.  The list isn't as organized as it could be--in some cases the answer key is listed below the student text, in other cases it appears in the bottom "Teacher's Edition" section, in the  Elementary text, the answer key is included at the end of the book. 

You'll also have to develop your own system for finding you current lesson as these are not bookmarked individually.  Some texts have a Table of Contents, others do not.

Ray's Arithmetic series is available on Cd from Dollar Homeschool for $59.  This one purchase could take care of your entire math curriculum --all students, all years.  It has a proven track record for roughly fifty years of America's history. 

You can see what my fellow Crewmates think of Ray's Arithmetic and its companion curriculum, the Eclectic Education Series by clicking here.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of Ray's Arithmetic series for the purposes of completing this review.  I received no other compensation.

Happy Birthday St. Louis

It was 246 years ago today the a a party of men led by a fourteen year old boy began clearing the land for what he envisioned as the city of St. Louis.  Okay, there's some quibbling about whether it was the 14th or 15th of February but when you're that old does one day really matter?   It's a fascinating story.  If you want to learn more I highly recommend the book A Boy for a Man''s Job.  I reviewed it here.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Happy Valentines Day

I was in the kitchen preparing biscuits and gravy when my Schnickelfritz came in behind me and asked where to find the glue.  Have you noticed how mothers are responsible for knowing the locations of EVERYTHING, even when those things haven't been returned to their proper place?

 "What for?" I ask.  The answer was "I can't tell you."  I'll confess my first thought was what has been ripped of broken and he's trying to fix without my knowledge.  Does this make me a bad mother?  

I told him it would have to wait until the biscuits were in the oven.  He agreed to wait and then said the next item he would need was the glitter.  A lightbulb went on in my head--the calendar says February 14th.  I immediately regret my initial assumptions and try to continue on as if I know nothing.  I delay retreiving the glue and glitter until the Toolman returned with his Sunday paper so Fritz can have some adult supervision (I knew he'd ask for  help spelling Valentine anyway). 

The surprise card I received at breakfast is the most precious thing ever.  It was the first time he made something on his own initiative.  It opens backwards, the back says "Feb 14, NOW,"  and I'll never get rid of it.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Review: Beehive Reader

You may recall a few weeks ago I reviewed All About Spelling, which we  still use and love!  The creator of the spelling program has recently launched a reading program--All About Reading.  We recently received the first book in the series, The Beehive Reader.   It appears we've struck gold again.  This hardback book contains ten stories and some of the most charming illustrations I've seen. 

The Beehive Reader is designed to be used in conjunction with All About Spelling Level One, beginning with lesson 15.  A box will appear at the end of the lesson letting you know which story to read to reenforce the concept covered: consonant blends, compound words, etc.   

The stories are around 10-12 pages long (the first one is 17) and has one or two short sentences per pages.   Even my reluctant reader didn't complain about how much reading he had to do.  As one accustomed to reading I found the text a little stilted, but you try to write a story using one-syllable, short vowel sound words.   I still found the reader  much better and more entertaining than the BOB book series.

Another reason I preferred the Beehive Reader to BOB books was the construction of the book itself.  BOB books are flimsy, the staples loosen and fall apart.  My local library won't even carry them because they don't hold up with daily use.  The Beehive Reader is a hardback.  Special care was taken to use non-glare paper.  The pages even seem thicker so they shouldn't tear easily.  And there is a bookplate in the front so the child can claim it as his very own.  I want my son to see that books can be precious, cherished  things--even his first readers.  This book has earned a place in our revolving bookcase where I store our Junior Illustrated Library classics and our Landmark books.

The Beehive Reader is available here for $19.95.  This is a bit expensive in my mind, but it is a book built to last so you can use it with future beginning readers too.  It's still less expensive than a video game or a DVD.  Perhaps it can be a demonstration to your kids that good books are worth  saving/budgeting for.

You can see what my fellow crewmates thought of the Beehive Reader by clicking here.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the Beehive Reader for the purposes of completing this review.  I received no other compensation.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Snow Day II

Well we did receive snow overnight but it was on the low side of the 4-7 inches they had been forecasting.  My Schnickelfritz and I have clearing the driveway down to a science now.  And the great thing about blacktop driveways is that the sun clears off what you miss--even when the temperature is below freezing.  Fritz was more than ready to play in the snow after the work was done, but instead of going into the garage for his sled he came out with a basketball.

"Well you can take a Hoosier out of Indiana ..." I thought to myself.  I was sure the low temperature would lower the pressure in the ball and keep it from bouncing as it should. Jessica Hulcy of KONOS curriculum is always emphasizing the importance of "discovery learning" so I chose to let Fritz learn that for himself.  Instead of dribbling in the driveway Fritz dropped the ball over the snow where naturally, it didn't bounce at all.   He repeated this several times.

 "Look Mama," he called me over. 

I looked at the snow and saw impressions of the ball.  My mind flashed back to yesterday's astronomy lesson. "Oh, craters like we studied about Mercury." 

"No!  They're footprints from Larry the Cucumber." 

Monday, February 8, 2010

Snow Day

The weatherman brought us the news this morning--four to seven inches before it's said and done tomorrow.  I realize those of you on the east coast are probably wishing you had only 4-7 inches.  I think we're prepared for a few days of cabin fever.  We checked out Hank the Cowdog's Case of the Most Ancient Bone-the longest book in the series.  Traditionally we would be heading out to stock up on milk and bread and eggs.  We bought 4 gallons at Sam's Club over the weekend and we're set on eggs too.  As for bread, I'm getting set to bake my own!  We are using a recipe from Sue Gregg's cookbook series and she is an advocate of the two stage process (to remove phytates from the whole grains).  We're actually milling and soaking the grain today.  Then tomorrow we should have the comforting smell of fresh bread to enjoy as we watch the snow fall. 

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Review: Kinderbach

My Schnickelfritz has always enjoyed the piano. He likes to listen to Chopin.  We used to plan trips to Target so he could play the light-up keyboard in the electronics department.  Two years ago we bought that keyboard as a Christmas present and Fritz spent hours learning to play Moonlight Sonata by following the lit up keys. Kinderbach was going to be our first real lesson in reading music.  We received a three month trial subscription.

I'm sorry to say that Kinderbach and Fritz didn't click.  Perhaps it is because our dial up service wouldn't allow us to enjoy the streaming videos (I would say people with dial up need to choose the dvd lessons). Perhaps after the "shortcut" method of following lighted keys he wasn't interested in learning the names of keys and where they appear on a staff.  Or perhaps it's just because he was at the high end of the recommended age range (3-7).  Fritz felt he was beyond the "is this note high or low?" stage, so I went on to view several other lessons without him.

Four each week there is a video lesson broken up into four sections. You will need to download the activity book for each level (covering 10 weeks of lessons). There may also be games and coloring pages to download with the weekly lesson.  

The students start by learning about Dody the Donkey who lives on the D key (the two black keys form his .

shed).  This altered course from my piano lesson days where we learned about middle C first, but perhaps the D is easier for young children to find. There are other cartoon characters like an eagle and a frog that correspond with other keys.  Students begin learning the notes and their values--a quarter note represents a walking pace, a half note is "standing."   

If you have a young student you want to gently expose to music theory--rhythms, notes, names of keys, etc.  then Kinderbach may be a fun way of doing so.  An online subscription costs $95.88 for the entire year or you may opt for the monthly subscription rate of $19.99.  You may sample two weeks worth of lessons for free by signing up here. If you have dial up service though, I think you'll be frustrated by the constant stalling of the video.  The program is also available on dvd/cd ($40.45 per level). 

You can see what my fellow crewmates think of Kinderbach by clicking here.

Disclaimer: I received a free three month subscription to Kinderbach's online lessons for the purpose of completing this review.  I received no other compensation.


We had 2-3 inches fall over the weekend.  My Toolman was sick in bed with bronchitus so that left the clearing of the driveway up to me.  He offered to start the snowblower for me but I'm just a simple ole' gal who prefers the extra calorie burn of a shovel.  My Schnickelfritz asked if he could help--any excuse to get out in the white stuff.  He was pretty much over is own cough so I allowed it. 

We couldn't find the second ergonomic shovel (you know the kind with the crooked handle that allows you to push rather than lift the snow?)  Fritz got stuck with the collapsable emergency shovel from my car.  I plotted my course for the most efficient way to clear the drive.  I make a path up the middle so I don't have to walk in snow all the time and then I push the snow from the middle towards the edges, alternating sides.  Fritz chose to be much more random shall we say.  He left a pattern of blacktop slashes all over the drive.  I resisted the strong urge to say "No, that's not the way to do it!"  He was, after all, removing the snow and I was more concerned with him finding a joy in work rather than the work itself at seven years old. His enthusiasm more than made up for his skill.  I told him that many boys' first jobs are clearing driveways.  He was amazed to learn that some people will pay you for having fun.

I kept on my routine and eventually he saw and duplicated my movements.  He was a little miffed at the size of his shovel compared to our large driveway.  "Our driveway sure is bigger than our old one in Indiana."  I braced myself for more complaining and eventual quitting, but he followed that statement with "That's okay, it means more space to ride my bike," and kept right on shovelling.   We were more than three quarters done before Fritz began wondering if the snow would pack and we could make a snowman. 

When the job was done we discovered that this wasn't a packing snow, but that didn't stop my Schnickelfritz.  He made what may be the first lying down snowman. 

  This snowman is lying down because he just finished clearing the driveway with two shovels and is "completely exhausted" according to Fritz.  The artist, however, was not as tired and headed to the back yard for sledding before I called him in for some hot chocolate. 

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