Monday, January 30, 2012

Now Where's That Pencil Again?

Last Fall ago I wrote about the software I use to schedule and log hours for our homeschool.  If you're searching the Virtual Curriculum Fair for that type of product you'll want to read about Edu-Track .  For this week's topic "Pulling it All Together," I'm going to show you the tools we use to keep us on track each day.

Having every lesson scheduled in my software is wonderful, but if I can find the colored pencils for Bible study or our read-aloud for history I'm headed for a train wreck.  I can't send Schnickelfritz to search for the missing item.  He's a carrier of that Y chromosome, can't-find-anything-in-the refrigerator syndrome.   After glancing around the room twice he'll lose interest, or find the Transformer he wanted to play with yesterday, or decide that since he's already moved the trundle bed to look underneath he might as well stay and turn it into an "ice cave" and make our dog play cave beast.  If I go looking for the lost item I may have a better chance of finding it but I'd better find it during the math lesson video.  Once the lesson is done the mind wonders and we still may end up in the ice cave.

For the last two years we've been using a variation on Sue Patrick's Workbox System.  Rather than numbering the boxes, I used our Graphic Toolbox software to make subject labels.

These are attached to each box.  I found ours at Walmart in a 2-count set for $4.  I went with a slightly bigger size so that workbooks could lay flat or I could fit a clipboard inside.  We put EVERYTHING we need in the box so if we need a set of colored pencils for art and for Bible study, we buy two (they're only a buck during school sale time).

When the lesson is done, EVERYTHING has to go back in the box.  It doesn't matter that we're just going to get them out again tomorrow.  There's something about skipping this step that opens an inter-dimensional portal to open in our basement classroom.  And that other dimension must have some weird radiation that causes inanimate objects to sprout legs and disappear.  Nothing wreaks havoc on a lesson schedule more than not being able to find our history read-aloud for the day (or even a week).  I also keep a box with supplies like index cards, extra pencils, and glue sticks.

Our second tool is a set of subject labels that I've lamenated and added magnets to the backs. 

My son is a "How much more do we have to do today?" kind of kid.  We always start the day with Bible study,  but there are some subjects not scheduled every day.  This way he can see what our agenda is at a glance.  Some days I'll make him follow them in order, others I'll let him arrange the subjects to suit his tastes.  It really eliminates the "Are we done yets?"  I can just refer him to the board.

I'm sad to say this is the last week of the 2012 Virtual Curriculum Fair.  Be sure to visit these other blogs to see their take on the topic The Nuts and Bolts: Pulling it All Together. 

Getting a Grip on Things by Susan @ Homeschooling Hearts & Minds

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

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

Sunday, January 29, 2012

“School” and “Fun” in the same sentence

Ask the average student if it’s possible to use those two words in the same sentence and the answer you’ll probably get is “No.”  The roll-call question at a recent 4-H meeting was “What’s your favorite subject?” and the most frequent answer was recess.  Let me be clear that I don’t think it is my job to entertain my son through school every day, but I do believe homeschoolers have an edge at making learning more fun.  For starters, We don’t have the mundane busy-work that classroom teachers have to assign to keep kids quiet while they deal with the slow learners.  Of course I only have one child so when he’s done so is the whole class.  We can dive into a new subject or he may be rewarded with a few minutes of free time for finishing so quickly.   Class doesn’t have to take place sitting at a desk or in a classroom.  We often do Bible study laying on our tummies on the living room floor.  Fritz’s favorite place to listen to read alouds is on the porch swing.  I do have to be careful with this because he tends to get distracted by the dog. 

  Field Trips

Everything is more fun to learn on a field trip.  I’ve always said the best person to teach a subject is the one who is passionate about it.  For the most part, the docents, volunteers, re-enactors, and interpreters at art and science museums or historical sites are there because they have an interest in the subject.  And if they find they have a receptive audience just watch them spew out fascinating facts and funny anecdotes.   We fortunate to live near a group committed to preserving the history of the Corps of Discovery.  These men actually built replicas of the pirogues and keelboat of Lewis and Clark and used them to follow the original expedition during the recent bicentennial.  Since we don’t have constraints like being back at school for lunch or only scheduling Monday through Friday during school hours we have a lot more field trips to choose from and a lot more opportunity for one on one time with the experts.  Sometimes Schnickelfritz is the only kid surrounded by adults dying to share their knowledge.  He has been taught how to start fires with flint and steel, been able to light the fuse of a cannon, and been given samples of goodies being cooked over an open fire.    You can click on my Field Trip tab above to see everywhere we’ve gone, but here are a few of our favorite trips.

Camp Jackson Affair (Civil War/history)


We love to learn with games.  My Schnickelfritz is more of a kinesthetic learner so whatever I can do to incorporate motion into learning is a help.  I used to take his Spanish vocabulary words and hide them on cards around the basement.  Then I’d give him the English word and he’d have have to tear around the room looking for the correct translated word (No classroom teacher who wanted to keep her sanity would try this).   Other times we use commercially made  games to re-enforce facts we’ve learned in lessons.  Made for Trade is based on colonial times.  The Scrambled States of America helped us memorize state names, capitals, and nicknames. Of course I just wrote a post about our favorite math game, Muggins.  Here’s an excerpt:

At the next level of the game we use three regular dice but any of the four math functions.  You either add, subtract, multiply or divide two dice to get a new number and then add, subtract, multiply, or divide that number by the face value of the third die.  You can see where the possible choices of marble placement expand dramatically. 
Here are just a few options (assuming I'm blue) with a 3, 4 and 6 :
3 + 4 + 6 = 13,  already occupied
3 + 4 - 6 = 1,  available but it doesn't make a run or block anyone else
3 + 6 - 4 = 5,  this would put an end to one side of black's run
(6*4)/3 = 8,  this would keep black from forming a 4 marble run
6*3 - 4 = 14, this would give blue a run of 3

You can read the whole post here.

Okay, I'm probably dating myself here but didn't you used to get excited when the teacher brought the A/V cart into your classroom?  It meant you were going to get to watch a film strip or movie.  Yes in those days the teacher had to actually thread film into a movie projector--not even VHS tapes in my day.  It's not nearly so hard these days to watch films with Fritz.  I picked up a copy of "A More Perfect Union" at a Tea Party Rally. What a great intro to a seldom discussed period of US history--we could hardly be described as "United" under the Articles of Confederation nor during the Constitutional Convention when they debated on how each state should be represented.  We've also used Disney's "Johnny Tremain" in our history studies.  I'm saving the more violent representations of war till Fritz gets older but we already have "Gods and Generals," "Sgt. York," and "Midway"  in our movie line up.

DVD's are not just good for history.  One of Fritz's favorites is called EZ Math Tricks.  It begins with some short cuts for regular math--how to multiply by 11,  squaring a number that ends in 5, etc.  Then it teaches you some "magic" tricks based on math manipulations.  We checked the DVD out from the library so many times, I had to get our own copy.

In the past year some of our favorite DVD's have been from the series "The Science of Disney Imagineering".  We got them all through inter-library loan in preparation for our Disney World Vacation.  Each covers a different principle of science, visits several Disney attractions based on that principle, and has a "do it yourself" experiment to reinforce the learning.  Titles cover

  • Energy
  • Friction
  • Design and Models
  • Fluids
  • Trajectory
  • Animal Adaptations
  • Newton's 3 Laws of Motion
  • Levers & Pulleys
  • Gravity
  • Electricity
  • Magnetism  
I've written detailed reviews of most of these titles (a project I really need to finish)-- listing vocabulary, attractions, and the home experiment, etc.  You can check them out here.

Be sure to visit the Homeschool Blog Cruise to see how others are adding fun to the homeschool day.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Review: We Choose Virtue

Character is, in the long run, the decisive factor in the life of individuals and of nations alike.
Theodore Roosevelt
As I mentioned in my last post, one of the top reasons for choosing home schooling is the ability to include religious and/or moral instruction.  While I have scheduled Bible Study and made sure our text books are written from a Christian worldview, I have never considered teaching virtues as their own subject.  Our latest review product is designed for just that with early childhood through elementary students.
We Choose Virtue sent us the following:

A set of Virtue Clue Cards (normally $7.95 on sale now for $5.99)  These twelve cards come in their own plastic case with Velcro closure, perfect to stash in Mom’s purse.  Each card begins with “I am” and lists a virtue with a picture of a corresponding character (e.g. Oboe Joe for Obedience).  Then comes a catchphrase to help kids understand what they should be doing to demonstrate the virtue (again starting with I am or I choose).  Finally there is a list of things the child should no longer be doing if they want to demonstrate the virtuous trait “(I am not distracted”  when trying to be attentive.  On the back side of the card is a activity challenge for the day.  Can you go all day doing things people normally have to tell you to do?

  The Kids of Virtueville Coloring Book ($3.00, free with any kit purchase)  This is a downloadable item.  Each page features on of the virtue characters, the name of the virtue they represent above them and their name at the bottom.  Each character also has an object associated with them.  I can understand the piggy bank for patient, as in patiently saving coins to make a big purchase.  Others, like an airplane for attentive make no sense except they start with the same letter.  In addition to the coloring sheets there are three puzzle pages.  My son doesn’t like to color so we didn’t use this product.  You do have permission to make copies for everyone in your family.

The Teacher’s Handbook ($4.99 download, $19.99 hard copy, included in many of the kits)
This full-color, 56 page handbook is your guide to introduce virtue to your children, daycare or class.  It all begins by expecting excellence from yourself, the parent or teacher.  If you a not modeling these traits yourself you cannot expect little ones to pick up on them and use them too.  (I was reminded of that in vivid detail this week when I did not maintain self-control in the car.  Little ears in the back seat picked up on my angry words and started to emulate me). The handbook has short stories, activity suggestions and detailed descriptions of all the We Choose Virtues tools.

The Family Character Assessment (free download)
This tool will help you see where you’re starting on your virtue journey and help you track your progress.  Each virtue has a scale of 1 to 10 with a brief description on each side showing the extremes of displaying or not displaying the trait.  I let my son fill this out on his own and was surprised by his honesty on some of the virtues.  Other virtues though showed me that he doesn’t see or is unwilling to admit his weak points.  (I’m sure that my own assessment would have the same issues).  At one point during the weak he did act out in anger.  When he had settled down, he took an eraser and lowered his score for self-control.   The next night at basketball practice the same set of circumstances arose and this time he kept his cool.  Again he went to the assessment chart and raised his score this time.
Can I say that we have seen some fruit from these lessons.  My Schnickelfritz, aka Mr. Competitive does not take well to coming in second place.  He has been known to sulk, pout, yell, and cry because his Upwards Basketball team is “just terrible.”   We missed last week’s basketball game, but there was a contest in Sunday School and Fritz’s team placed third.  The winners were the kindergarten class and Fritz’s class has been instructed to be encouragers for the younger kids.  Rather than react inappropriately to the loss, Fritz clapped and cheered for the little winners.  His Sunday School teacher made a point to tell me how pleased she was by his response.  Maybe it’s that Self-Control card we’ve been looking at?
In addition to buying these products a la carte, they are available in kits for family, homeschool, church and classroom.  Kit prices range from $69.99 to $244.99.  Most kits are available in a faith-based  or (I presume) secular format.  I have to wonder though at how successful a program can be to teach obedience, forgiveness and honesty without the absolute standard and example we have in Jesus Christ.
We Choose Virtues is running a few specials this month.  You may also be notified of future specials by liking them on Facebook.
JANUARY/FEBRUARY-The 100 Days of Virtue Poster and Stickers will be included FREE with any Homeschool Kit purchase during these months. 
  • 2011 Kids Virtue Poster $9.75 (from $14.99, 35% savings)
  • 2011 100 Days of Virtue Chart and Butterfly Stickers $11.99 (from $14.99, 20% savings)  
  • 2011 3 Rules Poster $7.75 (from 11.99, 35% savings)
These are the only active promo codes. Please make sure your readers know they can use only ONE at a time. 
  • VIRTUE15 for 15 % off the shopping cart is still available
  • SHIPFREE for free worldwide shipping
You can see what others on the Homeschool Crew think of We Choose Virtues by clicking here.
Disclaimer:  I received free copies of the Virtue Clue Cards and free downloads for the purpose of completing this review.  There was no other compensation for my honest opinion.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Soup Like Grandma Used to Make

Before we start with this week's soup recipe, I want you to note that this says "Like Grandma Used to Make" not Grandma's Soup recipe.   Both my mom and aunt have tried to recreate the dish based on their best recollections.  I don't know if this was a recipe that Grandma never wrote down or if it was in the recipe file she gave to someone who worked in the assisted living center she moved to because she thought no one else would be interested in them.  (Grandma got that one wrong).  My point is the recipes you customarily make for your family are as much a part of your children's heritage as knowing which boat brought your family to America.   I never got the chance to meet my husband's mother and now I can never fix his favorite dish, Beef Manhattan, the way she used to make it.   I used to be able to eat a whole jar of my great Aunt Evelyn's dill pickles as a kid.  By the time I grew up and had my own place to plant a garden, Alzheimer's disease had stolen the recipe from her mind.  So if you love your kids, write down some of their favorite recipes for them.  Kids, if you love your mom or grandma, pay them a visit and ask them to share their recipes with you.  Heck, go into the kitchen and make some (and some great memories too).  Okay, I'm off the soapbox now.

Vegetable soup like Grandma used to make:

1.   Put 4 soup bones in a large pot and cover with water.  Cook for several hours until the meat falls off the bones.

2.  Chop up and add the following vegetables
  • 3-4 potatoes (my mom peels them first)
  • 3-4 carrots
  • 1 onion
  • several ribs of celery (include the leaves)
  • enough cabbage to make 2-3 cups chopped
  • a turnip
  • a cup or more of green beans
  • corn cut off the cob
  Here's the secret, peel and chop an apple and add to the pot.

Also add:
  • 1 can tomato or V-8 Juice
  • 1 t nutmeg
  • 1 1/2 t cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • salt and pepper to taste
3. Simmer all this on the stove until vegetables are tender.  Because the men in our family prefer meat at every meal you can also add browned ground beef or stew meat to this soup.

The best part about this pot of soup was that I went over to my mother's house and we made it together!  Check out the other recipes on the Soup Swap this week and share them with the ones you love.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Science and worldview

poll survey
According to the most recent national poll I could find on home schooling, the second most popular reason for teaching your children at home is the desire to provide religious or moral instruction.  The top reason, a concern about the school environment, has not been expounded upon so we don’t know if this refers to violence and an exposure to drugs or an anti-Christian bias in teaching and curriculum.  Since both answers scored over 80 percent, there is clearly some overlap.  Christian parents want their children to be educated in a Christian worldview.  God is not brought out of the box on Sunday mornings and then immediately wrapped back up and stored on the shelf for six days.  There’s no greater opportunity for including a Christian worldview is school than with this week’s Virtual Curriculum Fair topic--

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

We’ve been using Apologia's Young Explorer series  “Exploring Creation with …” since the beginning.  Using “Creation” in the title and the fact that the program has been organized by days of creation leaves no doubt that the author will present the material with the assumption that God is the creator of all.  There's no checking your brain at the door here.  Students will get in depth studies in Astronomy, Botony, Zoology and Anatomy complete with hands-on activites and experiments. Chapters in the books often include sections entitled “Creation Confirmation"  designed to show how a Christian/creationist worldview can explain the marvels mysteries we see around us every day.  

I don't often post about our science activites (I guess I'm usually occupied with instructing and don't take pictures), but here are two posts about our Apologia work:  Week 3 Wrap Up and Paper Clip Solar System.

We’ve found a number of books and videos to complement our science curriculum as well.  The first is a series of three DVD’s called “Incredible Creatures the Defy Evolution.”  Dr. Jobe Martin had been a Professor of Dentistry and an evolutionist.  One day during a lecture on how fish scales had evolved into teeth, two of his students had the courage to stand up and challenged him to consider a creationist point of view.  Dr. Jobe set out to collect proof of his worldview and found that it too was an exercise in faith.  For more than 30 years he has been gathering evidence on specific attributes in animals that just can’t be explained by “goo to you by way of the zoo” thinking.

89110603_A62KqYal_327w2 Take the giraffe for example:  It takes a powerful heart to pump blood, against the force of gravity, up that long neck.  What happens though, when Mr. Giraffe bends over to get a drink of water?  Gravity working with that heart should cause his head to explode.  A dead giraffe cannot evolve.  But a creator can build a series of valves in the neck arteries (we only have valves in our veins) that will close when the giraffes head bends down preventing the powerful pumping from reaching the brain.  And when the giraffe stands tall again, perhaps because a lion is approaching the water hole?  He could pass out waiting for the valves to open and blood to course upward again—lunchtime for the lion, end of evolution for the giraffe.  God took care of that detail too, adding a sponge-like organ at the base of the brain.  It collects the last little pump of blood before the valves shut and when the giraffe lifts its head again the sponge squeezes that blood into the brain, lasting long enough till the blood starts flowing again.

The three volumes in this series cover a lot of the animals we learn about in the three Zoology texts from above: Flying Creatures of the Fifth Day, Swimming Creatures of the Fifth Day and Land Animals of the Sixth Day.   The DVD’s are divided into chapters so I could go directly to the creature we were studying.  Each segment is only 5-7 minutes long, but they made great chapter introductions (to entice students to want to learn more) or wrap ups on experiment days.  

Incredible Creatures that Defy Evolution Volume 1 – Bombardier Beetle, Giraffe, Woodpecker, Incubator Bird, Chicken Egg, Beaver, Platypus, Spider, Gecko, Chuckwalla Lizard, Human Body

Incredible Creatures that Defy Evolution Volume 2 –Whales, Golden Plover, Dragonfly, Hippopotamus, Glowworm, Bears, Earthworm, Elephant, Sparrow. 

Incredible Creatures the Defy Evolution Volume 3 – Lampsillis Mussel, Horse, Ostrich, Vestigial Organs, Hummingbird, Dog, Manatee, Butterfly, Cuttlefish, Penguin, Milopina 

The same company that brings us these DVD’s has a book series called Letting God Create Your Day.  We own the first 5 volumes but I believe there are eight now.  The text comes from transcripts of the radio program Creation Moments.  Each page is a devotion complete with Bible verse and prayer.  The subjects cover fascinating factoids of mostly science, but also anthropology, history, medicine and chemistry.  Trust me when I say you’ve never heard about these things in your public school science class.  Here’s an excerpt from “How to Freeze a Turtle”:

In mid-June painted turtles begin to lay their eggs. Each nest holds from seven to nine eggs. Some females will make two nests. The eggs are buried, safely out of sight of predators, and the mother turtle returns to her normal habitat. The young hatch in ten or eleven weeks. After hatching, they remain buried in teh ground, and therefore safe from predators, all winter. The problem is that turtles freeze solid at the temperatures found at nest depth in the winter. Ususally, when living cells freeze, the long, sharp ice crystals that form in them puncture the cell membrane, killing the cell.

As the baby turtles freeze, even the heart and brain eventually freeze. There is no breathing and no heartbeat. Only a tiny bit of electrical activity in the frozen brain reveals that life remains in the body. Why don't ice crystals rupture the cells? The young turtle's liver makes special proteins that are circulated to every cell in the body. These proteins ensure the formation of very small ice crystals that cannot puncture delicate cell walls.

Only God could have invented such a unique method of protecting tiny, painted turtles. 

You could read these devotionals before a family meal or to start your school day.  My only wish was that there was an index so I could find subjects that tied into our science lessons.  You might also consider using these books as source texts for Institute for Excellence in Writing assignments.  Mr. Pudewa recommends humorous, dangerous, or gross ideas to keep the interests of boys who'd rather build forts all day.  These passages fit the bill. 

Be sure to stop by these other blogs in the Vitual Curriculum Fair to read their takes on Exploring Our World: Social Studies and more Science.

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

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Picante Onion Soup, it's good for what ails ya...

This week's Soup Swap recipe came from a jar of Pace Picante sauce a decade or so ago.  I tried to find an original copy but when I Googled the recipe I found many variations so I'm just adding another one to the collection.

When it comes to soups and colds, most people think of chicken noodle soup so I know I'm in a minority here.  My soup of choice is Picante Onion Soup.  I just appreciate the spice when I'm dealing with a sense of taste that has been dulled by sickness.  A little internet investigation suggest that the soup may have some health benefits too (I'm not a doctor and I've never played one on TV--this is strictly Dr. Mom stuff).   According to Natural Remedies Center: onion is a good home remedy for flu and cough, onions are known to be effective in removing phlegm, and individuals that ate onion soup had better immune responses.  So if you feel a winter cold coming on here's what you need.

2-3 onions
3 Cups tomato juice
1 can beef broth & 1 canful of water
1/4 Cup butter
1 mince clove of garlic
1/2 Cup Picante Sauce (pick your heat level)

Begin by thinly slicing the onions till you have three cups worth.  I just love this V-slicer I picked up at the State Fair years ago.  I usually make one cut throuch the onion so I have half-ring pieces but you can leave the rings whole or chop the onion into pieces.

Melt the butter in a large stock pot (at least 4 quarts) and add onion and garlic.  Cook until soft and golden (about 15 minutes)

When the onions are finished, add tomato juice, picante sauce, beef broth and water.  Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer for 15 minutes.

Oops, my sous-chef must have had the day off and forgot to wipe around the rim of the bowl.

There you go.  A hot soup with little effort (another good thing when you're feeling under the weather).  But don't just wait until your sick to try it.  This recipe just screams for adding your own optional ingredients.  The original recipe called for adding croutons and monterey jack cheese.  Here I've used crushed tortilla chips and cheddar.  Other ingredients I've tried:
  • cooked brown rice (an easy way to add whole grain fiber)
  • cooked chopped chicken
  • sausage
  • leftover taco meat
  • french cut green beans
  • hot sauce
  • whatever you need to use up in the fridge
Of course the best ingredient to add is love and really that's why we cook, isn't it?  Be sure to check out what the other ladies are bringing to the Soup Swap this week.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Math Facts or Fun? Why Not Both!

Over the past three years, Schnickelfritz and I have reviewed many products design to help make drilling math facts fun, or at least more palatable for kids.  Some offer the reward of game time or an object for a virtual world after the lesson is complete.  One had the drill in the form of a race and the faster you typed in correct answers the quicker you crossed the finish line.  Because I was reviewing specific products I've never been able to talk about our favorite way to review math facts (you can't mention "the competition" in a review).  This Virtual Curriculum Fair has finally given me the opening to talk about the Math Games of Old Fashioned Products, Inc: Jelly Beans, Knock-Out, Muggins, and Opps.   All but Jelly Beans can be played by 2-4 players. I've invested in the hardwood version of the games but they are also available as write on/wipe off boards (we think the marbles make it more fun).

Jelly Beans is geared towards the youngest learners--those just learning to count and add and subtract.  The board is designed for two players to go head to head each with a row of holes numbered 1 through 12.  In the easiest version of the game, the player roles two dice and counts the number of dots showing, placing a marble in the hole that corresponds to the total.  The first player to fill in ten holes wins.

Next level: we're ready to add and subtract.  The player  roles the two dice and places one above the corresponding number (in this case above the five from the previous game).  The second die is placed near the subtraction or addition sign.  This tells the player how many "hops" to make away from the first die.  Here I've made four hops or added four to five to total nine.  Again, first player to fill 10 holes wins.

Third game (and this one can be played solitaire as well).  The player rolls three dice and tries to fill as many holes as possible in one turn using the face value of one die or adding/subtracting two or all three dice.  In the roll above, I was able to fill all the holes all the way to 8 as follows:
1 = face value
2 =   3 - 1
3 = face value
4 = face value
5 = 4 + 1
6 =  4 + 3 - 1
7 = 4 + 3
8 = 4 + 3 + 1

If playing head to head, the first player to fill all twelve holes wins.  As a solitaire game, see how few turns you need to fill the board.  Jelly Beans is for ages 4-7 (I think you could lower that to any age starting to learn to count but then you need to watch out for toddlers swallowing the marbles). Once the child is comfortable with counting, adding and subtracting you're ready to turn the board over for Knock-Out.

This board features an inner and outer ring of holes, each pair with a number from 1 to 18.  The object of the game is to "capture" a number by placing your colored marble in both the inner and outer ring.  In the easiest version the player rolls two dice and places a marble in either the sum of the two (the red marble in 10 as seen above) or two marbles based on the face values shown (the blue 4 and 6 above).  If you roll doubles, you automatically capture the number.  If you've only got one side filled your    opponent(s) can knock you out by rolling the same number during their turn.  Of course in this version (with two dice) you can  only reach numbers 1 through 12.  This is the game that really hooked my son--there's nothing better than knocking Mama off the board.

 In the next level of the game you use three die.  In addition to using face values and the total of all dice, you may also place marbles in any numbers that also add up to the total.  In the above game let's say I'm red and I've just rolled a total of 10 (1 + 4 + 5).  I could place a marble on the other side of 10 and capture that number.  I could also place red marbles in 1, 4, and 5 (the face values) knocking out the blue marble in 4 and starting to stake claims on 1 and 5.  This would put three new red marbles on the board.  However, there is a way to place four marbles on the board because 1+2+3+4 also equals 10.  Now I can knock 3 blue marbles off the board.  At this level we're not only working on addition and subtraction, but introducing critical thinking and strategy.  Knock-Out is marketed to ages 6 and up.

The next, and probably most popular game is Muggins.  This boards has holes numbered 1 to 36 around the four sides and uses three dice.  The player scores points for every marble on the board, but there are bonuses for creating a run of 2 or more of your marbles in a row.

In its easiest level, Muggins can still be a game of just addition and subtraction.  By using the 12-sided dice included with the game it's possible to capture all 36  numbers.  Here it's black's turn and I've rolled a 10, 4 and 6.  The 20 (10 + 4+ 6) is already taken by green.  I could make a run of three by capturing the 8 (10 + 4 - 6) or I could stop blue's run by taking 12 (10+6-4).

At the next level of the game we use three regular dice but any of the four math functions.  You either add, subtract, multiply or divide two dice to get a new number and then add, subtract, multiply, or divide that number by the face value of the third die.  You can see where the possible choices of marble placement expand dramatically. 
Here are just a few options (assuming I'm blue) with a 3, 4 and 6 :

3 + 4 + 6 = 13,  already occupied
3 + 4 - 6 = 1,  available but it doesn't make a run or block anyone else
3 + 6 - 4 = 5,  this would put an end to one side of black's run
(6*4)/3 = 8,  this would keep black from forming a 4 marble run
6*3 - 4 = 14, this would give blue a run of 3

As the board begins to fill it becomes harder and harder to find numbers to capture.  I can almost see Fritz's gears churning in his brain as he tries to manipulate the numbers to come up with an open solution.  In the official rules of Muggins you are allowed to "bluff," that is try to get away with placing a marble somewhere that you can't reach mathematically.  If you get caught, that marble is removed.  If you are challenged and can explain your calculations you may remove one of the challenger's marbles.  (When we're playing for school purposes, we always "show our work" and explain our calculations so no bluffing allowed).  There's an even higher level of game play where you use two dice as noting place value.  In our sample game I could use the 3 and 6 as 36 and divide by 4 to make 9 (but that's already taken).  I love the age range for Muggins-- 8 to Nuclear Physicist.

The final game, and really one of the best for drilling a concept is Opps.  The board layout is similar to Muggins but the numbers run from negative 18 to positive 18, including zero.  There are four dice: two red and two green.  The reds represent negative numbers.  Do you remember all the rules for negatives: adding a negative is really subtraction, multiplying two negatives makes a positive product, etc.  What a perfect way to get kids ready for algebra where they'll be dealing with positive and negative x's and y's.  The game is designed for ages 12 to Einstein, but my eight year old boy is able to play since he's grounded in math facts and only has to concentrate on how negative numbers work.

A single board game can cost $32 dollars if you buy it on the Muggins Math website.  They do have combinations of reversable boards for  only $11 dollars more: Jelly Beans & Knock Out, Knock Out & Muggins, Muggins & Opps.  There are more combos with games we've never tried.  Looking at their website today I saw a whole series of games that deal with fractions (next year's math focus) I see the games as investments because we'll keep playing them long beyond their need as math facts drilling. Each game also comes with several levels of play so it grows with your childs capabilities.  If this is still beyond your budget, the write on/wipe off versions are only $12.

This post is part of the Virtual Curriculum Fair.  Please visit these other links to read about how other homeschoolers teach Math, Logic, and Science.

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

Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Eagles are Landing!!!

Okay, the calendar has turned, the Christmas tree has been taken down, the New Year's resolutions have been made.  Now do you just huddle inside your home waiting for the first robin of spring?  Well if you live in my neck of the woods, January is a great time to go bird watching--and I'm talking about something that will stir your soul a lot more than a dull little robin.

You see all these birds?  They're Bald Eagles!!!  That's right, the national bird, the bird that made it back off the endangered species list.  On this particular day we saw more than 300 of them soaring, swooping for fish, and roosting in the trees along the Mississippi River.

In the winter they gather around the locks and dams on the river because these waters won't be iced over and they can continue to fish.  January is prime viewing time and the Missouri Dept. of Conservation holds several Eagle Days designed to make your bird watching special.  If you want to avoid the crowds you can go on any day, but Eagle Day weekends have some extra perks you won't find on your own: warming tents, photography workshops, the chance to see eagles up close, spotting scopes, educational material for the kids, etc.

Schnickelfritz learns just how big these birds are

At some locations the Wild Bird Sanctuary offers question and answer sessions to visitors and the opportunity to get as close to these majestic birds that you're likely to get.  Look at this guy and tell me he doesn't know he's posing for the camera.  (He is permanently injured and unable to fly so he serves as ambassador for Eagle Days).

After the workshop, you're welcome to look but not touch the eagle or pose for a picture (standing on the opposite side of the handler--this is still a wild bird).

If you want to see these Eagles here are some dates to remember.

January 14-15 Chain of Rocks bridge just north of St. Louis  There will be warming tents, Wild Bird Sanctuary presentations, a full size eagle's nest replica to have your picture taken in, hands on exhibits by the St. Louis Audubon Society, Lewis & Clark re-enactors, and a chance to learn about the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers.

January 14-15 Columbia Bottoms Conservation Area.  The Dept of Conservation will host its own Eagle viewing days offering Photography workshops (reservations required)

January 28-29  Clarksville Missouri near Locks and Dam #24.  There will be spotting scopes, hourly presentations by Wild Bird Sanctuary, exhibits, children's activities, and a MO Dept of Conservation movie: Where Eagles Soar.  Local groups offer inexpensive lunch options.

Just a note if you plan to go to Clarksville.  The Apple Shed where the presentations are held is NOT heated and they don't use space heater because of the live birds.  You may want to bring a throw blanket to snuggle under while you're seated.

These aren't the only spots to see eagles.  The MDC map suggests other areas that might be closer to home.

1. Clarksville
2. Chain of Rocks Bridge
3. Smithville Lake
4. Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge
5. Lake of the Ozarks
6. Springfield Conservation Nature Center
7. Schell-Osage Conservation Area

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Review: Z-Guides to the Movies

Last March I posted an entry about  feeling puny but still being able to log some homeschool hours by watching educational movies.  I have to admit some guilt about that--am I really teaching my son if we're watching a movie together?  Our latest review product, Z-Guides to the Movies by Zeezok Publishing, is designed to help formalize the  leaning experience.

The Z-Guide is a one week supplement to your current history curriculum (two activities per day).  Current titles cover history genre films from Ancient Civilizations to Post World War II.  We chose to review Johnny Tremain since we had that film on our shelves.   Each guide is based on a specific film, so while there may be several versions of The Count of Monte Crisco, you'll want to get the correct one for the Z-Guide (the Zeezok website actually sells the films but you can also use the information to get a copy at your library or from Netflix).

Let me preface this review by saying I was led to believe it was designed for elementary students but when I received it I saw that it was written to middle school students.  My Schnickelfritz was not able to do some of the assignments (he's not allowed to browse the internet on his own for example) so some of the work I had to do myself.

According to Zeezok's website, each Z-Guide should contain the following:
  • An overview of the topic
  • A synopsis of the film
  • Review questions to be answered while watching the film
  • Research activities built around the historical time of the film
  • At least one hands-on activity
  • A Worldview Activity
  • A Filmmaker's Art activity 
Let's take each of these in turn:

The Z-Guide introduction is written to the teacher and the Overview and Movie Synopsis come before the student activities so I assume they are for the teacher to read and then relay that information to the student.  You could simply read the paragraphs aloud, but they are so information-dense and compact that I needed to give Fritz a more drawn out and simplified version.

The first activity is always the Movie Review Questions .   These 25 questions (listed in order of appearance in the film) are designed to keep the student attentive rather than fall into passive viewing.  The problem was my Schnickelfritz became overly focused on answering the specific questions (like While at the printers, Johnny and Rab discuss the ________ tax.) that he was missing the gist of the scene.  He knew the name of the tax but not why the colonists were so upset by it.  If you have one of these concrete/sequential learners you may need to watch the film once to get the overall picture and then try and answer the questions during a second viewing. Heck, you may discover some foreshadowing that you didn't see the first time.

Three of the next activities involve research skills.  The student is supposed to use print and internet sources to answer questions about The Boston Tea Party, the Battles of Lexington and Concord, and the practice of apprenticeship.  A well-prepared Mama would have gone to the library and checked out books with the answer.  A middle-school student (the target audience of this guide) could probably find all the answers on the internet, but my son isn't allowed to surf the web solo yet.  Some questions were fill-in-the-blank or multiple-choice, others involved more writing e.g. "What were some typical obligations of the apprentice as spelled out in the contract?"

Other activities had the source text provided in the Z-Guide.  One involved vocabulary taken from James Otis' pamphlet The Rights of the British Colonies Asserted and Proved.  The eighteenth century dialogue was certainly over my 9 year old's head (proving again that middle school or higher is the appropriate age level).  Another activity would be to re-enact Patrick Henry's "Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death" speech (note: the Z-Guide says memorization of the speech is helpful but not necessary).   My son does quite well about memorizing Bible verses, even Psalm 23, but Patrick Henry's speech is for old students.  On the other hand, there were some activities that seemed targeted to younger students: two coloring pages, a maze, and a crossword puzzle based on the film.

I assume the the Patrick Henry speech was meant to be the Hands On Activity because there was nothing else close to that description.  To my mind "hands on" means the chance to get messy--even something as simple as brewing a cup of tea, or better yet cutting open the tea bag to see what tea leaves look like inside.  A middle school student would be capable of more: carving in wax like Johnny did as a silversmith, perhaps.

The Worldview Activity was a series of questions to be answered by short essay.  It was possible to adapt this to a younger student simply by making it a family discussion (after all most Christian parents want their children to follow in their worldview choices).  They are not necessarily questions of a religious nature, although that's what I think of first when I hear "worldview."  One question was "Why did Johnny wait so long to seek medical treatment?"

I searched high and low to find the Filmmaker's Art activity.   According to Zeezok's What is a Z-Guide:

The Filmmaker’s Art activity helps the student recognize the tools being used to influence the viewer. The various guides discuss how filming techniques, music, lighting, humor, character development, irony, foreshadowing, and even character names are used by the director and producer to influence the viewer to get their agenda across. We want the student to be able to discern not only the agenda of the movie, but also how they are being influenced by it. The goal is that when the student goes to the theatre and watches Harry Potter or Avatar or Happy Feet, he walks out not thinking it was an entertaining movie, but understanding the bigger message behind each film.

There simply wasn't such an activity in the Johnny Tremain Z-Guide.

I don't mean to seem so negative about Z-Guides.  When I was presented with a list of titles from which to choose, Johnny Tremain was listed as being appropriate for elementary students and I tried to adapt it as well as possible.  If I had an older student, I would certainly consider using Z-guides as a means of including other media sources in our history curriculum.  Others on the Homeschool Crew reviewed other Z-Guides and you can read about their experiences (hopefully with age appropriate students) by clicking here.

There are more than 25  Z-Guides available now on Zeezok Publishing's website for $12.99 for a single user.  This price is for download or CD (then shipping charges would apply).  There is also a classroom or co-op license available for  $49.99.  Other titles (including some of my favorite films) are: Ben Hur, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,  and Sergeant York.

Disclaimer: I received a free download of the Z-Guide Johnny Tremain for the purpose of completing this review.  I received no other compensation for my honest opinion.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

A Soup to Warm Your Bones

Do you remember that commercial where the snow man trudges into the house and, after eating a bowl of soup, melts down to reveal a little boy inside.  To me, that's the value of soup: something to warm my bones up.  It has been a fairly mild winter to date, but today I had to walk my pooch in 15 degree weather and that brought soup to mind.

Here's a favorite based on the Cheddar Broccoli Soup recipe from my 30 Day Gourmet cookbook. 


  • 1 bunch fresh broccoli  (I've also used a package of just crowns)
  • 2 cups water, divided
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • 5 T butter
  • 2 T chicken bouillon granules
  • 1/2 Cup flour
  • 2 cups milk (I use whole, but choose your own)
  • 2 cups shredded cheese (cheddar, colby, or a combo)
  • 1/8 t ground nutmeg
  • 1-2 cups cooked rice
1. Cut the broccoli into chunks (including the stalk if you have one) and steam with 1 cup water in covered stock pot until tender.  DON'T DRAIN!! The water holds a lot of the vitamins.

2. Put the broccoli and water in a food processor of blender and puree.  If your blender is struggling go ahead and add the second cup of water and chicken bouillon granules in with the broccoli, otherwise save until step  3.   If you like the presentation of a few larger broccoli pieces floating in your soup save some of the florets and chop them by hand.  Set aside.

3. In a large stock pot saute onions in melted butter until tender.  Stir in the flour and give it a chance to cook for a minute.   Combine 1 cup water with chicken bouillon granules.  Gradually add milk and water/bouillon to the onion/flour mixture.  Stir constantly until well blended and thick.

4.  Add pureed broccoli, any chopped broccoli, cooked rice and nutmeg.  Add the shredded cheese and cook until cheese is melted and soup is hot.  Don't let the soup boil.

I happen to be the only one in the family who is crazy for this soup.  The good news is that even though it's a cream based soup, it's freezable.  I store mine in 1 1/2  cup serving sizes in freezer bags.

This recipes is part of a Soup Swap sponsored by Milk & Honey Mommy.  If your looking for some more recipes to warm your bones click the button below.

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