Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Games of Math: Counting and Number Bonds and Addition and Subtraction

by Denise Gaskins 

I reviewed Let's Play Math by Denise Gaskins in February 2016. At the time, I think I'd already been using these two books for half a school year, but I haven't take the time to review them. On Facebook and in person, I highly recommend Let's Play Math to just about any homeschooling family struggling with math. I also think it's just about the best thing a new homeschooling mother or father could read. No matter what curriculum you choose for math, Let's Play Math can help you understand it and implement it for your children and help you create an environment of mathematical curiosity that can benefit any student. I know my family would have been much better off if I'd read it earlier!

So now that you know I want you to read that first, let's talk about Math You Can Play Combo. This book includes two books: Counting and Number Bonds and Addition and Subtraction.

This book (or rather, these two together) constitute the spine of our math curriculum for prekindergarten, kindergarten, and first grade. I begin with Counting and Number Bonds and we just work through the books playing one game a week (sometimes multiple times) through the whole book. If I had started really young, I may have repeated Counting and Number Bonds, but with the two who started this way, I moved right on to Addition and Subtraction.

In addition, sometimes I read math stories out loud to the whole family as a read-aloud. Let's Play Math has a large list of such books as does the author's website. We also play games from our well-stocked game shelves during math time. I specifically schedule those games through first grade, so Second Son is currently the only one who gets to pick a game once a week. We don't start "formal" math until second grade with the Life of Fred books and Khan Academy. I do let Second Son use Khan Academy, because he felt left out, but only for a short time a few times a week.

I almost can't say enough fantastic things about the Let's Play Math game books. My youngest two children, Second Daughter and Second Son, are the ones who benefited from them. Of course, we changed up a lot between the older two and these two because that's when we switched away from Saxon over to Life of Fred, so it's hard to say if any particular change made all the difference, but our whole attitude toward math is dramatically improved with the younger two.

They love playing these games. In fact, it's not uncommon for Second Daughter to insist she's done with her independent work so she can play with Second Son during his game time. Or she'll ask to play some of the games outside of school time. (Snugglenumber is a particular favorite; she's even taught a friend to play it with her.) The great benefit here is that interest in the game encourages repetition of the math facts and skills. More practice with the basic counting, grouping, addition, and subtraction in these games leads to consistent success and, eventually, the ability to focus instead on more complex math.

The games almost all use cards you already own. (There are a few boards you can make and lots of printables included with purchase of the book if you don't want to make your own.) For the most part, I open the book and we play the game without any preparation. Along with the games are brief explanations of the math behind the games and strategies for guiding children through the math involved.

Some of the games seem like they'll be too challenging for the child, but we always give them a try. Over and over again, I see them succeed when I might have neglected to even give them the opportunity.

Though First Son and First Daughter seemed to do well with the mental math exercises when we were using Saxon, both Second Daughter and Second Son seem to do mental gymnastics without even realizing it's a skill. Sometimes when Second Son tries to walk me through his mental process to come up with a math answer, I can hardly follow him, but it works!

I have the Kindle version of the game books and they work great. The pictures are clear. The text is well-formatted and easy to navigate from the contents. Still, if I could go back, I'd invest a little more money to get the paperback versions. It's a hassle to pull out my Kindle during school time and then switching around within the two ebooks to find where I am with different children as we work through them. I also think the kids might play some of the games on their own if they had access to the paperback. (I don't let them use my Kindle.) If you use a e-reader more regularly during school time, have only one child, or combine children for math games, that's not as much of an issue.

Because we had such a good experience with these books, I purchased the Kindle version of Multiplication and Fractions. First Daughter (age 11, in 5th grade) and Second Daughter (age 9, in 3rd grade) each play with me once a week.

I purchased this books separately for the Kindle (rather than the combo book) and received a discounted price. I can't remember if they were discounted for everyone or if I received a discount from the author. Either way, this post gives my honest opinion. Links above to the books are Amazon affiliate links.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Nature Journal Inspiration: The Curious Nature Guide

by Clare Walker Leslie

Many years ago I read Keeping a Nature Journal and was inspired. It helped me feel more confident going out on nature walks with the children, but it wasn't the kind of book I would have read out loud to them.

Now, though, we have The Curious Nature Guide! I added a "nature" reading to our meal-time reading this year, mostly to accommodate Pagoo which I'm reading out loud for (probably) the last time for my youngest. When I saw this book at the library, though, I knew I was going to read it to them first.

It's full of beautiful illustrations, examples and sketches from the author's own nature journals, and the kind of prompts that make nature study easier to manage. Designed for people who might be noticing the natural world around them for the first time, even those who might live in populated cities, it's small steps are also perfect for young people faced with a blank journal page during nature study. Even after a few years under our belts, I thought the suggestions in the book would be helpful to my children.

There are a few main sections, but no chapters proper. We read a few pages at a time once or twice a week (with a break when I had to return it to the library).

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Innovations and Consequences: Fifty Inventions that Shaped the Modern Economy

by Tim Harford

This book caught my eye in our library catalog and so I managed to read a book the same year it was published. This is a pretty easy book to read in small snippets and, while thought-provoking at times, isn't the kind of complicated book that requires reading before children are awake or after they've gone to bed. It explores sometimes surprising effects of inventions most of us take for granted today.
But we shouldn't fall into the trap of assuming that inventions are nothing but solutions. They're much more than that. Inventions shape our lives in unpredictable ways--and while they're solving a problem for someone, they're often creating a problem for someone else.
Unfortunately, those problems often seem to fall disproportionately on the poor.

The selected fifty inventions are grouped into broad categories: Winners and Losers (like barbed wire), Reinventing How We Live (like the birth control pill), Inventing New Systems (like the bar code), Ideas About Ideas (like double-entry bookkeeping), Where Do Inventions Come From? (like chemical fertilizer), The Visible Hand (like antibiotics in farming), and Inventing the Wheel (like paper money).

Each short chapter presents the story of an invention and an exploration of the myriad ways it has spread its influence through our current global economy. Some of these inventions were ones I hadn't much considered, like property registers. The author also points out how these inventions or their repercussions impact problems we still see in the world like trade deficits and developing countries (in an already developed world).
It's reasonable to assume that future inventions will deliver a similar pattern: broadly, they will solve problems and make us richer and healthier, but the gains will be uneven and there will be blunders and missed opportunities.
Overall, this was a fascinating read and quite enjoyable, even if I don't agree with all the author's assertions. I did appreciate the extensive endnotes. I also added a whole slew of notations in my Book of Centuries.

Monday, November 27, 2017

2016 Advent Books: Picture Book a Day, Read Alouds, and Poetry

Yes, 2016. You read that right. I never posted last year on what we did and I'm going to pretend it was on purpose so I could inspire some Advent planning just in time for this year!

If you don't already know, some crazy people wrap a picture book to open each day during Advent (or between Christmas and Epiphany). Yeah, I'm one of those crazy people. This all started because I love picture books and because our kids don't actually open many presents from us, so we get a little present-opening fun throughout Advent. I don't buy all the books; I just go ahead and wrap library books. The kids know some of these books have to go back to the library and don't seem to mind.

Every year I think about not wrapping a picture book a day because my kids are getting older, but so far I've just kept it up. This year there are only three weeks of Advent so it seems silly to give it up when it's so easy! So I'm going to wrap some this year, again.

Last year, Advent was as long as possible because Christmas was on a Sunday. Most of our books were repeats from previous years and you can find those by perusing some of the other posts, but I thought I'd write about the ones that were new to us.

Last year, in 2016, First Son (turned 13 during Advent) wasn't very interested in the picture books. First Daughter (10) just wanted to read them aloud, so she mostly read them after one of the younger two (ages 8 and 6) opened them. They took turns, somehow, all handled on their own.

Here are the picture books that were new to us in 2016 (all library books):

The Christmas Cat by Efner Tudor Holmes, illustrated by Tasha Tudor - This was one of Second Daughter's favorites last year (when she was 8). I checked it out again this year and she remembered it with joy. A shivering cat finds a new home with a loving family on Christmas morning.

Just Right for Christmas by Birdie Black, illustrated Rosalind Beardshaw - This book is reminiscent of one of my absolute favorites, Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree, but it's easier to get from our library. Second Son (6 last year) remember this one and immediately grabbed it to read when I checked it out again this year. A bit of cloth provides Christmas presents for a ever increasing number of people and animals in smaller and smaller increments.

Latkes and Applesauce: A Hanukkah Story by Fran Manushkin, illustrated by Robin Spowart - Though I still can't decide if a Hanukkah story is perfect for Advent reading or if we should avoid Hanukkah stories in deference to those of Jewish faith. We read it because I loved the story of a generous family who shared all they had with a stray cat and dog and were rewarded with a Hanukkah miracle.

The Christmas Boot by Lisa Wheeler, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney - I love Pinkney's illustrations and they complement well this story of a lonely woman who finds a miraculous boot. In the end, she has to return the boot to its rightful owner but is left with an even better gift.

This First Christmas Night by Laura Godwin, illustrated by William Low - This book uses a sweet and simple text to set the stage for the first Nativity and it's wonderfully illustrated. It's perfect for even the littlest ones who are so easily overwhelmed down by lengthy Nativity picture books.

Christmas in the Country by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Diane Goode - This is a nice little book about a girl remembering Christmas at her childhood home with her grandparents.

One Night in a Stable by Guido Visconti, illustrated by Alessandra Cimatoribus - This is the Nativity story from the point of view of a lonely ox who, seeking for his master, finds many to invite into the warmth of his stable. I feel like the illustrations are the main benefit of this book; they're unusual in their colors and geometry.

Findus at Christmas by Sven Nordqvist - Oh, how we love Findus in all his books! This book has a lot of text, probably too much for very young listeners. Findus the cat and Pettson his owner-friend, are quirky and wonderful. They make the best of every ridiculous situation. In this book, they celebrate Christmas in the best way - with generous friends and neighbors. Read all the Findus books!

Mary's Song written by Lee Bennett Hopkins, illustrated by Stephen Alcorn - This is another lovely picture book on the Nativity, beautifully illustrated. This one encourages us to be quiet and contemplate the infant Jesus, cradled in his mother's arms as she quietly sings to him.


The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore, illustrated by Niroot Puttapipat - Every year we read a version of this poem. Though I own a couple, I tend to choose a new one from the library. This one has a lovely pop-up at the end of the poem.

Then we continued to read from The Oxford Book of Christmas Poems edited by Michael Harrison and Christopher Stuart-Clark. We started this in 2015 and will continue it in 2017. I haven't decided if I'll read a poem a day from it instead of our current poet (Langston Hughes) or if I'll read from it once a week during our poetry time. This has a wide variety of poems and we're enjoying it.


Usually, I replace our "fun" read-aloud during Advent with something holiday-related. Last year, we read I Saw Three Ships by Elizabeth Goudge which is a sweet tale. A small girl spends her first Christmas after her parents die with her spinster aunts. There's a friendly but distraught French man, a wandering uncle, and an open window for the angels. Of course, three ships arrive on Christmas morning amidst great rejoicing. I had checked it out using inter-library loan, but bought a used copy at a very reasonable price the July before I read it aloud.

On our way to my parent's house after Christmas, we also listened to an audio version of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. I love reading Dickens but the audio version read by Tim Curry was fantastic. This year, we're going to listen to a version by Simon Vance. (I purchased both of these audio books on sale from Audible in 2016.)

Past Advent-Picture-Book-a-Day Booklists

Friday, November 24, 2017

A Simple and Easy Advent Activity Chain for 2017

Advent is about a week away! I love Advent and all the traditions we've slowly built up over the years. The Advent activity chain is a nice and easy way to start with little ones, as long as you have one with activities that fit well with your daily life.

For years now, our family has made our own Advent activity chain. As our children grew, the activities grew and changed a bit with them. This year, we may make a chain without activities at all (gasp!).

I've also continued to make one designed for families with lots of little children. We put them all together and then gave them to our godchildren or children in my Catechesis class or the neighbors - whoever we thought might like a bit of Advent planned and ready to go.

Early on, I would print them out and make them, but now, First Daughter does it! She cuts all the activity pages into rectangles, slices pink and purple construction paper, and tapes one activity one each slice. We then deliver them to local families with little ones. They're easier to deliver in stacks of flat rectangles; it's pretty simple for the families to link the chains themselves. We include a little paragraph to explain, just in case. I don't know if everyone loves them, but I've heard from a few mothers that it's nice to have something so simple and easy for little ones.
Find the strip for December 24th. Tape or staple it into a loop. Find the strip with the next date on it (December 23rd) and run it through the loop you just made. Tape or staple it. Continue with all of the strips until you reach November 30th. You’ll end up with a chain of loops – one for each day of Advent. Each day, tear off the strip on the end for the day’s date and do the activity together.
We always use pink for the third week of Advent and purple for the rest of the links, but you could also alternate pink and purple, or use all purple. Or just use whatever construction paper you have lying around.

An old picture of a chain long used up
I've uploaded this year's activities as a PDF on my Google drive. Feel free to print it out to make an Advent activity chain for your own family or as a gift for someone else.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Finding Your Passion, Responsibly: Ballet Shoes

by Noel Streatfeild

This is one of the books recommended by Mater Amabilis™™ Level 1A (second and third grade) which we had never read. (So we're getting to it on the second year of the third child, though I wish we hadn't waited so long.) I hadn't pre-read it, but another homeschooling family read it last year and recommended it as well. The kids and I absolutely loved it. I wondered how three girls growing up learning dance and acting would interest all of them, especially the 13-year-old boy, but I think the Shakespeare helped.

Pauline, Petrova, and Posy help support a home filled with lovely boarders. I was a little sad reading about Petrova's close relationship with the only man in the home, Mr. Simpson, who lives there with his wife. He indulges Petrova's fascination with motorcars and airplanes, letting her work in his commercial garage and sometimes even taking her to fields where they go up in planes. It's so thoughtful and innocent and nothing like that would be possible today. I certainly wouldn't let my ten-year-old girl go off with a man every Sunday.

There are two more books which I probably won't read aloud, but which I expect First Daughter at least to read voraciously as soon as they come home from the library next week.

Please note, the author's name really is spelled "Streatfeild."

Monday, November 20, 2017

School Week Highlights: Week 12

We finished our first term! Not that it makes much of a difference, but it's nice to be a third of the way through. If I were a better homeschooling mom, my eighth grader would have done exams this week, but I told myself it was alright to wait until high school to introduce exam week.

I took no pictures this week. At least I've taken some this month, unlike February.

We went to adoration.

We celebrated my father-in-law's birthday with a mid-week dinner in town. First Daughter and Second Daughter both made soap carvings for him.

Kansas Dad taught the older kids in our monthly coop this week: a lesson on the Bible. It went very well.

We had a half day on Friday so we could do our Saturday cleaning on Friday. A lovely new family in our homeschool group came for dinner. It was the feast of St. Elizabeth of Hungary. First Daughter made a Hungarian coffee cake which Second Daughter decorated like a crown. She also made this cinnamon bread shaped like a rose that turned out beautifully. They were both delicious! But I didn't take any pictures.

Next week is Thanksgiving, which means it's a perfect time to take a little break. We'll do some school here and there but not too much.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Modern History for the Eighth Grader: The Century for Young People

The Century for Young People
by Peter Jennings and Todd Brewster

This book is recommended in the Level 4 history program at Mater Amabilis™. We used it for the first twelve weeks (which we're finishing this week) for an overview of American History in the twentieth century, reading about one chapter a week. I posted my plans using this book on the Mater Amabilis™ facebook page, for those that are interested.

Published in 1999, the main text of the book gives a relatively quick overview of events of the twentieth century, mentioning major events to establish a narrative. Sprinkled throughout the text are attractive photographs and first-person accounts of some of the events.

Some of the first-person accounts describe disturbing events, like those during times of war. Milt Hinton, who was part of the Great Migration, described a lynching he saw before he was eight years old:
I was on my way home from school, and I saw a black man who'd been hung up on a tree. A bunch of white men were standing around him--they had poured gasoline on him and set him on fire, and now they were shooting at his body.
The later chapters begin to introduce more controversial topics, like pro-life debates in chapter 10. Unsurprisingly, the debate is described as one of "reproductive rights" and "antiabortion" rather than pro-life. This debate is mixed in with other feminist arguments. It's not entirely balanced, but I didn't find anything offensive and my son is well-acquainted with this issue thanks to our parish's active pro-life ministries.

Chapter 11 covers the years when HIV and AIDS appeared in the United States. Issues of homosexuality and gay rights appear.
For more than a decade, activists had been struggling for gay rights, and they had made considerable progress. But the arrival of AIDS brought a backlash against the gay community. Some conservative critics went so far as to claim that AIDS was God's revenge against "immoral" people. All the finger-pointing and name-calling often hid the sad fact that real people were dying, including babies who had gotten AIDS from their infected mothers.
There was a first-person account by a man who worked at GMHC (Gay Men's Health Crisis) who talked about prank calls to the hotline.
The level of ignorance and homophobia from some of the callers was just amazing. And the indifference was overwhelming. When I first started, prank callers would just say, "All you faggots should die! Click. Thank you for sharing. It was bad enough all these people were dying and there was nothing that we could do about it, and then you've got people hating you for being sick or for helping sick people. Of course, you wanted badly to be able to say, "Where's your compassion? Who do you think you are? What's wrong with loving someone?"
I talked a lot with my son about this chapter, more than I normally would, to discuss the devastation of AIDS, compassion for those suffering from diseases like this, and how that compassion is right even for those who do not follow Church teaching. For future children, I'm going to find a Catholic source to supplement the reading.

The last chapter covers a lot about technology. There's a first-person account by Stacy Horn, who pioneered online interactions in the early 1990s.
On the Internet, you get to know someone from the inside out first, whereas in the physical world it's from the outside in. Each way has its pluses and minuses. People are people, and they're no different online than they are anywhere else. We don't sit down at our computers and all of a sudden become unreal. If I say "I love you" to someone on the phone, does that make it not real? So if I say it on a computer, why would that make it not real?
I have to believe if this book were being published now, twenty years later and with a great deal more experience dealing with predators who groom their victims online, the editors would not have included this paragraph. We are now trying desperately to teach our children (and ourselves) that people are most assuredly not always themselves online, or at least find it easier to portray themselves in a particular way to manipulate others.

Also in this last chapter, the issues of Dr. Jack Kevorkian and the right-to-die movement are introduced. There's a personal story from a woman who's husband died of metastatic lung cancer, quickened by a morphine drop.
Whenever you read anything about death or dying, you inevitably read about Dr. Kevorkian and about physician-assisted suicide. That is just a red herring in the whole discussion of death and dying. It has little to do with ordinary illness and dying. 
I supplemented this chapter with the USCCB statement To Live Each Day with Dignity which provides an excellent overview of the Catholic Church's stance on assisted suicide.

After having completed the first twelve weeks of our history for Level 4, I think I'll modify it for my later children.  I'm going to spread it over the whole year and king of nestle the other units (World War I, World War II, the Fall of Communism, and Asia) within the studies. I think it will flow better.

I have a copy of The Century and might use that as a spine instead, but it would involve a lot more reading. My son read through part of 20th Century Day by Day each day, along with a reading from The Century for Young People. This book is a huge tome, but it's full of interesting bits of news covering a wide range of events in world events, science, technology, and the arts. I think it was one of his favorite parts of history. Reading the denser and longer text of The Century would probably mean giving up time devoted each day to 20th Century Day by Day and right now I'm not sure I'd do that.

Monday, November 13, 2017

School Week Highlights: Week 11

This was a book-heavy week. We did almost every assignment in every subject, which happens less often than not. It does make our highlight post a little less exciting.

- We went to adoration.

- We had a lovely nature study walk at a near-by park. We've been there many times but took a trail off the paved path for the first time.

What is this bug? How would we even find out? 
They were burrowing.

- First Son mastered division on xtramath and is done for the year!

- Second Son mastered second grade on Khan Academy and insists on starting the third grade work, though I have cut down on his computer time so he'll go more slowly.

- Though it is not a school highlight, I was tremendously pleased to finish stitching Second Daughter's Christmas stocking this past week. I had already finished First Daughter's in September, so now both are in the hands of an accomplished seamstress who will do all the actual sewing for me. With luck, they'll be back home before St. Nicholas comes!

Friday, November 10, 2017

How Explorers Created Our World: History's Greatest Voyages of Exploration

History's Greatest Voyages of Exploration (Great Courses)
by Professor Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius

This is one of the Great Courses, a series of recorded lectures. In this course, Professor Liulevicius describes explorers from antiquity to modern times and our quest to land a man on the moon in the 1960s.

There are 24 lectures of about thirty minutes each, so a total of about twelve hours. Each lecture is presented as a story in rich language not without bits of humor. The lectures focus on explorers everyone knows like Marco Polo but also some less-well-known figures like Xuanzang (at least not as well-known in the United States) and Ida Pfeiffer. Here are some of the explorers included:
  • Pythias the Greek
  • St. Brendan
  • Xuanzang
  • Leif Eriksson
  • Marco Polo and Sir John Mandeville
  • Ibn Battuta
  • Christopher Columbus 
  • Magellan
  • Conquistadors - This lecture mentions how Catholic missionaries in the Americas often struggled against those who enslaved and murdered indigenous populations in the Americas.
  • Henry Hudson
  • The Jesuits - There's only one sentence near the end of this lecture in which the professor indicates he doesn't subscribe to the faith of the Jesuits and (maybe) doesn't exactly approve of their evangelization efforts. Overall, this is a surprisingly favorable view of the Church and the Jesuits' efforts to protect and aid those they encountered on their missionary journeys.
  • Captain Cook
  • Alexander von Humboldt - The last five minutes of this lecture included a brief discussion of Humboldt's possible homosexuality. One of my daughter's asked a question about it, which I answered, and then we moved on. I don't think it added much to the lecture and you could easily just skip ahead a few sentences if you're prepared.
  • Lewis and Clark
  • Sir John Franklin
  • Ida Pfeiffer
  • Dr. Livingston and Mary Kingsley
  • A few at the end looking at the exploring extreme environments: Arctic, Antarctic, ocean depths, and space
Some of these are nice introductions to the corresponding descriptions in A Book of Discovery, providing some modern context and framing. (A Book of Discovery is recommended at Mater Amabilis™ ™for Level 3.) Shackleton's ill-fated expedition to cross Antarctica is also included, which is described so vividly in Endurance in Level 4.

The professor also makes the voyages relevant - how these explorations changed the world and helped create the one we live in today.

I listened to this course along with my children without listening to it ahead of time. As I mentioned above, there were really just a few sentences I wish I could have avoided. Though they weren't always entirely excited by the lectures, they mostly enjoyed them. First Son even remembered stories of Maui from an early lecture months later when we saw Moana. I didn't, but he did.

This is an excellent choice if you have an extra Audible credit or if you come across one of the Great Courses sale when you can get two courses for one credit.

I purchased this course using a credit, which I had received as a paying member of, an Amazon company. The links in this post are affiliate links, but the content is my honest opinion.