Monday, August 29, 2011


The amazing thing about readiness is that it's just so simple. It works. Whether you're helping a child learn to use the potty, ride a bike, read, or do calculus. When they're ready, and interested, it just works, easily, without the "work". In the past five days Zhara has memorized half of the times table. Not because she all of a sudden "gets" multiplication, whereas before she didn't, but because she was ready. She had a desire -- to be better at her Mythmatical Battles card game -- and she saw a need. Plus, she really wants to start Life of Fred Fractions. So in less than a week she has done what takes most school children months in school. She's not smarter, she's just ready. This is a life lesson for anyone, but particularly for me. My kids find their way to exactly what they need, when they need it. Don't worry, they know what they need and when they need it. Trust em, they're smart little buggers those ones. And they'll get there. I promise.

A Dinoriffic Day at the Zoo

This summer the Hogle Zoo here in Utah has hosted a collection of awesome robotic dinosaurs. Because my children are rather obsessed with dinosaurs, particularly the male child, we have gone several times. It is their last week, though, and Angus is mourning. So today, despite the warm weather, we hit the zoo for our last encounter with the incredibly realistic robot dinos.

The T-rex is actually life-sized. And it moves. And growls. And roars. It is pretty awesome. I saw quite a few kids, though, that were rather terrified.

An allosaurus, and I think a stegosaurus, in the tall grass near the rhino enclosure. I honestly wonder what the actual animals think of these things that have invaded their zoo.

They also have a dinosaur dig site. Angus is: a) never one for shying away from digging in the dirt and sand, and b) never one to pass up a chance to discover something dinosaur-related.

They have dinosaur-related teaching exhibits throughout the park, as well.

By far, though, the kids' favorite dinosaurs in the exhibit were these dromiosauruses. It's a mom and baby, and they both randomly spit cold water at the kids. It's a really big hit, especially on a really hot day.

This is a mama and baby styracasaurus, which are pretty cool. The mom actually fusses and brays and tries to get you to back away from her baby.

The kids couldn't pass up the obligatory head in the dinosaur's mouth photo.

We didn't just see dinosaur robots at the zoo today, though. We actually saw zoo animals, as well.
Here Angus is exploring the exhibits in the snow leopard area. A halved ball that the leopards actually used to play with, with enormous holes and scratches in it, and of course, no almost 7 year-old boy could pass up the chance to pick the replica of the leopard's nose. :)

Wednesday is smelling some of the leopard's favorite scents -- allspice, perfume, and cat lure.

We visited the elephants, always a favorite, because of the sweet baby elephant.

We majorly lucked out today, too, as while we were walking around, we actually ran into our best homeschooling friends, the McKinney's, making the same last round of the dinosaurs. So for awhile, we hung out and played at the zoo with them.

All seven of the kids here are crammed against the railing, watching the 5 year-old orangutang playing peek-a-boo with them from her big swing.

And they all had to measure themselves against the gorilla shadows.

We spent a good twenty minutes playing on the playground with the McKinney's before they headed home to have their lunch, and we went on to explore the zoo some more.

We had the luck of running into the same zoo docent twice today, so we got to learn a lot about a peregrine falcon and an owl that she was carrying around at different times.

And then sometimes the best part of the zoo is just playing, which we also did plenty of.

We rode the carousel. Even me!

Played on the new wooden tree horses

Ate a little lunch.

Played in the misters.

And with the giant reflecting water ball.

It was a good day, and a fitting farewell to the dinosaurs.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Game Time

We like games here. We have a Wii, and occasionally the kids play on it, but they are more into actual real games. Zhara, especially, is a huge fan of making up her own games.

For me, games sometimes save an otherwise bad day. If things are tanking, people are fighting or yelling, sometimes I will pull out the games. It generally picks up the mood. It also tends to aid brother and sister relations when those are really bad.

We have a lot of games. These aren't all of them. :) I scourge thrift stores (checking to make sure the pieces are all there before we buy), shop the $5 games sales around Christmas time, and get recommendations for especially fun ones from friends on line. For those, amazon and google are a life line.

Some are stereotypically "educational" and some are educational as used. Regardless, they are all fun generally.

Zhara has been wanting to get better at math. She is also very obsessed with mythology, so a friend suggested finding Mythmatical Battles. I ordered them, and Zhara is loving playing this game. It's a two player game, so it requires some time sans little kids interrupting, but we are making it work. It is really helping her multiplication skills, and has spurred her on to want to memorize her times tables. So each morning, I am writing out a set, yesterday was the 2s, today the 3s. She looks at them and works on them throughout day, and then at night when we're reading books, she recites them to Adam and I. There's no expectation that she has to do them in a certain amount of time. Basically, it's for her to be able to play the game faster, so she's motivated to do it.

This look does not appear that she is loving the game, but actually she's just mad because I have stolen one of her favorite cards as part of the game. We also, just yesterday, got Zeus on the Loose in the mail. This is also a mythology math-based card game, but focuses instead on addition and subtraction. She loves it just as much, and it's really improving her mental math skills.

You don't have to have a "specialized" game to learn these kinds of skills while having fun, though. Zhara's been wanting to improve her spelling so she can do more on the computer without asking me for help, so we have been working some on it by playing scrabble.

But don't be confined to using games in only the way that the makers intended. Here, Wednesday is practicing ordering her ABCs using the scrabble tiles.

Sometimes the best games are ones we totally invent ourselves. Here's one we played today, that I made up on the fly. We took cookie sheets (one for everyone -- I bought some super cheap ones at Wal-Mart awhile ago that we reserve for playing with magnets). Several packs of dollar store magnetic letters, some manipulative counting bears we've had forever, and a pack of dollar store ABC flash cards.

Each person liked playing, because, despite the fact that they are vastly differing ages, each one got to do something different. I held up a flashcard with a letter on it. They searched for the letter in the pile, found, and placed it on their cookie sheet the right way up.

Then for Wednesday we would ask, what letter is it, what sounds does it make, and can you think of a word that starts with that letter. She is working on learning her letters and sounds, so it was a good fit for her.

For Angus we would ask, the letter, the sound, a word that starts with that letter, and whether it was a consonant or a vowel. He's got most of his letters, but needs work on their sounds, and what category they fall into.

For Zhara, we would ask, what letter is it, what sound does it make, what's a word that starts with that letter, and how do you spell that word. She is wanting to work on spelling, so that is helpful for her.

When they got those things (or close, with help), they would earn a manipulative bear. It was a big hit, and will be played again for sure. We didn't even count the bears at the end, it didn't matter, they were basically just to keep Angus from angrily competing during the game (which tends to happen if he's not "earning things" as we go along). And it worked.

Zhara then made up a card game. Sometimes these games are more well received than others, but she was able to wrangle both Wednesday and I into playing.

Wednesday liked it. Can you tell?

Monday, August 15, 2011

Chalk Making Science Experiment

I love a good deal on science experiments. I found one this summer at Kids Woot (bookmark this site and check it daily, you will thank me). I got 3 complete science kits delivered for under $15. We worked on one the other day. Each kit has multiple science experiments. We worked on the Colors one. We mixed colors with dye tablets and water, and then made sidewalk chalk with the colors we made.

The directions were easy to follow, and the kids were able to do almost all of the measuring, mixing, and pouring themselves.

Zhara and Winnie mixed the colors. Then we incorporated the colors into the water and plaster mixture we made, and filled molds with our concoction.

Angus carried the molds to the cabinet for drying. He was a little nervous of dropping it -- note his eyes.

Then, the next day, we got to use our own homemade sidewalk chalk. Awesome science project!

Math -- There's So Many Ways to Learn

The title is pretty descriptive here, and, I've written about this before, so this will come as no surprise to anyone reading, but there are LOTS of ways to learn math. Math in schools is typically taught by doing worksheets, or memorizing "math facts," or copying problems. In life, however, the only time I've ever used memorized math facts was when I use the times tables or basic addition in my head. I am also rarely called upon to fill out pages of math problems or formulas. My children are not worksheet people. Well, Winnie can be interested in a worksheet or two now and again, but as a whole, it's just not their thing. However, I know that math is important. I DO use math in everyday life, and my kids do, too, and will continue to do so for the duration of their lives, so why shouldn't they learn it the way they'll use it?

We have thus embarked on a way to learn math that the kids like, and can easily access. Here are some of the things we are doing.

Literature-based math:

My kids may not be worksheet people, but they sure as heck are book people. They love to read. We read each and every night before bed, so I figured why not check into some literature-based math activities.

Enter Life of Fred. Life of Fred is an amazing series of books that are all based on a quirky little mathematician named Fred. There is a 6 page story and 6 problems in each chapter. We've been reading at least a chapter a night, snuggled up together in bed. The kids do the "problems" which are super fun questions entitled "Your Turn to Play" outloud together, and have a blast. They beg to read Fred, and they are remembering the math from night to night. Plus they are learning all kinds of additional things, like who Archimedes was, and famous painters, and how to spell the days of the week.

It used to be that Fred's stories didn't begin until Fractions and Decimals, and therefore Fred was not accessible for younger kids, or kids who struggle with math. Just this year, however, the author, Dr. Stanley Schmidt, released four additional volumes for elementary kids. Find them, they rock!

Fred isn't the only game in town, either. Check out other literature-based math with your kids, if they are readers or book lovers, it may just be the key to their love of math, as well.


They aren't just for little kids. Sure, we're all aware of using Cheerios, or plastic toys, or colored cubes for counting, pattern making, and sorting, but what about for older kids?

My ten-year-old loves Legos. She has also been wanting to learn more multiplication. So we have combined the two loves. We found a Natural Math site that had a link for Lego times tables. Today Zhara and I started building one. This is not a short project, BTW, so be prepared for some input of time and effort.
First Zhara wrote out a table from 1s through 12s, in grid form.

We decided ahead of time that we would use square (4 peg) Lego bricks for the project. My job was to collect those, and deposit them in a pile for Zhara to stack.

Zhara then started figuring out each row, writing the amount, and then stacking the right amount of Legos in each square.

They grew and grew. Zhara figured out each amount herself. She kept saying she'd need help in just a second, but she kept figuring it out on her own without any help.

We got through the 3s today. Tomorrow we will continue on... though, despite the fact that we have thousands of Legos, we are running low already, and will likely have to dismantle some of the earlier rows to create the 4s-12s. It's been a lot of fun.

Computer Math Games:

Everyone can get in on this. Thanks to some friends and our own hunting, we've found some fun math sites --, Timez Attack, and some great math games of all kinds at Fun 4 the Brain.

It's been a fun way for Wednesday and Angus to try out some of the skills they've learned from Life of Fred.

We've also discovered some games, apps and websites that the kids access through our iPad -- best buy ever for homeschooling, I swear.

So spread out there -- find new ways to get your kids excited about math. Everyday we find something new and fun to use to learn more about math, and we've yet to touch a single worksheet or pre-packaged curriculum math series.