An App For Language Arts and Logic

I’ve always been a fan of games – video games and otherwise. And I do love technology. So today, I want to tell you about a game my daughter and I have been playing together on my Kindle Fire.

If you do not own a Kindle Fire, I highly recommend getting one. It’s a fairly inexpensive tablet and it’s endlessly adaptable to homeschooling. After watching my children play on their Kindles, I realized I desperately wanted one.

And then I proceeded to add and preview a bunch of games – for them as well as myself. My current game obsession is Mage Gauntlet. It’s just plain fun and helps me destress after long days of homeschooling. (For apps I like for the kids, go here.)

The App

But the app I really want to talk about is called WordBrain. And it’s free. I’ve been playing it everyday with my daughter. It’s a fantastic way for us to bond while growing our brains and solving challenges.

It looks a lot like Boggle, which I loved playing as a child. (Remember Boggle?) But it has the added advantage of making you think logically. When a tile gets used, it disappears and the others slide into place.

Many a time, my daughter and I have to put not just our spelling caps on but also our logic caps. If this word is actually what we think, then it will take these tiles away and then we can solve that one. 

WordBrain promotes that elusive if-then thinking we’ve talked about before. I love it.

The best part? It doesn’t run out. It seems inexhaustible because there are levels built into levels. And we never tire of it. But if we do accidentally finish WordBrain, I guess we can still keep going with WordBrain 2!

Happy playing!

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Basic Economics: A Fish Story

If you’re looking for an excellent book on basic economics, look no further. Peter Schiff’s How an Economy Grows and Why It Crashes is an excellent addition to any respectable economics curriculum.

As I have written before, I was in my twenties before I asked the question, “What is money?” Today, I know it’s a question some people never ask.

I am a case of better late than never, I suppose.

The problem I came across was this: there are millions of bad books on economics and only a handful of good ones.

When you go looking, you can get everything from books on economic theory for the college student to books full of graphs and figures that set out to explain every acronym economists use.

Or you get a dumbed down version – for children, I suppose. (Please note: I am not here referring to The Tuttle Twins series, of which I have heard only good things. I intend to review those soon.)

And then of course, there are the ones that are just bad. And wrong. Libraries seem to love stocking them, though.

How an Economy Grows and Why It Crashes is none of the above.

Written as a tale about an island where the first three inhabitants set about catching fish daily with their hands, it quickly grows to include and explain bigger concepts like productivity, capitalism, entrepreneurship, lending and, yes, even the GDP, which the economists like to prattle on about.

Basic Economics

Replete with comic pictures, it is a serious book that will give you (and your children!) a basic understanding of how money works, especially in the United States.

It also delves into issues like the trade deficit, relations with China, the housing boom and bust, the role of the Federal Reserve and what we need to do to move forward well.

Even though it is a little dated, (it was written in 2010) the book is priceless for understanding economics.

I intend to add this to my children’s economics curriculum in a few years. While the child’s maturity definitely matters, I wouldn’t have them read it before they are well into the logic stage.

A great addition to your home library!

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Two Books for Homeschooling Inspiration

I don’t know about you, but I take motivation and inspiration like I drink coffee. Not only do I need it, I want lots of it throughout the day.

I’m always looking for good books to inspire me.

I find that, as someone who hopes to instill inspiration and creativity in my children through homeschooling, my own supply should never run dry. So I’m always scouring book stores and libraries, hoping for a new perspective.

In that, the two books Peaks and Valleys and Ego is the Enemy did not disappoint.

In Peaks and Valleys, the author tells a story of a man who lived in a valley and wanted to live on a peak. He travels to the peak and meets another man who does live there and learns invaluable lessons from him.

It’s a simple premise, but its very mundane nature makes it a great metaphor for everything in life, including homeschooling.

Consider this quote as an example:

Avoid believing things are better than they are when you are on a peak,

Or worse than they are when you are in the valley.

Make reality your friend.

How many times in my day do I make things worse because I can’t put it into perspective? Long form division, anyone? Reading?

Interestingly enough, making reality your friend is reiterated in Ryan Holiday’s book Ego is the Enemy as well.

Influenced by Stoic writers but drawing inspiration from Classical writers and current day characters, Holiday makes a great case for the proper perspective.

Living clearly and presently takes courage. Don’t live in the haze of the abstract, live with the tangible and real, even if—especially if—it’s uncomfortable. Be part of what’s going on around you. Feast on it, adjust for it. There’s no one to perform for. There is just work to be done and lessons to be learned, in all that is around us.

Sounds like homeschooling to me.

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More on The Four Tendencies

This is part 2 of 2 in the series about The Four Tendencies. You can find part 1 here.

I’ve been reading The Republic and I’m beginning to think Socrates was a Questioner. And it gives me some insight into why he was finally given the option to be banished or executed.

Questioners are difficult creatures to live with.

I say the above a little tongue in cheek. Because so are Rebels. And Upholders – and don’t forget the Obligers.

In my last blog post about the four tendencies, I mentioned that I realized I was a Rebel. Knowing this one small detail has made my life easier than I ever imagined.

Your Child Has a Dominant Tendency and So Do You

Knowing my children’s dominant personality has helped us resolve conflicts that were otherwise springing up seemingly out of nowhere.

For instance, my daughter who is an Upholder tends to remember every small thing I said and hold me accountable for it.

Since she tends to meet outer and inner expectations herself, I have no problems with her getting her schoolwork done on time. She’s an A student all the way.

What I have trouble with is getting her to do something different. 

As a Rebel, her desire for Upholder stability bothers me incessantly. I imagine my constant Rebel desire to change it up annoys her as well.

I have learned therefore that the same things that make up her strengths also create her weaknesses. It’s just her dominant tendency. It’s best to work with it.

My son is a Questioner. I can’t just give him work and expect it to get done.

My husband and I were constantly struck by his seeming apathy. Except it wasn’t that. He just didn’t see the reason to do something.

So for him our strategy has to do with giving him clear motivation and reinforcement. Without a clear reward or punishment, he has no reason to act.

It’s not all bad, though. Being a Questioner makes him more likely to be self motivated when he wants to learn something. And because he is curious, he gets obsessed with things and finds out about them on his own.

Managing a Rebel Tendency

In my last post, I mentioned how motivations that worked for others had the opposite effect on me. The very things that others used as tools to get things done actually demotivated me.

Signing up in advance for 5K runs, getting a gym buddy, getting a trainer… these were driven by accountability and others’ expectations that would work for Obligers, but not for a Rebel.

For me to do something and to have the continued energy and motivation to do something, I had to believe I was going against the grain. Spontaneous workouts, runs while the children played in the park and weights like kettlebells and dumbells on our back patio worked much better.

Also, I had to believe I was eating right with a steady stream of research because lack of results made me abandon ventures. Eventually, I got it right.

Rebel tendencies have some great strengths, if they’re used right. I finally figured out how to work with myself and ended much of my frustration.

So, knowing this, what is your dominant tendency? And how do you work with it?

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Latin for Self Directed Learners

Indulge me for a moment. I’m having a Latin moment.

I know, I know. I mentioned in my book The Classical Unschooler that I would never teach my children Latin.

And I want you to know that, true to my word, I’m doing nothing of the sort. I have no intention of teaching them the language.

Instead, it’s me I want to teach Latin.

So if you’re like me and you’re interested in learning to speak and read Latin, I encourage you to join me.

I have found a completely free resource online called Linney’s Latin Class.

The best thing about this class is that it is completely free. The creator of the class insists that he is not a professional teacher and just happens to love the language.

He takes you step by step through 73 lessons using The First Year of Latin as a textbook. This is an open domain book, but you can also get a print copy of it.

To make the entry into his lectures easier, William Linney has written a beginner’s guide called Getting Started With Latin

As someone with no background in the language, I can say this is an indispensable resource for me. It is self-paced and something I can do by myself at home.

In my book, I mentioned that I love unschoolers because they have not forgotten that they are learning as well.

It also constantly amazes me how much my children pick up just by being around me when I’m learning or listening to something. That’s why I make it a point that I watch as many history documentaries as possible.

More than anything else, I’d love for my children to learn that if you’re interested and curious, you can learn anything.

The resources are out there. Find and use them!

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The Four Tendencies (And How Knowing Them Can Benefit You)

(Part 1 of 2 on The Four Tendencies)

I had the brilliant idea one day to sign up for some 5ks a year in advance. Here’s the thing: I like running. What better way to motivate myself to run, right?

Wrong. It didn’t work.

After years of trying to figure out why the strategies that worked for other people did not work for me, I realized the answer: my tendency is that of a rebel.

The Four Tendencies

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, you should take this short quiz and then make it a point to pick up Gretchen Rubin’s book The Four Tendencies. 

I have mentioned her before in another blog post about knowing your personality. That book, Better Than Beforewas incredibly helpful to me because it was the first time I came across the idea that I was one of those people who had trouble meeting internal expectations as well as external ones.

Apparently, the Rebel personality has this problem. And although it is the most rare tendency, I suspect that as a homeschooler you might be a bit of a rebel.

Know Yourself & Your Kids

The problem with the Rebel personality is that even though you want something, unless you frame it in your mind in the right way, it quickly becomes something you resist.

So as a Rebel, even if I chose homeschooling as the best choice, I can find myself resisting it. Unless… unless it’s part of my identity and personally meaningful to me every single day.

Apparently, Rebel personalities make up a large chunk of any group that see themselves as fighting the norm, so homeschoolers definitely fit the bill.

Reading the book not just helped me identify strategies to overcome my own problems, but also learn how to frame education and expectations from my children. I learned that my oldest is an Upholder, my middle one is a Questioner and the youngest is… well, a little too young to tell. For now.

Highly recommended reading! Oh, and in terms of running, I figured my way around that issue – more on that in part 2.

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My Favorite Math Hack

Every once in a while, an idea comes along that changes things forever. This was one such idea that was given to me. It changed our homeschool completely once I implemented it. I’m a big fan of the wisdom of crowds in homeschooling, with one caveat – the people helping need to understand you are your child’s teacher and support, rather than direct, you.

With all that said, let’s get to it. Here’s my favorite math hack: 1 inch quadrille paper.

My children tend to work on their own quite a bit. They prefer to get their math and language arts sit down work at night before bedtime. That way, we have the day free for play, exploration, art, science and history.

While I love that they work alone most of the time, I can’t always be there to remind them to write neatly and align the numbers under the right place value. Some curricula actually use vertical lines to make sure this happens, but as of this writing, I am not using any math curricula. In fact, if you’ve read my book The Classical Unschooler you know that there is at least one out there I’d like to see burn.

… And I have a seven year old lefty who likes math. He likes it enough to have moved on to multiple digit multiplication – one of those in which writing under the proper place value is imperative.

Enter graph paper – ta-dah! Now instead of his numbers being sloppy and looking like they’re falling asleep and drifting off the page or getting ready to eat each other, they remain contained in their little squares – one digit to each. I will never have my children do math without graph paper again. Place value remains aligned and his work is (relatively) neat and clean.

I don’t know what I did before I started using it.

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What I Am Reading This Fourth of July

If you have been a reader of this blog for a while, you know that I love history. I find it fascinating to watch seemingly innocuous events build up into nations. And I enjoy watching greatness thrust upon people.

When it comes right down to it, fiction has nothing on history.

So this Fourth of July, after scouring book stores and libraries, I have these recommendations for you.

Mind you, they’re not all for your children, some are for you as background reading and general knowledge. Okay, let’s get into it.

America’s Hidden History and A Nation Rising by Kenneth Davis. In both these books, the writer takes meticulous care to mention details, an aspect I have come to appreciate. That makes these books the opposite of textbooks or badly written history, both of which give you just a general sweep of events and no mental hooks to hang your knowledge on.

Ultimately, you may or may not agree with the writer’s (of these books as well as others) assessment of the people involved – individuals are deeply flawed and books like to present people in either glowing honors or as vicious brutes – but it lends to a more nuanced look at the past.

A Little History of United States by James West is one you can definitely use as a textbook. I plan on doing so. In the vein of Gombrich’s A Little History of the World it is something you can read aloud to the children or have them read for themselves.

It is not a textbook, there are no comprehension questions at the end, there are no fill-in-the-blanks, which makes it read like a story…. which is how we prefer to study history – as a narrative.

And lastly, I’ve also been thoroughly enjoying A Renegade History of the United States by Thaddeus Russell. If you’re tired of reading books that place historical figures on pedestals on the one hand and then incriminate them for being slave owners and responsible for wiping out native populations on the other, might I suggest this book?

Fair warning: it is not for the sensitive. If reading about prostitutes, drunks, slaves and other, let’s say, less than perfect events and people of history bothers you, you would do well to stay away from this book. However, I am finding it rather fascinating.

By turning the focus away from the leaders and shifting it to the people on the street so to speak, Russell did for me what few historians ever manage – to make me feel like I was there, right smack dab in the middle of it.

Have a great Fourth of July! And if you can’t get enough American history, check out my past recommendations here.

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Here’s Why a Kindle Might Be the Best Gift For Your Homeschool

Our family of five owns five Kindles. One Fire for each of the children and 2 readers for me – the plain-no-frills-attached reader and the Paperwhite.

We are certainly no strangers to technology. We love it and embrace it fully. But in this post, I want to point out how the Kindle in particular has been an excellent addition to our homeschool.

So let’s get into it.

Kindle Fire

As mentioned above, each of my three children own a Kindle Fire. We love it. I can’t believe we homeschooled without one for years. I have written another blog post about some of my favorite apps, but I have to mention some here as well.

My middle child sees himself as a bit of a polyglot and is currently learning Spanish and Italian on Duolingo a FREE app. My daughter sticks with Spanish.

I have various games downloaded onto it. Two which make their way onto the kids’ schedule are Stack the States and Stack the Countries.

There are other excellent games and apps for all grade levels, making the Kindle Fire great for homeschooling. It is also chock full of parental controls. For instance, it allows you to share only what you want with your children from your Kindle account. You can set times and schedules and add or remove features of the device itself. I have, for instance, disabled the camera on all the Kindle Fires because I find it annoying. I also find that the children do less with the games when they have the camera, so we have not used it.

Amazon Prime

If you have Prime, you know it’s worth it. My toddler accidentally signed us up for it, no joke! But we’ve been so happy with it that we kept it. Besides the free shipping option, there are various other perks associated with Prime membership you can include into your homeschool.

Here are a few:

Prime Music – You can save, like or dislike songs and poetry from various stations and stream them directly to your Kindle and / or phone.

Prime Video – Movies and documentaries – many of which are not available on Netflix are found here. I have found some excellent additions to our homeschool curricula here.

Audible Channels – If you like listening to audiobooks and podcasts, you will find a decent helping here of books, podcasts and other channels. You might discover a new favorite.

Prime Reading – Perhaps my favorite perk. I love borrowing books from Prime Reading. Currently, the limit is ten books at a time. I can share these with my children by allowing them access to them on their Fire tablets. Nothing beats being able to check out books – for free – without leaving the house.

… and others. Here’s the entire list of Prime benefits.

Kindle Unlimited

If Prime Reading doesn’t give you enough books to keep you happy, there’s Kindle Unlimited! Kindle Unlimited is an online library which lets you borrow even more books from a huge selection for $9.99 a month.

My current favorites out of my very limited look at all the Kindle Unlimited e-books (there are tons – there’s no way I’ve taken a thorough look) are the ones published by Charles River Editors. Their short books have been indispensable for giving me a quick insight into various periods and peoples of history.

Kindle Rapids and Audible

While I have not delved into this, if you have a child who loves to be read to and reading aloud is not something you enjoy, Kindle Rapids might be for you. For $2.99 a month, you can have original stories read to your children. These tend to be short.

A better way I have found to use reading aloud is to add Audible narration to a Kindle book you already own. This avoids the subscription fee of Audible and still allows you to listen to the book and / or follow along in your Kindle. The variety in this case in much larger and you can add Audible narration for about $1.99 – $2.99 in most cases.

Kindle Readers

As I mentioned before, I do not own a Fire. Yet. Although I have been know to swipe my children’s Kindle Fires borrow my children’s tablets to play games on them, I do love my Kindle Paperwhite.

I remember when the Kindle first came out. My husband bought me the huge one – with the keyboard at the bottom. It was great, but a tad heavy to hold and read. So I traded it in and bought a regular, smaller one. The only problem? It was dim and I didn’t like reading on it.

And then *insert angels singing* I discovered the Kindle Paperwhite. It has the perfect amount of backlight made with LED lights that do not strain your eyes. It is NOT like reading on a screen at all. Instead, it is like reading black letters on white paper – you know, like a real book. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

But I am nothing if not frugal. And if you’re going to spend $120 on a reader, you should know that it comes with a ton of free books. Here’s how you can get them:

Overdrive – This is just one of the apps available to your local libraries to be able to loan out books directly to your Kindle. Check with your specific library. Many are now offering a good selection of e-books you can download to your Kindle for a specific period for free.

Free books – The one advantage Kindle has over Nook (that other e-reader we will not mention every again!) is that there are many, many more open domain (read: FREE) e-books online.

Add all this to the variety mentioned above and you can pretty much create a homeschooling curriculum with just your Kindle!

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Book Suggestion – The School Revolution

If you are homeschooling and want a boost to your motivation, pick up a copy of Ron Paul’s The School Revolution: A New Answer for Our Broken Education System

The 200 odd page book is an excellent read.

Short, to the point and making its case quite convincingly, it makes a great evening’s reading. It is also endlessly quotable, as my poor husband found out. I kept interrupting him to read bits and parts, subjecting him to the book’s infectious argument that not only is it possible to homeschool your children, it is often less expensive and far, far better. (He doesn’t have to be sold on it – I just couldn’t help myself!)

Here is one of my favorite quotes:

“The whole system of education from kindergarten through graduate school ought to be geared to equipping students to take greater personal responsibility for their actions. This is the meaning of adulthood, and education is meant to prepare people for precisely that. But the modern welfare state is premised on the view that individuals are not fully responsible for their actions, and therefore they do not deserve extensive liberty.”

And this one:

“The most meaningful way to improve the world is to free up the creativity of individuals.”

Also, this one, which will at some point find its way to my Facebook page:

“There has been no widely adopted system of public school reform suggested by parents. Every call for reform has come from inside the public school establishment issued from the top down.”

There are more, but I’m afraid I would have to copy the entire book here.

If you are considering homeschooling or are currently homeschooling, The School Revolution: A New Answer for Our Broken Educational System is a book you must pick up.

In it, Ron Paul lays out the following:

  • what the goal of education is and how to achieve it
  • how homeschooling is now easier and cheaper
  • how parents can retain control over their child’s education and why it is important
  • why sending your child to public school and / or college might be the biggest mistake you make
  • the major areas to focus on while homeschooling

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