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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Book Suggestion – Logic / Rhetoric Stage

I recently finished reading – no, devoured – Candice Millard’s Hero of the Empire 

It is an account of the early life of Winston Churchill and a favor you must do yourself. I read it in two sittings and would have finished it in one if it wasn’t for the need for sleep.

A book of history for the Logic stage

If you have read my book The Classical Unschooleryou know that I follow the classical system of grammar, logic and rhetoric rather than grade levels in our homeschool.

Hero of the Empire is everything I love about history and an excellent addition to the logic stage. Especially if your child is (or you are!) into war history. It follows the trajectory of the Boer wars and Churchill’s role in it and is chock full of various connections in otherwise discrete (but important!) names.

We meet, within the length of this book, Churchill as a boy and later as a young man, Gandhi, Rudyard Kipling and also Arthur Conan Doyle. We also learn a little bit about the Burberry coat and how it was made especially for the African weather. Yes, that same Burberry that is now ridiculously expensive.

Isn’t this fascinating?

Not Hero Worship

As I’ve mentioned before, one thing I sincerely hate about books of history is hero worship. I also do not like books that attempt to make up facts based on limited information. Thankfully, this book does not have those two problems.

It makes no attempt to hide Churchill’s arrogance, his father’s badly timed reports about the Boers or his mother’s affairs. But we still come away entranced by the events that followed because of the central character. This is the stuff of the best literature and here it is – all true!

Assign it to your children in the logic or rhetoric stage – or better yet – read it yourself. Your world will be richer for it.


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Books for Budding Architects

As I’ve mentioned before, I love looking through my children’s books. Sometimes, when I am overwhelmed at the book store or at the library, I will steal away into the children’s section. I always come away with renewed joy.

These books make me especially happy. If you have a budding architect in the family, I highly recommend them. You don’t have to hand them out or add them to the curriculum. Just strew them.

Iggy Peck, Architect

This is a fun story with great illustrations for the youngest. Little Iggy Peck just can’t stop building. You’ll love reading it aloud: it rhymes and the book is just a joy. And who can forget the tower of diapers?

For the Artist Architects

If your child likes to draw buildings, The Future Architect’s Handbook and Draw 50 Buildings and Other Structures: The Step-by-Step Way to Draw Castles and Cathedrals, Skyscrapers and Bridges, and So Much More… are excellent book choices.

Both focus on drawing buildings in a step by step fashion that children ages 9 and beyond will find helpful and fun.

The LEGO Architect

If your child likes building but prefers to use LEGO for it, this is an excellent accompaniment to grow his talents. The LEGO Architect will give him inspiration for different styles and then use LEGO to build the structures.

Connecting history & architecture / for the fact fiend

If you have a trivia or history buff like my child, (he adores the Guinness Book of World Records) The Story of Buildings: From the Pyramids to the Sydney Opera House and Beyond is a don’t miss! It is a narrative history of various buildings with some fascinating details and lovely illustrations.

Also, Houses and Homes (from the See Through History series) is another excellent addition to your little architect’s library. Chock full of illustrations and trivia, it includes details about places like a Mayan home, an Assyrian palace and a French chateau.

Everything by David Macaulay

Okay, so not everything-everything, as my daughter likes to clarify, but all he has written about buildings. Macaulay is my favorite writer for architecture. His books are just beautiful – even the simple black and white ones. And imagine my thrill when I recently discovered they are now in color and revised! You must check him out.

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Grant Alert: THE 2018 SLAYBACK GRANT FOR YOUNG ENTREPRENEURS

If you’ve read my review of Zak Slayback’s The End of School, (or better yet, read the book) you know that he is a big supporter of entrepreneurship. Which is why I was very excited to get hear of this grant.

If you have a child (homeschooled or not!) between the ages of 16 and 22 with an entrepreneurial mindset, you should pay attention.

Zak says:

It’s one thing to talk about the importance of entrepreneurship among young people. It’s another thing to actually tangibly support entrepreneurship among young people.

So today I am putting my money where my mouth is.

What you need to know

The person applying must be between 16 and 22, in the US, and must have a product or business that has proof-of-concept.

Zak is awarding awarding $2,000 to young entrepreneurs in Spring 2018. The awards will be split into 1 $1,000 grant and 2 $500 grants.

How to apply

The application and details can be found here.  Zak mentions that the focus of this grant is on young entrepreneurs in the Western Pennsylvania region (incl. northern West Virginia & eastern Ohio) – so if you happen to be in those regions, good for you!

But don’t get disheartened if you live elsewhere because applications from outside of the region will also be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Good luck!

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“Give Your Child the World” by Jamie C. Martin

I recently picked up Jamie C. Martin’s book Give Your Child The World. And I decided I simply had to write about it here.

First, a little about Jamie

As you probably know, Jamie is the owner of the most well known homeschooling website on the internet Simple Homeschool

This blog has been around for a long time and just keeps getting better. It has become a resource for homeschoolers from around the world. It is one of those blogs people mention immediately as a recommendation for someone beginning homeschooling.

I’ve been a contributor for Simple Homeschool for almost a year now and I can tell you that all those accolades are well deserved. Jamie is truly one of those genuine people you hear about.

She works hard and she’s got a heart of gold. When she says she cares, she does. Jamie is as real as they come.

About Give Your Child The World

So when I saw that she had a new book out, I had to pick it up. And I was not disappointed. This book was in the works for five years! And it shows.

Meticulously researched and cross referenced by place, date, child’s age, title and authors, this is the perfect resource if you’re looking for something more than just a book list.

The book is divided according to region and the child’s age, so you can quickly choose the right book for the right time. The selections are mostly fiction but there are some nonfiction books as well.

Mostly, it’s about immersing the child in the universe – literally – of stories around the world, which is a great way to learn about a place.

Use it!

The thing I loved about it was that Jamie didn’t just write the book. She also wrote some of her story. And it is incredible. If there was anyone “qualified” to write this book, it was her, with a truly international family.

She also includes tips in Give Your Child the World about how to go about learning about other cultures and countries, how to include learning as part of living in your home and shares some of my ambivalence about bedtime reading.

She believes in the power of the story, but not for its own sake. Rather, Jamie allows these stories to move her to action in her own life. If you want to introduce your kids to different countries, don’t just stop at maps and geography, introduce literature as well! Stories are where the heart is.

Get the book! You’ll be glad you did. And here’s the best part: from now until Sunday April 9th., the ebook is just $1.99 on Amazon!

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Reading Slayback’s “The End of School”

School took me away from the learning I wanted to engage in and made me focus on things I didn’t want. I loved learning; I just hated school. – Zachary Slayback

I came across a delightful book a few months ago. I think every homeschooler / unschooler ought to read it, especially if you have older children.


Another reason to read it even if you have little children and are perhaps only taking the first few steps toward homeschooling? To form a conviction about college and be able to guide your kids appropriately right from the start.

Now, before you form any opinions for or against college, let me say the book is not an argument against college as much as it is a plea to do something better or at least go there knowing what you want.

Slayback makes two great points:

  1. A college education was never the panacea to poverty and helplessness as preached by most today. It was simply a correlation of the prosperity that occurred post World War II and not a causation of it.
  2. Even if you are in favor of a college education, there is no reason separate it from work in the real world. When we create and enforce this artificial barrier between the two, it makes us think that work is just a necessity and not essential. Education and work are both important and when we don’t compartmentalize the two, they have a much greater impact on our lives. In his Slayback’s own words, “Studying Bertrand Russell’s philosophy of work can be great when you aren’t working, but it can have life-altering impacts when you are working. Getting a good grasp of economics can appear valuable in the abstract, but it can mean the difference between staying in your current job and launching your startup when you are working.”

An excellent book well worth your time. Get it here.

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Teach Kids to Cook: Indispensable Tools

A few months ago, I wrote about a blog post focusing on food and teaching kids to cook. Considering we all love a good meal, our family takes training in such matters very seriously.

Since that blog post was received so well, I thought I would write another one about it. This time I thought I would focus especially on the tools needed to teach kids to cook.

Teach kids to cook: the only 3 things you need

I am not a fan of Master Chef when it comes to cooking although I like watching it for occasional inspiration. Why, you may ask? For the simple fact that it turns what should be fun and experimental into something professionals do. Our everyday food is not gourmet. I seek to teach my children to feed themselves and their families, not enter competitions.

Aprons

With that said, I consider a good apron a necessity. And not just because I wear one. I see aprons as important because when they entered the kitchen first, my children were clearly very bothered by the fact that it was very hands-on. Never mind that they were just playing in the dirt outside. Aprons gave them the freedom to work without worrying about “getting dirty.”


Knives

A good junior knife set is also a great idea when it comes to kids. Although my daughter is extremely proficient with an adult chef’s knife, when it comes to teaching my two sons, I get nervous. There’s just something about the way they hold it that does not inspire confidence. So for kids like them, a junior knife set, either nylon or steel works great.


If you want to get into it, there are all kinds of other fun things like kitchen measures for kids and cookie making tools, but we tend to be minimalist in the kitchen. We don’t like clutter and we like to leave our counters clean, so we steer away from excess.

Recipe books

However, the third thing you should probably get are some great inspiring recipe books they can cook from. When we start out teaching, I have the kids help me make dinner or lunch – one by one, of course, not all at the same time in the kitchen. That’s a recipe for a disaster, pun intended.

But eventually, if they don’t do something on their own, they tend to lose interest. Having them create something from start to finish keeps them interested and learning. (A crockpot meal is usually the easiest first meal for kids to cook because there is no open flame.)


The most important thing while teaching kids to cook is to make it part of the everyday work / play routine and not treat it as something special. We cook, we clean, we read, we play, we sleep. Teach them with that in mind and make them self-reliant.

Happy cooking!

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