## Friday, December 31, 2010

### Children's Math Book Review: Hamster Champs

Before I *finally* return this book to the shelf, I want to mention it. During our recent geometry classes, I read Hamster Champs to the class after spending some time talking about degrees and doing a little exploration* with angles and protractors. In the story, three hamsters attempt a daring series of stunts, measuring degrees on a car ramp that sends them flying through the air. The cat promises not to chase them as long as he doesn't get bored. They taunt him with larger and larger angles until they eventually reach 180 degrees and speed away from him.

My geometry class, ages 8-11, loved the book...for two primary reasons, I think. First, they loved the taunting exchanges between the hamsters and the cat. Second, after having talked about angles in class, they understood some basics and could apply their knowledge to another "real" situation.

*Hmmm. I can't find notes about this on my blog. Hate it when I forget to write something from a lesson. I had the kids hold up two popsicle sticks and make acute, obtuse, straight, and right angles. We also looked at the vocabulary in Sir Cumference and the Great Knight of Angleland... the "'cute" steeply angled rooftops (acute angles) and the Mountains of Obtuse (obtuse angles.)

Workbox activity: after learning about acute, obtuse, straight, and right angles, have children form them with popsicle sticks and draw models in their math journals. Read the two books mentioned here.

## Tuesday, December 28, 2010

### Let's Light the Writing Fire!

A lifetime ago, I worked as a high school, then middle school, language arts teacher. One of my primary jobs? Teaching writing. I used fun ideas. Somewhere between then and now, my enthusiasm and joy for teaching writing got lost. It's time to find it!

On the recommendation of one of my favorite teachers, I started reading Kids Have All the Write Stuff; Inspiring Your Children to Put Pencil to Paper. (This book is available on Amazon, used, for the cost of shipping. I highly recommend it.) I'm newly inspired to make big changes in what we're doing with writing. I hope some of you join us!

My New Year's Goal: to excite my boys, ages 4 and 8, about writing!

Suggested Materials: the book has a lot of ideas, but I'm going to start by setting up some type of writing/art station (with tape, mini stapler, pens/pencils, art supplies) and providing each child with a writing box. If you use workboxes, you could continue with that format. I'm choosing to use something that looks different from our regular "school." I bought each boy a Sterilite 14" x 11" x 3 1/4" clip box with snap-on lid.

Box Contents: the idea is for the contents to change on a regular basis, providing many varied opportunities for writing. The box could hold felt pens and paper. A variety of cards. Some stationary. Cut hearts. Stencils. You name it. Anything that will inspire children to write. And what can they write? Anything! Lists, menus, journals, comics, poetry, puzzles...ANYTHING! I want writing to be a playful part of daily life rather than always being associated with regular schoolwork. Here's what we'll start with...

Feelings Journals
My 8yo regularly journals as part of school. To change things up a bit I made some journal templates for each boy that reflect feelings. My 8yo will get to rank each day on a 1-10 scale and then describe why he choose that number. My 4yo gets to circle a face for the day--happy, sad, or in between--and dictate or use invented spelling to tell about his day. I'm having them do this at the table as I prepare dinner so that most of the day has passed before they write. Ideally, I'll join them and write in my own feelings journal.

Stationary Stuff
I have piles of old stationary (going back to my childhood--check out the photo!) that has pretty designs, pictures, etc. I'm going to put an assortment into each box along with stickers, envelopes and other correspondence-type material. Some of this will be "published" as we send them to friends and relatives. Others will be used as they play...making maps for their adventures, writing to each other, etc.

Future Contents
Mini-books of all kinds. Topic books...I'll demonstrate in a later blog entry. NCR/carbon copy paper. Adding machine tape. Tracing paper. Graph paper. Varied art materials.

I'm planning to change out the contents every few weeks. I'd love to hear your ideas for box materials. Anyone want to join our writing adventure? ;)

## Monday, December 27, 2010

### Awesome Classical Music Deal!

Wish I'd known about this long ago. On Amazon, you can download *VERY INEXPENSIVE* MP3 albums of 99 Most Essential Masterpieces for a variety of artists and categories: Mozart, Handel, Violin, Piano, Dvorak, Schumann, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Liszt, Tchaikovsky, Bach, Vivaldi, Baroque, Classical and the list goes on and on. EACH album contains 99 songs. I bought the Handel album today as I've wanted to "try out" a sampling of Handel's music beyond The Messiah (a few of those songs are included, too.) I don't know if this is a temporary sale or a more permanent price. I just know it's really affordable.

This would be a perfect, cheap way to start a classical music library. I'll be using my album for homeschool since "more music" is on my "to do" list (or New Year's Resolution list); I plan to plug in a classical album and play it all morning as we're working. The 99 pieces/1 album I purchased equals over 4 hours of music. Music is vital to so many things...including learning math. Google "music improves math skills" for a sampling. ;)

P.S. If you're interested in the 99 Most Essential Christmas Masterpieces, it's REALLY cheap!

Disclaimer: I have no affiliation with anything listed on this page. If you order from Amazon, all commissions go toward foster care through Grace and Hope at no additional cost to you. THANK YOU!

### Citibloc Fun

On the recommendation of friends, our two youngest boys received Citiblocs for Christmas. Looking around on Christmas morning, however, you would have had a hard time figuring out who actually owned the blocks. My 20 and 16 yo daughters were the first to take the plunge. Here are some of the many creations from the past couple days...

## Thursday, December 23, 2010

### Outcome of "What Would You Do?"

First, much thanks for all your ideas, experiences and advice! This was a tough one for me, mostly because it has the potential to open up all kind of old wounds. But this time* I had a "smart mommy moment." (*the rarity of these moments make them all the more valuable!) To follow the story you'll need to know my abbreviations:

DS4 = my youngest son, age 4
DS8 = my middle son, age 8
DS14 = my oldest son, age 14

I contemplated. Hmmm.  What's my trump card? Well, DS8 basically wants to be DS14. He asked for DS14's name for Christmas. After shopping for DS14, DS8 came home and changed his entire Christmas list to match what he'd just purchased for big brother. He lives, plays and breathes big brother. Fights with him all the time, too, just to make sure big brother doesn't forget about him. (And because he doesn't want me to get bored.)

I called DS14 aside and explained my problem. Told him that I was going to offer DS8 a choice and I needed him to play a role. Called DS8 in to have a *private* conversation with the two of them. Here's how it went:

Mommy: "Boys, do you remember Jin? She sent a little kid gift to DS4. It's a Mr. Potato Head. Do you want the gift to be partly yours and play with it with him tonight, or do you want to play Settlers? (a big person game)"

DS14 (on cue): "I don't want a little kid toy. I want to play Settlers."

DS8: "I want to play Settlers, too!" at which points he proceeds to tackle DS14, completely unfazed by the news that little brother was getting a gift. Then, "Can I give it to him?"

Mommy: "Sure you can give it to him. Just keep it a surprise til tonight."

With excitement, he presented the gift to DS4, watched him open it, then immediately joined us in a "big kid" game of Settlers.

Whew. One Christmas gift conflict resolved. One. ;)

BTW, if you've ever read Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, my mom, a longtime 4th grade teacher, tells me this was classic Fudge.

P.S. This morning, DS4 got out his new Potato Head. DS8 started to take over so I pulled out the old Potato Head set (from the garage sale box in the barn) so there was more to share. DS8 took the old set. DS4 the new. Then, both DSs informed me that they weren't going to share...that each of their sets was the best. Lovely.

## Wednesday, December 22, 2010

### What Would You Do?

Need a little help here.

Background: My 4yo ds lived with the same foster family in China from infancy til we adopted him at age 3. His auntie was like a second mother to him. We are still in contact with her. One of her best friends, Jin, moved to our area. (Seriously, what are the chances? She lives 30 mins from us!) Our son did not know Jin in China. We've recently been in *very* minimal, but friendly, contact.

We have 4 other children. The closest in age to my 4yo is 8, also adopted, but we have no contact with his foster family.

The issue: A package came in the mail, addressed to my 4yo from Jin. I checked it out. (Yep...unwrapped it and rewrapped it so I'd know the issues involved.) She sent him a Mr. Potato Head toy and a book. (If it makes any difference to this story, we already have both; although my 4yo takes great pride in ownership and he would temporarily love anything you give him only because it's his.)

She did not send anything for my 8yo. While the 8yo won't strongly care about the actual items, I think he will care that someone from little brother's past remembered him at Christmas while he doesn't have someone from his past to remember him in the same way.

What would you do? At this point, 4yo ds doesn't know the package exists; however, I do expect to run into Jin in the future and I believe she will ask him if he liked the present.

### ThinkFun: Block by Block (Holiday Deal!)

I'm still watching for last-minute Christmas deals. Here's one that I just noticed...again, the cheapest I've ever seen it. My 8yo son got ThinkFun: Block by Block for his birthday. It's a 3-D puzzle with small groups of cubes stuck together in a variety of shapes. You receive a deck of cards with puzzles to make using the cube formations. It's a challenging activity to work on spatial relationships. My 8yo found it too difficult. We've set it aside for the time being, but I am looking forward to using it in a couple years when it will be a good next step up from geoblocks and some of the other geometric puzzles we own. With it's own little carrying bag for the pieces and the deck of card puzzles, it would make an excellent math workbox for older kids...say 10- or 12- and up...or younger kids who are spatially gifted. One Amazon reviewer noted that it's also a good activity to try to solve as a group.

P.S. I also just noticed that Zeus on the Loose is really cheap today. We play that game with my 8yo a lot...good for simple addition/subtraction practice.

Disclaimer: to date, I have no affiliation with anything listed on this page. If you order from Amazon, all commissions go toward foster care through Grace and Hope at no additional cost to you. THANK YOU!

## Saturday, December 18, 2010

### Alternative to Christmas Wrapping Paper

After Christmas morning, my living room is not littered with paper. It's littered with pillowcases and ribbon.

For years, we've avoided purchasing wrapping paper. Although frugality usually tops my reasons for not buying something, this time it has little to do with it. I simply hate wasting that much paper. It literally turns my stomach to see all the garbage (and yes, even piles of recycling) that line our neighborhood street after Christmas. I hate the thought of discarding something that has seen such minimal use.

So every year we get the pillowcases out of the linen closet and dig through a bag of ribbon I found at a yard sale. If an item shows through the pillowcase, we double up the fabric or box it prior to wrapping. If an item is truly too large for a pillowcase (which rarely happens with a low \$ limit per family member), we put it in a box or a large popcorn tin (also saved from previous years). For small gifts I reuse wrapping paper we get from packages outside the family. Or we use the old standby, newspaper comics.

It's just as fun to "open" a pillowcase as it is to open paper. Perhaps more fun. You can't hop around in torn wrapping paper after all the gifts are opened! :)

### Would You Want to Hire Your Own Kid??

I mentioned that our local schools are in severe budget crisis and have compiled a team to make some rather difficult decisions. As they began the process, they were assigned the following articles to read. While most of you do not have children in public school, I still strongly suggest reading the articles. It's really helpful to consider ourselves, as "at home teachers." Are we teaching our children in ways that are beneficial? Based on this information, can we improve our own homeschool teaching?

If you only have time for one article, read the last one and consider whether you would hire your own kid. ;)

* The Workplace Realities: In the new global workplace, what exactly do employees need and employers want? by Anthony P. Carnevale

* Tom Friedman on Education in the 'Flat World'
An excerpt:
Friedman: ...In the latest edition, I added a whole section on why liberal arts are more important than ever. It’s not that I don’t think math and science are important. They still are. But more than ever our secret sauce comes from our ability to integrate art, science, music and literature with the hard sciences. That’s what produces an iPod revolution or a Google.
Pink: It’s the combination of the left brain and the right brain. Left-brain thinking — rule-based, linear, SAT-style thinking — used to be enough. Now right-brain thinking — artistry, empathy, narrative, synthesis — is the big differentiator.

* Would You Hire Your Own Kids? 7 Skills Schools Should Be Teaching Them by Tony Wagner

A particular interesting quote:
"Even in our best schools, we are teaching kids to memorize much more than to think. And in the 21st century, mere memorization won't get you very far."
--- Tony Wagner

## Friday, December 17, 2010

### Math Toys, Gifts & Games--Lots of Discounts!

I'm more-or-less done with Christmas shopping for my youngest two. But I just made several math toys/games purchases for their birthdays, friends' birthday parties, emergency travel distractions, etc. when I found some products with major markdowns. For example, Chocolate Fix is the lowest that I've seen it. (Also check out Inchimals, ThinkFun Hoppers, Zeus on the Loose, Kanoodle and SET.) I've noticed that they're severely lowering prices on different products each day, so it's worth keeping an eye on anything you're interested in. I'm watching my own Math Toys, Gifts & Games list! ;) The math calendars are discounted, too.

Disclaimer: to date, I have no affiliation with anything listed on this page.  If you order from Amazon, all commissions go toward foster care in China through Grace and Hope at no additional cost to you. THANK YOU!

### Music Review: Sing the Word

Sonlight Core 3 introduced us to the Sing the Word series. I LOVE IT.

Basically, a husband/wife team along with their four children have produced a series of songs taken directly from scripture. In Sonlight, the songs are used to help children memorize scripture. Having heard a lot of different "scripture memory" CDs, I really didn't expect much. But these songs are incredible! They are gorgeous. Uplifting. Musically complex. Stuff that *I* like to listen to just for the beauty of the music. You can hear song samples at the website.

Earlier this fall I wished aloud that written music was available so that my family could sing/play some of the songs at church. I went to the website yesterday and discovered that the music is available for download. And the CDs are 20% off for Christmas. I purchased some for school. I've never before encountered scripture memory materials of this high a quality. Highly recommended!

Disclaimer: I did not receive any compensation or products for this review. I do not know the family personally. I just love the products and want to support this family in their endeavor...and tell you about the 20% off deal while it's still going on.

## Thursday, December 16, 2010

### Teaching a Gifted Child with a Learning "Glitch?" (Art & More)

When my 8yo was quite young, he had an assessment that included this piece of information...although he was able to identify shapes/properties at a much higher level than his peers (off the chart!) he was unable to replicate the same shapes/symbols above that of an average peer. The tester, an occupational therapist, told us that this would cause him some frustration. At the time, I assumed that he would grow out of this "stage." Presently, I think he's still being affected by it.

I think he has some sort of undefined processing glitch that he may or may not grow out of. While I'm not eager for a label, I do find it a bit frustrating that I can recognize a "glitch" but am not exactly sure what it is or how best to treat it. One example from today in math...he has a VERY difficult time with angles...despite going over and over it. It's like he can't quite interpret what he sees...or if he sees it once, he can't transfer that information to another setting. It's difficult for him to write in cursive because it's hard to replicate the shapes. All this for a child who made the criteria for "talented and gifted" in kindergarten; I think the disparity causes him extra stress. He recognizes that something that should be easy--because it IS easy for him in some ways--can also be frustratingly hard.

Here's an example from today in art...

Art instructors generally teach budding artists to see the lines (straight, curved, etc), texture, etc. that make up an object. For example, in the book Drawing With Children (a good one, only bested by Drawing in the Classroom), children are taught to see the 5 basic elements of shape: dot, circle, straight/curved/angled lines. Eventually, they draw by recognizing them in the environment and replicating them.

At least so far, this does not work for my son. If we look at a simple drawing and I talk him through the parts (see the line? the curve?), he cannot replicate it. BUT if I look at an original drawing, say the parts, and DRAW THEM MYSELF, he can duplicate what I am doing as I do it.

It's crazy how much difference this makes.

He's in the middle of drawing pictures for his dinosaur pop-up book. When he began planning the first page, we located a picture in a book for him to replicate the general idea of a triceratops. I talked him through each piece...  "See how the crest is like an upside down C?" He couldn't begin to make an upside down C--even while I showed it to him on the picture. But when I said the same thing AND drew my own, then he could do it. I talked my way through an entire picture while he drew his own next to me. The results are incredible.

My goal is not to force incredible pictures. My goal is to help him become a better artist. And since the traditional way of teaching doesn't seem to work with him, I'm happy to find something that does.

How do you teach your way through your child's unique needs? Have a gifted child with some sort of learning "glitch?" What's your story?

## Friday, December 10, 2010

### Can You Get Rid of 100 Items?

I read an article about a man who very intentionally set out to get rid of 100 items in 100 days--either giving them away or selling them--with all of the proceeds going to charity. He wrote, "This process is not unlike dieting. If you shed the weight too quickly, you're just going to put it right back on. ... By stretching this project out over time I have had opportunity to reflect on why I am doing this and to share my experience with others."

Have any of you ever done anything like that? Interested in doing it together? I'm wondering if we should have some sort of collective challenge. We could have a blog hop in the new year at various landmarks (10 or 20 days apart) to show our progress...  What do you think?

## Tuesday, December 7, 2010

### More Snowflake Symmetry (3D paper!)

You'll recall that we did some snowflake symmetry earlier this fall. If you want to extend the lessons a bit, consider making a 3D paper snowflake. Does your snowflake have rotational symmetry? Line symmetry?

And before you leave the topic of snow, read Robert Frost's Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening. My older kids memorized this poem when they were little. Now I'm working on it with my younger two. The book itself is gorgeous and one that we pull out and read several times each winter.

## Saturday, December 4, 2010

### Advent Calendar of Math Games

First, found NRICH, a very cool website with "thousands of free mathematics enrichment materials (problems, articles and games) for teachers and learners from ages 5 to 19 years."

Second, noticed that it contains an Advent Calendar with a "mathematical game for each day during the build-up to Christmas." You just click on the date to see a new game. Most of them are on-line, interactive. Fun stuff!

## Friday, December 3, 2010

### 161 Days in School?!?!!!!????

Last night I attended a meeting at our local public school. Our superintendent was the guest speaker. He spoke to the crisis currently facing schools here as well as across the state and nation. Over the last couple years, our district has reduced staff by 10%, followed by a big reduction in school days. We are now at an unbelievable 161 student-contact days a year. (And this doesn't take into account whether they are completely "full" days...we have one day a week of "late start" to boot!)

Many states have a mandatory 180 day school year, so we now have about a month less of school than many districts. In November we had what the superintendent called our "forced fall spring break",--a full week off of school for Thanksgiving--followed by a 4-day week, a 5-day week, another 4-day week, then almost 3 weeks off for winter break.

Can you spell P-I-T-I-F-U-L????

At the same time, standards are going up and up and up. Teachers have more and more pressure. (I've seen the trenches and they're not pretty.) Kids are frequently tested. All while class sizes increase. In one school district in our state all the 4th grade teachers have more than 30 in the class and several have 37!

What do I feel?

Superior?
Frustrated?
Overwhelmed?

When I hear all the bad news, on the one hand, I feel like patting myself on the back. I started my 8yo's school year in June. We're almost done with 18 weeks of school. We're even ahead in some subjects that we didn't start until September.

On the other hand, I feel SICK. I have children who are directly affected. And even if I didn't I should care. A LOT. These are the children who are going to grow up and run our world. Kids only have ONE opportunity to be first graders. Seventh graders. Seniors. To learn to read. To learn critical thinking. We are losing a generation to a failing system. And even if I didn't care about all those other kids? At any time, any of us might have to send our children to school--due to health reasons, special student needs, finances...the list goes on.

With all due respect to my superintendent...I don't think a large, local committee can solve the problem. We have a huge problem as a nation.* [*Please note, this is NOT a political statement. This is a "what do we want for our future" statement. I do not consider them the same thing.] I hope it doesn't take us several generations to figure it out.

## Thursday, December 2, 2010

### Preschool Flannel Board Shapes (math gift)

Photo temporarily removed for security.

My 4yo ds enjoys geometric math exploration using flannel board shapes. The "board" is just a piece of cardboard with a piece of flannel material affixed to the front. The one above was attached with a zigzag stitch on a sewing machine.

The shapes, cut from felt, were made with patterns from the shape set from Box It or Bag It. When ds first starting constructing, he made a lot of abstract "fill the board" pictures. Then he moved on to making "pizzas" and feeding me his pizza board. ;) Now he's arrived at building vehicles and structures.

You could easily make a set like this for an inexpensive, educational holiday gift. I found felt at garage sales, received some as donations from friends, or purchased it. You can also find nice felt boards if you don't choose to make your own.

If you do this, comment with a link to your photo! ;)

This would make a great preschool workbox! :)

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