Monday, September 17, 2012

Multiplication Fun

There's nothing like a little fun inserted into your school day.  I have found that without question, anything that requires drill and retention is easily and best accomplished in a game setting.

My boys enjoy using the computer for their school work when they get the opportunity, and for my 4th Grader, Timez Attack is just the answer!

There are "skins" available to change the game setting, and they do add some special fun to the game.  The free version uses a dungeon setting and that might be just fine for your student.

Personally, I recommend the "Rental" of the Standard game, unless you have younger children that you plan to use it with, in which case go for the "Buy" version so you can use it forever.

It's $25 for the year to rent the standard edition, but after a year, your child will be a whiz at Math facts!  You can also use it for more than one child concurrently.  We tried the free version, but one thing for sure, kids love variety and so for me, it was well worth the cost for the extra levels.   And, the Retention feature is more fully developed in the rental version, from a teaching perspective, that's always a bonus.

Mulitplication Math Game Elementary School

This game is highly entertaining, and in our house you can frequently find another child watching over the shoulder of the student who is playing.  This has the side benefit of having older children refresh their facts or giving younger children a "leg up" on math facts for when their turn comes!

Friday, September 14, 2012

So you want to write the next Hunger Games? Elements of Fiction Writing

Have you ever started to write a story that you couldn't seem to finish?  Have you had a great idea for a story, know how it was going to start and end but ran out of steam just before writing the middle?

Maybe it's because you were writing from the seat of your pants; believing that you have the ability to write a good story because you love to read and you've read so many good stories.

It's possible to write a very good story on instinct alone. But it might be the case that you need a little help to really craft a compelling and satisfying story for your reader.

Let's take a minute and think about some of the elements that make a story compelling, and see where you might have gone astray.

A work of fiction has Characters, Theme, Setting, Plot, Conflict, and Voice.

All of these areas require careful attention in order to create a cohesive story that creates a new reality for the reader -- no matter how fantastic the characters and events may be.

Today, let's examine the Voice of your story.  

To understand voice, do the following:

Want to try?  I'm going to flip to a random page in each of these books and quote a small section with the names all changed.  I'm going to use Sesame Street character names and use He for all of the pronouns.

Example 1:

'I think you should still follow that plan,' said Grover, 'I do not think the road will prove too hard for your courage.   But if you require clearer counsel, you should ask Oscar.  I do not know the reason for your flight and therefore I do not know by what means your pursuers will assail you.  These things Oscar must know.  I suppose you will see him before you leave..." 

Example 2:

I whip around. It's come from the left, so I can't pick it up very well. And the voice was hoarse and weak. Still, it must have been Ernie. My eyes peruse the bank, but there is nothing. Just mud, the plants the base of the rocks.

Example 3:

All the same, it wasn't what you'd call the perfect end to the day Kermit thought, as he lay awake much later listening to Fozzy and Beaker falling asleep.  There was a very good chance they were going to get caught by Miss Piggy or Animal,and yet Kermit felt he was pushing his luck.  The Count's face kept looming up out of the darkness -  this was his big chance to beat Big Bird face to face.  He wasn't going to miss it.  

Have you got your guesses ready?

I'll give you the answer.

The first example was from The Fellowship of The Ring, the last example was from Harry Potter and the middle one was from The Hunger Games.

I'm going to bet you got all 3 of them right (if you've read the books.)

The reason you could tell which was which was because of the writers Voice.  It's not what the author is saying but how she says it.  The way she puts words together. The detail. The imagery. Even the attitude or the personality of the story itself.  All of this together is the Voice, and it helps the reader identify with a story in the same way we identify with a good friend.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Evaluating Writing for the Home Educator - Free Rubric

Every writer has their own style, their own way of saying things, their own flavour.  When I'm writing for a blog, I use a somewhat conversational tone.  This helps the reader feel personally involved in my writing.  Right?
writing rubric teaching home school marking education fiction creative writing resources curriculum
Stay objective while marking your child's writing.
Use a rubric
Writing a press release, an obituary, or a report require different stylistic elements.  But the bottom line is that no matter what we are writing there are certain areas that are un-bending.  
  • Writing must be organized. 
  • Ideas must be clear. 
  • Word choice must enhance the readers experience. 
  • The writing must be fluid, and well-presented.  
  • The mechanics of the language must work.

As a home schooling parent/teacher, we are called upon to grade our child's writing.  And we must do this objectively. Grading Math, Science, or Geography can be cut and dried, since it's usually got a clear right or wrong answer. Grading Writing has more leeway, and more room for subjectivity. So we must purposely take a step back from our feelings about the piece or the author,

Enter the Writing Rubric.  If you've not heard the word before, a rubric is set of criteria with a scale of observations you can use to assign partial marks for each category in an assignment. It gives you a more objective way to assign points, and gives students specific feedback on areas they have done well, or could work to improve.

A good writing rubric will give you general areas of consideration for evaluation, and a gauge to measure them by.  Everyday Education offers a free writing rubric for use by home educators, taken from Evaluating Writing the Easy Way. by Janice Campbell author of Excellence in Writing and Transcripts Made Easy

The free rubric focuses on essay format, but if you're crafty you could adapt it to any style.  

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

History Blank Timeline

Blank Timeline, PDF, printable, story of the world, modern history
For those of you who might be interested in a blank timeline for use with Modern History, I've posted one on my StoryOfTheWorldBlog.

 The timeline was created for use with Volume 4 of Story of the World. And it's actually from 1700-2000 - in case we might like to note earlier events which influenced or led into events of volume 4.

 Anyway, if you're looking for a simple blank timeline, check it out!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Writers Inc Arrives!!

Our copy of Writers Inc. came in the mail today, and we couldn't be more pleased with our selection!

 Writers Inc. is an absolutely beautiful book.

Books should be beautiful, shouldn't they?  Writers Inc has a glossy black cover with gleaming shiny multi-colored foil sections that photos on the internet could never covey.  It has durable quality paper and feels like something you would like to clutch close to your heart, and keep well into your senior years (senior citizen not just senior in high school!)

The publisher recommends it for grades 8-12, and I'd say it's spot on.

So far, my review is 5 stars!.

Quotes from the Kitchen Table Reviews include:  

  • "Cool, look at this, Mom!    and   
  • "Wouldn't it be neat to become a famous writer, and write for a living someday?"
These words came from my 12-year-old reluctant writer.  This book is a keeper!!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Favourite Crochet Supplies

I have to admit to loving to make homespun gifts.
Here are some of my favorite Crochet Resources:

Books and Hooks:

Crochet Supplies, books, hooks

Crochet Patterns:

These patterns are all visual tutorials. They write the pattern out with pictures of the steps, no abbreviations or complicated instruction!


Awesome selection of video tutorials on how to make beautiful crochet stitches and projects!
Free Crochet Pattern tutorial Videos


Three Crochet Chicks

Kids and Technology - Email: 4 Tips for Parents

In this age of technology, parents are faced with decisions about allowing (or denying) things like cell phones, ipads, facebook and email accounts.

These forms of technology can enhance or diminish productivity and lifestyle.

Facebook can create social problems and hurt feelings; and it encourages children to divulge personal information on the internet.  iPads give children the ability to access internet in unsupervised areas of the home.  Cell phones are a whole topic onto themselves!

A good way to ease in, is with email.  

Allowing your child to have their own email account is a priviledge.  If done properly it's a good way for them to learn communication skills and typing skills while staying in touch with friends -   in a way that is convenient for homeschoolers.

If you decide to allow them to set up an email account here are a few tips:

1.  Don't let them use their name as the address.  This can lead to privacy issues that a child is not prepared to deal with. can be an easy mark for predators, knowing their name gets them a foot in the door.

2. Maintain a rule that you must always have the password to the account so that you can check on it whenever you like.  And, do this - randomly.

3. Have the incoming mail to your child's account forward to your own email.  This way, you have your finger on the pulse of what's arriving in their inbox.  You won't know what's going out the outbox, but at least you'll know if there are any topics or issues which require discussion.

4.  Don't allow them to use their email address on websites, etc.  They should only give it to friends they know in real life.  This will eliminate Spam, Junk mail and other unwanted solicitation.  If you opt for Gmail, it has a pretty good junk filter.  I use it as my primary email account and all of the viagra, and make money/send money emails completely skip my inbox.

Personally, I think a good age to allow children to begin with email is around 12.  You may differ on this idea.  In my home this is an age where children are expected to do more around the house, take more ownership of their schoolwork and chores, and are generally interested in contact with people outside the home. (And I use it to remind them about school assignments, using my GoogleCalendar!)

What are your thoughts on this issue?

Related Posts:

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Since you Asked - A Little Bit About Me.

I've had a few readers ask me about my background or my motivation for Blogging for home schoolers.  The two questions are actually quite closely related.

homeschooling resources curriculum home education school student teaching help tips advice
My background goes back to when I was 12 and I started teaching my best friend to play piano.  And then when I was in 9th grade and essentially taught 9th grade Math by something like the Socratic Method, though I'd never heard of Socrates.

No, I was not a child prodigy hired by a forward thinking school to teach my peers.

When I was in 9th grade, our school guidance counsellor was assigned to teach 9th grade Math. We would arrive in the class to copy questions and examples from the board. The teacher would read what he had written, ask us to write it down and complete the questions.  When anyone would ask a question, he would just find the appropriate notes on the board and re-read them to the questioner

As you can guess, he had no idea how to teach Math.  It led to many frustrated students who wanted to understand.  Repeating the words he already said didn't help the student who didn't understand the concept, and he clearly had no way of explaining the concepts himself.

Everyone was frustrated.  And I understood the Math.

The Teacher in me couldn't resist facilitating.  And so, in an effort not to undermine his teaching or authority, I would, upon seeing those puzzled and frustrated expressions, raise my hand and say, "so do you mean...,"  and explain the underlying tidbit that was not on the board and clearly was needed to answer the student's question.

At first he didn't know how to handle my, um, assistance.  But after the first Math Test when I got 105% (there was a bonus question,) and the average mark on the test was 65%, with many students failing.  He changed his view of me.  After that, he would actually look my way when he was at a loss and I would politely raise my hand and explain the concept, usually by using some form of question. (Afterall, that's why you raise your hand!)

This was when I discovered that I could "teach."

So, 10 years; a teachers degree; and 5 years of school teaching later I finally left school and became a full time private piano teacher.  I had been teaching piano students during the time I taught public school.  And so, I knew how to use all the teaching theory while working with students one-on-one.

Teaching a classroom full of students of differing abilities is a demanding part-art part-magic vocation  And it didn't feel at all to me like why I had wanted to become a teacher.  It was when I left the system myself (almost 20 years ago, and before having children of my own) that I decided I would home school any children I might be blessed with.

So, today I teach piano and teach my children at home.  In both cases I feel like I make a difference.  My Purpose is to guide and motivate students to want to learn and to take ownership of their learning.  I don't "teach to the test"  I "teach students to teach themselves." In fact, I don't even like to use the word teach...because it implies I am doing something to you.  I am a motivator, coach, cheerleader, tutor, mentor, counsellor - any of those words work.

My aim is to work myself out of a job.  And the funny thing is, professionally, I keep most of my piano students through their teen years (and through high school) and some even on into university. (If they don't move away, they often don't quit!)

Why is this?  I believe it's because I make learning personal for them.  I don't just turn the page and teach the next song...well sometimes I do, but that's not usually the plan!

So, although I digress, the reason for the Blog, is that I believe that we all have the will and the ability to motivate and inspire students.  As home educators we come from varying backgrounds.  Some of us have Education Degrees, and some of us have a GED, some of use are simply Parents with no recognized certificate of learning.  My blog is my way of prompting others to think about different aspects of home education.

I write about the things I'm thinking about at the time, and you can take them or leave them.  It comes down to personal taste.  And I want it to be personal!  So, by all means take from me what you will and toss the rest!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Writing Reference Books for Home Schoolers

To prepare for good writing it's important to have a handy reference book for checking style, tone, syntax, grammar, punctuation and formatting.

Today I will review 2 options for Writers' Manuals.
homeschool writing book writers inc Sebranek Meyer Kemper student manual

 Writers Inc.

First of all, I like the pun in the title.  A book for writers can win me with wit, for sure!

The publisher recommends it for grades 8-12.

Reviewers on Amazon give it 4.6 out of 5 Stars.

Quotes from the reviews include:  

  • "Writers Inc is a fantastic book that helps with all types of writing.    and   
  • "The Best Writing Source that You Haven't Heard About"

From the table of contents, and a quick perusal of the "look inside" feature:  the book  includes extensive material on tools for writing, forms of writing, the writing process, proofreading, and even some charts and tables for reference.

homeschool writing book write for college Sebranek Meyer Kemper

 Write for College.  

The title of this book, strikes me as having a more serious tone than  Writers Inc.  

The publisher recommends it for grades 10-12.

Reviewers on Amazon give it 4.3 out of 5 Stars.

Comments written by reviewers indicate that is can be used beyond high school for college papers.  And that it is a clear and concise reference book.

Since my needs are for an 8th grader in his first foray into serious literature study and essay writing, I've ordered the Writers Inc.  And maybe will make a second purchase of Write for College in a few years when we've exhausted the material presented in this book.

Do you have a favorite writers manual?

Thursday, September 6, 2012


Praise is one the most important ways we can help our children learn to do what is expected of them and to recognize their abilities.  It makes us feel good when someone tells us something nice.
She loves me, she loves me not, I LOVE ME.

Praise must be thoughtful.  Offering our children non-specific praise is a disservice.  

When you praise your child it is important to be specific.  Tell them exactly the trait or behaviour or skill that you have recognized as improving or newly learned.  Saying things like "you're great!" without a specific reason or example doesn't give the child anything to build on.

Say things like:

  • Your printing is really getting neater, it's starting to look like a grownup's!
  • You were a good friend today, helping _____ put away toys before we left.
  • You were super-fast doing your journalling today, and it's well done.  You must have really been concentrating.

Model self-praise. 

Routinely, I can be heard saying things like this:

  • I worked really hard today and got the whole _____ done.
  • I'm really pleased with myself, I finished this faster than I had planned to.
  • I feel good about ____.  I didn't want to do it, but now that it's done, I'm happy.
  • I was a good friend today, listening to/helping/supporting ______.
  • I am proud of my kids, I'm a good Mom.

Also, I ask them leading questions so they can express positive assessments of their own actions.

  • How did you feel when you landed that back flip at gymnastics today?
  • What did you think when you finished your math so quickly?
  • How do you feel now that your room is clean?
  • What did you think of that interaction with your friend, when they were sad about their dog dying?
Being the Mom of boys, I think it's important to model talking about feelings and give them words to explain theirs.  Girls, for the most part, seem to have no problem with this!  But, some might also need a little modeling and coaxing in this regard!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The punishment should fit the crime!

Being both Mother and Teacher (or Father and Teacher,) puts us in a situation that many others cannot relate to.

We are the disciplinarian and the mentor.  This can be a tough balance.

I've got fabulous children.  And I'm sure a great deal of it is luck.  But in case it's actually something I've done, I thought I'd share some of the tactics I use to keep things running.

1) I don't tolerate whining. When someone whines, I act like they're speaking a foreign language that I don't understand.  "I'm sorry, I couldn't understand what you said.  All I could hear was whining."  If they repeat the complaint in a whining tone, I suggest how they might say it for them to parrot back.  Works every time.

2) I don't tolerate a sullen or cranky attitude.  If someone is outwardly negative towards the assignment or work at hand (I do this for shared chores as well) I dismiss them.  I'll have them go sit on their bed, or the stairs, until they can join us with a good spirit.  The work will be there for them when they are ready for it, they know this.  Most times, they are back in 5 minutes or less.  Other times they have fallen asleep on their bed.  Which tells me that it wasn't just a cranky attitude, they needed a nap.  (Note:  Cranky Moms can benefit from this procedure as well, but it's not always a good idea for us to take a nap!! - sorry.)

3) If you complain that there too much assigned in a subject (when it's just the same amount as most days)  you can expect me to add a couple of questions to the assigned work.  And will continue to do so until you stop complaining.  I've been know to stop complaining by simply saying: "Really?  you want MORE math questions?"  They know the drill, that was the only warning they'll get.

4) The punishment should fit the crime.  Notice none of these "school related" infractions involve withholding television privileges or time with friends.  It can escalate to that when they spend so much time on their bed, or get so many extra Math questions that their school work drags into the evening...but it was a natural consequence of the problem - NOT a case of Teacher-Mom being the bad guy!

All of this, I do with a good spirit.  I don't yell or raise my voice.  I simply keep order and remind them of how it works. It's up to them to learn to follow protocol and expectations or deal with the consequences of their actions.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Assignment Deadlines - Using Google Calendar

Yet another awesome way to use the power of Google in your home school is to use their Calendar feature to set up assignment deadlines.

To find your Google Calendar, just log into Google (surely you've got a Google account by now...) and find the calendar: Link

Once you're in the Calendar click on the date you wish to schedule something.  Let's say that a Rough Draft of Essay 1 is due on September 20th.

  • Simply click on the date directly on the calendar.  
  • A window will pop up.  

  • Type in "what" the event is: Essay 1 rough draft due, then click edit event>>.

From here you can do all sorts of edits, like:
  • Change the time or date.
  • Make the event a "repeating event" (handy for reminder about weekly tests....or putting out the garbage!)  
  • There's a description box to add the details of the "assignment."  
  • You can change the event color.  
  • And to the right you can "Add guests"  well, our "guests" are actually the student who needs to complete the assignment!

And finally, and the beauty of this, is that you can also add Reminders.  You can set email reminders (or "pop-up" reminders...which I only find handy for things like "turn off the computer now." otherwise you need to be logged in to get them - unless your google account is synched to your iPod...but that's another post.)

Now that you've set up the assignment and added the guest, and put in the reminders, you can sit back and let Google do the reminding about completing the rough draft of Essay 1 and spend your time naggin-  er,  - prompting about more important things!  All you need to be sure of is that your student checks their email!

What else could a Google Calendar do to make your life easier?
Using Google for Writing Assignments               
Using Google Docs in Your Home School

Monday, September 3, 2012

Following Blogs

Someone recently asked me how exactly you "follow" a blog.

That's a good question.  Aside from bookmarking it and returning to it when you remember to, you can "subscribe" to a blog so you receive updates when new content is published.

There are 2 main ways to subscribe and follow a blog:

  • Follow by email.  To do this you just need to put your email address in the little box that says follow by email, and follow the prompts.  Then you'll simply get an email each time new content is added.
  • Follow by RSS feed.  To do this you'll need to use a blog reader.  If you have a Google account you already have a blog reader.  You can find it here:  Link  or type Google Reader into your search engine to find the current link.  There are many other Blog Readers out there, but I'm a google user and it's the one I use.

Using Google Reader:

When you return to the Google Reader link after subscribing to a blog, you'll see:
  • A list of the titles of the blogs you subscribe to and the number of posts they have published that you have not yet read.  
  • To the left you can sort and filter your blog reading, 
  • On the right there is a window showing the most recently read blog posts as well as some tips for using the Reader.
To read the blogs you're subscribed to, simply visit your Google Reader page and get caught up!

I personally like the "feel" of reading the blogs on their actual site.  It's easy to get there just by clicking on the blog post title!

If you're reading this in a feed because you're already a subscriber...impressive that you've read this far!  wow!!

Related Posts:

Assignment Deadlines - Using Google Calendar         
Using Google for Writing Assignments                 
Using Google Docs in Your Home School

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Using Google for Writing Assignments

My last post mentioned creating GoogleDocs to share with your home school students.

Why not do it in reverse?  This is a great tool for teenagers, especially.  But it can be useful and fun for some younger students.

Last year my then-7th grader used GoogleDocs to create drafts of his writing assignments. And he would "share" them with me.  This meant that I was able to oversee his progress on the work and make comments for his consideration at the appropriate times.

There is a very cool 'comments' feature in  GoogleDocs, you can find it (right now) at the top right near the word 'share.'  I say "right now" because Google has a funny habit of doing re-designs that move buttons around... ( if you liked hide-and-seek as a kid, just pretend that's what they're doing and don't get too frustrated!)

By clicking on the "comments" button you are able to comment on the document.  Any shared user  can make comments, and since I've got editing privileges I am also able to highlight the text.  (Heck I could even make changes in the paper, or change to another font color and suggest specific changes where they are needed.)

By using this method, we can avoid printing multiple drafts for marking and just print one clean draft when the writing assignment is complete!

Related posts:

Assignment Deadlines - Using Google Calendar                     
Using Google Docs in Your Home School

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Using Google Docs in Your Home School

Google is trying hard to be everything for everyone online.  And they're coming really close! Some of their beta projects are very intriguing...but I digress.

If you have a gmail account you have access to a plethora of other google applications including blogging, website design, a calendar, and documents, and many other things!

Once you've signed into your google (or Gmail) account you can find google docs here: Link

Setting up a Google document:

To set up a document click the word "Create" found on the left hand side of your screen.

This will prompt you to choose the type of document you would like to open.

Choices include: document (text,) spreadsheet, presentation, form, and others.

Make your selection.  For this demonstration I'll choose "document."

You have now created your new document:

From here you can click on the words "Untitled Document" and give it a name.  And then create your content in the same manner that  you would with any word processing tool. 

There are 2 beautiful things about using Google for documents.  
  • The documents are stored in Google's harddrive. (Don't worry you can save them to your harddrive as well.  Oh, and you might choose discretion when it comes to sensitive documents since they are possibly less secure than on a home drive.)
  • You can share the documents with other users.  This means that I can create documents and share them with my kids without printing them off!  I just have to click "share" in the top right corner, type in their email address, and voila!  I can even choose the level of sharing they have: read-only, or able to edit.
How cool is that?