Wordless Wednesday – A Pleasant Reminder

Spring is just around the corner.

Well, at least it’s the NEXT season.¬† ūüėČ


Wherever you go, no matter what the weather, always bring your own sunshine.
~Anthony J. D’Angelo, The College Blue Book


Mapping the World with Art Review

South America drawn by the Artist, 13.
South America drawn by the Artist, 13.

One of¬†our favorite¬†curricula that we’ve used during the past year has been Ellen McHenry’s Mapping the World with Art (MtWwA).¬†¬†I’ve had¬†several readers email me¬†curious about¬†how we use it.¬† This week we finished our¬†lessons and are working on the final project.¬† Here is my¬†overview of how we used it and thoughts on the curriculum.


I originally purchased¬†MtWwA for Geography only, but soon realized that¬†it’s a¬†combination of geography, cartography, art and even a little history.¬† It works best for middle school and up (though my 8 year old enjoyed it when he was able to go at his own pace).¬† The book is divided into¬†four parts: 30 Readings, 30 Map Drawings, 23 Activities, and¬†a Final Project where students create a world map.

The Readings section begins with history of the¬†first maps and¬†guides the reader in¬†how¬†they’ve been developed through time – with earlier maps being¬†less complex than later ones. The reader is taken on a journey to a better understanding of how and why maps developed from necessity and exploration from ancient Greece through modern times.¬† My children and I appreciated the perspective it gave us.¬† For example,¬†we were impressed when comparing a map that was made when the Pilgrims landed in America in 1650 with a modern map on our wall – realizing¬†how much more we know now and that 1650 was not that long ago!¬†¬†The section¬†finishes with a discussion of how GPS satellites have revealed the entire surface of the Earth to us.¬† Interesting.

Next is the Map Drawing section¬†intended for¬†students¬†to draw maps of countries and continents of the world.¬†¬†In this portion¬†each lesson shows detailed step-by-step instructions.¬† We purchased the optional DVD instructional video in which the author¬†leads you through¬†the map drawings.¬†¬†It is interesting¬†to hear¬†the author’s take on each map.¬† At the beginning of each DVD lesson, the tools needed for that particular lesson are displayed on the screen so you know what to have available for that day.¬† (Tools¬†needed throughout the course include¬†a ruler, compass, protractor, pencil with eraser, large eraser, and a black waterproof pen.)

The third part is an optional Activities section which provides projects and reinforcement for the earlier topics.  Some of the activities include extra drawing practice, arts and crafts, games, and review worksheets.

Finally, there is a final project. It gives students the opportunity to put all the information they’ve learned together by creating a world map.¬† Templates are provided to photocopy to guide them along.

How we used it:

Like many people we don’t have unlimited time, so I chose Thursdays to cover only the¬†parts of the program that I thought¬†would work best for us.¬† We covered about one lesson per week¬†consisting of the Readings and Map Drawing sections.¬†¬† During our morning journal time, I’d cover the Readings.¬†¬† This¬†would often spark¬†fascinating, meaningful¬†discussions about both history and the level of understanding of the geography of the world for those who lived in earlier times.

In the afternoons we’d watch the DVD’s and follow along with the author whose knowledge on the subject was impressive.¬† The DVDs give you the option to pause to wait for everyone to¬†have the time they need,¬†and I’d also have the book open as an additional help if anyone wanted to see the drawings each step of the way.

We did not use the Activities section.

For the final project there are several options,¬†and I chose the option¬†of¬†photocopying¬†the 6 page templates to give the general idea how the continents and oceans fit together.¬† I thought this would best fit our goals and would keep frustrations to a minimum.¬† The final¬†project is important to help¬†students visualize how all the pieces they’ve drawn fit together as a whole.

When done in the time frame I used, some of the lessons may take multiple weeks to cover.  For example, Map Drawing 29 has parts A-G.  It took us 3 Thursdays to get through it.  Overall, it took us about 1.5 years to get through the entire book (with taking the summer months off.)

My thoughts:

We did not try to rush to get through this, and I considered it a fun elective.

Drawing the maps and thinking through the shape of the land helped them remember the information. In addition, we learned some more in depth drawing skills with compasses and protractors while sketching the continents and countries.  The final project drawing at the end helped cement the locations and gave us an important big picture view.  These factors combined with the fascinating history in the readings made for a positive educational experience.  For these reasons, I highly recommend Mapping the World with Art.

Cape Horn, by the Artist.
Do you see the ‘boot’ of Italy?
Australia, by the Investigator, 11.
Siberia, by the Investigator.
Hawaiian Islands, by the Architect, 8.
Papua, New Guinea, by the Architect.
Scary Monster, by the Explorer, 5.

Wrapped Up in Art

I still have the quilt that my grandmother made for me when I was a child.  Though no longer in the best condition, it has a special significance and is still warm.

Over two years ago, I started a quilt for my now five year old.¬† But after realizing how much of my time it took, I decided that I’d finish it the next summer when I’d have more time.¬† Of course, when next summer came, it did not get done.

I had pretty much given up on finishing it until about a month ago.  My older three children already have a hand-made quilt from me, but my youngest son does not.  I knew I had to do something.

I mostly learned how to quilt by reading quilt books, experimenting, and especially by making and fixing lots of mistakes.¬† For example, I really wanted to make an eight-pointed star quilt several years ago.¬† I’d cut on the bias and pieced everything just as I had read in a quilt book.¬† But when I’d finished the final stitch, my star did not lay flat.¬† I felt frustrated.¬† Rather than give up, I got out some scrap fabric and started over – that day.¬† I was determined that if the lady smiling back at me on my quilt book could make this, then so could I.¬† But this time I was more careful and aware of the seam allowances.¬† And after the final stitch, it laid flat.¬† This was a lesson for me.

In light of my busier schedule with homeschooling, for my youngest son’s quilt I chose a simple pattern – squares and rectangles – with the theme of cars since he loves cars.

Though I pieced the quilt fairly quickly with a sewing machine, I decided that I didn’t want to machine quilt it.¬† (In the past, I’ve found that the machine jerks the quilt too much when quilting the final patterns.¬† It’s also difficult to stay on the lines.)¬† Instead, I prefer hand quilting because it gives me more control over the stitches and more accurate stitch results.¬† But the problem with hand quilting is that it takes a lot of time.

Putting on the binding…close to being done.

So I have been waking up at 6 a.m. most mornings for the last 30 days hand quilting for an hour before everyone else gets out of bed.¬† (Yes, I’ve easily spent over 30 hours hand-quilting this.) At first, I wasn’t enjoying it.¬† I admit it.¬† It felt like another of my long list of things to do.¬† I even put myself in a routine just to get through it and get everything done.¬† But towards the end, something changed.¬† The peacefulness I felt in just having a little time to myself to think while I hand quilted made a difference in my day.¬† Now that I’m done, I’m even considering making another quilt.

The lesson for me in finishing this quilt was that when I put my mind to it, I finally started to get somewhere.  Making a quilt is a big project requiring a plan, time, and effort.  But the thought of having created a piece of art that my son will be able to wrap himself in for years to come makes me happy.  And now he will have his own quilt like everyone else.


The Explorer’s birthday is this week, and guess what he is getting as one of his gifts?

Notable November

November has been a busy month for the Artist, 13, with both a writing program (National Novel Writing Month Young Writer’s Program) and a math competition.


She aspires to be a writer someday, and this is her first year participating in NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program.¬† I hope it will give her some experience and insight into what it’d really be like. We decided that rather than having me interview her, she would write a summary about how it’s going. Then she would be able to write her thoughts in her own words. Here is what she has to say about it so far:

“Hi, it’s the Artist. This year I’ve been participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). It takes place every November for aspiring writers of all ages, the goal being to reach your Word Count Goal by the end of the month (example: 50,000 words).

Of course, the deeper meaning is to write a novel. I was really pumped to sign up earlier in June. Being a think-ahead kinda girl, I spent the entire summer forming an idea of exactly how I wished my novel to be. Every time a scene would pop into my head, I would mentally apply it to the list of scenes I wanted in my book. I knew every detail about my characters: their personalities, their full name, exactly how they looked, the way they talked. I even went so far as to Google them all to make sure I hadn’t inadvertently named them after some celebrity I’d never heard of.

Then November came, and I went into a trance. Every free second I had would be spent hogging the upstairs computer, typing up a storm. At first it was easy. All I had to do was walk into the scene collection room of my brain and pluck one off the shelf. Then I would type it and edit it and move on. But gradually I ran into some problems.

Problem 1: The voice didn’t sound quite the way I had originally pictured it. But as time went on, I discovered that I was okay with that. My characters were just taking charge of the narration. Plus if I stuck a few instances of grammatical pedantry into my main character’s dialogue, that pretty much took care of the issue for me.

Problem 2: Somehow in all my planning, I had left about 200 pages in the center of the story to be adlibbed. This was a little harder to get around, and it gave me some concern as I was typing the beginning of my novel. Then a miracle occurred. For the first time in my life, I was saved by my bad habit of procrastination. See, being a natural procrastinator, I tend to look at deadlines as distant lands which I have plenty of time to reach. Since I hadn’t paid much attention to my NaNoWriMo deadline, it didn’t stress me out that much. Therefore no panic was in the way of me and any ideas I might have. Sure enough, I began coming up with scene ideas as I needed them for the main portion of my story.

As of today, I have written 31 pages and am 88.09% to my Word Count Goal. In other words, I’m on track to win. NaNoWriMo has been really fun for me, and I am happy I made the decision to sign up way back in June. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who enjoys writing.”

** Update:¬† She reached her word count goal on Sunday, November 24.¬† Finally, she’ll be able to rest. I’m thankful she’s finished NaNoWriMo before the Thanksgiving holiday!¬† **


The Artist also competed in her first Math competition of the school year this week.¬† I am again her coach, but my role is minimal.¬† Now in our second year competing, we more fully understand how things work.¬† The previous experiences were helpful preparation.¬† We won’t know her results for a few weeks yet.¬† I am proud of her no matter what.¬† All my children inspire me.


This has been an exciting, yet busy month with plenty of learning experiences.

I recommend these extra-curricular programs to parents whose children may have similar interests; I think the benefits are worth the effort. To learn more, check out: National Novel Writing Month Young Writers Program or the American Mathematics Competitions.

Forming First Impressions: Kindergarten Math

The Explorer, 5, recently told me that his favorite subject is Math.¬† At this age he’s forming early impressions on the blank canvas that will become his Math Education.¬† Developing a strong base is important, but so is lighting a spark of interest.¬† Led partly by his fascination levels, I focus on three areas with my Kindergartener: math facts, new concepts, and problem solving.

1. Math facts

Mastery of the math facts will greatly reduce frustration for him down the road with things like muti-digit multiplication, long division, and many other areas.¬† It’s important that he learn the concept behind the idea.

I start him on skip-counting by introducing a hundred number chart. ¬†After he’s learned to count to 100 (by ones), we learn the two’s, five’s and ten’s.¬† We then cover both odd and even numbers and what digits each type will end in.

We recently learned the three’s. For example:¬† I have him start at zero and count up three, and then cover the number with a rectangular counter stopping at 30 – for starters.¬† The idea is that he’ll begin to notice a pattern.¬† [He observed that the three’s have both odd and even numbers.]

Hundred number chart, counting by 3’s starting at 0.

Then he removes the counter and writes down the numbers – beginning at zero then up to 30.¬† (If he gets frustrated writing the numbers down, I just have him read them while I write them for him.) What I like about this is that not only does he learn to count by three’s, but he also realizes that it starts at zero.¬† He reads them forward and backwards a few times.¬† Then we focus on memorizing.

Recording the 3’s as he removes them

After he’s mastered the 3’s starting at zero, I then have him pick another starting number – say one.¬† We then count up by 3’s but notice that our numbers are now different depending on our starting point.

So far this year, we’ve covered the one’s (0 to 100); two’s (0 to 100); three’s (0 to 30); five’s (0 to 100); ten’s (0 to 100), the hundred’s (0 to 1000) and the odd numbers (1 to 21).¬† Next week we plan to start the four’s (0 to 40).¬† How many we’ll cover depends; I use his interest level to help guide me about how far to go.¬† It is not a race, though, and it’s far more important to me that he understands the idea.

2.  New Concepts

By this I refer mainly to the learning of the arithmetic operations:  addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.  I often use a curriculum as my guide, and some of my favorites are Singapore Math, MEP Math, and Miquon Math.  However, I believe that any curriculum is a tool that should help and not hinder.  I often find myself filling in concepts that I think a curriculum should have spent more time on.  I use a Place Value Activity Kit to demonstrate all four operations.

We start by learning the plus and minus facts up to 10 (all the combinations), then we expand it up to 20.

Interestingly, we recently learned three different methods for subtraction. For example, consider:  15-8 = 7.

 Method 1: Start at 15 on our number line and count back 8 steps.  We stop at 7.

¬†Method 2: Think of 15 as a number bond of 10 and 5.¬† I ask my son if we can take 8 away from 5. (We’ve not learned negative numbers yet.)¬† He replies that we cannot, but we can take 8 away from 10.¬† So we calculate (10-8) and we still have our 5 from before so our answer is 2 + 5 = 7.

Method 2 demonstrated with place value kit

 Method 3: Start at 15.  Think about where our nearest ten is when subtracting. Answer:10.  Think about how many units we would take away from 15 to get to our nearest 10.  Answer: 5.  Then subtract 5 from 15 and next subtract 3 more. (15-5-3=7)

Method 3 explained.

Having learned three different methods hopefully causes him to analyze, compare, and develop a greater number sense regarding subtraction.

So far we’ve worked though the concepts of addition and subtraction mainly, and also a good start in multiplication.

Multiplication demonstrated with place value kit, and noting that ‘x’ means ‘groups of’.
More multiplication showing that multiplying can be thought of as repeated addition.

Having already introduced multiplication (with skip counting),¬† I then use examples like the one above with a place value kit to go into more depth by showing that multiplication is repeated addition and that ‘x’ can be thought of as ‘groups of’.¬† For division, I only introduce it with the place value kit and show how division is related to multiplication.

[As an aside: If a student is confused by a concept, I recommend trying another curriculum to explain it a different way.  Use the curricula that best helps your child understand OR simply explain it in your own words how you understand it.]

3.  Problem Solving

How I interpret it, problems solving means that a student has enough mastery of a concept that he can apply it to solve a problem.

Thus far for this type of activity, my favorite curricula are Singapore Math Intensive Practice and Challenging Word Problems workbooks.  What I like best about these are the way they encourage a child to visualize the problems in order to better understand and solve them.  Also, questions are asked from many different angles so that the child has to really think about what is being asked.

Recently we worked on a problem where he had to think about how a larger number can be made out of two smaller numbers to solve puzzle-like problems related to subtraction.  We pulled out our Cuisenaire rods to help visualize the combinations that make 10: (1,9); (9,1); (2,8); (8,2); (3,7); (7,3); (6,4); (4,6); and (5,5) Рto remind us of our math facts. (Hopefully he sees the pattern that addition is commutative). Manipulatives can be a great addition when solving a complicated problem.

Looking for a pattern and using C-rods to visualize.

Of course, problem solving can also bring feelings of frustration. During these trials of deep thought, he grows in knowledge and develops math endurance.¬† I’ve found that giving praise when he’s solved a problem works wonders, and it’ll likely light a fire and make him want to learn more.

Overall, our plan is that we cover math fact practice and new concepts daily.  Problem solving (puzzle-type questions) may only happen two or three days per week.  We touch on all three areas every week.

It’s my intention that Math time be fun for him at this age.¬† Demonstrating that problem solving can be both rewarding and enjoyable [hopefully] paints a positive first impression.

First Quarter Review – Week 9

Fall 2013

In between all the Lego construction happening around here, we’ve also been doing a little work.¬† The time has come to reflect upon our first quarter of school.¬† With both the struggles and joys of the first nine weeks, I focus on where we’re headed and how far we’ve trekked down our intended trail.¬† What have been our favorite curricula, and what’s been my approach when planning our schedule?

The Artist, 13:

For Language Arts there have been a few changes since last year in Latin.¬† We are now using Wheelock’s Latin, 7th Edition, and the Artist has made it through the first six chapters.¬† Though much of it is review for her, we are still getting used to the new format.¬† The Rod & Staff English 8, Writing Strands 6, Vocab from Classical Roots, and Writing With Skill are a continuation from last year’s program, and this combination seems to work well.¬† Starting in November (today, actually), she will participate for the first time in NaNoWriMo Young Writer’s Program.¬† She’s set her goal and is excited!


For Math, she’s still seems to enjoy using the Art of Problem Solving texts.¬† Currently she is doing the Geometry book, but she recently finished Counting and Probability at the end of the summer.

Her favorite subjects this year: Writing and Computer Programming.

The Investigator, 11:

His Language Arts are similar in that he is doing Rod & Staff 6 and Vocabulary from Classical Roots.¬† But for Writing he’s been doing IEW SWI B – which I’ve not been thrilled with.¬† Perhaps it’s that the videos seem to take too long to make a point, or maybe it’s just not a good fit for us.¬† But he is going to be doing a few lessons in Writing Strands 4 while I decide whether to keep IEW or not.¬† For poetry this week, he’s memorizing The Eagle, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.


He also uses an Art of Problem Solving text, Pre-Algebra, which seems to have caught his interest.¬† No, it’s not easy; and, yes, it really makes him think.¬† I’m careful to not be too rigid about moving through the book quickly.¬† Sometimes tossing concepts around for a day or two makes all the difference.

When asked what his favorite subject is this year, he said that it’s either Reading or Math.

The Architect, 8:

Language Arts includes some new curricula: All About Reading and All About Spelling.¬† The All About Reading especially has been a hit with the Architect; it’s games are engaging and seem to reinforce its steps to reading.¬† He also does Rod & Staff English 3 along with Susan Wise Bauer’s Writing with Ease.

Math includes Singapore Math with the Intensive Practice Workbooks and the Challenging Word Problems along with Beast Academy Level 3 for lively reinforcement.¬† I think both of these programs bring a ‘think outside the box’ perspective to his math time.

Working in Beast Academy with polyominoes.

The Architect’s favorite subject thus far is Typing.

The Explorer, 5:

One thing I can say about the Explorer is that he loves school. All About Reading has also been a blast for him.¬† You know a program is fun when you see a big smile on your child’s face while you are working through it!¬† The games make learning to read more interesting than previous methods we’ve used, and he looks forward to the readers.¬† For handwriting, he continues to practice with Cursive First.

Reading game time.

In Math he’s completing Singapore Math Intensive Practice.¬† He also does math fact practice sheets (not timed).¬† To reinforce math concepts at this age, I think it’s helpful to do hands-on activities.¬† Our¬†Cuisenaire Rods and place value activity kit get plenty of use.

So far, the Explorer’s favorite subject is Math.

In addition to the above, we also cover a few subjects in a group setting.¬† For example, we’ve progressed about nine chapters in History.¬†¬† My goal is usually to cover one chapter per week.¬† History has been more of a challenge for us this year time-wise, so I pushed it back to later in the day to allow for plenty of time to cover the more basic subjects.¬† Or, on some mornings, I read a little history while we journal to get some of it in early.

All Science and most Art is outsourced.

For more detail about what we’re using or reviews, see Our 2013-2014 Curricula Page¬† or Curriculum Review.

How have things been going so far? Well, there are some things we can improve on, and there other things that seem to flow smoothly.¬† I strive to keep my focus on our priorities and work towards maintaining those.¬† It’s helped me so much to sit down and write out our goals and what I consider our most important subjects.¬† There is only so much time in any given day, and so I set up our schedule to allow for our more important ones earlier in the day.¬† Overall I am happy with what we’ve done so far, but I continue to stay ever alert and aware of where we’re headed.

And with that I’ll leave you with this insightful thought:

“What lies behind you and what lies in front of you, pales in comparison to what lies inside of you.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Keeping Your Lego Sword Close – Wordless Wednesday

The Architect, 8, came up with this nifty idea for a place to carry his Lego Sword: with a Lego piece attached by his belt.


This is quite the useful piece.
Sword slides right in and stays in place. ūüôā

Coming next week: an in-depth review of our first quarter of school.

Lego Swords – Wordless Wednesday

The latest original creations from the Lego enthusiasts around here:  Lego swords.

Designed by the Investigator and the Artist.
Designed by the Architect.
The Explorer, of course, also designed his own sword.  He named it Orcrist the Clown Cleaver.

It’s always an adventure.

Caught in a Blizzard

When we really want something, we are not easily deterred. We try everything we can think of to go over, under, or around obstacles. And when we want something bad enough, sometimes we’d rather join a caravan of denial than face the painful truth. Perhaps that is why I decided to attend a relative’s wedding this past weekend rather than let the threat of a blizzard blocking our path stop me.

I’d read an online weather report about possible bad weather near the location of the wedding. But hey, it was 70 degrees that day where I live, so whatever they were predicting – it couldn’t be that bad. I mean most big snowstorms don’t happen this early in the year. And how many times has the weather man overblown his predictions?!

I’d been looking forward to this wedding.¬† I’d pictured in my mind the groom on his big day with his new bride walking down the aisle.¬† I’d planned on a night of catching up with rarely seen family members.¬† I’d rewritten our homeschool plans to allow for a lighter schedule for traveling.¬† I’d booked hotel rooms and plotted our itinerary.¬† But that’s where it ended … mother nature had her own plans.

We’d made it quite a few miles down the road. There had been a little rain, but nothing serious. The kids had done their lessons, and I was feeling relieved the closer we got to our destination.¬† Yet I couldn’t help but notice something unusual: there were not many cars on what is normally a lively interstate.¬† The cows in the fields huddled together.¬† As we got within our final 60 miles, I began to notice eerie white sheets of freezing rain appear like fog misting around us.¬† The leaves on the few lonely trees along the increasingly silent road were beginning to rustle.¬† Over the next hill a giant flashing sign read that no travel was advised ahead.

We got off at the next exit.  While we gassed up, I spoke with some locals who warned me that others had gone ahead on that road only to end up disoriented and in the ditch.

We stopped and got a room.

From our hotel window, we watched as the weather conditions continued to deteriorate.¬† The snow was now coming down heavier and the wind was picking up.¬† About an hour later, the road that we’d arrived on was now closed ‘until further notice.’

During the middle of the night I awoke to the sound of harsh winds hitting the walls, and not long after, our electricity abruptly went out.

The next morning when we went to our continental breakfast by candlelight, I realized that some of the men and women who operate the road plows were also stranded with us in one of the worst blizzards I can remember.  I could tell from the stern looks and the serious tones that we would not be leaving the hotel that day.  And worse: the wedding was not going to happen.

For the next several days we hung out in our hotel.¬† At one point, the kids thought it would be great fun to go out and run around in the snow.¬† They tried it…and were back within 60 seconds.¬† The winds were so fierce that it was painful to even walk across the street to a convenience store to buy our daily, picked through junk food. The snow drifts had reached over seven feet high in some places.¬† Locations west of us were reporting up to 48 inches of snow.¬† We were caught in a blizzard.

Card stacks designed by the Architect,8, in our hotel room.

In these types of situations, even though in the back of our minds we knew this could happen, we still feel a sense of loss. Our expectations (realistic or not) haven’t been met.¬† I felt so bad for the bride and groom, and I also grieved for our not being able to see them marry.

This is the time to focus on and be thankful for what we do have.  At least we did not keep going down the road and end up trapped in our car alone in a ditch.  We were stranded where we had shelter, food, and cell phones.  We had interesting conversations with others who also could not leave the area.

Eventually, the lights came back on.  We dug our cars out of snow caves. The wedding was rescheduled.

The view from our hotel window: digging out after the blizzard.

We gained perspective in that sometimes things like this happen.¬† Life does not always go how we want it to; we have to make the best of whatever situation we’re given.