A Little Extra Math For Fun

 

Math pedagogy can be overwhelming, whether or not you homeschool. Is this the right curriculum? Am I doing too much? Too little? Am I boring him or pushing him too hard? What if she misses something important? How can I help my child enjoy math even if I’m not “a math person” myself?

I think math is beautiful and fascinating and exciting, albeit somewhat mysterious once you get past calculus. Sometimes I’m not sure if I’m conveying those feelings to my kids, or if I’m pushing them to dislike math by boring them or over-drilling. Recently, I read a couple of books that helped me to relax about math, try some new things, and aim in a slightly different direction for pre-algebra.

mathematical-mindsets
In Mathematical Mindsets, Jo Boaler examines research about how children learn math and what makes a successful mathematian to suggest the ways in which traditional education is failing students and how we can change outcomes as parents (or homeschoolers). Whether you have your child in a brick and mortar school or you homeschool, this book would give you a lot to think about.

Topics like how to create problem solvers (versus calculators or test takers), how to help children develop a growth mindset, and how to best challenge kids with math are well-presented and highly practical, while also backed up with good research.

I found Mathematical Mindsets incredibly helpful and would highly recommend it to all parents, whether or not they are teachers, and all teachers, whether or not they are parents.

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I also read the inspiring and encouraging collection of essays in Playing With Math. The book chronicles efforts by really invested teachers in a variety of school settings, homeschoolers dedicated to teaching math well, and leaders of math circles (groups that get together to do problem solving). I got so many helpful ideas, insights, and reassurances from this book. Most of the essays end with a math problem to solve individually or in a group. I really liked the inclusion of those problems, and was inspired to add math games/group problem solving/logic puzzles to our Table Time each day.

Most of all, I am glad to have read both of these books for their vision. I think my kids had gotten into the habit of thinking of math as just a problem set to get through, but what I really want is for them to catch the excitement of how neat math is, and to learn to be problem solvers. While I wouldn’t say I agree fully with everything in either book–it’s not practical to implement every idea in every setting–both were instrumental in shifting my focus and in making math more enthusiastic in our house.

If you’re interested in adding math games for a range of ages to your family time (whether in homeschool or just for after school fun), I’ve also been using some of the suggestions in the following books:

And, since I mentioned pre-algebra, I’m looking at switching over from Saxon to Art of Problem Solving when Hannah finishes Saxon 7/6. If any of you have thoughts on that, I’d love to hear what you think!

What are your favorite problem solving, math, or logic games?

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Two awesome read-alouds (plus ancient Greece)

hittite-warriorThis fall we stumbled upon a terrific author whose books made terrific read-alouds and were then subject to much sibling negotiation as everyone wanted to re-read (and re-re-re-read) them on their own as well. Joanne Williamson did a tremendous job combining excellent storytelling and character development with detailed and fascinating historical research in her books Hittite Warrior and God King.

god-kingWe read the books as part of our history/literature studies, but they are such great adventures that anyone would enjoy them as stand-alone books. Hittite Warrior takes place during the time of Judges and ties in to the collapse of the Hittite culture, rise of the Philistines, and loosely touches ancient Greece. God King is a fascinating account of Egypt during the time of King Hezekiah in Judah and the rise of Assyria. Both books are well worth owning, although difficult to find. Check your library, and if you ever see Joanne Williamson’s other books, snap them up!

I tend to follow a literature-based lead for school books, and so I’m looking for good writing, excellent illustrations, and a storytelling (versus textbook or encyclopedia) feel. We do get reference books on the side, but not for our main focus. Here are a few other books we liked in theras-and-his-townour ancient Greece reading.

Theras and His Town – This novel is a bit light, but we enjoyed the story and the contrast between Athenian and Spartan cultures. It’s a good read-alone for elementary kids, and worked out pretty well as a read-aloud too.

daulaires-greek-mythsD’Aulaire’s Greek Myths – I like this version much better than other options for myth retellings. It’s also the book used in the National Mythology Exam, if you’re into those sort of tests (I’m not sure if we’ll do that or not–it’s the same group that runs the National Latin Exam). Anyway, the D’Aulaire’s always do a good job with stories and illustrations.

one-eyed-giantThe One-Eyed Giant (and the rest of the series) – Kids who like Mary Pope Osborne’s style will enjoy this series. We listened to the first one on audio and then the kids read the rest on their own time. Note that this series is available in two different formats–one that seems to be geared for libraries and another that comes in only two volumes and is for…regular people? Just letting you know in case you pick them up at a used bookstore and don’t want redundancy on your shelves!

golden-fleece-columThe Golden Fleece and the Heroes Before Achilles – You’ll start to feel the repetition if you do a lot of these readings, but Padraic Colum does a pretty good job of preserving Homeric phrases kids should know, like the rosy-fingered dawn, grey-eyed Athena, wine-dark sea, and so forth. Colum wrote other books on Greek mythology and the epics, so you may want to look for those as well.

famous-men-of-greeceFamous Men of Greece – Honestly, this one is a little dry, but the sections are a good length for a daily narration habit, and it does have good illustrations. I’d skip it if you only have younger kids, and might suggest assigning it for older elementary kids who are working on narrating their independent reading assignments.

wanderings-odysseusThe Wanderings of Odysseus and Black Ships Before Troy – These excellent retellings of the Odyssey and Iliad, respectively, are well worth owning. Pro tip: be sure you’re getting the larger format book with the illustrations. I accidentally wound up with paperbacks that omitted the pictures and the kids were none too pleased. We’ve read several of Rosemary Sutcliff’s works and have black-ships-before-troyloved all of them, so that’s another author to add to your look-for list.

The kids read a ton of other books from this subject area, but I didn’t keep up with all of them. It’s been fun to circle back to the ancient world with older kids and see how much they remember from four years ago!

A Quick Note About Book Shopping: In previous years, Amazon has put out several high value book coupons between Thanksgiving and Christmas. If I hear of any, I’ll link them on Facebook and in the weekly Bookmarks email. If you come across any great book shopping codes this season, please let me know!

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Reading the new Harry Potter out of order

readnewharrypotterbookA classic bookworm dilemma presents itself:

Sarah, age 7, has read the first Harry Potter book, but not the rest of the series (yet, Sarah would have you know, she has not read the rest of the series YET).

And now, after waiting for a veritable plethora of people in line before us to read it first, we have finally received the new book from the library.

Because I am the mom and I drove us all to the library to collect it, I got to read Harry Potter and the Cursed Child first. Since it’s a script and not a novel, that only took about an hour and a half. Hannah and Jack followed with alacrity.

Then the debate commenced. Should Sarah read the new book, having not yet completed the series? In case you or someone in your household faces the same conundrum, here are our thoughts on the matter.

  • The new book is a play. As previously mentioned, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is not a novel, but rather a play. Thus, it is shorter and contains fewer details. So kids who weren’t ready for the detail of the whole series or adults who weren’t ready to commit the time could easily handle it.
  • The new book was not exactly written by J.K. Rowling. If you’re one of these purists who can’t stand to break rank with a series (one of the children here stands with that camp), knowing that the play is based on a story by Rowling but not technically written by her may help you overcome your reluctance to read it out of order.
  • The new book includes familiar characters, but takes place decades after the original series. Because the timeframe is so different, you won’t miss details or episodes the way you would reading one of the first books out of order.
  • The new book does contain spoilers. Several parts of the play do refer back to previous books, which could spoil the suspense when you do get to the original series.
  • The new book is really not as good as the original series. We hate to say it, but the play has faults. Ron is portrayed as a dufus. Several characters were missing or written a bit incorrectly in our opinions. The play lacked the same depth of theme and language we liked in the original series. So if you haven’t read the novels, we wonder if the play might sour you on the series.

After much conversation, we left the decision up to Sarah. We hope our lengthy deliberations may prove illuminating to you in your own decision about whether or not to read Harry Potter and the Cursed Child out of order. Let us know what you decide!
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Family-friendly audio books for long car trips

family-friendly audio booksBecause my family lives half a continent away, the kids and I have long car trips down. Yes, twelve-hour drives as the solo adult with five kids including a nursing infant are possible. One reason this works is because four out of the five are potty trained and three of the five can not only take themselves inside a bathroom stall, but can also wash their own hands AND hold the baby (not simultaneously, of course) during a stop. Much easier than the days when I traveled with three under three.

Another reason this works is audiobooks.

Whether you’re making a long car trip or simply motoring about town, a good audiobook series can make a ride much more enjoyable for you and the children. Here are a few of the series we’ve enjoyed of late (all available through our library’s OverDrive app, which you should ask your library about, but also easy to find through Audible–a 30-day free trial might be a good choice if you’ve got a big trip coming up!).

mysterious-benedict-societyThe Mysterious Benedict Society series combines a mystery with a quest and riddles and teamwork and very clever wordplay to create a bang-up story that the kids and I loved. We listened to Book One on audio and have the next on hold, but meanwhile Jack enjoyed it so much that he spent his own money to purchase a copy of the first book for himself, and Hannah liked it so well she asked if she could give a copy to a friend for a birthday present.

Apart from being a thrilling tale, I particularly like that the main characters in The MBS are all kids who are a little unusual. They are kind of weird or have unusual abilities or are lonely, and yet they come to see how their unique skills and life experiences put them in exactly the right spot to do great things. This is a fantastic message for kids, especially if you have some who feel odd sometimes.

wingfeatherI’ve heard about The Wingfeather Saga for a long time, but we finally began it this summer and we are hooked. If you’re looking for an adventure series that is also well written, very funny, and excellent to read aloud (and who isn’t?) these are the books for you. We listened to On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, then switched to reading aloud for North! Or Be Eaten! and I’m not sure if we will proceed with audio or reading aloud for the rest of the series, or if I will just turn the big kids loose to read for themselves.

If you’re nervous about the whole “darkness” and “being eaten” themes, rest assured that the bad guys (for example, the Fangs of Dang) are scary, but offset by the silliness of their names and the fact that the good guys fight for Truth and Justice and Right and are never forsaken.

Not only did the big kids and I like it, but even Eliza (3) is engrossed and asks for more chapters.

narniaThe Chronicles of Narnia should go without saying for read-alouds, and we have read them all aloud together. The big kids have also read them individually. But we still really enjoyed listening to them on audiobook. Several of the readers were uncommonly excellent.

There are a couple of versions out there, so you want the unabridged. I haven’t tried the dramatized versions to know if they are any good. And please, whatever you do, please do not put The Magician’s Nephew first even if it is chronologically accurate. Read or listen in published order–it does make a difference to when you discover things!

I think of all the books, my favorite is probably The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, although I found The Last Battle particularly poignant as we listened to the part about Aslan’s Country after my grandmother died, so the allegorical Heaven was touching for me.

What have you been listening to this summer?
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Read-alouds about Egypt

Because education is a life and we aren’t bound by grade-levels around here, we wrapped up our study of the history, literature, and geography of the 1900s (Tapestry Year 4) just before Easter, and then jumped right back into the ancient world (Tapestry Year 1) after spring break. This is the first time we are cycling back through the year plans, and it has been really interesting to use the material with a 10 1/2, almost 9, and 7 1/2 year old (last time they were 6, 5, and 3). I’m glad we decided to start in right away because it has given me a chance to experiment with how much work load Hannah can handle. We are now using the Dialectic, Upper Grammar, and Lower Grammar reading lists and assignments, not so much by reading level as by how much they can handle in terms of writing.

Anyway, Tapestry geeking out aside, we chose three read-alouds on Egypt, reviewed below. We read a lot of non-fiction and shorter fiction together too, and the kids also read several other longer books independently, but these are the ones I can speak for as longer read-alouds.

golden gobletOur favorite was The Golden Goblet. I knew we’d like this one since it is by Eloise Jarvis McGraw, and we were not disappointed.  I think all three big kids read it on their own, and we also listened to it in audio book form. It’s a great story, with lots of adventure and themes about kids being brave and doing the right thing  no matter what.

We highly recommend this one for boys, girls, and as a read-aloud or audio book.

 

bubastesThe Cat of Bubastes is a solid story, but we chose to listen to an audio version that was less than stellar. The narrator chose some really difficult-to-love accents for different characters, and we could not restrain ourselves from making fun of them at times.  Still, the fact that we kept listening anyway probably speaks well for the story itself! Next time we will read this one independently or I’ll read it aloud.

As a cool aside, we realized that part of this book forms one of the settings in a favorite book of ours, The Story of the Amulet by E. Nesbit!  If you’ve read that one (and if not, you should!) see if your kids notice the scene.

maia of thebesMaia of Thebes is decent historical fiction set during the reign of Hatshepsut. It has a lot of good setting information, although we wound up discussing the fact that the author implies that lying is ok as long as it’s for a good cause.  Things like this are why I think it’s a good idea to read and discuss books with the kids!

Jack said to tell you that he didn’t mind it as a read-aloud but he doesn’t think boys would enjoy it too much as an independent read.

 

What is your favorite book about Egypt?

 

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Devotional books for kids

gods namesI’m always looking around for good books to use for Biblestudy with the kids. God’s Names by Sally Michael (it was recommended in Tapestry of Grace) turned out to be an excellent choice for my elementary aged kids.

The book devotes one section to each of 26 different names of God. The lesson includes Scripture passages (written out in the text, but it also works to ask the kids to find the passages and read them from their own Bibles) that use that name to describe God, explanations of why that name was important in context, and application of how we can think about God and respond to Him based on our new understanding of who He is.

I really liked this approach. In the course of learning the names of God, kids (and adults!) develop a more complete understanding of God’s character–who He is and what He values. It was easy to make strong applications, and the lessons also built on each other, referencing names we had already learned about, so the way that different things work together was simpler to understand.

God’s Names worked well to do together with my group of kids, but you could also use it as an individual study if you have a kid who is ready for an independent approach.  I’d recommend it.

salvationI expected to love Starr Meade’s God’s Mighty Acts in Salvation–after all, we really enjoy her daily study based on the catechism (Training Hearts, Teaching Minds) and continue to use that each morning.

The information in the book is good, but I think the layout didn’t click with our family. Each day gives a passage to read from Galatians, and then has a short, loosely related story or series of thoughts based on one of the themes from the passage.  There are also application questions at the end. I think there were a couple of reasons why this set-up didn’t work for us. First, it didn’t seem like we were studying the passage–I was hoping for more explanation that shed light on the verses, or a structure that helped the kids learn about salvation in general–and the little readings were ok but not fantastic.  I guess overall the book seemed like something we were just reading to get through it, rather than really learning from. It could have been a case of the right book at the wrong time, or just a style preference.  We do still recommend Training Hearts, Teaching Minds, though!

What devotional books have you tried and liked with your family?

 

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Another great series for your summer reading

all-of-a-kind familyI’ve posted about All-of-a-Kind Family and how much we enjoyed it, and stated our intention to read everything else the author wrote. Well, so we did. And we can now whole-heartedly recommend this series to you for your summer (or anytime) reading list.

We read aloud or listened to audio versions of More All-of-a-Kind Family, All-of-a-Kind Family Downtown, All-of-a-Kind Family Uptown, and Ella of All-of-a-Kind Family, and then we read A Papa Like Everyone Else, which isn’t about the same family, but sort of could be about the Mama as a little girl, perhaps, in terms of time period and coming from the old country to America.

These books are great fun and full of siblings getting into and out of various scrapes, the family being a center for love and growth, hospitality, and how the family comes through the immigrant experience and still retains a strong family character and culture. These are great books for the early 1900s setting, but the themes and ideas are timeless and the adventures are good, clean fun.

I will say that there is some romancey stuff in Ella of All-of-a-Kind Family, as in that volume Ella is an adult deciding who to marry and everything. My elementary kids responded with choruses of “EWWWWW” when there was lovey-dovey stuff, but it wasn’t inappropriate so much as not their speed.  In hindsight we wouldn’t have missed anything by skipping it, except for the fact that at the end Mama is pregnant again and WE DON’T FIND OUT IF THE BABY IS A BOY OR A GIRL!!!!! And then Sydney Taylor died and never wrote any more books.  We were completely aghast.  I was sort of tempted to challenge the kids to write fan fiction sequels with one kid taking the stance “and the baby was yet another girl” and the other taking “and it was a brother!”

Anyway, these are great books and really, really solid for reading aloud.  We recommend them heartily.  If you do read the series, please let us know what you think!

 

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Some fairy tales for your summer reading list

If you’re starting to compile a summer reading list–either for read-alouds, audio books for car trips, or chapter books to keep your kids racking up points for prizes–you might want to consider some fairy tale-type stories.

Edith Nesbit is one of our favorite authors, and although she doesn’t write strictly fairy tale narratives, she does often weave in magic or fairy tale aspects.  We recently listened to two more of her books on audio–The Enchanted Castle and The Magic World–and were not disappointed.

castleThe Enchanted Castle involves and enchanted castle, naturally, and the adventures of a group of siblings bored on summer holiday plus a friend who is the niece of the housekeeper at the aforementioned castle.  The reader for the audio book was superb, and it’s always delightful to learn new (to us) old-fashioned British slang terms.  We’ve added “look slippy about it!” and “don’t be a GOAT!” to our repertoire thanks to this volume.

 

magicThe Magic World is actually a series of short stories, and it turns out that many of them were inspirational to other famous authors.  You’ll find, for example, a little girl who goes into a wardrobe in a spare room and has adventures. Sound familiar?

Shannon Hale is a modern writer who specializes somewhat in retellings of old and possibly less common fairy tales. Hannah enjoyed reading a number of these and asked me to read two to discuss with her.

princess-academyPrincess Academy  is a well-told tale of mountain girls being trained for potential princess-hood, then working together to bring the best of their village culture to bear in problem solving.  I enjoyed the book–especially the well-written setting–and Hannah and I had a good discussion about whether the ends ever justify the means (the book implies that they do).

 

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Hannah really liked Book of a Thousand Days since she is partial to diaries and this book uses that frame. Neither of us felt it was quite as strong as Princess Academy, but it was still a good story. The setting, somewhere in Asia, was interesting. After reading these two books, Hannah read a few more, but I didn’t decide to keep going.

 

lion

While not technically a fairy tale, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is fantasy and thus belongs to this post as much as do Nesbit’s books. Plus, after reading the abovementioned Nesbit tale you might be inspired to look up other wardrobe stories too!  We remembered it had been a while since we read of Narnia, so we got the audio book to listen to in the car. It was quite well done and we all loved listening to the story (again). We might go through the series this summer as our library has the audio books available on Overdrive (by far the cheapest and easiest way to get audio books–ask if your library has it!). That said, we do recommend the actual books as well.  This is one of those series where each child in the family needs his or her own set!

And of course, if you are thinking about your own Summer Reading, or have a teen, the Lunar Chronicles are great reconceptions of fairy tale elements.

 

What’s on your list for this summer?

 

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Read-alouds for China, Afghanistan, and Grammar

red scarf girlRed Scarf Girl is a memoir of a young girl growing up under Mao’s Cultural Revolution in China. There are some difficult parts and some profanity, so I’d recommend reading it aloud so you can skip over what you need to, or stop to discuss it with your kids. We had good discussions on how you can know if your government is just or tyrannical, when and why it might be advisable to resist tyranny, and why people don’t speak out or flee when they are persecuted or see others persecuted. Because we study history chronologically, we could also contrast the book with other similar cultural moments. If you’re studying this time period, I think Red Scarf Girl is a good choice, but it might not be one I’d pick up just for fun bedtime reading. If you do pick it up, be aware that you’ll probably want to talk over the themes and issues with your kids–that can be really fruitful, even with younger elementary kids!

breadwinnerSet in Afghanistan just as the Taliban took over, The Breadwinner follows an eleven-year-old girl who must resort to a disguise when her family is devastated by loss. While the subject matter is difficult–Parvana’s father is dragged off to prison, her mother struggles with debilitating depression, the family is in constant danger of starvation or worse–the tone stays hopeful and the setting emphasizes the resilience and humanity of the Afghan people.

The Breadwinner is the first book in a series, but Hannah read the second one and from talking to her I think it might be thematically too much for a ten-year-old, so we skipped the other books.  Again, if you use this as a read-aloud you’ll have more insight into whether your kids are ready for it or if it might be too much.

Book-Cover-the-phantom-tollbooth-1342828-311-475And now for some lighter fare! The Phantom Tollbooth is a funny story built around the humor of language. If your kids are familiar with homophones and can appreciate the hilarity of misused turns of phrase, this book will be a hit.  We used it as a read-aloud, but at times I thought it might have been better as a read-alone, because I had to stop and make a note of it when the jokes were based on spelling. Then again, I also reformatted some words as I read (no real reason to interchange the terms “demon” and “monster” in my mind, so we went with monster, etc).

Still, The Phantom Tollbooth was a fun and silly book that we all liked very much. It would be a good one to put on your summer reading list if you haven’t read it already!

Are you starting your summer reading lists yet? If so, what are you planning to read with or to your kids this summer?

 

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Hannah Reads: Marie Antoinette

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From Hannah, our resident ten-year-old:

Personally, I do not keep a diary, but I have always wanted to do that. I’ve tried before, but I couldn’t keep up with it. My days are often the same old routine, so it turns into writing the same thing over and over again. Also, what I do doesn’t seem that interesting to me–can you imagine if I wrote down the step-by-step way I unload the dishwasher? BORING!

However, I do enjoy reading other people’s diaries in books. You can come to understand their feelings, even if they are really a stinker! That happens a lot in books, that someone seems like a stinker, but then you understand their feelings and then you can start to take their side.

For example, lots of people think that Marie Antoinette was mean to her subjects and cared only for pleasure. However, Marie Antoinette: Princess of Versailles gives a whole different look at her character and personality. The book is fiction, but written as if it was Marie Antoinette’s diary. I think the author did that so readers might change their minds about Marie Antoinette.

I, for one, sympathized with Marie Antoinette from early on in the book. She had almost no friends in her life, and her mother was busy being an empress rather than taking the time to get to know her children. So I felt bad for her because that seems like a dreadful life. She was also forced to marry a French guy she didn’t know!  And he was fat! She was very disappointed when she saw him. If she had gotten to know him first, she might have come to like him in spite of his fatness and the fact that he did not even know how to make a snowball, if you can imagine that!  Personally, I would rather marry someone who knows how to make snowballs even if he is fat, because I would like to have snowball fights be a part of my life! Or, if I live where there is no snow, perhaps sock ball fights!

Marie Antoinette: Princess of Versailles is a fascinating book to read, full of interesting facts about French etiquette, not to mention details about fine dresses. If you like historical fiction, I would recommend it.

Hannah’s questions for kids (and adults):

  • Have you ever wanted to be part of a royal family?
  • Do you keep a diary?
  • Would you let other people read your diary?

 

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