Posts Tagged ‘ideas’

  • Joshua’s Recent Writing

    Date: 2013.03.20 | Category: Life, as it happens, Opportunity Schooling | Response: 1

    I hear a lot of questions about inexpensive curriculum opportunities for kids. So I’m just going to start posting a few of the things that I’ve been doing with Anna and Joshua in the last month. Hopefully it sparks some ideas for people.

    If you have other ideas along similar notes, please feel free to add them in the comments! There is no reason homeschooling should be atrociously expensive.



    Lots of letters. Every time before we start, we review the basic parts of a letter (greeting, body, and closing) and talk to organize Joshua’s thoughts so he knows what he wants to dictate/write. Anna is included and usually has something of her own to dictate after. We have been sending e-mails and letters to family, but other places too. Joshua wanted some seeds, so we found a place offering some seed samples and he dictated his own seed request. When a company stopped using vegetable coloring in his favorite rainbow noodles and started making them all yellow instead, he asked to dictate a letter to them about it.

    One day in a storm of brilliance, I introduced Joshua to the word-correct function in MS Word – now he is typing short letters to family and friends for himself and selecting the (usually correct) spelling himself. This is getting typing in, too. The notes are shorter and take him longer, but there is a higher pride-value.

    We also created birthday cards for several family members, including writing the words from verbal spelling prompts and copying (we have a lot of birthdays this month). We had four birthdays, so Anna made two, Joshua made two, and they were encouraged to sign all of them.

    Mad Libs Jr. pages – Like Mad Libs, but includes lists of words at the top that can be used to fill categories (nouns, verbs, adjectives, and misc.). Every time he does a page, we review what each of these parts of speech are and figure out what kinds of words make up the “misc.” category for that page. Anna likes to listen in and participate and is starting to get these down, too. Joshua is now starting to substitute words of his own when he isn’t satisfied with what is on the list, which is strengthening his parts of speech.

    Sometime soon, I’m tempted to try Joshua on children’s crossword puzzles, if I can find a good source

    Anna is doing periodic lessons where we sit down and practice letters together, ten ‘O’s or five or so ‘Anna’s at a time. However long she can keep her attention on the activity. Though lately, she wants to do a lot of practicing number-writing, since Joshua has been practicing daily to improve speed and form.

    Anna also loves the “Little Writer” app. It allows her to practice drawing letters, numbers, and shapes on the phone. I customized the sound bytes for the letters she she hears the letter sounds and an associated word each time she practices the letter. Since then, Joshua figured out how to customize the bytes and likes to go back periodically put in his own word examples. Anna loves that, and it is good review for him as well.

    We write about our history and science lessons. Joshua has a “Book of Observations” (a simple, hardcover composition book). We write science questions there and answer them on science days, record experiments and results, and (lately) as we cover history items (Pilgrims, MLK, George Washington), he draws a picture of what we learned and writes important words on it. Then he helps dictate a summary for the back, so he can go back and read about what he learned before (which he does like to do). Recently, I’ve started a “Book of Observations” with Anna as well, though it is mostly pictures and name-writing practice right now.

  • An On-line Education, Now For Preschoolers

    Date: 2012.02.03 | Category: Activities | Response: 2

    My Mom and I were talking the other day and she asked on behalf of a friend, what some child friendly sites and games are for very young children. So tonight the time to sit down and actually summarize what little I’ve come across…

    My favorite online educational site for small children so far is As I understand it, Starfall was designed as an online Headstart-style program aimed at teaching phonetics and basic reading skills to young children. Joshua has used it since about 18 months old and still loves it. The site ranges from the basic alphabet up to advanced letter sound combinations with videos, songs, and games reinforcing concepts. Additional concepts such as counting, sign language, shapes, and more are sprinkled throughout. Think of it as a very cartoonish, interactive Sesame Street. One of Joshua’s favorite areas is the classical Jukebox where he loves to endlessly play clips from Beethoven. Starfall has added a secondary section in the last year that branches out beyond phonetics, but except for a few samples (a math machine, bowling to add up to ten, the color red, etc.) that area requires a paid membership to access. To me, the best part about Starfall is that there are no ads or third party links anywhere that they can click out of the site through. Also, because the site is self-contained, I can lock the single site ( as one permitted zone in their user via Microsoft’s Family Safety software, so they cannot even randomly type their way into internet trouble. This site was a great precurser to our reading lessons in Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons (the best reading program out there for parents teaching their children).  By the time we started reading lessons, Joshua already recognized and differentiated between all of the letters and knew many sounds, which allowed him to better focus on decoding the word (recognizing all the sounds as a whole unit with meaning) and comprehension.

    Another site I enjoy is The focus is not directly educational and it targets children who are a little bit older (Joshua at an advanced computer savvy for age 4, is probably just about ready for it), but it shares the same safety component I love about Starfall: it is a single contained site that kids can’t just click out via ads. (Edit: logged Joshua into the site today for the first time in a while. They have started adding some ads that will occasionally take you to third party sites.) While not deliberately educational, most of the games are logically challenging and most of the activities are positively stimulating for young children. You gain access to the site by buying a stuffed animal Webkinz. It comes with a code that grants one year of access (codes will not grant more than a total of one year, so don’t enter more than one at a time). The child then ‘adopts’ an electronic version of the animal and cares for it. They earn funds playing games, most of which are based off of logic puzzle classics such as Pipes, Waterfall, Minesweeper, and more. They can then spend the money to buy food for their pets, decorate the pet’s  house, etc, and even purchase more games to put in their house (ex. checkers, battleships). A friend can be specifically invited to play with your child, but only if you both know each other’s username. (Edit: adding new friends has been made easier, which does post more of a risk.) There is a chat zone, but the “chat” consists of pre-filled options, rather than permitting open typing. There is a lot of room for a child to learn computer skills, practice logical thinking, learn about spending, very basic nutrition, and visual organization. Especially if a parent is willing to watch what they are doing every so often and talk about it. and (an extension of the Brainpop site) have also come to me highly recommended by several people, but I have not yet taken the time to check them out, in part because they are a paid site that was until very recently out of our budget. There is a free trial if you are interested; a paid membership is about $90 for a one year subscription.

    If you have updated to Windows Vista or 7, there is another great game for kids that came on your computer. Purble Place has games some great games that, by adjusting the settings, can be either played by the youngest of children or be made challenging even for adults. Memory, a dress-up version of Mastermind, and a copy sequencing game (cake building) are all included inside. Good for basic logic skills and mousing skills.

    Finally, I stumbled across a new online resource today for printed worksheets. There are dozens of sites offering these, but they vary in quality and many are virus riddled, ad-plastered, money-making operations with low quality worksheets posted to bait you on to the site. is something very different. It is a high quality site built by a group of family-oriented entrepreneurs. Because it is already backed by venture funding, it lacks the typical hyper-present ad garbage of other sites that attempt to do what this does. The site is for parents who wish to be involved in their children’s learning process and ranges from pre- pre-school to college prep. There are videos, articles, quality worksheets, and more. These range from pre-writing skills and activity building videos for working with younger children, to science fair projects and geometry worksheets for older kids (including college prep helps), to school reviews and help topics for parents such as bullying or whether homeschooling might be a good fit for your child. Joining the site is free and looks to remain that way for the near future. They appear to make their money via affiliate links and selling premium workbooks for people who do not care to hand select and print all materials onto loose sheets at home.

    There you have it. Off the top of my head, these are some great resources for those opportunity-schooling homeschoolers among you.

    Do you have a site you love that I don’t know about yet? Please share YOUR recommendations!

  • Opportunity Schooling

    Date: 2011.08.17 | Category: Activities | Response: 0

    Homeschooling is becoming a big deal all over the country. There is a huge spectrum of homeschooling methods from “No Schooling” to strict classroom regimes in homeschool Co-Ops. Different strokes for different folks, parents and children, including public school. The important thing is providing the best quality education possible. And educators agree: parents need to participate in teaching their children, whether public schooled or not.

    Joshua and Anna are a bit young for sit down schooling, but hugely curious and I enjoy feeding that. So we do a sort of home preschool that would probably best be labeled ‘opportunity schooling’. Some of it is deliberate, home-crafted learning opportunities: we cook something together at least once a week, reading at least every night, one non-fiction film for the kids every trip to the library. Others are available regularly in the community: story times at the local library and book stores, build-it workshops at hardware stores. And then, the plethora of opportunities that simply pop up: safety workbooks and drill sheets at an information table somewhere, recycling literature, contests, and even just the kids asking “How does that work?” It’s amazing what pops up when you are watching for it. These opportunities seem to be most plentiful in the Summer, but they exist everywhere all year round.

    I’ve decided to share some of these opportunities that are not location specific. They may be on-line, specific to national stores, or home-grown.

    What prompted it this time:

    Barnes and Nobel is sponsoring a children’s writing contest for ages 6-14 (mine are a bit too young for this, obviously), divided into three age groups. There are prizes, but it ends the 21st of August (2011). Check it out here.

    If you come across a good education opportunity, ping me in a comment and I will be sure to post it. The more of us that discover these and share, the more we can enjoy teaching and playing with our children instead of searching for ideas.

  • Piece of Advice #103 Go Diego as YOUR Helper

    Date: 2011.08.05 | Category: Advice: the good, the bad, and whatever | Response: 0

    A book once suggested:

    “Work from the child’s viewpoint.”

    So (in the middle of detouring toward a useless argument about pretend VS real), it clicked. I can use this with Joshua’s “my pretend trumps reality” times. So I tried it. Joshua, Peter Rabbit might have hit Anna, but you are responsible to help your pretend friends obey the rules. “Oh.” Off to timeout he went and Peter Rabbit went home. No argument for once; reality might be arguable, but rules are a fact.

    This has a LOT of benefits! Instead of fruitlessly arguing about Peter’s animatable properties while letting the real issue lose heat, I was able to address the real issue directly: Anna got hit and Joshua was responsible. It ALSO allowed him to feel I heard and that I value his perspective. It also establishes an important precedent for rules when playing with REAL friends.

    It also adds a whole new set of options to my Mommy arsenal: I can redirect his pretend toward positive actions via his pretend friends. “Hey Joshua, can you help Go Diego wash his face? Show him how so he can do it.” “Oh, no! All these poor baby animals need rescuing. Let’s put them in the stuffed animal box to be safe.”

    Not only is this working, it is making me ten times cooler a mom in his eyes. And I am enjoying it at least as much as he is!

  • More Tips for Picky Eaters

    Date: 2011.08.02 | Category: Advice: the good, the bad, and whatever | Response: 0

    This draft has floated in my post pile for quite sometime. Like most of this blog, it is a reminder to me of the good things and positive approaches for me to focus on. Hopefully the reminder gets our house through this latest pickies phase from Joshua!


    Presentation matters. A variety of color and texture has been shown to increase appetites (with the exception of the colors blue and black). The  color can come from edibles or non-edibles (such as the plate itself). And kids are just more likely to eat a fruit ‘flower’ than a heap of something. This goods in pretty much the same category as ‘give it a cool name’ (or at least avoiding telling them directly it is something they claim to hate).

    Aromas are a big deal. Remember how it feels to walk through the mall during lunch and smell the food court? So fill your home with it. Let things simmer or at least light a candle. If the kids help prep, let them smell individual ingredients. Appealing smells get their tummies going, guaranteeing an appetite.

    End the clean plate tradition (suggested in last study as well) and offer small servings. Studies have shown this is less overwhelming, less likely to lead to fights, and that children required to clean their plates are more likely to become obese later in life (they are taught early to ignore their tummy’s ‘full’ signal). You or they can always finish it later. Even soggy cereal can be turned into a milkshake.

    Strike a deal. At least one taste of each (however tiny the taste may be). Also, try bartering: one bite of what they want in return for a bite or two of you want them to eat (though this approach should be limited or you will create a new problem).

    Set an example. If you seriously can’t cough it down, then turn a careful disappearing act with your portion. A friend recently shared a loving memory of his mother who recently passed: He visited her and she, delighted to see him, offered to cook whatever home favorite he most missed. “Liver and onions!” Something she had served religiously throughout their youth. She finally confessed to her 60-something son that she hated liver and onions, but had thought they should eat it. Her disappearing act apparently worked!

    Most of all, don’t lose track of the most important things!

    The second most important thing to remember is that you are training the tastebuds to accept these foods. After several introductions, the odds are that they will accept it. Joshua is finally getting over his tomato aversion, in part due to anticipation of picking this summer’s batch (soon, soon!), but more so due to frequent reintroduction in various forms. Every failed introduction is just one step closer to final acceptance. So don’t give up.

    The MOST important thing to remember is this: Keep it positive. In a worst case scenario, you can replace the nutrion gap with a vitamin gummy supplement until they get over the pickies. But there is no replacement for a positive relationship with you. Your love and acceptance is the most essential need. It’s even more important than broccoli.

  • Piece of Advice #105: Canned VS Frozen Veggies

    Date: 2011.06.29 | Category: Advice: the good, the bad, and whatever, Quick Meals | Response: 0

    I was told:

    “Canned veggies are better than frozen.”

    So I thought about it. And I beg to differ.

    The biggest thing canned veggies have over frozen is storability. Yes, frozen veggies must be kept in the freezer or perish. And they have a shelf life of a few months rather than years (though, this isn’t a problem if you are eating your veggies, right?). But otherwise, they trump canned without a doubt. My reasons why fall into two main categories.

    Nutrition: Frozen veggies don’t have the added salt that canned generally does or the additives canneries sometimes include but don’t always list (due to legal loopholes). Flash frozen veggies are only cooked once (when you cook them) so they don’t lose as much nutritional value as canned, which undergo extreme cooking during the canning process, then get reheated for dinner. Also, when you drain those canned veggies, you are draining off nutrients. Frozen veggies can be directly added to foods without draining. They also do a better job of taking up flavors in the pan, as opposed to the other that is already saturated to mushiness with canning brine. Studies have also shown that children exposed to less-processed foods (read: not canned) are more likely to like unprocessed foods (such as raw fruits and veggies).

    Versatility: Frozen veggies can be used in a pinch for ice packs. They can be dumped into hot food to cool it quickly (instead of adding watery ice cubes to your child’s plate) or thawed as a snackable item for impressionable youngsters (Popcorn peas, anyone? It’s a favorite at our house.) And for the very youngest, most impressionable, teething tykes, they are awesome relief and a taste experience when poured into a teething/feeder net. It beats plastic.

    With even pricing for net weight after draining (or better, if you don’t shop sales), better taste, greater nutritional value, and higher versatility, why go for canned veggies if you can get them frozen?

  • Piece of Advice #102: Parking

    Date: 2011.06.23 | Category: Advice: the good, the bad, and whatever | Response: 0

    I was told:

    “When parking at the store, don’t worry about finding a spot close to the front. Find a spot close to a cart return.”

    So I tried it.

    Carts = rolling playpens = greater parking lot safety than juggling toddlers by hand. Also, when the kids are buckled back into the car at the end of the trip, I can return the cart without having to choose between  abandoning them briefly or juggling them in the parking lot. Besides, I can definitely use the exercise the extra walking provides.

    Proximity to the cart return is now my biggest consideration when parking. Even when it’s raining.

  • Daddy’s Lunch

    Date: 2011.06.09 | Category: Advice: the good, the bad, and whatever, General | Response: 0

    Johsua is so very, very thoughtful. He is the kind of little guy who, when he is hungry, will go around and see if anyone else is hungry, too. Then invite them to eat first. Or share his snack. It does go beyond food, but usually is centered around it. (I guess there is just something easier about sharing a cracker than a toy..) And he sees me pack a snack for Daddy (or I tell him I need to go do so) nearly every day.

    But it was still delightful this afternoon when, pausing in the midst of getting himself a snack (slice of bread), he said, “oh! Daddy needs a lunch!” He ran to the drawer, grabbed a sandwich bag, slipped his slice of bread in, and stuck it in the fridge. “There,” he declared. “I packed Daddy a lunch.”

    Try it: Leaving home for work can be hard sometimes. So we send a little love along in Daddy’s lunch sometimes. A note with a couple candies, or the kids marker-doodle on a sandwich bag before I fill it. So Daddy will remember we love him and appreciate what he does, wherever he happens to be.