Monday, April 14, 2014

PianoMaestro

You know how kids sometimes go through big humps of "I don't wannnnna…" when it comes to practicing an instrument?  We found an iPad app that helped us get through one of those times.  

The app is called PianoMaestro (it just changed its name from PianoMania).  You can either set it on your real piano and play the songs that way, or you can use a little keyboard that can pop up on the screen.  I've only let my kids do it with the real piano.  

The settings we do it on are free, though of course they want you to upgrade and use their premium options.  There are options for piano teachers to assign their students songs that the kids can then play at home, and there's even some kind of Alfred-method lessons you can take on there for a fee.  

My kids beg to do it.  For the most part, I'm happy for them to do it.  I don't think the app is as useful for learning piano as old-fashioned ways (or, at least, the free things we do on it are not), but on the other hand, they are begging to play the piano at times they otherwise wouldn't be. As I mentioned, Michael was at a stage of really digging in his heels about playing the piano, and post-PianoMaestro, he is back to voluntarily playing the piano often (and not just with PianoMaestro, but--even better--with his books!).  

With almost 700 reviews on iTunes, though, PianoMaestro gets 4 1/2 stars, so maybe the paid options are pretty great.  

So my take on PianoMaestro (the free version)--it's all right, but it's pulled my kids back to the piano, which is great!

And it's also made me wonder what other music apps are out there…?  We'll have to see!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Book of the Moment: The Toothpaste Millionaire




If you have a budding entrepreneur on your hands, you should find this book.  The Toothpaste Millionaire is about a kid who, with his friends' help, starts quite a business.  There is math all over the place in this book, plus a little about auctions and taxes and marketing and so on.  Your child would pick up quite a bit of knowledge, I think.

It is a fun book, though I wouldn't say it's a fun book.  It's an easy read, though, so I'd say it's worth a go!    

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Book of the Moment: Carry On, Mr. Bowditch



I didn't think a book about navigation would hold my attention much, but I stayed up until 3 a.m. to finish Carry On, Mr. Bowditch.  You never know, right?

It's a Newbery Award winner from the '50s, and like many Newbery Award winners, it feels like a "school" book that kids might not choose to read on their own.  (On the other hand, Maniac Magee and The Westing Game are two Newbery Award books that I betcha kids do not consider "school" books.)  I expect I may have to assign Carry On, Mr. Bowditch to my kids someday, or maybe we'll read it together aloud.  Regardless, it turned out to be a really interesting book and I think they'll grow to enjoy it.

It's a fictionalized biography of a real man named Nathaniel Bowditch who lived in Salem, Massachusetts in the late 1700s.  He came from a long line of seafaring men, and at first it seemed he didn't fit into his family or Salem because he was short and pretty brainy.  He taught himself very difficult math, physics, and astronomy and the Latin and French that was necessary for him to do so.  He was a pretty impressive guy.  However, he was portrayed as very likeable in the book, so I don't think kids would be put off by him and just consider him a nerd.  Bowditch ended up taking several long sea voyages (which were fun to read about!), where his fantastic math skills came in incredibly handy as he served as a navigator, and he later wrote a large book on navigation that is still on every U.S. Navy vessel today.

I really enjoyed this book.  I will hold off on it for a while, though.  It's funny--it's rated as hitting a fifth grade reading level, while other books such as The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle, and the Narnia books are rated as sixth or seventh grade reading level.  I can't imagine giving my kids Carry On, Mr. Bowditch book before those.  The words and syntax may somehow calculate as more difficult in those, but--yeesh--this book repeatedly talks about sextants and trigonometry and throws around sailing jargon like it's nothing.  And it doesn't have talking animals.  :)  I think this book just feels much older.  This is the reason I'm keeping my ordered chapter book list for myself!  Reading levels don't always tell the whole story.    

Friday, April 4, 2014

The Woeful Tale of the Disappearing Leap Frog Tag

We've had a Leap Frog Tag around here since Michael was two or three.  Here's what I think about them:

  • There is a point when kids are little when Tags are just noise-making toys that you're worried they will accidentally break.
  • Then kids hit a GOLDEN sweet spot where the Tag is truly a really worthwhile toy.  It is reading to them more than you could ever be, and it's telling your child individual words as it's pointed at them.
  • After a while, your child still likes to play with it, but since he or she can now read, it's not really accomplishing much.  It's nice to buy the big U.S. map at this point.
  • Through all of these stages, Tags are lifesavers on road trips.  It seems we're always driving around Texas or beyond its magical borders, so the Tag has been a big help. You can also stick earbuds in it and plop your child in the corner of the dentist's office if they have to wait through your teeth cleaning.  

So even though there's sort of an "arc of usefulness" that means it's sometimes more useful than at other times, I am SOOOO glad we've had a Leap Frog Tag around here.  I truly think they nudged my kids' reading skills along.  And handing that to my kid on a road trip feels much more worthwhile than popping in a DVD.

Imagine my dismay when I noticed that Target was beginning to carry the Disney books that accompany the Leap Frog Tag, but didn't seemed to be dropping the Dr. Seuss and other more worthwhile books...and imagine my dismay when I later realized that pretty much all of the best Leap Frog Tag books (Olivia; Green Eggs and Ham; Click-Clack-Moo, Cows that Type) had been discontinued altogether...and further imagine my dismay when I realized just the other day that the new handheld reader that Leap Frog has introduced is not even compatible with the discontinued Leap Frog books.

Grrrrrr.  

The new Leap Frog Reader really does look better in many ways: it is rechargeable and won't eat through batteries as does our current one; it has some sort of writing capability; and it has more memory.  And it works with many of the old Leap Frog Tag books.

All of the ones that are still in production.  You know, the Disney ones.

I will quickly admit that we have a few Disney-themed Tag books as well, but those are just bonus in my mind; the reason we have the Tag is so they can read The Cat in the Hat or Fancy Nancy over and over and over. 

Since I know it's likely our Tag will die eventually (we're currently on our second), and since I realized our good Tag books will not work with the new reader, I decided I wanted to buy a back-up Tag while they are still to be had.  Apparently the switch from Tag to Reader just happened a few months back, and there are lots and lots of Tags, both new and used, for sale on Ebay, as well as discontinued Tag books.

So I did the ridiculous thing of buying a replacement for something we haven't broken yet.  Better now than a year from now when Tags cost a million dollars.

If you've ever thought you might want a Leap Frog Tag, now might be the time to get one.  

If you are less persnickity about which books are available and are instead enticed by the idea of the Reader helping a kid learn to write (which does sound awesome), the new Leap Frog Reader might be a good thing to check into. 

Thanks for reading my diatribe on the woes of the Leap Frog company and my wish to jump into a time machine that took me to the world of 2009-Leap-Frog-Tag-Land. 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Gleanings from the comments section

As I've mentioned, I like to read the comments in the homeschooling section on the Pioneer Woman's website.  Lots and lots and lots of comments.  It takes some time, but I learn about many new resources there, and hopefully I gain some wisdom. too.

For instance, someone suggested doing a unit study on the Iditarod race, and pointed out what looks like a fantastic website...we might have to do some of this sometime!

And someone else posted this beauty:
"My parents had us spend a month planning the family vacation every summer. Starting with identifying the location we then studied the geography, history of the area. Identified National landmarks and museums, places to visit that illustrated the geography and history. The older kids were expected to research activites and make reservations etc. by phone to sharpen verbal communication skills. We’d write short reports before we’d go and then compared our reports about the area with what was actually there when we got there. And then wrote a short follow up. We went to Forestry stations, fish hatcheries, battle grounds and old towns, to name just a few. It was a lot of fun."
A month seems like a long time, but it could make sense if your family destination was a Civil War battlefield, Mount Rushmore, San Francisco, or pretty much anywhere other than the beach or a water park.  I love this idea!   

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Peanut butter reading

Well, if you have a three-year-old daughter who can't resist sticking her finger in the peanut butter jar and licking (and then repeat), she might as well learn to recognize the words "not" and "for."

(The real jars have her name on each of them so that read something like "For Olivia" and "Not for Olivia," but I edited out her real name for this photo.)


I think she'll gain a couple of good sight words out of this, and the rest of us will gain some peace of mind!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Spinning CVC words

We have an old Clifford book called Let's Spell! that comes in handy when teaching kids to read.  Here's a picture of it...




See how you can spin those little letters at the bottom?  They're wonderful.  You can spin the first letter and now your child has to figure out how to read the new word...or you can isolate the middle sound...or the last sound...and your child has a pretty awesome phonics lesson going on.  


Well, I've seen something just like it on Pinterest (though I've lost the link...) where someone used a screw and three metal nuts.  The person wrote different letters on the different edges of the nuts (vowels for the nut you'll use in the middle) and then screwed the three nuts onto the screw.  Then you can spin any of the three nuts to change a letter, and you've just duplicated the idea in the Clifford book.

What a useful tool!  With ease, it can make different CVC (consonant-vowel-consonant) words, which are the bulk of the words kids work on in the very earliest days of learning to read, and it's in a hands-on format.

AND even easier than that, maybe, depending on what you've got lying around your house, is this idea:



This idea and picture come from HERE at a blog called My Second Grade Journal.


As you can see, she used it for place value, for which it's particularly well-suited since you can pull out the cups as she did in the second photo, but the cups would also work very well to make a CVC-word spinner.   

AWESOME!!   The easiest, cheapest, and most flexible idea of them all!



Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Germs Make Me Sick! and other fun books


We have lots of science books around here, and as I've mentioned before, the series I love for the youngest kids are The Cat in the Hat Learning Library series.  They work for four-year-olds and up, I'd say.  

Another series begins to work well once a kid hits about five.  
 

If you see them at Barnes & Noble, don't assume that that's the best the series has to offer.  They carry a few of the titles, but a lot of my favorites are absent from their shelves.  Comb through through "Let's Read and Find Out" on Amazon, and you'll find many more.  Our local library carries most of these books, though at $5-6 a pop, I've thought it was worth it to gradually buy many of them throughout the last couple of years.  My kids read them so many more times that way and, I think, begin to internalize the material.  Also, they're paperbacks, so they don't take up much shelf room.  (Am I the only one who thinks of books in terms of inches when I receive one?  Always needing more shelf space around here....) 

The books explain things well.  I can't tell you how many times I've carried one of them to CC to quickly explain a concept in the science project (and a demonstration in the moon book saved the day a few months back).  

My kids like them, we like them--winner.














































Tuesday, March 11, 2014

K'Nex Education

Jake received this awesome thing for Christmas:



And it's pretty cool, don't you think?  Super cool.  He sure thinks so.

Also, CC's curriculum calls for bridge building during two weeks during Cycle 2.  Our community had some spare money in the science budget, so we bought six K'Nex bridge building sets and did that for the first week.  The older kids went on to build bridges out of straws and other supplies the second week, but the Abecedarians used the K'Nex sets both weeks.  They were a hit and I think they helped the kids get a good feel for different types of bridges (beam, truss, etc.).  




K'Nex Education has been a winner around here so far.  And check out some of the things we could tackle in the future with K'Nex sets (!):


  • DNA
  • Wind & water power
  • Force & Newton's laws
  • Rollercoaster physics







Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Update on St. Basil's Cathedral snow globes

To begin our second semester of our Story of the World/Classical Conversations co-op, I taught a lesson about St. Basil's Cathedral.  I posted my plans for it long ago, but now that we've actually completed that lesson, I had a couple of updates.  HERE is the link.



We're getting excited about our museum that is coming up in just two or three months!