Heading Math-Induced Whining off at the Pass

NOTE:  I’ve moved the entire High on Homeschool blog over to Blogger and have redesigned it.  C’mon over and visit!  Http://www.highonhomeschool.blogspot.com.

Heading things off at the pass – a masterful concept!  Thinking ahead.  Conceiving different ideas about how something can be accomplished.  We’ve had many math-induced whiney moments.  Of the ugliest kind.  Max got stressed about learning the multiplication tables, I got frustrated because he wasn’t getting his homework done and it was approaching 9 p.m. – big-time clash on its way down the pike – look out.  The mere thought of a math worksheet causes Max to shudder and spiral into dangerous emotive territory, a landscape I’d rather not walk on most days.  Math worksheets be damned!  At least for now.  THERE IS ANOTHER WAY.  You, too, can have a new math student by, say, Friday!  If not this Friday, then next.

My approach to teaching math has done an about face.  What we were doing before wasn’t working.  What we are doing now is.  Max asks for more math – a subject he hated not so long ago.  So what are we doing differently?  I’ve bagged the workbooks and worksheets for the time being and have turned to more clever resources (always respect clever.)  We are delving into LIVING MATH, a more vibrant and imaginative presentation.  It’s much more palatable.  If only I had been taught math this way!  All is not lost – because I get to learn right beside my ten-year-old son.  I never would have believed that joy had a presence on Planet Math until now.  Maybe I feel joyful because he’s not whining.

Below please immerse yourself in some fabulous mathematical resources.  They are varied and wonderful.  I’ll also direct you to a terrific website wherein I believe the author has nailed the concept of healthy, happy math.  Who knew it was not only possible, but probable?



Math through the eyes of a cat.  Concepts.  Big concepts.  We are in the middle of this now and Max asks for more Penrose.  It’s planting seeds and demonstrating that math is so much more than addition and multiplication problems.  Math is logic, math is pattern.  Patterns in nature.  Each small section covers a concept from fractals to Fibonacci numbers to nanonumbers and much more.  I want a cat like Penrose!  We have one, actually – her name is Delilah and she, too, likes to lay on papers, particularly the ones you are wanting to work on.   Click on the book to read more.


Penrose lives on – thank you, Ms. Pappas!

I hate math

By Marilyn Burns and colleagues from The Brown Paper School Series.  These books get written up a lot, probably because they have such a positive impact on children when it comes to learning math.  Some have even claimed that these books led them down a career path in mathematics because they discovered that math wasn’t so icky afterall.  After we finish up with Penrose, this will be the next text we tackle.  The Brown Paper School Series is definitely worth investigating.  I’ll try to sprinkle them in as they fit under different subjects.

smarty pants math

These can be read in any order.  The point is to just read them and have fun with them!

book of think

The Book of Think:  Or How to Solve a Problem Twice Your Size again by Marilyn Burns

making cents Making Cents:  Every Kids Guide to Money by Elizabeth Wilkinson.  Also a part of the Brown Paper School Series.


We have toyed with this book just a little but to be honest, Max is not fooled.  Lurking beneath the humorous cartoon rhetoric lies evil word problems, multiplication and other basic math facts.  Sadly, he must learn to cope with these!  And he will…..I’ll find a way.

super cool math board games

Best for grades 3-6.  Alternate ways to help solidify multiplication, division, fractions, probability, estimation, mental math, and more!

mythmatical battles cardHere’s an excerpt taken from the Mythmatical Battles website:  “Mythmatical Battles is a dueling card game for two players or two teams. It blends mythology and multiplication to create an innovative game which lets kids drill multiplication while engaging in epic mythological battles.  For the first time education is infused into the wildly popular dueling/collecting card phenomenon.”  In a nutshell, you’re looking at Pokemon-esque cards that serve a greater purpose.  If you child thrills to this type of game play, these might be a good fit.

countdownFun game for 2 players; addition/subtraction, multiplication/division application.  The only thing I don’t like about this game is that when the die are thrown into the center of the box, it’s LOUD.  I would prefer a more cushioned landing!  Along these same lines, Monopoly, Yahtzee, Cribbage, Hearts, Solitaire and yes, even Poker can help to teach math.  Max doesn’t like Yahtzee all that much, but likes Monopoly very much.

Here’s a website I am currently investigating – there is much to peruse!  Maybe you’re aware of this company – Educational Learning Games.  Here is a link to math games for teaching multiplication facts, but there is oh-so-much more available: http://www.educationallearninggames.com/multiplication-math-games.asp

Vancleave math

Janice VanCleave is prolific in the math/science/physics realm in producing inviting workbooks for kids.   They are a tiny bit more structured (which isn’t a bad thing), it looks like, but still infused with fun.  For grades 3-8.  Each new skill learned (fractions, measurement, geometry, etc.) is backed up by viable activities like ‘how to make five billion dollars in thirty days’, ‘the importance of graphing Girl Scout cookie sales’, and ‘making a glob-like solution similar to silly putty’.

cheetah math

This series of books is for a slightly younger set, ages 4-8.  This particular book would fit nicely into a unit study centered on the big cats of the world.  Baby Cheetah’s illustrate the finer points of basic division – and help to teach about themselves as an endangered species as well.  There are other’s in this series that center around pandas (subtraction), chimps (time), tigers (graphing) and polar bears (fractions).  I’m intrigued by the Polar Bear and our reactions to them in zoos.  Yes, they are cute, adorable, humorous and roly poly.  But don’t think for a second that he wouldn’t hesitate to stalk you for 500 miles across the polar ice cap and then eat you.

Black jack

I’m not advocating that you teach gambling strategy!  I am most certainly not a fan of casinos or of the Las Vegas strip in general.  However, Black Jack can be a unique way to work on addition facts – right at the kitchen table.  All three of us have gathered at said table on a few occasions for some rounds of Black Jack.  We didn’t place any bets (not even M&Ms) – just had a good time together with the cards.

about time

I LOVED this book.  By author Marilyn Burns and friends (see her other books up a few notches on this page).  This is a fascinating read about time and the history of time.  Not what you would think as it is packed with thought-provoking and unusual information.  You’ll learn about telling time in ancient cultures (the water clocks – we tried to make one), how clock-making evolved with technology, calendars and how they came to be, daylight savings time, time zones, biological rhythms in people and in nature, jet lag, how to conceptualize time and how it sometimes fools us……….I’m a fan of Marilyn Burns now and the other teachers that have worked with her to create these marvelous books.  Aren’t we lucky to get to read them!  This book is available on Amazon for as low as $0.14 used, or check your library.  I need a copy for our shelves, so will be purchasing one.  It was a sad day when it had to go back to the library.  Do you ever get attached to your books?  Is that normal?  Probably not.

Family math

Informal math, family-centered.  It contains 100 or so activities and games that are fun to figure with.  We’ve used it a little here and there.  Max seems to be at a better age now to be able to grasp the concepts, so I need to pull it out again and mess around with it.  There is a Family Math II book as well as one titled Family Math:  The Middle School Years.

joy of math

Another little gem by Theoni Pappas, mom to Penrose, the cat.  See the other two books I cited at the top of this post.  Penrose, I don’t believe, makes an appearance in this book.  It is designed to offer vignettes of math in short 3-4 page sections which illustrate real world math.  It gives enough a glimpse to not overwhelm, but to intrigue and encourage further exploration if one wishes.  Speaking of wishes, it’s on my wish list.


This website is worth a look-see if you are teaching about real-world applications of money.  We did a short stint on this site just to try it out.  Here’s the lingo right off of the site:

“Welcome to MinyanLand, home of Hoofy the Bull and Boo the Bear. In our cool little town you get to play games and make friends, while you learn about earning, saving, spending and giving.

Remember, MinyanLand is free for everyone to use!

Everyone starts out in MinyanLand with $50,000 in MinyanMoney and a Condo worth $50,000. You can visit the ATM in the Bank of MinyanLand to invest your money. Come back daily to see if your balance has gone up or down — just like in the real world! You can also earn more MinyanMoney by doing real-life chores your parents assign you called Virtual Allowance.”


I’m not sure why this book is so expensive – around $35????  We don’t have it and probably won’t get it unless I can find it at the library or much much cheaper.  It looks like a child (probably an older one, more toward the middle school years) could get into this story and help solve the codes and mystery using math.

Sir cumference

Math adventures!  Sir Cumference-style.  There are several titles in this series, some more appropriate for 4-8 year olds, some targeted to the 9-12 year age set.


Another math adventure set in Ancient Greek times as Pythagoras figures out his theorem.  It’s fun fiction.


Eratosthenes and his genius mind came up with a way to estimate the circumference of the earth.  Set in 200 B.C.


We are in the middle of this one now.  Archimedes!  What a thinker he was!  We are enjoying learning how he put off eating, bathing, sleeping – just to think about problems and how to solve them.  And to realize that he scratched most of his figuring into the sand on the ground rather than use up precious papyrus scrolls, especially when he was a young student.  This is an interesting book about a prolific thinker who paved the way for future scientists, physicists and mathematicians, hence I included it in this post about math resources.


KenKen puzzles are similar to Sudoku puzzles, but you have to use basic math facts to solve them.  Logic is a substantial component of mathematics, so this type of puzzle fits the bill in helping to make math fun.  Notice that it says ‘Killer’ at the bottom of this particular compilation; probably not the best one to start out with.  Will Shortz has a series of Ken Ken puzzles for children that are easier – they are titled I Can KenKen.  Volume I uses additon only, Volume 2 uses multiplication, Volume 3 works with addition and subtraction.  Bet you can find these puzzles online, too, to print out.

If you are interested in exploring the concept of ‘Living Math’, please peruse www.Livingmath.net, a truly fantastic site wrought by homeschooling mom, Julie Brennan.  I still have not gotten through everything, but have been enamored with what she has to say and offer.  Bookmark it.  Read it.  Live it!


Why I Homeschool

First of all, I need you to know that I am not a zealot about homeschooling.  I will do my best to retain reason and be measured in my opinion and leave it at that.  My intent is not to thrust homeschooling upon you as the superior way to educate your child/ren.  People can get uppity about this subject and take on an air of superiority.  That’s not what this is about for me.  As each of us vary as individuals, so do our opinions about how things should work, and so do our life situations.  One level up from the individual is the family, and that’s the microcosm I operate within – my family.  Homeschooling is a brilliant fit for my child, for my family, for me, for this time in our lives.  Instinct tells me we are following the right course of action and there have been many affirmations of this feeling since we started.

I have been reintroduced to my child in the most wonderful of ways!  I am watching him grow and learn, make connections and express himself.  He has a safe environment in which to do so.  We are not rushed.  We do not have deadlines, projects due at such and such a time.  We are not driving hither and yon to a school building twice a day.  We change out of our jams when we are darn good and ready.   I am fairly well-rested, so is Max.  We have time to explore things to whatever depth we wish to go on any given day.  Some days we dig deep.  Others we scratch and scritch,  hunt and peck, and then call it a day.  And some days that are planned out on paper have a way of twisting and turning onto journies of their own; one subject leads us down a different path and we decide to stay with it instead of dropping it because math worksheets need to be done (math worksheets are Max’s arch nemesis – don’t even mention them in his presence.)  We are learning the benefits of flexibility.  We are also learning more about our relationship as mom and child.  We have time to reflect, time to piece interesting pieces together.  Max has time to think.  He also has time to imagine and move wherever his mind takes him.  Fort building is an activity he embarks upon whenever I read aloud to him.  Or he draws.  Eighty-five percent of the time he is listening intently, even stopping me to ask questions or offer a comment about what the character should or shouldn’t do.  I don’t expect him to hear every word or be able to analyze the story like I am able to.  I know that he hears enough and that he is learning.  He told me today that reading is like a movie, only better because it is more descriptive and you can imagine what the writer is trying to tell you.

Prior to our homeschooling days I was involved in the public school’s governing body and various other activities and therefore attended meetings and had other responsibilities, most of this action taking place in the evenings.  I was pulled in differing directions and when that happens, I get chaotic.  Plunk a chaotic mom into the milieu with homework, bedtime routines, projects that were due, not to mention those dreadful math worksheets – and you get a stressed family.  Add in food, laundry, dishes, animal care and more dishes and laundry.  I didn’t like it – no, I despised living like that.   In the deepest part of me I wished for a calmer way of living together.   Now Max’s dad comes home to a house that is more welcoming, more full of life, more calm.  We actually lay eyes upon one another!  There are very few instances when we are passing in the night, leaving notes for one another anymore.  Homeschooling has done wonders for our relationships with one another.  Plus we enjoy telling Max’s dad about all the cool stuff we are learning!

My philosophy for homeschooling hinges around what I am witnessing in my home.  It is good.  I see benefits everywhere I turn.

People have questioned my ability to teach my own child – not directly, but I think I hear the message in their questions.   My ability to teach my own child hinges on willingness, trial and error (which, by the way, is probably the single most common element repeated throughout history), access to great resources, research, creativity and the aforementioned flexibility.  Plus some other traits which I’m sure I’ll run into.  Maybe they’ve never taken the time to think about what it means to be educated – what does ‘educated‘ mean?  Really.  Ponder on that one for awhile.  Standards for education are merely a guideline that one can choose to follow or not.  They are helpful and I have looked at them, but they are not the be-all, end-all for me.  I am also not of the ilk believing that fourth graders must learn such and such, and only in seventh grade are you ready to handle a particular concept.  On the contrary – fractals, infinity and Fibonacci numbers can be introduced without trepidation (quite cleverly, thank you, Penrose the Mathematical Cat) to a 10-year-old.  You can take broad colorful strokes and fill in as you go, you can lay solid and intriguing foundations, you can reach far and wide into knowledge without those pre-determined boundaries looming over you.  I like that as well.  Perhaps I am a rebel!  You can teach your child to love learning for the sake of learning, which is a gift that will benefit him or her through an entire lifetime.

I also like that I can pay critical attention to Max’s interests and use them as jumping off points into new worlds of learning.  I like when his eyes spark on something and he jerks his head up in pleasurable surprise when he makes a connection, or when he relates to the information.  I like that very much.  Or when we go off on some crazy, hair-brained tangent that just popped up and seemed too enticing to ignore.  That’s what tells me we are doing the right thing by him.  I like seeing him so relaxed, engaged – HAPPY.  He is content.  He has time to be a child.  He is not under a great deal of pressure.  I would wager that he is even healthier – just because the level of stress has been reduced in his life.

I also think another theme running subterfuge amongst those questions might have something to do with the ‘asker’ feeling subtly threatened, like I am insinuating that they are educating their children, or did educate their children (now grown) in an incorrect manner.  Like I am shaking the very foundation of their belief system.  Not so.  I don’t gush on and on about how great this is, well maybe I do to close friends and some relatives, but they hopefully know me by now and know that I’m not operating with motives.  I’m doing what I think is right for us.  Anyway, it’s been interesting experiencing the universality of questions and queries from others, especially strangers when they see us out and about, perhaps on a field trip and assume that Max is ‘sick’ from a day of school.  My simple statement of ‘he is homeschooled’ can bring out a wealth of reaction.  I like to study on those reactions and piece them together into what really is said between the lines.  Many homeschooling families field those same types of questions and we are no different.

Homeschooling will continue to evolve in our household, as will my philosophy about it.  It is our chosen path for the time being and I sense a distinct balance that apparently our family didn’t have before we embarked upon this journey.  Guess I could keep adding just one more reason why we homeschool, plus one more, plus another………to infinity!

Unit Study on Prehistoric Man: Evolution-Based

*NOTE:  I’m still getting quite a few views over here on WordPress, but want to let you know that I’ve moved the entire High on Homeschool blog over to Blogger.  Here’s the link:  http://www.highonhomeschool.blogspot.com.  All kinds of new material over there, so come on over and visit me there!

This study took three weeks to complete.  History is the cornerstone of our studies, and this time we went WAY back.  Max has a new appreciation for archaeology, artifacts, fossils and even how to date a dinosaur bone.  I have a continued appreciation for the marvels of our planet and the species that have inhabited (and currently) inhabit it.  Depending on your perspective, this study may need some tailoring to fit your beliefs.  Please note that we took a hard core science perspective and went way back to the big bang shabang theory, to the primordial ooze, to jawless fishes and such.

Max would like to concentrate further on dinosaurs, so we may tackle this at another time.  We did not focus on them all that much.  However, he did learn about the classification system of plants and animals (the order of living things) and how scientists name things in our environment.  A little introduction to Latin here, too.

During this unit study we covered literature, science, math, geography, language arts, history in a big bang way, vocabulary and spelling and some art, music and karate.  Max takes karate lessons twice a week and also has begun to mess around on the drums.  The only component I feel we need more of is writing, so I’m trying to come up with clever ways to incorporate that into his week.  He does work on cursive handwriting (I know, people say it’s a dying subject), but I’m convinced that practicing with your hands and fingers in fine motor movement is good for your brain.  We’ll move to typing later on.  So, here goes……


Hunt for the Last Cat by Justin Denzel (sorry, no picture or link) – a coming of age story appropriate for ages 9 and up, set in Florida in 6,000 B.C.  About a young tribal boy who is battling to save his clan from Smilodon, the supposed last remaining Sabertooth Tiger.  He also must convince his clan that his newly won friend, a girl from a clan that has died out due to a disease, is not an evil spirit, that she can be trusted to help them.  It is a good read-aloud story.  Max wrote up a summary of the book when we finished it.


David Antram’s illustrations alone are worth reading this book.  This book is packed with historical information and some pretty zany cave people.


Hannah Bonner’s book addressed the Silurian and Devonian geologic time periods, before the dinosaurs came to be.   This book helps to establish a time line.

stories in stone

by Jo Kittinger.  Full color photographs; text a little dry, but I thought it was interesting; helps to make the subject well-rounded.  Contains easy to read tables of geologic time scales, old geography and the answer to the important question, “what’s the difference between a mammoth and a mastodon?”


by Fiona MacDonald.  Entertaining.  The article telling you how to use the whole mammoth was, well……gross.  Stoneagers were not wasteful people!  We could learn something from them.


by Larry Gonick.  I fancy this book.  Had to have our own copy, so bought it on Amazon used.  There is some adult humor (even stuff I don’t get), but it’s not a big deal to skip those sentences or to explain the meaning in a different way.  Humorous and well-researched.

painters of the caves

by Patricia Lauber.  Depicting the discovery of the Chaveut cave in southeastern France, and what a boon it has been to anthropologists and archaeologists as they try to piece together stone age culture and customs.  Very nice pictures to accompany the text.  It would be inspiring to do an art project based off of these paintings.


by Robert Mash.  Charming!  A pet owners guide to keeping all types of dinosaurs, which ones suit newbie owners the best, which ones to leave to the large game parks, which ones to avoid all together.  It was a delightful read and low and behold, we learned some actual facts about dinosaurs and how they may have lived/acted.  I liked the British author’s sense of humor very much.  Wry.  The pictures are fantastic.

eyewitness prehistoric life

Can’t go wrong with the Eyewitness series from DK.  Good to take it in snippets of information.  There is a DVD listed below that accompanies this text nicely.

DK early humans

Thorough resource.


History channel’s From Ape to Man examines the major discoveries that have led us to the understanding we have today, including theories that never gained full acceptance in their time, an elaborate hoax that confused the scientific community for years, and the ultimate understanding of the key elements that separate man from apes.  Max liked it because it depicts the scientists, their egos and their need to be right, when in fact, sometimes they were wrong.  Found this on Netflix, but it is also available in libraries.

walking with cavemen

Discovery Channel’s Walking with Cavemen dvd is GOOD.  You must know that the loin cloths were optional in this movie (i.e., you will see naked people).  You decide if it’s appropriate.  Covers 3.5 million years from Australopithecus to Homo Sapiens Sapiens.

prehistoric life dvd

Goes well with the book of the same title listed above.  Available at library or even at Target.


Echo:  Secrets of the Lost Cavern is a virtual computer game wherein you need to use your wits to survive during the paleolithic period with a young man named Arok as your character.  It’s older, so it’s cheap, especially if you can find it used.

We used one INTERNET SOURCE and that was a well-written text book about prehistoric man that is easy to follow along with.  I created worksheets to accompany our reading so Max could fill in the answers as we went along.  Here’s the link:  http://www.kidspast.com/world-history/0001-prehistoric-humans.php

As far as GEOGRAPHICAL information, in the Stories in Stone book by Jo Kittinger, there is a page depicting the continents throughout the ages and how they used to be all smooshed together into what was called Gondwanaland.  We learned that the continents are still continuing to move at a fingernail’s pace.  Beringia was an important concept, too.  The ice bridge that formed over the Bering Strait during the last ice age allowed man to gradually populate the earth.  Conceptually, I tried to teach numbers of man over time until we get to our present state of some 7 billion people on the face of the earth (yowza.)  Pretty darn amazing if you stop to ponder.  Getting a look at Africa and the digs that unveiled ‘Lucy’, Australopithecus Afarensis in Ethiopia helped with context as to where and when.  Then we traced the supposed nomadic movements of man through the ages.  Yes, I realize that some may consider this all theoretical guesswork.   I’m working off of the evidence to date and of course, could dig much deeper (oh my gosh, ripe with puns).  Coincidentally, the discovery of an older upright primate was recently written up in Science and Time Magazine showcased the discovery in summarized form – the magazine arrived right smack dab in the middle of this unit study.

We wrapped up the study by compiling a poster showing the progression of man over time from Homo habilis to Homo sapiens and the traits that may have differentiated them.


Beringia, resin, friction, leather, marrow, weapons, wound, reindeer, prairie, geology, in/vertebrate, bacteria, nucleus, herbivore, shaman, ochre, communicate, scavenger, incisors, chromosomes, extinction, Siberia, vegetarian, hominids, boomerang, Woolly Mammoth, nomad, erect, artifact, fossil, ivory, Australopithecus, and camouflage.


As I run into more resources that would suit various unit studies, I’ll pop in and place them under the appropriate headings.  So, January 2010 I found this game:

Saw it at a natural history museum and did some research on it – it looks to be a very helpful tool in learning about geography.  Amazon seems to have the best price offered; at the museum it was close to $40.  On Amazon at this writing it’s $23.00.  For ages 7 and up, 2 to 4 players, two variations of the game.  Plus, the company who makes this game, www.IQideas.com also looks like a treasure trove of great things to check out.

And……these books are too cute to resist and I wish we had known about them during this study.  Even though they are written for 4-8 year olds, I think many older kids would enjoy them.  Quick reads.  Littlenose is a little caveboy who embarks upon many adventures and usually gets himself into trouble.  He has a pet Woolly Mammoth whom he calls ‘Two Eyes’.  John Grant is the author of these 13 books.  I was smitten with the covers and needed to know more.  Will check for them at the library!

January 19, 2010 found this book by Nick Arnold – a fun look at evolution:

Wacky, Wild History Resources – Some Geography, too!

Now this is what I’m talking about!  It’s time to laugh, goof around, get silly and learn something in the process!  History with a sense of humor, kid-style.  Grownups will like these, too – how can you not like the way these resources teach?

NOTE: These are not organized by time period or historical subject – does that drive you crazy? Also, not all of these will jive with your personal philosophies, your beliefs, or your inclinations. They are listed purely for their educational and entertainment value, for you to peruse and decide what fits for you and your family.

Click on the books to learn more information (usually from Amazon).

horrible geography

by Anita Ganeri with titles like Odious Oceans, Wild Islands and desperate Deserts.  This title contains geography with the gritty bits left in.  Where in the world can you:  spot sand dunes that bury whole villages?  Discover some deadly desert wildlife?  Follow in the footsteps of daring desert explorers?

horrible histories

Horrible Histories collection.   History with twice the nasty bits left in …in a horrible new edition.  “The Groovy Greeks” is full of fab facts about the hip ‘n’ happenin’ Greeks.  In “Rotten Romans”, readers follow life for folks in Roman times, from nasty Nero to brave Brit Boudicca.  Featuring curious quizzes, rotten recipes, gruesome games and terrible tests …history has never been so horrible.  The Horrible Histories collection has many different titles such as The Awful Egyptians, Rotten Rulers, The Smashing Saxons and the Storming Normans to name a few.  Some are available as boxed sets and some are in audio format.

youwouldn't want

I love these!  We just finished reading You Wouldn’t Want to Be a Mammoth Hunter: Dangerous Beasts You’d Rather Not Encounter. The illustrations are quirky and the captions silly. You’ll learn a lot in each book! There are several titles about Viking explorers, Alexander the Great’s armies, pyramid builders – wish I could get my hands on them all! Check your library for them.

explorers who got lost

by Diane Sansevere-Dreher.  Just the title alone makes me laugh, although for those who got lost it probably wasn’t all that funny.  Fast-paced, exciting, full of facts and adventure, Explorers Who Got Lost provides detailed information on the most influential explorers of the fifteenth century.  The history, sociology and even the superstitions of the time along with dozens of drawings, maps, routes and diagrams of ships and navigational equipment are all included.  You’ll discover the new world as these famous explorers discovered it.  You’ll follow their routes, you’ll experience their hardships.  You’ll learn all about these amazing heroes whose discoveries altered the face of the globe and changed the course of human history.


by Gillian Clements is a fun, informative, and chronological guide to the history-of-world explorers that covers a wide range of figures:  the well-known and the all-but-forgotten, men and women, even a couple of Russian space dogs.  It begins with the ancient explorers such as Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar, treks on through to Magellan and Drake, continues with Lewis and Clark and John C. Frémont, and comes right up to the present-day with Ranulph Fiennes.  Each page puts an explorer in the context of his or her own time with details of other important contemporary events and figures, the new inventions which were the springboards for their adventures, and the areas of the world which were capturing people’s imaginations.  Gillian Clements explains the reasons behind exploration and how technology and exploration have gone hand-in-hand throughout history.  Combining entertaining fact and historical information with amusing, eye-catching illustrations, the book is a delight for readers of any age.  Gillian Clemets also has two other books titled The Picture History of Great Inventors and The Picture History of Great Buildings, in case this one whets your appetite!

newspaper history

Newspaper History series like the Stone Age Sentinel (where the headline reads, “Man Burns Finger in Fire!”) or the Greek Gazette and others are good reads.  We have the Greek News and are enjoying it as part of a unit study on Ancient Greece.  In it there’s an article titled, “Women Talk Back” which is an interview with two Greek women. It’s humorous. There are also ads for clay potties for toddlers, lost and found announcements, articles on how to please the gods, etc.  We also read the Stone Age Sentinel and learned how to use every bit of the mammoth.

backyard history

by the Brown Paper School Series.  The Brown Paper School books are pure genius!!  Love them, love them, love them.  I must gradually collect all of them.  So far we’ve been able to find them at the library, but they are so good, they are worth having your own copies because you can turn to them often and as your kids get older.  Right now we are reading This Book’s About Time by Marilyn Burns.  Since we were reviewing how to tell time for math, I picked this up to supplement the topic.  It’s turned into an entire history lesson about time, clocks, time zones, natural rhythms in nature…….it’s very interesting and is science, math and history all rolled up into one!  The link to the book about time is right here:  http://www.amazon.com/This-About-Brown-Paper-School/dp/0316117501/ref=pd_sim_b_5

us history american indian

More Brown Paper School.  This series is US history-focused.  Kids can learn about the civil war, the American revolution, American Indians, etc.

eyewitness to history

by John Carey.  Short first person accounts of over 400 events in history like the plague in Athens to Napoleon’s battles to placing a man on the moon.  Looks like it can be a little graphic (which can be reframed as descriptive, right?), so probably not good bedtime reading.

cartoon history

part 1-3 by Larry Gonick.  Oh my gosh, this one is fun.  Here and there you’ll find adult humor, but I just skip over those parts while reading.  Mr. Gonick has created several cartoon books on various subjects like physics, the United States, the Modern World and yes, even SEX! That one’s on the list for around 7-8th grade, when Max is ready for it.  Check it out before you pass judgement – it looks well done.  Here’s the link to Mr. Gonick’s Cartoon History of Sex because I’m betting you are curious:  http://www.amazon.com/Cartoon-Guide-Sex-Larry-Gonick/dp/0062734318/ref=sr_1_10?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1254025454&sr=1-10

harriet tubman nest

Nest Animated Hero classics DVDs and videos of important people in history are very well done.  Max has watched the biographies of Harriet Tubman, Thomas Edison, Louis Pasteur, and a few others.  He’ll periodically watch them over and over and then talk about them.  Many of these videos have a strong Christian theme, some of them don’t.  You can sometimes find them on eBay.

time traveler

by Judy Hindley.  Ms. Hindley has a few other historical titles as well.

geography for every kid

Easy activities that make learning geography fun.  Janice VanCleave is prolific and a whole lot of fun. She has quite a few books about science, physics, biology, chemistry, astronomy, etc.  A lot of her stuff is hands-on and active, so you aren’t just reading.  You are doing!  And that’s a great way to learn something new.  I’ve seen many of her books at the library, so they are easy to find.

kids learn america

This is a Kids Can Press publication, yet another terrific publisher!  You can find all of the materials that Kids Can Press offers at http://www.kidscanpress.com/US/Default.aspx.  On Amazon this particular book got dinged by the reviewers of the School Library Journal, but maybe those folks prefer more boring texts?  All the families who reviewed it offered much praise in contrast, so who to believe?  I’ll go with the families tried it out on kids and enjoyed it.

goodtimes travel agency

The Good Times Travel Agency series is another Kids Can Press product. Max ate up reading about the Binkerton kids and their time traveling adventure to Ancient Greece!  That particular book in the series is called Adventures in Ancient Greece by Linda Bailey.  Lots of humor mixed in with historically accurate people, places and events, not to mention some delightful sibling rivalry. There are many books in the series – thank goodness!


Calliope is a monthly world history magazine for ages 9-14. $33 per year, but it looks like it’s worth it.

Good Foundational Resources for History

I’ve opted to center much of our curriculum around history, having discovered that math, science, geography, language arts, art/music, etc. magically incorporate themselves in our learning when we fan out into history.  A living book approach also strikes me as exciting and thorough, and this is an approach that is easy to follow within the context of history.  I’ll blog about living books and give you some great websites in a separate post.  I don’t remember history being taught to me like this when I was in elementary school, although there are a few high points that have settled into my memory.  In second grade we took a day to act out daily life as a pilgrim.  We turned cream into butter, made applesauce, wore the costumes, and shared a meal (of butter, cornbread and applesauce?)  I can still smell that yummy applesauce simmering on the hot plate!  And I had a healthy appreciation for how hard people had to work to make butter by hand.

Textbook history is DULL and OH-SO-BORING.  Ugh.  If you’re going to invest your energy, why not make the time you spend jazzed up and worthwhile?  And all those dates!  Let’s collectively utter another loud ugh.  Yes, some of them are important, I get that.  A lot of them are not.  What IS important is helping your child to see what people were like during that time period, what was important to those folks, what challenges they faced daily, how they grew and changed, what they did with their lives, how their accomplishments contributed to our lives today.  Putting this all into context with a tool like a time line helps it all fall into place beautifully, especially as other events and people are added as you go.

I’m a fan of timelines and have a very long one posted on a wall so we can look at it when we want.  Now I just got done saying that all those dates are not important………well, they are, but focusing on just those will leave you glassy-eyed.  Timelines help you get a handle on the big picture!  Learning how to step back and look at the big picture outside of yourself will prove to be a valuable skill later on in life, so it’s worth teaching.  There are some good pre-made timelines available, so I’ll give you some links below.  I sat at the kitchen table and made my own.  It’s not pretty, but it will suffice for the time being (pun!)  Don’t forget to put your child’s birthday on the timeline and watch his eyes get big when he starts to conceptualize just how long ago the dinosaurs lived compared to how long he’s been around!  I still can’t wrap my mind around that one.  If our timeline was built to scale, the dinosaur piece would need to be taped to a wall in somebody else’s house in another country.

Okay – this will be a link fest with my comments here and there.  Keep in mind that my kiddo is floating somewhere in “4th grade”, which is kind of arbitrary anyway, so let’s just say that much of this stuff fits the 9-12 age range.


The Story of the World: History for the Classical Child: Volume 1: Ancient Times: From the Earliest Nomads to the Last Roman Emperor, Revised Edition (Paperback); written by Susan Wise Bauer. History in story form and it’s fantastic. We are using it as the foundation piece for history. I believe there are four volumes available and the accompanying activity guide/workbook (see below) is worth purchasing, especially for kids younger than say, age nine. Note that this series does have a mild Christian undertone. It’s a popular text among homeschoolers. Bet you can find this used at a homeschool co-op sale, or of course on Amazon.

story of world activity

Activity book that goes along with the Ancient Times:  From the Earliest Nomads to the Last Roman Emperor, written by Susan Wise Bauer.  The blackline maps are helpful and some of the art projects are fun, but you’ll probably get more use out of the activity book if you have kids under the age of nine.  Although, it does list many other resources that you can use to compile a unit study; I am finding these helpful.


Wall Times of World History is four 10-foot wall timelines dating from 5,000 BC to the present – $17.95 each for grades 5-12.  Timelines are printed on sturdy, heavyweight 32 lb paper for durability.  These are certainly more attractive than the one I made by hand and put up, but more expensive, too.


Wonders of Old Timeline Book.  There’s something appealing about being able to close it up and stick it on a shelf.  Saves the wall space and you can still get to it easily.

Making your own wall time line is easy, albeit a bit time-consuming.  Plus you get high on Sharpie fumes.  Here’s the link I used to make a time line:  http://www.homeschoolinthewoods.com/HTTA/TimelineHelps/

Straight, no-nonsense information about the fifty states is available at www.50states.com.  You can go hog-wild with tangents on this site.

Geography games on the computer at Quia are used frequently by teachers in the classroom.  Quia is used to bridge the gap between learning in the classroom and learning on the computer.  Lots of supplementary materials, games, quizes, activities, tutorials – it’s vast.  NOTE:  you can try out a free 30 day trial and then you have to pay up, about $49 per year.  I’ll pass on that for the time being.  Available at www.Quia.com.


Material World:  A Global Family Portrait by Peter Menzel and sixteen other photographers.  This is a must have for your library.  In honor of the United Nations-sponsored International Year of the Family in 1994, Material World tackles its wide subject by zooming in, allowing one household to represent an entire nation.  Photographers spent one week living with a ‘statistically average’ family in each country, learning about their work, their attitudes toward their possessions, and their hopes for the future.  Then a big picture shot of the family was taken outside the dwelling, surrounded by all their material goods.  Covers 30 nations and is something we should all see.

history of us

A History of Us by Joy Hakim. This will probably be the main resource I turn to for United States history, when we’re ready. Not sure when that will be, but glad to know I can get my hands on this set. By the way, the set has 11 volumes! She tells us our history in story form. Here’s the blurb taken from Amazon because it describes the set better than I can: Master storyteller Joy Hakim has excited millions of young minds with the great drama of American history in her award-winning series A History of US. Hailed by reviewers, historians, educators, and parents for its exciting, thought-provoking narrative, the books have been recognized as a break-through tool in teaching history and critical reading skills to young people. And the kids themselves agree: Hakim has piles of fan letters as testimony. And it’s no wonder. Whether it’s standing on the podium in Seneca Falls with the Suffragettes or riding on the first subway car beneath New York City in 1904, the books in Joy Hakim’s A History of US series weave together exciting stories that bring American history to life. Readers may want to start with War, Terrible War, the tragic and bloody account of the Civil War that has been hailed by critics as “magnificent.” Or All the People, brought fully up-to-date with a thoughtful and engaging examination of our world after September 11th. No matter which book they read, young people will never think of American history as boring again. Joy Hakim’s single, clear voice offers continuity and narrative drama as she shares with a young audience her love of and fascination with the people of the past.

How to Keep Homeschooling Resources Organized

Okay, time to admit it.  Since I started on this hunt, half of my time has been spent scoring cool resources and websites, books and ideas – right.  The other half of my time has been spent pondering how best to organize all of this cool stuff so that I can find it if I need it!  Talk about trying to climb up on top of the heap.  Just when you find something great, there’s a link, then another link, then a click here and there, and another page or bookmark and another tangent and another idea………good gravy!  And then there’s the library catalog and Amazon and used book stores.  Where do you go with it all?

Straight to the filing cabinet.  Make hanging files for each subject (such as geography, history, math, science, language arts…..) and use file folders as catchalls (in the language arts hanging file make a folder for spelling/vocab, writing, grammar, etc.)  Label them in some fashion that makes sense to YOU.  I feel infinitely better now that the hanging files are in place and already they’ve saved me some time when trying to organize a unit study.

The next time you find a resource you like, jot it down and toss it in the right folder.  Wa-lah!

Oh – and set up a wish list on Amazon.com and use it liberally.  That’s where I tuck everything away and then refer to it when I’m ready to access the local library’s catalog online.  Plus I can check our local used book store’s catalog – if all else fails, I’ll buy it on Amazon used if it’s a must have.

Unit Study on Ancient Greece

NOTE:  I have moved this post and the entire High on Homeschool blog over to Blogger.  Http://www.highonhomeschool.blogspot.com.  Come over and visit!

We just wrapped this unit study up; it took three weeks.  I layed out the school calendar and after some playing around and rearranging, decided that a ’six week on, one week off’ schedule fits our lifestyle best.  But who knows?  That could change by say…….. next week!  And that fact alone is so cool!  Homeschooling is nothing if not flexible; you can shift and readjust midstream and not do much harm.  My original intention was to try a unit study for the whole six-week period, but after having completed the study, three weeks felt about right, so we’re messing around with two shorter unit studies in that time frame.  Max’s attention was drifting off to other subjects and I’d say we covered a lot of material during that time.  He has a solid foundation about the ancient Greeks, one that we can build upon as he gets older.  I now have a more well-rounded look at the Greeks, too!

A side note….have you ever noticed that when you are in the market for a truck, for instance, say a Toyota Tacoma……then that’s what you start seeing on the road?  They start popping up everywhere!  I felt this way when trying to get pregnant, too.  I was surrounded by pregnant women, baby joggers and billboard ads for fertility specialists, stuff I hadn’t much noticed before.  Jeepers.  Well, now that we’ve delved into ancient Greek culture, I’m seeing vestiges of it everywhere.  Architecture, names, places, ads for travel to Greece……our brains are funny sponges.

Okay – so I’ll list the materials and ideas we used for our study on Ancient Greece.  UNIT STUDIES are popular because you can pull in all of the major subjects around one topic.  It turns out to be a fair amount of work on my part to get everything lined up, but that’s half the challenge for me and I like that kind of thing.  Unit studies do not work for everyone!  You can plan to hit the library at least twice a week and you have to stay on your toes to follow where your kiddo goes (but don’t we do that anyway?  This is merely a modified version of parenting!)


The Story of the World by Susan Wise Bauer and her accompanying activity guide.  We read chapters 18-25:  Life in Early Crete, The Early Greeks, Greece Gets Civilized Again, The Medes and the Persians, Sparta and Athens, The Greek Gods, The Wars of the Greeks and Alexander the Great.  Then the Greeks started to get sloppy, paying too much attention to arguing amongst themselves, and they eventually fell to the mighty Roman Empire.  We followed along in the activity guide and filled out the blackline maps, etc.


Max started a series of books called Percy and the Olympians by Rick Riordan.  He was reading these at bedtime over the summer, so a study of ancient Greece seemed logical because he was already interested.  The first in the series is called The Lightning Thief; it’s about a boy who is the half mortal son of Poseidon the sea god.  About his adventures fighting mythological creatures and trying to live life as a not-so-normal mortal.  Max’s dad is reading it, too.  He is one book ahead of Max.

*After Max finishes a book that he’s read himself, I have him fill out a two-page book report of sorts that I typed up.  It’s called, “Hey, Mom, Look What I Just Read!” and it’s full of silly ways to complete sentences, convince others to read the book, character descriptions, short descriptive paragraphs.  It gets him writing and he barely notices that he’s writing!  This way, too, we can file these away and he can look back at them to remember what he read.  If you’re interested in seeing it, leave a comment and I could email it to you.  I only use it after he’s finished a big chapter book that he read by himself – kind of a sense of accomplishment thing.

All SPELLING AND VOCABULARY words were pulled out of Greek culture and mythology.  I started with ten words a week and gradually kept adding more until I found his comfort level.  We worked on the words once a day over the week by spelling them out on a white board, by playing catch and taking turns saying a letter, etc. and on Fridays I gave him a spelling quiz and a crossword puzzle to help him with definitions.  Use Puzzle Maker to make up crosswords – it’s quick and easy at www.puzzle-maker.com/CW/. These were the words we used:  Mediterranean Sea, myth, flummox, labyrinth, Zeus, Minoan, Minotaur, navy, Aegean Sea, Athens, altar, barbarians, vain, Acropolis, trireme, pentathlon, cyclops, Poseidon, Odysseus, Agora, tantalize, chariot, Aphrodite, The Iliad, citizen, democracy, Plato, tyrant, philosophy, government, marathon, conquer, column, architecture, peninsula, tragedy and comedy.

first marathonThe First Marathon by Susan Reynolds – the story of Pheidippides.  Poor Pheidippides!

greek myths

D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths.  Cant’s say enough about this book.  It’s one you’ll want to keep.  It’s large and colorful and contains most of the Greek myths.  Max loved it!

greek sculpture

Greek Sculpture:  The Late Classical Period by John Boardman.  More of a grownup book, but great pictures of Greek art and Greek style.


Greece by Christine Petersen.  Modern day Greece and what the people are like, where they live, how they spend their time.

greek town

Greek Town:  Metropolis by John Malam.  Drawings of how ancient greek cities looked.

natgeo ancient greece

National Geographic’s Ancient Greece:  Archaeology.  Good info for learning how scientists find out so much about ancient civilizations.

black ships troy

Blackships Before Troy by Rosemary Sutcliff.  Wow. Good book. However, I must tell you that we have yet to get through all of it as it’s lengthy and my attention was waning. It’s a rewrite of Homer’s Iliad in story form with big pictures – helps you get a good grasp of the Trojan War.

tales from odyssey

That reminds me! A couple of summers ago we read Tales from the Odyssey by Mary Pope Osborne, the same author who writes the Magic Treehouse series. This is fantastic reading about the wayward travels of Odysseus. It’s in fairly easy chapter book style. The first book is called The One-Eyed Giant.

greek crafts

The Greeks:  Crafts from the Past by Gillian Chapman.  Used this one to pour and paint a small Greek fresco out of non-toxic plaster from Hobby Lobby.


Hercules:  The Man, the Myth, the Hero by Kathryn Lasky.  Who doesn’t want to learn about Herc and his twelve labors?

trojan horse

The Trojan Horse by Albert Lorenz.  Designed in a fun “play” format with quips from the gods and action from the mortals. I thought it was clever.  Cleverness needs to be applauded!!


Archimedes and the Door of Science by Jeanne Bendick.  Here is a place where science entered in a BIG way. It’s a look at Archimedes and his contributions in math and physics in story format. It’s also a perfect example of a ‘living book’ approach to teaching. This, too, however, we have not finished up. This one I’m going to stretch out as it’s a lot of information to pack into a ten-year old brain.


The Librarian Who Measured the Earth also by Kathryn Lasky.  The story of Eratosthenes who figured out a way to measure the circumference of the Earth with just his brain, the sun’s shadow, and some people who were willing to walk a bit and take more measurements.  I pre-read this and thought Max would not be interested in it, so skipped it.  Included it here for reference.


What’s Your Angle, Pythagorus? by Julie Ellis.  A squared plus B squared equals C squared figured out by a young Greek boy.

Following are some INTERNET SOURCES AND COMPUTER GAMES that proved worthwhile:

I can’t fathom what it must have been like to have been raised in Sparta. Since I didn’t think the movie 300 was appropriate to show Max (great movie, by the way), I pulled up this site so he could play a game. He had to pretend he was a young Spartan boy being trained in the agoge, which is a process of preparation for military life. The game is at http://www.ancientgreece.co.uk/sparta/challenge/cha_set.html.

Mrdonn.org has proved to be useful for many subjects. I’m using it now as we learn about prehistoric man, as well as when we learned about Greek culture. There are a gazillion links and tangents, so figure out where you want to go beforehand.  The link is at http://www.mrdonn.org/

The making of Athenian pottery – you get to see how the clay was made, how it was painted and fired. Interesting.  http://www.getty.edu/art/gettyguide/videoDetails?cat=2&segid=373


Visions of Greece, a DVD showcasing an aerial tour of modern Greece. It incorporated history, Greek music and mythology, too. You can probably find it at the library.  http://www.amazon.com/Visions-Greece/dp/B00028G6B2

Age of Mythology.  Of course this was a hit! It’s a computer or video game wherein you can learn real-time strategy, battle training, organizational skills, etc. Historically accurate and stimulating. Thanks, Kari, for this recommendation! It’s been around for awhile (2002), so it was cheap at our local Staples ($9.99, I think). Age of Empires is a similar game that has a broader scope.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Age_of_Mythology


The Clash of the Titans.  Max and Gary watched this about three times. It’s an old movie (1981) that stars Harry Hamlin. You can get it at Netflix if you can’t find it anywhere else locally.


Emeril’s There’s a Chef in My World! We made pastitisio (a Greek casserole with noodles and beef), and Max’s dad braved his way through the baklava recipe, which is by far the best one I’ve ever tasted. It was really hard to stay away from. Lots of other nummy recipes, too and it’s available used on Amazon starting around $0.75.

Lego Javelin and Discus Event

One day we followed a tangent and decided to build the original stadium in Olympia using Legos and then take pictures of it! Max built Zeus on his throne, the stadium gates, chariot races, the marathon (using aliens because those where the only figures with long legs. And they were green), the pancreation where somebody broke a finger, and the discus and javelin event. Then he used the camera and took his own pics of it. Above you’ll see the discus and javelin competitors, somebody breaking a finger in the pancreation, and a charioteer.

Another fun activity involved Max writing a short letter to his cousin Kate in Texas and he wrote a short sentence using the Greek alphabet. He sent the alphabet along to Kate so she could decode it.

greek myth activities

And last, we utilized parts of a workbook by Scholastic called Greek Mythology Activites. It contains games, puzzles, interviews and other stuff.  It helped Max keep all those Greek gods and goddesses sorted out.  I’m still confused.

At this point we grew rather tired of Ancient Greece and decided to move on.  We were also working on separate math concepts and some handwriting, so Max definitely had a full plate.  But it didn’t feel like that.  We had a lot of fun working through these days and following his interests and I’m certain we only scratched the bare surface of all there is to know about Ancient Greece!  I don’t feel like we got much on Greek philosophers, but maybe he’s not old enough to appreciate them yet.  We can bring them up again at a later time and find out what Socrates had to say.