Math Curriculum for Wigged out Moms

Math is a dark subject lurking in our home.  It follows Max around and pokes him just to annoy him and then skitters away, cackling.  Numbers are not his friends.  Try as we have, the multiplication facts remain elusive, shrouded in mystery and murkiness.  I have tried not to push or cajole, but I’m not perfect and have felt some silly anxiety about him not grasping these foundational numbers.  Stupid, really – not him – ME.  I’ve referred to this angst in previous posts and I’m sure it is rather common among newer homeschooling parents.

This past homeschooling year we read a lot ABOUT math, but didn’t DO much math.  We dallied with Key Curriculum Press’s booklets on fractions.  We let Penrose the cat entertain us with math speak and number patterns, we used some flash cards, we jumped on the trampoline and traded math facts, we played math catch.  We played math games.  I quizzed him in the car – hard to be casual about that, really……”say, Max, I was just thinking about those Navy Seals you wanted to learn about.  What’s 5 x 9?”  Like he didn’t see what I was up to.  The Great Number Rumble was a fun read. was novel in that you could donate grains of rice to feed hungry people all over the world while practicing math facts.   Brown Paper School books held his attention for just a short time – those on math, anyway.  Near the end of the year I turned math over to my husband because I was far too wigged out about it.  He was much more casual about math and basically gave the reigns right back to Max, which I suppose is just fine.  Max will do with math what he needs to do and for crying out loud (note to self, here), he’s in the 4th grade.

SO – about to change tactics again.  If anything, I reserve the right to change my mind :).  Instead of all of this dancing around business, I am choosing to go with a more organized approach, one that can be doled out in small daily doses – like a curriculum – brilliant!  Up until this weekend I was planning to utilize the Math U See program starting next year, but met a wonderful homeschooling mom over the weekend who told me about another program, which of course I had to check into!   I did, I read reviews, I watched the videos, I scanned homeschooling forums, and I ordered the curriculum today.  Thank you, Jeannie, for the heads-up!

It’s called Teaching Textbooks (TT). Already I’m letting out a sigh of relief.  Is it windy where you are located?  That’s probably me releasing all of this math angst over here, affecting the global wind patterns.

I did my research with Max in mind.  He detests worksheets.  He does not enjoy the pressure from me when it comes to math, poor guy.  He likes humor.  He LOVES the computer.  He likes comics and clever.  I think he’ll like TT.

If you aren’t familiar with TT, take a look at their website (of course!)  You get a series of CD’s that contain daily lessons, each carefully and gently taught by a gentleman with a very nice voice.  You also get a student workbook wherein your child can practice problems.  If your child doesn’t understand something, he/she can refer back to the CD’s for an explanation of each problem, or can look at a written summary in the workbook about a lesson.  The lessons aren’t dry – the author uses humor and colorful drawings/word problems sprinkled throughout to hold interest.  It’s very much like having a kind tutor sitting at the table with you as you do your work and that tutor takes you through everything step-by-step.

Another great feature that is a boon to homeschooling parents everywhere is that as the child completes each lesson, the program does the grading and keeps track of progress.  I am attracted to this because I think Max is ready for more independent learning next year and I am ready for him to be a more independent learner, too.

I selected Math 4.  Max took the placement test that is offered on the website and this is the level he needs to start at since we didn’t follow a set order of math concepts this year.   He’s picked up a surprising amount of information, though, which I found when he took the placement test.  All of that worrying for nothing!

The other curriculum I took a look at is called Life of Fred (LOF) and it sounds genius!  This one is going on the back burner because the author made it clear that kids should have a solid hold on math facts prior to starting this program as it moves quickly right into pre-algebra.  It takes one all the way through calculus and linear algebra.   Maybe we’ll consider starting this one during middle school.  It was written by Stanley Schmidt, Ph.D. who is, of course, a retired math teacher.  When he taught he began messing around with a cartoon character he named Fred; Fred became a part of his lectures and subsequently Fred’s life story grew.  Dr. Schmidt eventually wrote Fred’s silly and quirky story down and in the process discovered a marvelous way to teach math.  Fred, as it turns out,  is a six-year-old math genius who is a math teacher at KITTENS University, and he has a pet llama he’s named Lambda.  Please refer to Cathy Duffy’s review of LOF – her review is thorough and more than sells the curriculum.  I’m drawn to Life of Fred for its humor and the fact that it strives to make math applicable to life.

The ending of the story, then, is that I am much less wigged out.  Thank goodness for all who know me!  That kind of thing has a ripple effect, you know.  Now watch – he’ll hate Teaching Textbooks!  I doubt it, though.  I’m genuinely excited about next year and the continuation of our homeschool adventure.  I am looking forward to encouraging him to be a bit more independent in his work.

Now it’s time to begin to apply the brakes in anticipation of that marvelous thing they call summer.  Yipee!


Fun with Words for Your Budding Wordsmith

Max just finished up a week-long online live grammar class.   Other than having some difficulties with our microphone, overall the class was a success and a nice wrap up for the grammar work we’ve done this year.  There were seven or eight children taking the class from all over the world!  One little boy was in Israel, one in Mississippi, a few in New York, etc.  Max enjoyed interacting with them while proofreading paragraphs and combining sentences.  It was a good situation all-around.  I let him handle the class while I went off and dove into exciting piles of laundry in an effort to make them smaller.  We both succeeded in meeting our goals.

The class was offered on (which stands for Curriculum in a Click).  They have a nice mix of secular or Christian classes, if that’s what you are looking for.  I mentioned in another recent post that we’ll be using part of the Connect the Thoughts curriculum (CTT) for next year which will be 5th grade.  This curriculum set is offered on Currclick, too.  Check it out if you’re curious – it’s a really neat curriculum.  You can read my post about it or go directly to the CTT website (psst…..I’m REALLY excited about this curriculum!)

So – back to words.  Here are some entertaining books to help round out a good look at homonyms, hyperbole, alliteration, figures of speech, similes, metaphors.  Gosh, I would benefit from a refresher course on these, too:


Cartoons help seal the above concepts in writing.  Looks great!  By Marvin Terban.

Have you ever gotten this mad?  Do hens get this mad?  Also by Marvin Terban, as are the next few.

Riddles = laughter.  Usually.

 We’ve never had much luck with guppies, but ours never sported formal wear, either!

Did you catch that title? 

There is a whole series of these by Brian Cleary.  We have a few of them and used them this year.  He uses rhyming wordplay and charming characters to teach.

Do you ever wonder where some words originated? 

For a slightly younger crowd, but it looks good.  Maybe it’s available at the library!

I saved the best one for last!  Twenty-four five-star reviews on Amazon.  “Debra Frasier has created a masterpiece of clever wordplay in her hilarious and poignant story of the exquisite pain of schoolgirl mortification. One sentence using vocabulary words from A to Z runs along the bottom or side of each page (“Obliterate me, send me to oblivion–no one could outdo my stupidity”). Not just for word-worms, virtually any kid will identify with the occasionally confusing world of learning, and be reassured by the happy conclusion. Frasier’s youthful artwork was inspired by her daughter’s fifth-grade desk. “No fancy art supplies; just markers, notebook paper, pencils, glue, and scissors.” The result is eminently inviting for grade-school children. (Ages 8 to 12)”




Max learns best when he has a fidget of some sort in his hand to play with, be it a Lego guy, a Bakugan figure, or the Rubik’s cube.  I’m setting up a fidget basket close to where we work on school stuff so that they are always at the ready.

I searched for various fidgets the other day with some criteria in mind:  it can’t make annoying noises, it must be relatively small, and foremost, it must be CHEAP.  Nerf guns, the Magic 8 Ball and stuffed animals that squeak when squeezed all have failed the test, so they have been sent to Max’s room.  I’m happy to report, though, that there are oodles of fun fidgets available if you are in the market for some.

You can search OT catalogs for such contraptions, or just do a search online.  We purchased a few and Max is anxiously awaiting the arrival of the UPS truck so he can add to the fidget collection.  I should have recognized this tendency by the time he was around 2 years of age.  He absolutely had to have small objects tucked into his pockets so they would always be accessible should he need them.  That desire has not left and I think it’s here to stay, so it’s up to me to make sure he has access to the things which help him concentrate.  I wouldn’t say he flirts with ADHD – he’s just prone to MOVING like any other ten-year old boy who has a world to explore.

Here are some ideas for fidgets.  Personally, I can’t wait to get my hands on them, too.  All of these are available at Trainer’s Warehouse where they carry ‘innovative, playful tools to enliven learners‘!

Squid Ball with stretchy tentacles

Wacky Tracks – I like this one a lot.  Today Max made alphabet letters while I read to him.

Similar to the toy above, only this one is much quieter.  The Wacky Tracks makes clicking noises.

Glitter ball to squish

Flexi Blox

Bumpy Gel Ball

Neat concept.  Fidget pencil.

Fiddler’s Lite Loops.  A 4″ light-weight wire doo-dad that can be shaped into all kinds of 3-D designs.  Not sure about the noise level on this one, though.

You could name him!  More expensive than the others at $6 each, but he looks pretty cool.

Fiddler’s Kabob – magnetic discs float and don’t touch each other – unusual!

DNA ball.  Ewww.  I ordered it!

Most of these are in the $2 to $3 range, so not terrible.

Another fun place to check out is Office Playground – some wacky stuff there, too.

A Not-So-Good Day

Do you guys ever have bad days?  Well, maybe it’s best to think of them as not-so-good days.  Less bad, but still not good.  This is going to be a cathartic post, so if you’re not in the mood to hear me carry on, best stop here.  There are lots of really positive and motivating posts all over this blog, so go check those out instead!  My whining will be over shortly and tomorrow is a new day.  Amazing what a good night of sleep does for one’s perspective.

I’ve noticed a pattern in all the many weeks that we’ve been homeschooling.  I start out strong with a plan in mind on Monday, lists and everything.  Tuesday still hums along pretty nicely, Wednesday starts to get a little jumbled because it’s broken up a bit by karate and our neighborhood public school gets out early on Wednesdays.  Max somehow has instinctual radar about this, and wants to go play with his friends by about 1:30, which is fine and good for him.  Thursdays…..well, by then I’m starting to get weary about the stuff that hasn’t been attended to.  Fridays – today was a perfect example of not getting much done, but it sure feels like there were a lot of things that were begging for my attention and I tried to get to several of them while other stuff suffered.  Basically, I’m mad at myself for not having my priorities straight.

I know what the problem is and have known it for a very long time.  It’s the way I do things.  I’m chaotic, spastic and sorely unorganized.  Ack!  I’m a first-born achiever who is quite driven by the stuff I am passionate about, but those passions can quickly absorb all of my attention, which means nothing else gets done.  IF there is any chaos swirling about me in the form of clutter, dirty dishes, laundry up to here (picture me standing in front of you with my hand held about six inches above my head), animal cages that are starting to smell, a truck that needs to be picked up at the shop, pictures that need to be delivered, groceries that need to be purchased and brought home, exercise that is supposed to be happening, good food that is supposed to be materializing in the kitchen, all sorts of tiny nagging odds and ends that need attending to, THEN I have a hard time doing anything well.  Sometimes I don’t even know what to do next and sit down in a heap, paralyzed by my own expectations, feeling overwhelmed.  I know I’m going about it the wrong way, but can’t seem to go about it the right way, either.  I always fall off the wagon.  Frankly, there are some days when I am a rotten homeschooler, we don’t get anything done and I feel stressed about everything and anything.  Take your pick and I’m sure I’ve stressed over it.  Silly behavior, huh?  I KNOW.

This all makes for a hurried mom somedays which makes for a grumpy mom which makes for schooling that is rushed which makes for a befuddled ten-year old who is probably perplexed by his mother’s mood.  In his eyes, bionicles laying everywhere, dirty dishes being picked over by the dog who already has cat litter stuck to his nose, mismatched socks meeting up in corners to whisper derogatory comments about the mess, dirt tracks on the carpet, a bedroom floor supporting the contents of a closet emptied so the furnace guys could get access to the attic last week through said closet – this stuff doesn’t register with him.  He lives in an alternate universe, one blessedly far away from the stressful universe we grown ups orchestrate.  AND THAT’S EXACTLY THE PROBLEM -ME.  I am the conductor, orchestrating chaos and I need to figure out a better way to do this sometimes for all of our sakes.  When Mom is out of sorts, the whole family pays a price.

Today was kind of like that.  Just kinda.  The whole time I was aware of my state of mind, but didn’t have the wherewithal to fix it.  I should have set schooling aside, gotten the house in a bit more order, hopped on the treadmill, or went outside to scream.  All of those actions would probably have led to a better outcome.  Now I feel like a rotten mom who can’t get her act together.  Or I should have scrapped everything, grabbed Max and went for a walk, to the park, or to the zoo.  Or maybe out for ice cream.  But then the treadmill would have loomed larger in my mind, so maybe not.  Maybe I should get up earlier in the morning and do some housework or exercise.  Or meditate, which of course would send me right back to sleep.  Help?

So – what am I doing typing up a whiney post instead of doing a couple of loads of laundry, straightening up and preparing for tomorrow?  Good question!  That’s what I need to be doing.  Actually, the dryer just finished and there’s another load to toss in and I already did the dishes and picked up a little.  There was a time over the winter when I was hanging the clothes on a line and ironing everything in an effort to save energy.  Sure, Earth’s natural resources were being guarded, but my physical resources were draining pretty quickly.  I recycle like crazy, grow some of our own food, homeschool so we don’t drive to his old charter school twice a day, my husband rides his bike to work everyday, I try to use environmentally safe cleaners………ack.  See how I am?  The dryer won the battle and I’m back to drying clothes using electricity – sacrilege!!  How did our pioneering ancestors do it????????

Just processing.  I’m not doing a very good job of setting myself up to win, if that makes any sense.  And this has a direct impact on Max.  And my husband.  And the animals whose cages are starting to get ripe.  Dark chocolate is not the answer (rats).  Therefore I see no other option.  I NEED TO CHANGE THE WAY I DO THINGS TO BETTER SET US UP TO WIN.  Maybe if I shout it it will sink in and start happening.  Maybe I need to type it out in really big letters and tape it to the fridge.

Anybody want to come over and help me do this?  Well, like I said – tomorrow’s a new day and I’ll probably feel better tomorrow.  Have you heard of Fly Lady?, I think.  She helps you set up a schedule for tackling your house and feeling more at peace when things are more orderly.  I tried her for a while, but fell off the wagon and hurt myself.  Her system did work and I do remember feeling better, but I also remember having to be pretty organized which at the moment seems out of the realm of possibilities.

Well, best go clean out the cat box, finish that dryer load and head to bed.  Weekends are good for rebooting, so maybe I’ll come up with some ideas for a better week next week.  Thanks for tolerating a different sort of post.  Sometimes I just need to write it out and think about it, so I’m using the blog in that way tonight.  Comment if you have similar woes sometimes while homeschooling.  Comment if you feel like this more often than not!  Comment if you’ve tried something that has worked and helped you and your family.  Please don’t comment if you truly have your stuff together and you never stress over anything – I don’t want to hear it, at least not tonight :).

I should create a new category for the blog called ‘Whining’ and put this post there.  Maybe I will!

CTT Weekly Journals

Okay, I just gotta’ say………this journal idea is a GOOD one.  I am very intrigued and very happy with the lines of thinking with respect to this particular curriculum package called Connect The Thoughts (CTT).  CTT was developed by Steven David Horwich, a man you can read about on the CTT website.  He’s a prolific person who put some intensely serious thought into what it means to be educated, what it means to determine what one is good at, how one can enjoy life and be productive.  I think these sorts of things deserve some intense and serious thought, so I, for one, am very glad that Mr. Horwich took the time and energy to carve out a very cool approach to learning.  I will tell you about the weekly journal shortly – let me first rant and rave.

Now, all of this positive ranting and raving I’m about to do needs to be tempered a bit primarily because this is a new way of doing things in our homeschool.  New things are fun, aren’t they?  A new shirt, a shiny new bike, a crisp new dollar bill, a new car that runs on recycled vegetable oil………all of this stuff is great fun and excitement levels can remain high for a while, depending on what the new thing is.  I am very much wired this way and thrill to the idea of something new and different.  I do have a sneaking suspicion that I am going to like this curriculum very much, though, that the novelty is not going to wear off.  However, so I don’t have to go back later and retract these glowing statements, I am cautiously stepping forward into this new territory with Max to see how it all shakes out.  Day two and it’s GOOD.  How’s that for enough time to properly evaluate something?  Yeah, I’m kind of trigger happy.

I also have to remind myself that I have a thing about putting all of ones eggs in one basket, should the basket turn out to not be the kind of basket one hoped it would be to hold all of the eggs, especially if the eggs are of the important kind.  It’s probably good to pull from other sources and perspectives and have a couple of different baskets lying around to carry things in.  This reasoning plays on the level of instinct and I tend to listen to the deep part of me that occasionally will make such a statement.  So as to avoid putting all of our homeschool eggs in one basket, I did not purchase the entire CTT curriculum for next year, which will be Max’s 5th grade year.  I purchased SOME and am willing to give it a good go and see where it leads.

Our first foray into the CTT world started this week with the Weekly Journal.  I can hardly stand it – it’s so cool!  The week’s journal was a FREE (love that word) offering on Currclick that happened to show up in a ‘follow your favorites’ email I get regularly from Currclick.  I wasn’t even aware that these weekly journals existed, but am sure glad I pursued that link.  The journal is serving as a very nice introduction for Max to this new curriculum.  He and I are each doing a journal.

Yesterday, for Monday, May 3rd, we had to learn a few new vocabulary words, one of which was ‘crooner’.  Then Max had to find Tacoma, Washington on the globe.  Then we read about the very interesting life of Bing Crosby!  Incidentally, Tacoma is where Bing was born.  Yesterday would have been Bing’s 107th birthday.  He started out studying law, then turned to drumming and to music, then to acting.  He recorded some 1,700 songs and was an inspiration to many musicians.  He acted with Bob Hope and Frank Sinatra in some funny movies.  He visited the troops overseas during WWII and helped bolster moral.  His lyrics were funny.  We watched a few Youtube videos of Bing performing and Max delighted in his style and humor.  I learned about Bing, too!  Then we were asked to reflect in our journal about what we liked about singers, why music might be important in someone’s life, how comedians can make life seem better.

Today, Tuesday, May 4th is National Teacher’s Day in the U.S.  We learned about Plato and Confucius, located Greece and China on the map, learned what ‘meritocracy’ means, and thought about education and why teachers are important for civilizations and the future.  Max was asked to think about the qualities of a good teacher and write them down.  The write up about Plato and Confucius was not dry or dull – it was conversational, the level just right for Max, age 10.  It didn’t talk down to him or make him feel like he couldn’t understand something.

Tomorrow we’ll tackle Cinco de Mayo and another famous person in history, Karl Marx, I think  You kind of get the idea – it’s history, current events, geography, thoughts and feelings and ideas all rolled into an activity that takes about 45 minutes or so.

I’ll try to put into words what I really like and admire overall about the CTT curriculum.  It’s REAL.  No fluff, here.  It hits a spot that resonates beautifully with a deep personal philosophy of life that I carry within me, or rather, how one can and should take responsibility for living one’s life as much as is possible.  It’s matter-of-fact.  It’s encouraging.  It’s honest.  It addresses a person’s whole self, not just science/math/reading/writing; the author encourages the student to think about how to treat others, how to improve relationships, how to care for him or herself physically and emotionally, how to connect with nature, how to think for him/herself, how to make good decisions and see them through, how to figure out what to do with one’s life.  It’s incredibly thorough, but not in a preachy kind of way.  It’s conversational in tone, funny in places, serious in others.

I also like very much that it does not adhere to one way of thinking, to just one influence.  The curriculum does an excellent job of providing information as seen from many perspectives, but allows the student the refreshing freedom to form his or her own opinions and feelings about things.  There is a lot of ‘feeling’ here – in that the student is encouraged to explore his or her thoughts and feelings about various ideas.  In a way it’s kind of Socratic – discussion is encouraged as a thought process so the child can find his or her own way in the world and a way to contribute.  Many different religions and philosophies are presented, but the material always maintains its neutrality, allowing the child to formulate his or her own belief system as he or she grows into an adult.  The science is straight fact, or what we know to be facts at this point.  It’s ALL there.  Creative writing, science, literature, spelling, geography, history, arts, music, drama, etc.  The only element that you need to supplement is a math curriculum.

If you are at all curious about CTT, I encourage you to give the Weekly Journal a try by clicking on the link a few paragraphs back.  As far as I can tell, the weekly journal is a free offering – whether it will stay free remains to be seen.  You can see the entire curriculum on the CTT site or go to Currclick and search for it there.  It is offered as downloadable .pdfs.  There are different levels for different age groups.  I think that this would be a fantastic and delicious curriculum for an adult – to go back and fill in the gaps and learn things with more experience in our back pockets.

It’s a little early to be singing praises here, but I just have a feeling that this is going to be a good road to follow.  So far this basket looks well-constructed and sturdy!

A List of Books Read

Every day (well, not EVERY day, but 98% of our school days), Max gets read to.  I plunk down on the couch or in a comfy chair, he grabs his Nerf sword or piles of Lego guys or whatever gadget is close at hand, and we begin the ritual.  I read anywhere from two to five chapters (depending on how gripping the tale is) and Max slays the imaginary demons cavorting about the room; good thing we can’t really see them – we wouldn’t hang around.  Actually, I think he’s past that stage.  I think he’s more into perfecting his moves now as he brandishes the sword.  He takes karate lessons twice a week, so the Kenpo style is becoming sealed in his muscles.  It’s more about form than function right now.

My voice has gotten so much stronger over the past year!  No more raspies – I can read and read and read some more and not experience vocal cord angst.  I’ve also gotten better at lyrical rhythm and have tremendous respect for narrators.  You really have to be present to deliver a great performance!  Sometimes your mind wanders and then the words begin to drone or you stumble over them.

Despite persistent doubts that he is even listening to the story line, Max never fails to surprise me.  He picks up nearly every nuance of the character’s situation as he bounces around the room, sometimes almost out of earshot.  If asked to clarify something, he can clarify in a snap.  For Max, movement is a prerequisite to absorbing something.  Yesterday he devised a game called Trampoline Math wherein we jumped on the trampoline and skip counted the 8’s and 9’s and then drilled the multiplication table back and forth.  Math Catch is also another option.  Both are effective!  Today we tried a repeat performance of Trampoline Math, but it was too cold!  A couple of bounces and we ran for warmer hills.

Since the end of August we’ve covered a fair amount of literature.  Here is a partial list of what has been read with a rating on a scale of 1 to 10 of how much we liked each book.  Ten, of course, means stellar:

9.  Survival story.  Fit into our unit on Cetacea.

10! Same unit.  Really nice look at the life in a humpback whale pod.

7. What’s with Captain Nemo, anyway?  He’s an enigma.


4 – we didn’t make it all the way through.  Too cumbersome for our tastes.

10! Jay Hosler is a marvelous author.  Learn about life in a bee hive.

10! Poor Ranofer – what a tormented life.  Somewhat graphic as his brother is abusive, but good prevails over evil in the end.  Fit into the unit on Ancient Egypt.

10++++ The language and imagery in this book is beautiful.

6 – got too confusing after awhile.  Time travel can do that.  Ancient Egypt unit.

5 – eh.  Didn’t love it.


9 – cute story

The current read.  It’s good, so maybe an 8.  I think it’s odd that the author is marketing this toward ‘gifted’ children – ALL children have the potential to enjoy this story.  I don’t like labels, except, of course, when they provide nutritional information.

10+++ (seriously, check into these books – so much science and so much fun)


Love.  10+.

Listened to this as an audio CD from the library.  My voice got a rest!  Max liked this one. 9.

7+.  You get attached to the Canadian goose and the little girl.

10++ GREAT adventure, survival story.  Kept us on the edge of our seats.  Kind of graphic and scary in places.

10+.  Fantastic.  Sweet and sad, so bittersweet.  Happy ending.

7. These are quick reads that hold on to the essence of the original story, plus you get some pictures to help embellish the story line.

8. Good love story.


There are others such as Justin Denzel’s Hunt for the Last Cat, Rick Riordan’s Percy and the Olympians series, some of the Harry Potter books, Robin Hood, etc.

Over the summer I’d like to read the Little House on the Prairie books to him – before he gets older and doesn’t think I should read those too him.  They left such an indelible impression on me about pioneers and their struggles.  Then someday, the James Herriot series will be a must, too (All Creatures Great and Small, All Things Bright and Beautiful, etc.)

I purchased the following book several years ago as a resource to good literature.  It has proven itself time and time again and I highly recommend it as a permanent member of your bookshelf.  The author provides excellent lists of books categorized by age for children through the teen years.  This is definitely one to take to the library with you!  Note that the author maintains a strong Christian slant in her writing; we homeschool in a  secular fashion and have found this book to be quite a wonderful resource of great literature!