Learning Calendar

Sometimes I’m not sure if books that contain lots of trivia are all that effective – I think there has to be some sort of personal association for information like that to stick, but I could be wrong. Some people just seem to have ‘trivia-prepped’ brains and can feed on this stuff.

We had this calendar last year. When I remembered to glance at it, look at the correct day and read aloud what was written, we often learned something cool and interesting. However, there were several blocks of time when I completely ignored the calendar and promptly forgot about it. So, not sure if it’s a good investment, at least for me.

You might like it, though, and find it useful. The 2011 edition is available now:

It makes for a great gift, too.  It is useful to use as jumping-off points or to provide you with unit study ideas, too.  Available for around $20.  FatBrain Toys has it, but right now it looks like it’s sold out.  I didn’t check Amazon or other places, but it’s got to be out there somewhere!


Artful Science Thanks to Brown Paper School

This next six-week session of homeschooling is going to be a giant, wonderful MISH-MASH of activity.  I have no plans for an organized unit study this time.  We are taking a break from organization and flying headlong into impulsiveness!  So far, on Day 2 out of 30, we’ve already ended up in places that weren’t even remotely planned.  In this way I admire unschoolers and can understand how that concept in action can be effective.  I’m still a little too much of a controlling freakazoid when it comes to thinking about letting go completely, though.  Maybe next year.

Anyhoo, not that I need to bore you with the inner workings of my mind here.  I’m writing this particular post to exclaim the wonders of a book we are giving homage to this session – a book from Brown Paper School Publishing (see a former post about this publisher, one of my favorites).  Here it is in itty-bitty format (sorry for the wee picture – you can click on it to get to Amazon for more information):

It’s been sitting on the shelf for several months now and caught my attention.  Just what the doctor ordered, if there is a doctor that orders such things – art and science mixed together!  Here’s the title in case you missed it in the itty-bitty picture:  Gee, Wiz!  How to Mix Art and Science or The Art of Thinking Scientifically by Linda Allison and David Katz.

Today we messed around with chromatography, water-soluble markers, filter paper and water.  We watched colors separate and climb up the paper into some pretty terrific designs and learned how chemists use chromatography to identify compounds in a lab.  The entire first section of the book is devoted to exploding colors.  You’ll also get exposure to fantastic elastics, wet and creepy stuff, water’s weird skin, unmixables, movies on the brain, one-eyed crazies, making it big, looking alike, balancing the impossible (sounds like a mom’s to-do list, eh?), and forces that are with you.

I guess this book will more than qualify for the science portion of the next six weeks (or longer, probably).  We’re going to steadily work our way through it and see what happens.

It’s available for a penny on Amazon, used.  I say, anytime you see a Brown Paper School book, snap it up!  They are gems, the whole lot of them.

The Art of Math

Since we’re on the subject of mixing stuff together, let’s look and see how math and art get along when they are ingredients within the same book.  Seems like they meld beautifully into some tasty possibilities!  Some children might resonate with this unique and creative take on math concepts.

As always, click on the books to link to more information and to exert your purchasing power!  Better yet, check your local library.

Hal Torrance uses art activities and humor to teach math concepts.

The follow-up to Hal Torrance’s first book.

In this unique book, you’ll find dozens of creative projects that make a natural connection between math and art. Students make “stained glass windows” to explore geometry, create a “multiplication house” to reinforce basic multiplication facts, design “fraction flags” and make “place value” snakes! Plus: projects involving number sense, measurement, patterns, symmetry, statistics, and more.  Maybe the concepts aren’t so broad in this book – I like “big” concept books that stretch your imagination.

I couldn’t find any information regarding ‘age appropriateness’ of this book.  Judging by the cover (hah!) it looks a little more complex?  Sorry – can’t tell.

Donate Rice to Stop World Hunger and Learn at the Same Time

Thank you, Tammie, for this resource.  The United Nations World Food Programme designed this concept and a website to help bring attention to world hunger, and more importantly, to put an end to it.  Your child can help right from your living room!  Your child can spend time on this site anytime, answer questions about many subjects (from chemistry to Spanish to geography to math and more), and for each right answer, ten grains of rice are donated to hungry people all over the world.  No fluff here, it’s the real deal.  According to the UN, a child dies every 6 seconds from hunger.



Today Max answered questions about vocabulary and geography and in the process earned 600 grains of rice.  That’s the best part.  Secondarily, he got to practice some of his language and geography skills.

The subjects covered are:  famous paintings, chemistry symbols, English grammar and vocabulary, world geography and capitals, French, German, Italian and Spanish, pre-algebra math and the multiplication table.  Within each subject you advance to harder levels to keep going.

If you answer a question incorrectly, FreeRice will ask the same question again later so you can try again.  Here’s a section quoted from the FreeRice site explaining how questions are chosen for you:

FreeRice has a custom database containing knowledge questions at varying levels of difficulty. There are levels appropriate for beginners and levels that will challenge the most scholarly professors. In between are levels suitable for students of all ages, business people, homemakers, doctors, truck drivers, retired people. everyone!

FreeRice automatically adjusts to your level. It starts by giving you questions of increasing difficulty and then, based on how you do, assigns you an approximate starting level. You then determine a more exact level for yourself as you play. When you get a question wrong, you go to an easier level. When you get three questions in a row right, you go to a harder level. This one-to-three ratio is best for keeping you at the ‘outer fringe.’ of your skills, where learning can take place.

In the vocabulary section, you can hear each word pronounced by clicking on the megaphone symbol next to the word – nice feature.

Companies sponsor banners on the FreeRice site; money from these banners help to purchase the rice that is then given to those suffering from hunger.  Another quote from the FAQ section:

FreeRice does not make any money from this. FreeRice is a website committed to the cause of ending hunger around the world. It is run entirely for free and at no profit. All money (100%) raised by the site goes to the UN World Food Programme to help feed the hungry. Sponsors make all payments to the UN World Food Programme directly.”

Enough said.  Go play and help save the day! This is win-win.

Cobblestone Publishing

Cobblestone Publishing is responsible for many unique publications, definitely not run-of-the-mill – one of which is a gem in children’s literature.  CRICKET magazine has been around for over thirty years mainly because it’s held fast to publishing quality stories that are not your general fare.  You won’t find Captain Underpants or Junie B. Jones in these pages!  Nothing wrong with those books really, but I just see them everywhere and have begun to think that people are losing their imaginations.  Sometimes it’s necessary to look beyond the mainstream and dig a little deeper to get to the good stuff.

My only complaint is that the magazine is a little pricey at $34.00 for nine issues throughout a year.  And since it’s only published nine times in a twelve month period, you have to wait awhile between issues.  Oftentimes with stories that carry over from issue to issue you have to go back and remind yourself about what happened in the previous issue before continuing on.  This mag is targeted to the 9 to 14-year-old audience and does so brilliantly with tremendous variety in the styles of writing.  Each issue is approximately 50 pages long and you won’t run into a single ad!  Gotta’ love that tactic, especially in times like these when we are bombarded with noise everywhere.  I suppose you could argue that blogging is a form of noise, too, huh?  I’ll try to pipe down.  Sorry.

It’s not solid corner-to-corner story writing, but is broken up with puzzles, short comics, recipes, activities, too.  We’ve been enjoying the offerings so far and usually save these stories for some bedtime reading.  I’m hooked right now on a story about the terrible atrocities suffered by the Chickasaw people and would like to get my hands on the first issue in which the story began.  Should you wish to peruse a sample of CRICKET magazine, here is a link for you.

CRICKET is just one of the great magazines Cobblestone Publishing produces.  If you want to focus on science, history and art, MUSE would be a nice choice:

COBBLESTONE Magazine focuses on American History:

DIG Magazine celebrates the discoveries in archaeology:

CALLIOPE Magazine concentrates on world history:

ODYSSEY highlights the world of science:

And last but not least, FACES helps kids to learn about different cultures:

Now, these are the magazines specially created for the 9 to 14-year-old set.  There are many others tailored to younger and older children.  Plus their website has a carefully chosen selection of books and games to look over, too.

You can even change your subscription to any one of their other magazines at no cost, too.  That’s a nice option!  We just might have to pick our way over some cobblestones, muse over the selections, ponder the odyssey of options, dig our way into some knowledge and see whose faces we meet!  Maybe we’ll get to meet Calliope.  Maybe I’ll get my money’s worth by switching subscriptions each month!

A Funny 10-Year Old’s View of Traveling the World Care of Melanie Martin!

Meet ten-year old Melanie Martin!  Travel with her and her family to Italy, Spain, Amsterdam and visit her in Manhattan in four separate books.  This is diary-format fiction about growing up with lots of art, history, culture and geography mixed in.  Children and adults love Melanie’s adventures – she’s a quirky kid with typical kid troubles like a bratty brother and crushes on a cute boy she meets in Spain.  Carol Weston is the creator of Melanie and she has amassed many fans because her style of writing is funny and right on the mark when it comes to the drama in the lives of ten-year-olds.  I am looking forward to reading these aloud and learning about the places Melanie travels to with her family, not to mention what makes ten-year olds tick – because I have one! 


Melanie in Manhattan (2006)

The Diary of Melanie Martin:  Or How I Survived Matt the Bratt, Michelangelo, and the Leaning Tower of Pizza (2001)

Melanie Martin Goes Dutch:  The Private Diary of My Almost Bummer Summer with Cecily, Matt the Bratt and Vincent Van Go Go Go (2003)

With Love from Spain, Melanie Martin (2005)


Art History Games

Today I had the pleasure of moseying through the vast collection of art at the Art Institute of Chicago here in the Windy City.  Some of it pulled me closer, other pieces made me frown and wonder why on earth they were taking up space, and still others made me stop and nearly gasp at the clarity of expression or color or the amount of detail.  Renoir is my new favorite artist!  His colors are magnificent.  I could have studied on his work for much longer than I did.  Van Gogh’s self-portrait was a treat to behold, too.  My only regret about the afternoon was not having our kiddo with us to see what some incredibly talented people have put to canvas.  So, I got to thinking which led to searching which led to this shorter-than-usual post about art games, particularly those centered around art appreciation or art history.  The museum shop had a collection of memory cards, but I balked at the price and promptly set them down.  Surely there are talented people who have placed art history into a game format for those of us wishing to expand our appreciation and knowledge of such topics.  I found a few which look promising and will follow up this post with a few more intriguing art books I ran across.

  A memory game that could be played with increasing difficulty if you wish by having to name the artist or the name of the piece or the country of origin or the time period, etc.

This isn’t a ‘game’ per say, but you’ll need a notebook and pen to help ferret out the clues to help solve an art mystery.  You as the reader must help the curator determine which paintings are fake and which are real by working through various clues so that a show can be saved.  There are two other books in this series.  Highly recommended by readers as engrossing.

Thirty-six playing cards to play a ‘go fish’ or ‘concentration’ game and a ninety page art history companion that provides a two-page spread of information for each card.   Van Gogh and Friends features Post-Impressionist artists Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cezanne, Seurat, Rousseau and Toulouse-Lautrec.

Same type of ‘go fish/concentration’ game featuring Monet, Renoir, Degas, Cassatt and others.


 Board game wherein you collect great art, auction it, hide it or steal it.  Some complaints about the directions/rules being vague, though.

 Will be back with more clever books about art history and art appreciation…………………..