Using Your Noggin

Mindware has some nifty card sets available that have won some awards – when I see stuff like this I think, “hmmm – maybe we should get some of these, you know, just to have around.”  Each deck contains 30 cards sporting trivia, multiple choice and true/false questions about a variety of subjects.  Mindware happens to package the decks in sets of six, or they can be purchased separately.  I did not check prices on Amazon, but they might be available used.  I always try to check eBay and some homeschool co-op websites – sometimes you stumble upon just what you were looking for!  Here are some of the card sets:

Professor Noggin’s History and Geography Card Games

Professor Noggins Science Card Games (set of six)

Nature Card Set

I’m going to investigate the history card games a bit further being that we’ll be working on American history in the fall.  I bet the nature card series would go over well for rides in the car/longer trips.  These could be entertaining at the dinner table, too – for the whole family.

Noggins are useful for all sorts of things and all noggins can benefit from well-crafted educational games.  Noggins probably like to have breaks from electronic stimulation and all those video screens!  At least that’s the theory I’m going with over the summer – wish me luck.

Unfortunately, the video game lure is strong over here and I have to stay on my toes to keep everything balanced.  It is challenging for me to set limits on Max lately, mostly because I have my head in other places, I’m cleaning up the house, tending to the garden, washing a dog, what have you.  When I look up, he has cleverly noted that I am NOT PAYING ATTENTION and he has furtively pressed the “on” button on the Wii.  During the school year I set a strict (tongue-in-cheek) limit – no electronics until after 5 p.m. when school is wrapped up and preferably, not much video game time at all.  I make a concerted effort to keep him otherwise occupied with friends, playing outside, playing a game, or perusing the entire Calvin and Hobbs anthology.  I can generally hold the video game monster at bay if I’m tuned in and brandishing a big sword.  I wonder how many other moms feel this way.  Generalizing, but I think most dads like to indulge the video game habit as they might enjoy playing video games themselves.  I kind of have a guttural and unpleasant reaction to too much screen time – call me a pansy, but somewhere deep inside me I think too much electronic stimulation is ungood.

Yesterday I had my head down and was butting my way through piles in the house, trying to rewire my genetic code and make it and the house more orderly.  I was deep into piles of mail, piles of dishes, piles of animal bedding in cages that needed cleaning.  I made good progress, but Max is equipped with 3G Mom-dar and can accurately pinpoint where my focus is centered.  He jumped back and forth from the Wii to the computer and filled his day with flashing screens.

Not that video games and screen time is all bad – it isn’t.  I swear, because of video games, he has the dexterity of a surgeon and his problem-solving skills make mine shamefully skitter for the nearest rock to hide under.  His imagination is stimulated, he is moving when he uses the Wii, and we sometimes play together, although his dad is much better about that.  I don’t cotton much to video games and just plain fail to get excited about them.  I guess it’s all about balance, as with everything else – keeping video game time balanced with other activities that engage kids to use their noggins in other ways!

Check out what Professor Noggin has to offer – if not for the summer months, then for next year’s school year when you need a little something to have fun with and encourage learning.  Take care of those noggins and use them well!



Clue Finders

Well, it all started with Carmen Sandiego, which led to me paying attention to the software company, which led to me looking up said software company, which led to finding all of this OTHER software…..this is how it always happens!  Following these trails is exciting because the end result is usually good.   Mapless, no global positioning system – just hunting for out-of-the-ordinary materials to make our school days more creative and fun.

The Learning Company produces a few noteworthy products for sure.  We have thoroughly enjoyed chasing Carmen Sandiego hither and yon all over the globe, learning world geography along the way.  She’s just so darn slippery!  Kind of like those games in Las Vegas, if you ask me – she’s rigged to get away every time.  The Learning Company is responsible for the Carmen Sandiego games and here are some others to hopefully get you and your kiddo excited:

[Click on the pictures to get more information and to read reviews]

Learn Essential Subjects in an Egyptian Adventure!

  • Math – Multiply the two numbers on the sign above each jeep to figure out which one can make it all the way to Cairo.
  • Reading – Build reading comprehension skills as you interpret reading passages and earn valuable Cairoglyphs to gain your next clue.
  • Geography – Master U.S. and world geography as you help ship packages around the world. Can you locate the city west of Denver?
  • Vocabulary – Learn antonyms, synonyms, and homonyms as you move blocks of stone one at a time to complete a sentence.
  • Science – Develop your knowledge of mass, force, and angle to construct a bridge across a river. Watch out for the crocodiles!
  • Math – Solve math problems with decimals as you stack the correct column sections to build a miniature palace.
  • Word Problems –  Solve word problems to gain access into a mysterious ancient pyramid. More adventure awaits inside!
  • Spelling – Spell your way across the chasm to stop the evil archaeologist before he takes over. Be careful, one wrong letter can spell disaster!

***UPDATE AS OF 3/24/10Well, I had high hopes for the above-mentioned software.  I purchased it used on Amazon and we have stumbled upon some computer glitches.  We are able to get maybe 15 minutes into the adventure and then the computer crashes.  We’ve tried two different computers (Windows platform), to no avail.  I’m really disappointed!  I may contact The Learning Company to see if the problem can be resolved because what I saw of the game so far I really liked.  Math, geography, history…….Max was having fun while it lasted.  So, read the reviews and decide if you want to give it a try.

A tsunami, a lost island and a volcano ready to erupt add the adventure to this edition – this is probably the one we would start with.

Mutant plant warriors (?) threaten to take over a town and it’s your job to protect it through sheer brain power!

All of these tap into math, reading, science, vocabulary, geography and spelling skills.  They are formulated for your PC or Mac and are not expensive.  Don’t forget to check eBay or your local homeschool co-ops – you might be pleasantly surprised at the inexpensive or free materials floating around out there!  Good luck on your hunt.

We Haven’t Found Carmen Sandiego…..Yet.

What an adventure Max is having trying to locate the lady in red who is none other than Carmen Sandiego!  Carmen’s been around for many years and you can try and track her with uploadable software or by playing a board game.  I picked up a cheap version of the software and uploaded it yesterday.  Max has been jet-setting all over the world and learning as he goes.  Occasionally he’ll yell out something like, “Mom!  Where do I go to get to Capetown?”  or “whose country flag is this one?”

It’s a twisty-turny adventure through many cities and countries.  The two A.C.M.E. agents tracking Ms. Sandiego are fun because they sometimes bicker.  You have a database of information at your disposal so you can research some information about a clue, you can collect electronic gadgets along the way (like a clue analyzer or an ‘electron illuminator’, which is just a plain old flashlight) to help you out in certain situations, and there’s a notebook wherein you can store information about your clues, etc. etc.  Occasionally you’ll run into a logic puzzle that you need to solve in order to receive another clue.  I sat with Max for the first 30 minutes to help if he got stuck, but then he took off on his own and got lost in the hunt for clues.

It’s cleverly designed and worth playing.  Since yesterday Max has been to Thailand, South Africa, Mexico, Peru, Brazil, Antarctica, the United Kingdom, Russia, New Zealand……….all the while being exposed to cultural and country facts.  The graphics do a good job of capturing the essence of each place, right down to the foods that are favored and the mode of dress.  The Peruvians are so colorful!

Here’s a picture of this particular software.  Staples carries it as does The Learning Company, which is the retailer for this software (Broderbund Software):

I’m very pleased with the game.  I also suspect that Carmen might not be as vile as she is made out to be.  But we’ll have to see once we figure out her motives and find her!

There are many other similar products that involve Carmen Sandiego.  Here are a few choices to get you searching in case you are interested:

This one looks particularly intriguing since you need to use more abstract thinking to solve pieces to the puzzle – and you get to meet interesting characters from history like Julius Caesar, Beethoven, Thomas Jefferson, Leif Erikson and many others.  Looks like a fantastic history game!

Good for us non-quick thinkers.

I did notice while reading some of the reviews that the software sometimes has challenges in various platforms like Windows XP or MacOs, and other newer versions.  Most seemed to generally be very pleased with Carmen and her hijinks!

Oooo – several episodes from Carmen’s TV series in DVD format!  How cool is this?

Rita Moreno plays the role of Carmen.  There are a few other DVD episode sets available, too.

More Great Geography Games

Our planet is really very small. Over time it’s not hard to gradually introduce our kids to the wonders of various locations across the globe. Gradually is the operative word here, I think. Rather than drill work (ack – let’s all slump over and express our collective distaste), GAMES are a much more palatable option. We’ve been playing The Amazing Mammoth Hunt game and have gradually (there’s that word again – see how important it is?) been ingesting more information about where things are on Planet Earth. Next year, in ‘fifth’ grade, we’ll tackle the intricacies of locations in the United States more closely, I think. For now we’re looking at the whole big wide world. And I’m finally getting the Eastern Block countries sorted out, not to mention the wonderful puzzle of Africa’s countries and how they all fit together.

Here are some geography games, world and otherwise, targeted to this particular learning venture. I did a separate post about The Amazing Mammoth Hunt game, so I’ll just place a picture of the game here in this listing.  As always, click on the pictures to link to more information about the games.  They’re all awesome!

Excellent quality besides being a fun game to play.  I’m impressed with the sturdiness.  Learn world geography.

Six games on six levels of play offer players of all ages a complete up-to-date tour of world geography. Learn the names, locations and vital facts of all 196 countries! Players will learn facts about every country in the world including; country name, continent, flag, capital, population, rank in size, literacy rate, monetary unit, languages, religions, imports, exports and seacoasts.Game includes 6 region maps (Africa, Asia, Europe, North American, South America and Oceania), 196 country cards, 6 wild cards, 1 spinner, 1 bodies of water reference board, 120 playing pieces and instructions.For 2 – 6 players, ages 8 and up.

Now there’s a question one could ponder over…….do I know where I am?  Lots of levels of meaning there.  This game sports 3,000 questions and delves not only into location, but events, culture, history, sports and natural wonders.  There is also a handicapping system to help newbie geographers compete with a person who has traveled the globe extensively.  For ages 10 and up, which is so subjective.

Out of the Box Ten Days in Europe.  You get to spend 10 days in Europe and plan your travels, trying to outwit other travelers by strategizing your plans.  This game is one of a series from Out of the Box Publishing.  You can also spend 10 days in Asia, Africa, and the USA.

Brain Box is just so catchy, so it gets extra points.  This is a memory game!  Each player gets 10 seconds to look at a card to memorize details, then must turn it over.  The other players get to quiz about details on the cards and see how much the person remembers about a country.  The game is made from recycled materials, so it gets even more bonus points!  Those clever Mindware folks are a-okay.  A Brain Box about the USA is available, too.

Mindware Atlas Adventure is the exciting world discovery game where players have to build a world map. But beware! Continents or oceans may have to be traded with other players. Advanced players have to answer challenging multiple-choice questions. Level 1 is for ages 7+ and Level 2 is for ages 12+. By using the different levels, all the family can play the game together.

Players move around the map game board and answer questions about cities,
states, lakes, rivers, oceans, national parks, crops, industries, and more.
When they answer a question correctly, they’ll earn that state’s flag.
The first player to collect 6 state flags, wins the game.

The subject matter looks to be a little more simplified, but the concept is a great one – use your entire body to learn!  Recommended for ages 7 and up.

I could search and search and come up with board games that at their heart, have the same format.  The above are listed to get you searching for, pondering over, and hopefully choosing a great geographical game!  Best wishes in your hunt and may you have lots and lots of fun exploring our little piece of the solar system.

Real Life Geography – An Idea

Back in first grade Max’s class made elves out of fabric, stuffed them, dressed them and named them (the whole process was a huge undertaking for the teacher, let me tell you) with the intent of sending them with someone they knew who was traveling anywhere, even if it was to the next town over.  The kids made a journal to send along with the elves and the person traveling was supposed to make notes in the journal of where the elf had visited, or take pictures if the person was particularly motivated to help your kiddo out.

Max’s elf traveled to Spain and a few places around the US.  The idea was, at the end of the travels, to send the elf and journal/pictures back to the child so he or she could trace the elf’s exploits into foreign territory.  Great idea in theory!  More than half of Max’s class never got their elves back, which was kind of a let down after all that work and excitement went into them.

You could attempt something along these lines and ask the traveler to send periodic emails to your child instead of completing a journal.  The digital age makes this sort of endeavor much less cumbersome these days.  So there’s an idea!  When you get the emails, it’s off to the map or globe you go to locate where your wanderlust ‘elf’ has landed!

We are trying to pay attention to where friends and family members are traveling.  Recently a Haitian friend flew to the Dominican Republic to grab a bus to earthquake-devastated Port Au Prince.  His trip is taking him to Santo Domingo and then cross-country to PAP.  We are following his adventure on our map (he is there to deliver supplies to an orphanage and to check on family members).  Another friend is in the armed services stationed somewhere in Somalia, so that information took us to the world map on the wall, too.  It helps to have a personal connection for information to sink in a little further than it normally would.

Take advantage of these events.  Get your kids interested in where others are going.  You might be surprised how much geography you learn together!

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.