Teaching ASL Sign Language to Children: Homeschool Resources

September 27, 2012

What is this little cutie pie saying with sign language?

He’s making the sign for “full”.  He’s too full to finish his oatmeal.

In his other hand?  Oh, that’s a piece of toast drenched in sugar and cinnamon he just got from one of his brothers.


I’m glad the sign language we taught him as a baby is paying off:

If you haven’t played around with young children and sign language, they pick it up very easily and it comes in handy when they can’t speak yet and get frustrated trying to communicate with you.

And if you have a child reluctant to learn a foreign language, they’ll often get excited about “speaking with their hands.”

Here are some of our favorite ASL resources:

  • Pick up a Baby Signs book full of easy to learn, simple signs, to help the youngest in the family make their wishes known.
  • A.S.L.U – a website with full online ASL courses complete with outlines, video, and self-testing.
  • Signing Time video series – We first saw this excellent series on PBS and it’s now available on DVD.  The kids will come in from other rooms and join in watching and signing.


Posted under Foreign Languages

20 Tips and Ideas for Teaching Reading at Home

September 20, 2012

Whether it’s simple phonics books, trying to discover a love of reading, or wading through a classic tome as a teen, reading is an integral part of life and homeschooling.

Here are some ideas to encourage reading and make it fun:

  1. Have older kids read to the younger – keep two or three kids busy with one stone . . .er, book.  🙂
  2. Read to them, read, read, and then read some more.  It’s quality time with a parent and school at the same time.
  3. Ok, so if you’re sick of reading “Goodnight Moon” for the 30th time, try making of a recording of you reading aloud and let them listen to it 30 times themselves while flipping through the book.  On the computer, try a great open-source free recording software called Audacity.  On an Apple device, just use the pre-installed app called “Voice Memo” to make great recordings.
  4. Try my favorite ‘old school’ phonics series – the one I learned to read with in the ’70s:  I See Sam
  5. Check out Starfall.com – one of the best (and free) phonics-based websites out there.
  6. If your kids play Minecraft or other computer games with friends, encourage the in-game chatting they do back and forth = reading, typing, and spelling all-in-one.
  7. Peruse the ‘Series‘ section of your library with your child and pick out book #1 from a few series.  If you can find one they like, they’ll have lots of enjoyable reading as they work through the series.  Some of our favorites:  Henry and Mudge (early reader), The Animorphs (fantasy tween age), The Magic Treehouse (tween age), many Rick Riordan books (tween – teen age).  What are your favorites?
  8. Pick a reference book about a subject your child enjoys – a child who reluctantly reads storybooks, may spend hours watching birds and looking up their identifications:
  9. Look for a how-to book on a favorite subject.  Watercolor art lessons might be the perfect motivation to encourage your artist to do a little reading:
  10. Don’t forget magazines.  The short articles, lots of pictures and wide variety of topics may be just the thing for shorter attention spans.
  11. Reading and understanding written instructions is a valuable skill.  Help your child decipher the next set of instructions that come with a toy, gift, or new electronics.
  12. Don’t answer their questions.  I joke to my kids that, “I am NOT Google.”  When they ask a question, I help them search for an age appropriate article on the topic online and let them read about it for themselves.  Try the Simple Wikipedia for answers that are written in a more basic language with shorter sentences:
  13. Comic Books and Graphic Novels can be a great starting point for a reluctant reader.  My oldest particularly enjoyed the old style Superhero comic collections at the library, while my daughter liked the graphic novel, Rapunzel’s Revenge:
  14. Audio books can be a great babysitter enrichment tool.  One of my reluctant readers was interested in stories beyond her reading capabilities.  I checked out both the audio CDs and the print book and had her follow along as she listened.  Her reading speed improved immensely.  This is also very helpful for some of the unfamiliar vocabulary found in classics.  It’s much easier to understand if you hear someone speaking the words.
  15. Appeal to their sweet tooth.  Tell them they can pick anything they want to make out of the cookbook dessert section.  Take it a step further and have them make the shopping list and go to the store with you to buy the ingredients. (writing and math done, too)
  16. Be the example.  Read in front of them . . . tell them to leave you along because you’re busy reading . . . hide in the bathroom to finish just one more chapter of your book before the kids find you 🙂
  17. Next trip you have planned, get them involved reading about where you’re going, looking up activities, science museums, etc., to do while you’re there.
  18. If they like movies, have them peruse the descriptions on Netflix and pick out something to watch that evening.
  19. We all like recognition, don’t we?  A sticker chart for every book read, an outing after reaching a reading goal, your child could draw a picture about each book he/she has read and bind them into a notebook once a year, snap pictures of front covers, print them out and make a collage, etc.  Get creative with lots of fun ways to acknowledge the progress your child is making in reading.
  20. Pay attention to what you’re reading.  Basically, anytime you find yourself reading something, like this blog, for instance, see if it’s something your child might enjoy, like reading a blog, for example. 🙂

Hopefully this list sparked some fun ideas to use with your family.  If you have other good ones, I’d love to add to the list.  Thanks!

Posted under Reading Curriculum

Patterns and Beads: Preschool Fun

August 17, 2012

Guess what my 4-year-old is doing that kept  him completely focused for over an hour this morning.

We borrowed some pony beads from his sister and a dug a few pipe cleaners out of the craft cupboard.

And since I suggested he try to make some patterns with the beads, we’re calling it ‘pre-school math’.

Don’t you love cute chubby fingers?  (Especially when he’s been painting nails with his older sister, who is the only girl in the family. :-))

The final result?  A proud boy with his necklace.

Supply ideas:

  • Pipe cleaners.
  • Pony beads or any other larger beads that little fingers can handle.
  • Round cereal like Cheerios, Fruit Loops, or Apple Jacks so you can eat your creation when you’re done.
  • One or more bored children.

Activity ideas

  • Start by sorting the different colored pony beads into their own containers at the beginning = more math!
  • Cut the pipe cleaners shorter to make bracelets and rings, or twist two together to make a necklace.  Bend a hook on one end to keep the beads from sliding off the edge.  To finish the piece, bend a small hook in each end and then tuck the sharp point under a bead.
  • Start with simple patterns and move to more complex ones.
  • Demonstrate new patterns and play the “What comes next?” game by starting a pattern and asking the other person what the next beads are.  Take turns so your child can try to stump you too.
  • Write a blog post about the activity so your little one can grin at his pictures on the computer.  🙂

Do you have any fun preschool activities that keep the kiddoes busy?  I can always use good ideas!


Posted under Homeschool Crafts, Math Curriculum

More Fun Bird Ideas

July 18, 2012

(Here is an article with some more fun bird ideas submitted by one of our readers)

While I was ‘surfing’ the net, I ran across this site, and was fascinated with the bird watching article for children. What a wonderful idea to get children interested in something besides television or screen games!

A good homemade bird feeder is an empty water jug, or you can use 2 Liter soda bottle. In the example to the left, they have cut small holes in the bottle, and then pushed wooden spoons thru the holes, providing both a perch and a seed cup. Paint your new feeder with flowers or birds – let your imagination run wild! You can also use stickers for decoration if you like.

After the paint is dry put feed in the container, then hang from a tree branch with wire or twine. You will have scores of birds coming for ‘dinner’!

TIP: From the beautiful pictures taken of the birds you saw, you seem to have a lot of the smaller variety of birds; sunflower seeds are too big for them to eat. Buy wild birdseed that is the size of parakeet or finch seed-then you will see a LOT of birds

Another way to help children learn the fascination of birds is to let them have a bird of their own. Mature children will do very well with a parakeet. Parakeets have beautiful plumage, the males talk non-stop, and they can be very loving little birds.

Since they are rather small birds, the bird cages required for them can be in the small to medium range. There is a huge selection of bird cages available, so you are sure to find one you like and will fit nicely in your home. Make sure he has plenty of toys in the cage, and food and water daily.

I think bird cages have a wonderful effect in the home; with the singing and bright colorful toys they seem to make the house more friendly and inviting.

Posted under Science Curriculum

Spring Homeschooling Bird Study Ideas

June 7, 2012

A few days ago, I found a chair by the back door with this beginner bird book perched on it, and my daughter out on the deck, engrossed in using the binoculars to try and spot as many birds as she could.

We like the book, but the birds listed are limited and we’re planning on moving up to this more ‘adult’ version:

She’s really taken to the whole “Nature Journal” idea and is drawing beautiful pictures of everything she sees:

I had to laugh, though, when I saw the box of crayons she used to ‘deck’ out her journal:

Or she’ll print a picture she takes, tape it in, and then write a few comments.

She was very excited to snap one of this swallow with “shimmery rainbow colors” as she described it.

And we were all excited one morning to find a whole family of goldfinches flitting around our garden and back yard.

She also attempted a homemade bird feeder that we weighted down with rocks (after the first one blew away) and filled with sunflower seeds, but sadly isn’t attracting any birds.  Do you have any good feeder/seed ideas that have worked for you?  She’d love to attract more birds to the back yard.

Have your kids had fun watching and studying birds?  I’d love some more ideas or books that you liked.  Please leave some suggestions in the comment section.

Posted under Science Curriculum

Did any of you see the solar eclipse?

May 31, 2012

We all ran outside eagerly to try and see the solar eclipse last week, but in Michigan it happened when the sun was very low in the horizon.

Darn trees!

I got a pretty sunset picture out of it, but it only looks like the beginning of a solar eclipse if you squint and hope.

Did any of you get to see it very well?

Posted under Science Curriculum

Learning Geography with Games and a Beach Ball

April 9, 2012

We’ve been homeschool geography slackers for quite some time.

Do you have any good geography suggestions?  I’m considering some kind of wall map and maybe a bigger globe that doesn’t break the bank.  If you have ideas for games, puzzles, maps, globes, etc., I’d love to hear them.

Here’s what we’ve been doing lately in my attempt to bring my kids up to speed.

We bought a Quick Pix Geography game an sale for $10 on Amazon:

The kids pulled out our dollar store world map place mat to help.

How to play:

  • Each kid gets 5 region cards.
  • The dealer flips a country card over
  • The first person to match their ‘region’ card correctly to the country card wins the match
  • 5 matches wins.
  • Have fun.

And then I went looking for a globe.  Sheesh!  Who knew how expensive globes were?

Not to mention my kids would probably break it.  So, instead of spending over $100 on a quality globe, we went with the $6 special:

Yep – a plastic beach ball inflatable globe.  It’s actually been working out well, except it’s a bit small.

I haven’t come up with any better ideas, so I’d love to hear yours.  Thanks!

Posted under Geography, Homeschool Reviews

Review of Morphology – A fun, new game we count as ‘school’

February 7, 2012

Last month, we just got a fun board game to test out and review, called Morphology.

Probably the best description is that it’s like Pictionary, but with objects.  Instead of drawing your word, you have to build it with a bunch of small objects like string, beads, cubes, pawn-looking pieces, etc.

Our family of seven, ages 3 and up, played with it during early December (so it wouldn’t get swamped in the Christmas rush of toys) and everyone loved it.  I know it says 13 and up on the box, but with a little help even the younger kids have fun with it . . . though my 3-year-old refused to build the word on his card and kept building Minecraft scenarios he wanted us to guess at:  “It’s a creeper and TNT.”  🙂

Here’s what the kids thought of it:

12-year-old son:  I like the ability to create anything you want in any form, shape, or dimension.

10-year-old daughter:  It’s really fun.  I love trying to build funny objects.  But, I don’t know some of the words.

8-year-old son:  I like building the things that it says on the card.  Sometimes it’s hard to figure out what the other people are building.

6-year-old son:  It’s fun to build the stuff.  There’s stuff to use and you have time to guess.

3-year-old son:  I like the frogs!  Yes, it’s fun.


  1. Fun & Learning at the same time:  We now consider this game a way to take a fun break from our regular routine and still get some valuable ‘schooling’ done.  Here’s why:
  2. Vocabulary builder – While many of the words are known by most kids, there are plenty that aren’t, so they are building their vocabulary in a fun way.  (We usually had someone from the opposite team or a ‘non-player’ help with reading and explaining unknown words.)
  3. Spatial awareness and training – This game is a great ‘mind-stretcher’ for all ages as the builder tries to make odd pieces form a familiar shape and the guessers are trying to decide if the build is being done in 2D or 3D.  Is it a 2D flat picture of a table?  Or is it a 3D build of a table?
  4. Teamwork and communicating – A great exercise in getting your point across and understanding gestures, facial expressions, etc., all while you’re working together to figure out the answer.
  5. Social skills – Frustration, especially for younger kids, can flare up in this game as one person is trying to communicate the answer and the others just aren’t getting it, all the while, time is ticking away.  I actually like frustration in non-critical situations, because I think it’s a great chance to help kids practice how to handle it.  I try to use questions like, “How do you think you can stay calm when no one can guess your clue?”
  6. Many possible variations – When we first got the game, we started by just taking turns building a word and everyone trying to guess it.  We didn’t even use the game board.  This gave everyone time to practice the new skills of using objects to communicate while removing any time or win/lose pressure (to decrease the frustration level, if desired).  The game allows you to easily follow the rules or make up your own.


  1. The cards seemed a bit thin and easily bent, which makes sense for an age 13+ game, but not so durable for our crowd.
  2. Occasional words seemed uncommon and difficult to guess even if you did a good build, ie: acne instead of zits, and banjo instead of guitar.  We just added a rule that synonyms or “really close to the same thing” words would count as a score.

Overall, it’s a game that makes a fun variation from your typical board game and keeps the kids thinking and learning at the same time.


Posted under Homeschool Curriculum

Take a break from writing and try the free TypingWeb

January 9, 2012

If your kids are gripping about writing lessons, why not start teaching them to type?

I remember watching my toddler use a mouse better than his grandma and realizing that we are in a completely different world now.

So, why wait to teach typing?  In fact, I have to admit, I type much more nowadays that I actually write.

One of my BFFs (hey, old people can have BFFs, too), recommended a great site that her kids have been using to learn to type, for free:


What we like:

  • It’s FREE (There is an optional one-time $10 fee to remove ads and unlock extra lessons and games)
  • You can track your progress.
  • Typing games make it more fun to learn.
  • A free Teacher Portal:  If you sign up first, you can make a username and password for each of your kids.  Then, using the teacher portal, you can keep track of each child’s progress.  All the basics are free.  (They do offer ad-free and premium service options for $4.99 per student if you’d like.)

I hope you enjoy it, too.

Posted under Homeschool Curriculum

IWriteWords App Review – My 3-year-old loves it!

December 15, 2011

Photo by Julosstock

We found a great little app today that got my 3-year-old writing with his fingers and loving it:  IWriteWords:

It’s a $2.99 app that has a little crab your youngster can touch with his finger and drag over numbered dots to write each step in uppercase/lowercase letters, short words, and numbers.  It quickly teaches them the correct strokes needed to make the letters and has a cute childish drawing that pops up depicting the short words like ‘cat’ and ‘cup’ after correctly writing them.

My little guy wasn’t too interested in the letters by themselves, probably because they have no real meaning.  However, he loved writing words!  He looked so empowered and excited that he was actually writing words.  Then he started on the numbers, which he has recently gotten excited about through his newest game: ThinkFun Zingo 1-2-3.  He sat there, entranced, and wrote all the numbers up to 20 without a break.

Our favorite features:

  • Price:  IWriteWords Lite is free to try (only abc, 1-3, and 3 words are included).  Full version is $2.99
  • Both lower- and uppercase are offered and correct writing stroke orders are taught intuitively.
  • Replay feature, so when I finally get my IPod back, I can tap through all the words and numbers he’s been writing and see a replay of his actual strokes.  Cool to see him improve!
  • Included playable version of the ABC song he can tap his way through.
  • My child loves it and is excited about writing – that’s priceless . . . I wonder if it would get my 8-year-old excited about writing.  🙂

I wish they would make more apps with this kind of educational quality!  Enjoy.

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Posted under Writing Curriculum