Free Make-it Take-It @ Michaels Next Week

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December 17, 2011

Photo by Alexbruda

If you’re looking for something fun to do with the kids next week, head over to Michaels, where they will be having three FREE “Make-it Take-it” craft sessions next week.  Here’s the schedule for our area.  Make sure to verify with the store in your neighborhood before going:

  1. Monday, Dec. 19th, 11am – 1 pm:  Camille’s Fun Dough Shapes
  2. Wednesday, Dec. 21st, 11 am – 1 pm: Orion’s Foam Block Stamping
  3. Friday, Dec. 23rd, 11 am – 1 pm: Olier’s Sand & Glitter Art


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Posted under Homeschool Crafts

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

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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

50% off Melissa and Doug Today – Great Learning Toys

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December 8, 2011

We love the Melissa and Doug toys for the under 6 crowd in our home, and today they are 50% off as Amazon’s deal of the day:

Melissa and Doug Sale

A couple of our favorites are $10 instead of $20:

Melissa and Doug Cutting Food Box

And for some fun early pattern and math skills, this keeps my 3-year-old intently busy for up to 30 minutes.  That’s a record!  🙂

Melissa and Doug Pattern Blocks and Boards


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Posted under Homeschool Bargains

My favorite tips on getting this year’s best Amazon deals

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December 6, 2011

In addition to homeschooling, I’ve always been an avid bargain shopper, so I hope you’ll excuse the occasional deal post.  Amazon seems to always have the greatest discounts this time of year, plus it’s delivered right to my door.  Win, win!

Here are a few tips that have helped me out:

  1. Get a free Amazon Prime Membership Trial, which gives you free 2-day shipping and also removes the $25 order requirement to get free shipping.  You can only do this if it’s been 13 months since a previous free trial. (Make sure to go into “My Account” and “Manage Prime Membership” and review whether you want the Prime to automatically renew after the trial.)
  2. Check out the Movers and Shakers Amazon page.  In the left hand column, you can click on the category you’re looking at like ‘toys’ or ‘books’.  This will show you products that have started selling much faster than usual.  This is usually the really popular items along with the ones you’re looking for – the best priced deals.
    • Like these two expansions to our newest family favorite game, Dominion.  We love it because everyone from age 5 to adult enjoys it.  The expansions are usually around $45 and today they dropped to $22 and quickly made the Movers and Shakers page.  Yay!
  3. The Lightning Deals– These go on all day and have specific starting and ending times.  Here are ideas to help you get the items you want:
    • If you’re at all interested in an item, and they are going fast, click and add it to your cart.  You will have 15 minutes to think about it before you need to check out.  If you don’t buy it, it will go to the next person in line.
    • Lightning deals later in the day often only have a clue about what they are.  However, I have found that if you cut and paste the text of the clue and then do a google search for it, with the word “Amazon” you can often figure out what many of the upcoming items are.
  4. Finally, if you want to avoid the urgency of the Lightning Deals, you can check out the Deals of the Day or The Gold Box.  Here’s an idea to sift through the many pages of deals offered in the “Best Deal” slider box.  Here’s what to do.
    • Go to the “Best Deals” slider box in the middle of the page (which can be hundreds of pages).
    • Go to the “Sort by” drop down menu and choose “Percent off (high to low)”
    • Click on the category you’re interested in (toys and games, video games, etc.) just below the product images.
    • Buy the good ones: like this $20 Littlest Pet Shop set for $12

And I appreciate any shopping you do through my links – I get a small referral commission for Amazon purchases made through my links or by using the Amazon search box in the sidebar on my homepage.

Thank you and enjoy your holidays!

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Posted under Homeschool Bargains

Haiku: Poetry my boys loved and my daughter hated

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November 1, 2011

For writing today, I remembered a style of poetry we had a lot of fun with in school – Haiku.

It’s a Japanese style of poetry that based on a theme or image. However, it doesn’t usually rhyme. Instead it has a syllable pattern: 5 syllables for the first line, 7 for the second, and 5 for the third. (Clapping out syllables for a few example words and sentences really helped the younger kids.)

After explaining the basics, we wrote one together:

Kids running around
Making a lot of messes
Fun for everyone

Then the rest of the gang came up with one each on their own:

Our 11-year-old, in reference to his latest favorite game: Minecraft:
Mine some wood from trees
Make some wooden swords and tools
Go kill a creeper

My 10-year-old daughter stormed off, insisting “I’m going to do my own writing, instead of this dumb poetry”, proving that no lesson works for everyone and that puberty emotions are in full force at age 10.  🙂

Our 8-year-old boy:
I like Halloween
I can’t wait to trick or treat
Big bag of candy

And proving that imitation is the sincerely form of flattery, from our 6-year-old boy:

I like Halloween
People wear scary costumes
Big bags of candy

Overall a fun writing unit when you need a break from the daily grind.


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Posted under Writing Curriculum

Kids on the Porch – My lastest idea to stop the fighting

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September 27, 2011

We have had an epidemic of bickering, fighting, and condescending ‘You’ve got to me the stupidest creature on earth” voices in our house the last few months, and it’s driving me crazy.  At least until I came up with a simple idea to fix it all, with a little help.

I’ve always enjoyed the theory behind the Love and Logic books and would love to be the calm, empathetic parent when my kids misbehave . . . instead of the parent who finally loses it at the 452nd whining, bickering, complaining episode of the day.  “The straw that breaks the camel’s back” is a perfect synopsis of how I lose my temper.

So, in an effort to minimize my camel-back-breaking episodes, I’ve been reading, “Parenting Teens with Love and Logic” (the ‘teen’ part because of the ‘ah-hah’ moments about my 9-year-old girl’s frequent bawling episodes and my 11-year-old’s moodiness.)

So, my husband and I were discussing our frustration with the epidemic of nastiness we’ve had in the house lately.  I said I needed a simple consequence.  It had to be easy to give and not require thinking too hard.  (hey, that’s important at the end of the day.)

I had tried small chores, which resulted in slamming cupboards or other performances that I had a hard time staying calm through.  “Up to the room” usually just moved the fight to the hallway upstairs and I’d end up still having to break it up with an extra flight of stairs thrown in.

Then I had it:  OUTSIDE.

I could just escort the offenders to the front door and shut it behind them while saying in a sad voice, “Oh, what a bummer.  Fighting’s not allowed in this house.  We don’t talk to each other that way in our house.  Kicking your mother is not allowed in this house.  Speaking with that mean tone of voice isn’t allowed in our house.”  The possibilities were endless.

And there’s no time limit.  No forcing them to sit out there.  They’re welcome to come in any time they want to change their behavior.  And the door closing in your face while you’re standing on the front porch is such a powerful object lesson.  Instead of endlessly telling them, I’m showing them:  That kind of behavior isn’t allowed in our house.

How it works:

  • Notice fighting, nasty voice, bickering, disrespect.
  • In an empathetic, sad voice, use the phrase you like.  We use, “Oh, what a bummer.”
  • Identify what they’re doing wrong.  “Speaking in that tone of voice isn’t allowed in our house.”
  • Escort and even carry them out the front or back door and then shut it.
  • They can come in whenever they want, even immediately, if their behavior changes.

So, my husband and I agreed to start the next morning and to my delight I heard a shrieking battle Saturday morning, a calm voice speaking, and then the front door opening and shutting.  After that?  Amazing silence that continued most of the morning.

Is it wrong that I really enjoyed the surprise and shock on their faces?  And we didn’t tell them when they could come back in.  We trusted that they could figure it out.  So, after a few days of this, they either stay outside to rant and rave where I can’t see the show and respond to it, or they pop right back in the house, minus their bad behavior.  I’m loving it.

Combined with this summer’s easy idea to encourage good behavior, we’re making great progress towards a more peaceful home.

If you decide to try it, I’d love to hear how it works.  Or if you have things that work for you, please share.

. . . and I was just thinking . . . winter is just around the corner.  I wonder how cold it gets on the porch?

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Posted under Parenting

Homeschool Carnival – Harvest Edition

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September 20, 2011

Welcome to the Harvest Edition of The Carnival of Homeschooling.

Photo by OeilDeNuit

With summer fading and leaving behind fond memories and some regrets, we seem to really enjoy the fall season and the ‘Harvests’ of the year.  We’ve got to cram in lots of outside play time before the oncoming winter cold!

Harvesting Ideas from fellow homeschoolers

nak presents Telling the Bees by a Fighting Quaker – Plus a Book Recommendation! posted at Sage Parnassus.  A nice review on classic poetry and an old beekeepers’ tradition.

Mary presents Science Sunday – Phony Poop posted at Winecup Christian Academy, saying, “A fun hands on science project for boys!”

Chris presents How we are doing geography posted at MOB:Mothers of Boys, saying, “Learning about people and places through folk tales from around the world”

Jay3fer presents Meeting the Master: Mondrian posted at Adventures in Mama-Land, saying, “Meeting Mondrian with Meet the Masters, or just want an easy art project to introduce young kids to primary colours or modern art? This one is the VERY easiest… lots of fun, and (almost) no mess!”

Amy Broadmoore presents 10 Children’s Books About Fall posted at Delightful Children’s Books, saying, “Here are ten books to get kids excited about making apple sauce, creating autumn leaf artwork, coming up with the coolest Halloween costume ever, saving pumpkin seeds to plant next spring, and more.”

Harvesting the Fruits of our Labors

What you find after you return from a 3-week vacation 🙂

Kim Bennett presents A Child’s Garden: New Monthly Newsletter: “The Little Green Corner” posted at A Child’s Garden.

Serfronya presents Bird Unit Study: Free and Fun Ways to Learn About Birds posted at Cookie’s Domain and Ray’s Arithmetic, Math Flash Cards, and Worksheet Generators – Oh My posted at Public Domain Homeschool.

AnnieKate presents Real Life Learning: Insects and Harvests posted at Tea Time with Annie Kate.  She’s got some great pictures from the ‘school’ day spent harvesting their garden.

Harvesting Lessons from our Adventures

Ritsumei presents It’s Not What I Thought posted at Baby Steps.  She shares some interesting insights comparing learning math to learning music.

Kathi Weiss presents Learning On Vacation – Blogs – Parent Community and Forum posted at Homeschooll Online.  Read about some fun learning adventures on a train trip.

Pamela Jorrick presents The Fire Drill posted at Blah, Blah, Blog.  She shares preparedness lessons learned living close to fire country.

Angela Gray presents The Homeschool Lifestyle – Team Gray! posted at team Gray!, saying, “Time is elusive; time’s a gift. Homeschooling is a lifestyle that makes the most of it.”

Henry Cate presents A mainstay of our Family Council meetings: Who are we thankful to this week posted at Why Homeschool, saying, “Henry writes about how Janine and he are trying to teach their daughters to be more grateful.”

It’s such a good exercise to encourage positive thoughts as a habit, instead of the negative ones that are so pervasive.

Harvesting Knowledge from those More Experienced

Photo by svilen001

Maureen Sklaroff presents It’s Time to Register for the PSAT posted at Homeschool Mo.  Good info for those of you with children at grade 11 age.

Denise presents How to Conquer the Times Table, Part 2 posted at Let’s Play Math!, saying, “Many people resort to flashcards and worksheets in such situations, and computer games that flash the math facts are quite popular with parents. I recommend a different approach: We will use the world’s oldest interactive game — conversation — to explore multiplication patterns while memorizing as little as possible.”

Barbara Frank presents Waiting for “Superman” posted at Barbara Frank Online, saying, “This recent documentary makes it clear why we can’t give up control of our children’s education to the system.”

Rose presents Babysitting in the Nanny State – Learning at Home – Appeal-Democrat posted at Learning at Home.

Linda Dobson presents Seven Habits of Happy Homeschooling | PARENT AT THE HELM posted at PARENT AT THE HELM.  Some great tips to keep homeschooling vibrant and joyful.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this Harvest Edition of the Homeschool Blog Carnival. Please comment or link/tweet/facebook mention this article if you enjoyed it.

For next week, please submit your blog article to the next edition of carnival of homeschooling using our carnival submission form. Past posts and future hosts can be found on our blog carnival index page.

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Posted under Blog Carnivals

Using Music and the Acoustic Guitar to Help Accelerate Your Child’s Learning and Brain Development – Guest Post

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September 8, 2011

(Thank you to Aaron Schulman, for this guest post!)

Learning for every developing child requires several modalities to help a child to develop into a well-rounded and functional adult in a demanding society. With a structured, healthy home-life, a foundation of safety and good nurturing in tact, a child has a head-start over his or her peers who experience a more disruptive or unstable home life. However, considering many students whose homes are safe-havens for solid self-esteem and healthy development, not all students with similar family foundations develop at the same rate, or gravitate toward the same modalities of learning and intelligence types, nor do these variable guarantee educational success for developing children.

In fact, some students in public school find that the models of teaching and learning linguistics and logical-mathematical modalities (the majority of curriculum in public schools), can be quite challenging because their specific, individual strengths or gifts may reside in other areas of intelligence. Parents have noticed that because our modern societies and the educational almost demand that children learn to be successful while utilizing only two or three-sevenths of the “multiple-intelligences” that have been discovered (otherwise known as learning styles), many gifted students find themselves struggling with main-stream education that does not focus on or help to develop their unique learning strengths, styles or bents.

More than just Reading, Writing and Arithmetic

These seven learning styles (or multiple-intelligences as developed by Howard Gardner, developmental psychologist) are:

  • Linguistic (verbal and written communication)
  • Logical-mathematical (logical analytical skills)
  • Visual (spatial-creative thinking in abstract ways or dimensions)
  • Bodily-kinesthetic (using coordinated body movements to accomplish tasks)
  • Musical (musical aptitude and ability)
  • Interpersonal (development of “extravert” or other people oriented tendencies)
  • Intrapersonal (development of “introvert” or internal oriented tendencies)

Utilizing musical instruments (such as the acoustic guitar or drums) early and throughout the child’s development can help foster a sense of self-esteem, kinesthetic, musical, intrapersonal and interpersonal development and connection, while parents can invest more quality time with their growing children. Additionally, more advanced musical instruction as the child grows older can help develop more strengths in the visual, linguistic and logical-mathematical areas as well due to music’s demands on those skills or intelligence areas in order to become adept at learning, reading and playing music from written scores.

Personal experience and a bit of real science

From this author’s perspective as both an educator and a parent, using and encouraging musical development in children at an early age is a great way to invest in one’s child for self-esteem, a richer life experience, and some other developmental and educational benefits. Though there are a lot of peer-reviewed psychological journal articles that link formal music education to higher analytical and spatial intelligence development, (such as the Mozart effect on spatial memory enhancement and Dr. Gottfried Schlaug’s studies on higher corpus callosum growth in music students, this article’s focus is not to delve into the technical science behind the benefits of music, but the more practical benefits that can be realized.

When an parent uses music or a musical instrument to begin to share experience with his or her child, even at early ages preceding 12 months, one can witness a positive response. Children at very early ages, without any ability for verbal communication can begin to sense rhythm in music and can begin to move their little arms and legs (kinesthetic and musical intelligence) as they experience the rhythm of music. But that is not all that is occurring in their little developing brains. Studies have shown that children who begin to learn formal music before the age of 7 actually develop a more robust corpus callosum (the neural network that connects both left and right halves of the brain), showing that music learning enhances both the development of the logical-mathematical (ST or spatial temporal) parts of the brain and the Language-Analytical (LA reasoning) area of the brain. Much like a muscle in early development, the more that different parts of the brain are used in tandem in a positive, productive learning activity such as music, the more they appear to develop together: the corpus callosum actually determines how well both hemispheres of the brain interact or communicate with each other, and those who have been trained well in music have a higher connectivity between brain hemispheres.

About the author: Aaron Schulman is an avid guitar player, musician, father, husband, teacher and web developer. He enjoys writing, teaching and developing websites, including his acoustic guitar reviews site, After having a poor experience with his first guitar purchase, he studied guitar construction practices and began helping people make more informed guitar purchases. He has written many online guitar lessons, articles and reviews, including finding the “best acoustic guitars under 1000”. Before buying an acoustic guitar for a child or yourself, he recommends researching to learn first how a quality acoustic guitar is made.

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Posted under Music Curriculum

Today’s Secret to Five Happy, Obedient, Eager-to-Please Homeschooled Children

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July 6, 2011

A reluctant grouchy attitude has been filling our home for the last few weeks.  Then, yesterday I had a flash of brilliant parenting insight.  Yes, I know, it seems that every wonderful parenting idea only keeps the kids’ interest for a week or two, a month if you’re lucky.  So, I’m always thinking of new ideas.

So, here’s my latest:

Everyone usually agrees that rewards work better than punishments, but as parents we usually tend to notice the five bowls of goopy oatmeal left at the table than the one bowl that is rinsed and put away in the dishwasher.

So, I need a way to notice the good more frequently.

Plus, if I’m going to do rewards, it has to be easy, easy, easy – something I can give on the spot without having to think or even take a step.

Well, have you ever been to a whale or dolphin show?  Have you ever watched a puppy training session?  How do the trainers get the animals to do exactly what they want?  Treats!  Immediate, small, yummy treats.

Now, I’ve used bribes before, but they usually involve some complicated sticker or point system and are often more work than they’re worth.  So, my brilliant idea was to duplicate the animal trainers exactly.  I tromped down to the basement, filled a pocket with M & M’s (yes, it’s summer and we’ll be switching to Skittles as soon as I get to the store), and went looking for kids to train.

I started out by checking on all the kids and anyone doing something in the least bit positive was given one M & M, along with a comment, “Good job on doing your math on your own” or “Nice way to play with your brother.”  I walked through the house leaving wide-eyed and ecstatic kids in my wake.  Then, I started calling the kids, and when they came, I would plop a treat in their hand and say, “Thanks for coming when I called.”  The transformation was amazing.

Some favorite M & M sayings:

“Thanks for turning off the light when you leave the bathroom.”

“Nice way to really pronounce your ‘th’ while reading” – My 5-year-old proceeded to hunt down every ‘th’ and pronounce it loudly and carefully, a chore he normally whines about.

“Good job waiting patiently for your turn to wash your hands.”

“Wow – love how you put the toilet seat down.”

“Look at all these bowls in the dishwasher – everyone who these belong to, come over here for a minute.”

Pretty soon my 9-year-old is washing out pots in the sink and making puppy eyes at me to make sure I notice.  My 11-year-old grabbed a washrag to wipe the dinner table without being asked.  Everyone ran to their chairs when I called that lunch was ready.

And then for fun, when dad got home, I called the younger boys to come three or four times and they raced back and forth to me, wide grins on their faces.  When I quit after three times, my 5-year-old lawyer waited in vain for a fourth summons, and then tried a hopeful, “What?  Did you call me, Mom?”

My theories of why this is working so well right now:

  • It’s a novelty.
  • The reward is immediate.
  • It’s lots and lots of tiny rewards instead of one big one.
  • I’m looking for the good, not the bad.

So, today, I’m off to the store for some non-meltable Skittles to milk this technique for all it’s worth, before I have to come up with a new one.  Hopefully some of the good behavior will stick around as good habits before then.

(And if you’re worried about the non-healthy candy aspect of it – I figured out that each kid got between 10 and 20 M & M’s yesterday – a rather negligible amount of junk food, all things considered.  But you could easily switch to a healthier small snack.)

The rules

  • small treats, so you don’t feel bad about giving away dozens.
  • in your pocket – not the cupboard.  If you have to walk to get it, you won’t hand it out as frequently.
  • wander around frequently to ‘catch’ your children behaving.
  • make a mental list of things you really want your children to work on and look specifically for those good behaviors.
  • don’t eat all the M & M’s yourself. . . ok, a few are ok, but not all of them.  🙂

If you try this out, I’d love to hear some good stories of how it works – just add a comment!


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Posted under Parenting

If you’ve been thinking about setting up your own website – 40% off Today Only

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July 4, 2011

For the 4th of July – Today Only there is 40% off of Host Gator web hosting plans!

I thought this might help some of you out, since I’ve had a few readers ask about setting up their own websites and how I do it.

I’ve been using Host Gator to run my websites for the last 3 years and was looking to renew, since they’ve worked out pretty well for me.  I really liked being able to install the WordPress software with one click.  They also have lots of ready made templates, free shopping cart software, live chat around the clock, and lots of other things that I’ve found helpful.

They often have a 20% off deal running, but I got an email that for the 4th of July only they are offering 40% off.  On the 3-year plan, which usually runs about $280, that’s $114 off – so about $4.75 a month to host an unlimited number of websites.  If you only have one website, it’s even cheaper.


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Posted under Homeschool Websites