How I Get the Best Deals on Amazon Christmas Shopping

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November 23, 2010

I was raised as a bargain hunter. My mom sent us kids down different check-out aisles with coupons clutched in our hands to get multiple deals. And I continue the tradition.

But, my favorite way to save is at the computer, having the gifts delivered to my porch. Which for this time of year means Amazon.

And if you haven’t considered it, it’s also a great time to stock a ‘gift closet’ in the house for quick birthday gifts throughout the year. I send $30 gifts to birthday parties year-long that I paid $5 to $15 for the previous holiday season.

Here’s how I get the best deals:

  1. Browse the Movers and Shakers pages daily from the 3rd week of November up until Christmas.  You can choose the specific category you’re looking for like ‘Toys” or “Video Games”.  This page shows the top 100 items that have suddenly jumped in sales recently.  This usually includes two types of items, the suddenly popular (think Zhu-zhu pets last year), or the best deals (what you’re looking for).  If a popular toy is suddenly discounted 50% and everyone starts grabbing one, it’ll show up on the Movers and Shakers page.
  2. Check the Lightning Deals page whenever you have a chance.  This is a bit more time intensive, because Amazon will have a few Lightning Deals activating every hour or two all day long.  Many are also a secret or have a hint about what it will be.  But, you can sort it by category to give yourself an idea of what is a movie, electronic item, toy, etc.
  3. Browse the Bestseller Pages.  This won’t give you the best deals like the Movers and Shakers, but it will give you an idea of what is popular.  This helps more with choosing gifts and getting ideas.  A game on the Bestseller list is likely to be something fun and worth your money.
  4. Sign up for free Amazon Prime trial membership.  Amazon Prime gives you 2-day shipping on everything, which lets you shop the deals right up until Christmas.  It also removes the $25 requirement to get free shipping, so if you find a movie on sale for $5, you can just get it without trying to get $20 more in your order.
  5. Be prepared for Amazon to match Black Friday prices.  Many retailers are now offering their Black Friday deals online and Amazon often matches them.  Check out – my favorite Black Friday site.  For example, if you are waiting for a $150 Wii that goes on sale at 5 a.m. the morning of Black Friday here are some of your choices.
  • Line up a few hours earlier outside the store and hope to get one when they open.
  • or make sure it is carried online at the store’s website.  Add one to your online shopping cart before 5 am.  When the price drops at 5 am, be prepared to check out really fast.
  • In a second browser window, do the same thing at Amazon.  When 5 am rolls around they may also have it at that price.  If not, keep an eye on the Lightning Deals page, because it may show up there.

I hope that helps some of you make your Christmas dollars stretch and even stock up on some gifts for the future.

Good luck!

P.S.  These links give me a small commission through my Amazon affiliate account.  If you use them, I appreciate it.  But, you’re welcome to go directly to Amazon if you’d like.

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Posted under Homeschool Bargains

Today – Free Amazon Prime, Early Black Friday, and $3 free MP3s

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November 22, 2010

I’m an Amazon Deal junkie this time of year, so I thought I’d share a few money saving tips with my readers:

  1. If you’re a parent, you can sign up for a free 3-month Prime membership as a parent here:
    Amazon Parent Program
  2. This will give you fast 2-day shipping on any Amazon order for free and also without having to meet the $25 minimum.

  3. Also, in advance of Black Friday, Amazon is starting their Lightning Deal craziness with new deals popping up all day long.
  4. And finally, for the music fans out there, you can get a free $3 credit for Amazon here by clicking on the “Enter your Code” button and typing in “GET3MP3S”.
    A ton of Amazon’s bestselling MP3 albums are on sale for under $5. Plus for the bargain hunters out there, check out the many free MP3 albums, especially if you’re looking for some free holiday music, like this Christmas Album from The VeggieTales:
    Amazon’s MP3 deals

Enjoy the deals!

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Posted under Homeschool Bargains

Fun and Easy Way to Learn All the Math Facts – Math Rider Review

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November 8, 2010

I’m always looking for easy ways to get kids excited and learning their math tables.

Drilling math facts has got to be one of the more boring and arduous tasks of early math education.  It’s often as hard on the parents as the kids.

We just found something new to add to our math toolbox.  In return for an honest review, our family was offered a trial copy of a fun game called Math Rider.  My 9-year-old daughter sat down the first time and spent almost an hour jumping her horse, ‘Shadow’, over addition fact obstacles on the quest to save the princess.  She enjoyed the game so much, that the math practice was swallowed along with the ‘spoonful of sugar’ added by the game.  (See the end of the post for what the kids said about the game)

MathRider - A New Intelligent Math Game

Here is what we think:

The Math:

  • Drills all 4 sets of math facts from 1 – 12, starting with addition and progressing to subtraction, multiplication, and then division.
  • The game automatically figures out the speed to present the math and which questions to choose based on how the child is doing.  The faster they are answering, the faster the new questions come.  And they see the ones they have trouble with more often.  We found it to be very well adapted to the skill level of each child.
  • With easy, medium, advanced, and mastery levels for each type of math problems, the math facts are introduced in small chunks at a time, making them easier to learn.

The Game:

  • All my children can have their own accounts with different log-ins.
  • Controls are easy.  You only need to type in the numbers and hit enter for the horse, Shadow, to jump the obstacles.

  • The quest is broken up into ‘rides’ that last 30 questions, which is a nice chunk to keep interest without getting bored.  Then each ‘ride’ is plotted on a section of the map, so the player can see their progress in the quest.

  • The story is fun and there are rewards for each completed level that the player gets to keep in their home field.

The Feedback on how the math is going:

  • If you miss a problem, your horse Shadow stops, and the problem and the answer appear in big numbers on the screen while a voice recites the math fact.
  • After each ride, there is a row of bars for each problem attempted.  Green bars mean you answered the problem faster than previously.  Yellow is slightly slower and a red bar is a lot slower.  The kids can easily see how they’re doing visually.  Mouse over any bar to get details about the specific problem.

  • There is a statistics page showing all the facts currently being attempted with details about each.

  • A running score and percentage of mastery is kept.  Further visual feedback of your progress is given by how high your flag is on the flagpole
  • Prizes are earned for each level completed.


  • Current sale price is $37 with 30 day money back guarantee for any reason.


  • The story line is the same for all four math operations, although the prizes do change.  My son was a little disappointed that the quest didn’t continue with a new storyline when he advanced to subtraction.
  • My oldest son is spoiled by state-of-the-art graphics and thought the drawn characters were a bit ‘kiddie’ looking.
  • There is some frustration at about the 85% mastery level where two of my kids seemed to get stuck, completing ride after ride, but not reaching mastery level.  I think this may resolve with a bit more practice typing numbers accurately.

What the kids think:

Review by Alex, 11-years-old

“I liked how he turned simple flash card problems into a computer game and made it with a medieval storyline.  I think it’s a fun way to do my math.  I like that it has all four types of problems, addition, subtraction, multiplication,and division.”

Review by Brooke, 9-years-old.

“I really love it.  It puts fun things in a game, but it’s really just math.  I like how it tells stories to you about math.”

Review by Chris, 7-years-old.

“I like it because it’s pretty easy and it’s kind of fun . . . and it’s easier than my other math :-)”

In summary, I found MathRider to be highly beneficial to my kids – mastering fundamental math is a key to all the math they will learn in the future.  If you have kids who are struggling with math or could use a boost in their abilities and/or confidence, then I recommend you give MathRider a try.  Here is the link once more:  Math Rider.

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Posted under Math Curriculum, Math Websites

The Adventure Edition of Math Teachers at Play

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October 15, 2010

Mixing play with learning math is so much more effective for my kids. So, here are some great ideas on how to take the “boring” out of learning math and make it an Adventure:

A Map –

Before setting out on a math adventure, first you’ll need some idea of how to get where you’re going:

I really like Denise’s idea and think it’s a great homeschool group or co-op activity:

Denise presents Alexandria Jones and the Mathematical Carnival posted at Let’s Play Math!, saying, “Although Alex and Leon are fictional characters, their adventure this month is based on a real Math Carnival. I put an ad (much like Alex’s blurb above) into our homeschool group newsletter. Two months later, we had a fun afternoon of math games, puzzles, and “mathemagic” tricks.”

Try drawing this cute ‘Gallon Man’ as a guide next time you teach unit conversions.  Rebecca Zook presents Gallon man to the rescue! posted at Math Tutoring Online.

Supplies –

When you need resources for your adventure:

Peter Rowlett presents Web resources for a 14 year old girl struggling with maths & confidence posted at Travels in a Mathematical World, saying, “I was asked for web resources for a 14 year old girl who is struggling with fractions and generally with maths confidence. So I asked Twitter. Here are the six resources people recommended.”

Maria Miller presents Resources for multiplication tables posted at Homeschool Math Blog.

The Journey

Enjoy the day-to-day math and learning goes so much better:

John Golden presents Playing Math posted at Math Hombre, saying, “About playing in math instruction, including a physical game for multiplication and volume and a pentagonal tessellation.”

Mimi Yang presents No more p’s and q’s! posted at I Hope This Old Train Breaks Down…, saying, “A different way to present laws of deduction.”

Getting Lost

Sometimes math gets pretty confusing:

John Chase presents Do Irrational Roots Come in Pairs? (Part 1) « Random Walks posted at Random Walks, saying, “I made a series of posts about irrational roots of polynomials, addressing the misconception that irrational roots of polynomials come in pairs. Follow-up posts: Part 2 & Part 3.

John Cook presents Math Fun Facts for iPhone along with Variations on factorial! posted at The Endeavour.


And the best math treasure is the child who ‘gets it’ and enjoys math while learning:

Becky Johnston presents On Prima Donnas and Rutabagas, and Fear, where her 4-year-old son is excited about the advanced math topics in “The Number Devil”, posted at Wide Open Campus.

Or you can use math in a quest for an actual treasure – the lottery:  Guillermo P. Bautista Jr. presents Using Mathematics to Win the Lottery posted at Mathematics and Multimedia .

I hope you enjoyed these articles as much as I did.  Thank you to everyone who contributed!  Please take a moment and spread the word a bit through your favorite media:  Twitter, Facebook, or your Blog.  Thank you!


That concludes this edition. Submit your blog article to the next edition of math teachers at play 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

Get a few free Amazon Cards in time for Christmas

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October 12, 2010

Search & Win

For my frugal readers:  This is a quick tip if you plan on doing any Amazon shopping this holiday season.

A couple of my friends have asked me about how Swagbucks works, since I keep getting free $5 Amazon cards from them.

Basically, you sign up for a free account and next time you need to do an internet search or go to a website, start your search at the Swagbucks site and every now and then, you’ll earn a few Swagbucks.  These add up over a while and when you have 450 swagbucks, you can order a $5 Amazon gift card.  (You also get 30 free Swagbucks when you start a new account through my link)

You can also go to the Swagbuck toolbar section and install a plug-in, so you can use the little search box at the top of most browsers to automatically use Swagbucks when you search without going to their website to do it.

What’s the catch?  The Swagbuck searches mix in advertising with the search results and when you click on them, they are getting paid advertising dollars.  The only difference is that they pass some of that on to you in the form of ‘prizes’.

It’s not a ton of money, but if I’m going to be on the internet anyway . . .

If you’re curious as to how well it works, here’s how many I’ve earned in the last year:

So, I get a free card about every month or so.

And finally, when a friend signs up through you, you’ll get matching Swagbucks for the first 1000 they earn.  (Thank you, if you decide to sign up through my links :-))

I hope this helps some of you!


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Posted under Homeschool Bargains

Secret Ingredient to the Best Homemade Playdough

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October 7, 2010

Citrus Orange play-dough on the left, Yummy Strawberry on the right.

I got a great tip from a Kindergarten teacher:

The next time you decide to whip up a batch of homemade play-dough, add the secret ingredient:

A package of unsweetened Kool-Aid!

It not only colors the play-dough nicely, but it gives it a yummy smell that covers up any salt or flour smell.

Here’s one of the recipes we like:


  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 c salt
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 Tablespoon oil
  • 2 teaspoons cream of tartar
  • 1 package of unsweetened Kool-Aid


  1. Combine all ingredients in a pan and stir.
  2. Use a whisk if needed to get all the lumps out.
  3. Cook over medium heat.
  4. Keep stirring through the lumpy stage until it pulls away from the pan and a ball forms.
  5. Store in a baggy or container so it won’t dry out.

It usually only takes me 10 minutes, start to finish.  Simple and easy!

If you want to see exactly what the dough looks like being made, check out my playdough making tutorial with lots of pictures.  (It’s a slightly different recipe using Alum instead of cream of tartar – both work well.)

Or, for another fun craft dough, here’s a video of us making flubber slime.  (Try to ignore the crying baby in the background 🙂

If you have any other fun make-at-home recipes for young kids, I’d love to hear about them.

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Posted under Homeschool Crafts

Awesome Free Hovercraft Science Experiment

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September 22, 2010

Looking for a fun science experiment?  Here’s a fun freebie offered by Supercharged Science.  Your kids build a miniature hovercraft out of an old CD and a water bottle – it’s pretty cool.  We’ve tried out a bunch of their freebies, and the kids really enjoy them. 

Why we like them:

  • They usually start with a fun experiment and Aurora Lipper, who does the teaching in the videos, gets the kids immediately involved doing something. 
  • She explains each step so they can follow along even without your help.  (Yay!  Keep a couple kids busy while you’re helping the others)
  • The parts required are usually household items you already have or can get easily.
  • And then she’ll introduce the science part during or after the equipment. 
  • It’s a great way to get the kids excited about science and then slip the teaching in while they’re distracted.

FYI – You do have to type in your email address to get their freebies. (No spam)  They give out a lot of quality, free experiment videos as advertising for their paid options.

What is your favorite homeschool science curriculum?  Share with other readers who are looking for ideas!

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Posted under Science Curriculum

All My Nice Sets . . .

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September 8, 2010

If you’ve been a homeschool parent for a while, you’ve probably accumulated some nice, EXPENSIVE, learning ‘sets’  like my set of sandpaper letters pictured above that help young kids trace the letters and feel them with their fingers as a precursor to writing.

You’ll notice the lovely artwork done in whiteboard marker all over the front and back of my sandpaper lower case ‘j’.  (insert muffled growl of frustration here)  So, I was at the sink trying to scrub off the completely NON-erasable marker from the tile and having no luck.  I complained loudly in the vicinity of my husband, “I have no nice sets of anything left around here!”

His response, in a mostly non-mocking tone of voice . . . though the smile was a bit suspicious:

“You have a nice set of children.”

LOL – Ok, I do have a nice set of children . . . even they’ve destroyed all my other nice sets.

I’ll have to remember that more often.

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Posted under Homeschool Humor

Games Kids Play and Don’t Realize They’re Learning

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August 31, 2010

I’m always on the look-out for fun educational games, since I hate buying toys that will just increase our clutter and never get picked up.

I thought I’d share a fun one our family has been enjoying: 

This game, Banangrams, comes with a slick little banana-shaped zipping bag to hold all the pieces.  Score one for easy clean-up!

It’s also fun for all ages that can spell – kid up to adult.  And it’s easy to give adults a handicap by giving them more letters to start with, or having them take two tiles each time, instead of one.

So, the game is played with everyone starting with a pile of letter tiles and and trying to form them into a Scrabble/Crossword Puzzle type grid.  As soon as one player has used up all his tiles, he yells “Peel” and everyone has to grab another tile.  This continues until the tiles are gone and whoever finishes first wins! (with correct words – or you’re out)

So, if you’re looking for a gift idea (about $12) or a way to spice up your spelling practice, you’ll love this game.

Do you have other suggestions for good educational games that your kids love?  I’m always on the look out!


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Posted under Homeschool Activities

Launch of New Homeschool Scholarship Website

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August 24, 2010

Homeschoolers may be welcomed regularly into most of the nation’s colleges and universities, but the scholarship application process still favors traditional students.  It can be hard to fill out the required fields and qualify for scholarships if you have an unconventional education.

Here’s a great new resource to help fill this need:

David Craft and his family just launched a much needed Homeschool Scholarship website.  Upon seeing a great need, they decided to offer a homeschool scholarship through their own small business and are challenging others to give what they can to support the next generation.  If you’re looking for scholarships or are a business or charitable person who would like to sponsor a college-bound homeschooler, check them out and spread the word. 

Do you know of other good resources for homeschool scholarships?  Please share them with all of us in the comment section!

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Posted under Homeschool Teens