A History of Art Through Videos

I’m bookmarking some of the audiovisual materials we hope to use in Year 4 to take a leisurely spin through the history of western art. We might supplement as seen fit through museum visits. This list is of course, by no means exhaustive. I’ll add to and edit the list as we watch the videos (mostly via Netflix) and will add comments to the ones we like or don’t like. Continue reading “A History of Art Through Videos”

Geography, Navigation and Exploration Booklist

Bookmarking our latest finds as well as regular homeschooler favorites!


A Child's Introduction to the World: Geography, Cultures, and People - From the Grand Canyon to the Great Wall of ChinaThe Geography Book: Activities for Exploring, Mapping, and Enjoying Your WorldGeography Wizardry for KidsHands-On History: Geography Activities (Hands-on History Activities)

A Child’s Introduction to the World: Geography, Cultures, and People – From the Grand Canyon to the Great Wall of China by Heather Alexander. In the same veinas the other A Child’s Introduction to series eg,
A Child’s Introduction to Poetry, A Child’s Introduction to the Environment and A Child’s Introduction to the Night Sky.

The Geography Book: Activities for Exploring, Mapping, and Enjoying Your World by Caroline Arnold.

Geography Wizardry for Kids by Margaret Kenda offers lots of geography-themed activities (map making etc) as well as recipes and son on for the hands-on learner. I’ve found the Kenda Wizardry series very fun to use off and on when kiddo was younger eg. Science Wizardry for Kids, Math Wizardry for Kids and Cooking Wizardry for Kids.

Hands-On History: Geography Activities (Hands-on History Activities) by Sarah D. Giese and Hands-On History: World History Activities (Hands-on History Activities) by Garth Sundem are books I’m hoping to use sometime in the future in a coop setting. These books offer history and geography lessons in a game and roleplay format!


There’s such a lovely list of books out there on the theme of navigation and map-reading! I was especially looking out for books and reference guides (written in a living style) to help the kiddo understand latitude and longitude better…but along the way, also got sidetracked into researching books on navigators, explorers and mapmakers LOL. Here are a few that I myself have read or really want to read!

Tools of Navigation: A Kid's Guide to the History & Science of Finding Your Way (Tools of Discovery series)The Man Who Made Time Travel (Orbis Pictus Honor for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children (Awards))The Illustrated Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His TimeSea Clocks: The Story of LongitudeFrom Sextant to Sonar: Story of Maps and Navigation (Signs of the Times)The World Made New: Why the Age of Exploration Happened and How It Changed the World (Timelines of American History)
Around the World in a Hundred YearsAdventures of Marco PoloSea Cows, Shamans, and Scurvy: Alaska's First Naturalist: Georg Wilhelm Steller
Explorers Who Got LostAs Told at The Explorers Club: More Than Fifty Gripping Tales of Adventure (Explorers Club Classic)They Lived to Tell the Tale: True Stories of Modern Adventure from the Legendary Explorers Club (Explorers Club Book)The Wild Muir: Twenty-two of John Muir's Greatest AdventuresStickeen: John Muir and the Brave Little DogThe Picture History of Great Explorers

Tools of Navigation: A Kid’s Guide to the History & Science of Finding Your Way (Tools of Discovery series) by Rachel Dickinson (she also has a fun-looking book on time-keeping: Tools of Timekeeping)

The Man Who Made Time Travel (Orbis Pictus Honor for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children (Awards)) by Kathryn Lasky and also Sea Clocks: The Story of Longitude by Louise Borden (about one of my heroes, John Harrison, the clockmaker who helped solve the mystery of finding longitude at sea).

The Illustrated Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time by Dava Sobel (also about Harrison)

From Sextant to Sonar: Story of Maps and Navigation (Signs of the Times) by Anita Ganeri

The World Made New: Why the Age of Exploration Happened and How It Changed the World (Timelines of American History) by Marc Aronson and check out his book on Sir Walter Ralegh too! (thanks to Fiddler for reviewing this book recently)

Around the World in a Hundred Years by Jean Fritz (thanks to Fiddler for reminding me of this one too!)

Adventures of Marco Polo by Russell Freedman

Sea Cows, Shamans, and Scurvy: Alaska’s First Naturalist: Georg Wilhelm Steller by Ann Arnold. I enjoyed the account of Steller’s life and the pen and ink illustrations so much that I actually wrote a review on Amazon.

The Picture History of Great Explorers by Gillian Clements. The kiddo loves this one!

And a few more…plan to check these out of the library soon.

Explorers Who Got Lost by Diane Sansevere-Dreher

As Told at The Explorers Club: More Than Fifty Gripping Tales of Adventure (Explorers Club Classic) by George Plimpton and They Lived to Tell the Tale: True Stories of Modern Adventure from the Legendary Explorers Club may be better suited to older readers.

Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing. I highly recommend the audio version here: Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage

The Wild Muir: Twenty-two of John Muir’s Greatest Adventures and Stickeen: John Muir and the Brave Little Dog. There are lots of great books on another one of my heroes, John Muir but I wanted to bookmark these because they seemed like stories the kiddo would like too.

You may have noticed that I haven’t included any books on Lewis and Clark. This was intentional. Kiddo has already watched plenty of documentaries and read several accounts on them so I didn’t want overkill. I may compile a booklist on westward expansion and exploration later on if kiddo is interested.

If you have the time, please do suggest books you’ve liked on geography, navigation and exploration themes!

Our Board of Ages (Timeline AD1 – 2100)

I’ve written about our Prehistory Timeline. And I made an Ancient History timeline recently using a set from Beautiful Feet (pictured on the right). This year, since we have a larger family room space (and a fireplace we don’t use), I decided to give myself a project. I wanted to create a highly visual timeline that would literally stare us in the face when we were reading aloud or when the kiddo read some sort of history-themed literature.

Two years ago, I purchased all of Beautiful Feet’s timeline packets. But never got around to doing anything with them except for the Ancient History timeline, which I completed around May of this year. Then in June, I brought the rest of the packets out and have been gradually coloring them in. The kiddo is very excited about this…the fact that I am doing it and not requiring him to LOL. But hey, a start is a start right?

Here are pictures, posted with the intention to inspire anyone like me who has timeline figures saved on their hard drives/ drawers/ shelves but no motivation to do anything with them.

First, identify a good place to secure your timeline. You will probably need to improvise these materials according to the space you have. Also, decide if you want your timeline to include the BC as well as AD years. Since I already have separate Prehistory and BC timelines, I decided to make this one an AD timeline, i.e. from years AD1-2100.


  1. Any medium-sized packing box…I used U-Haul’s since we have those saved from our move last summer
  2. 12″ x 12″ scrapbook or card stock sheets…I used solid color cardstock like this one, three each of six different colors, so 18 sheets in all
  3. Light colored construction paper to mark out every 25 years (rows)…I used the long, cream-colored sheets that come with every Beautiful Feet timeline packet
  4. One full roll of masking tape or a container of school glue (I think masking tape will offer more reliable, less messy adherence). Having more tape than less is useful in case you make mistakes!
  5. Craft knife
  6. Removable Scotch Tape (optional) to secure sheets on box before taping them permanently
  7. A 12″ ruler
  8. String or twine to mark every 100 years (columns).
  9. Timeline figures and paper to label the years.
  10. Color pencils to color your timeline figures
  11. Rubber cement or some other suitable acid-free glue to attach timeline figures
Steps (click on photos to zoom):
Split open box. Tape flaps so that they don’t separate from body of box. Then, layer board with card stock. Use removable tape to secure before you tape it down with masking tape.
You’ll need 21 columns for every 100 years from AD1 to 2100. So measure the width of your box and cut sufficient twine/ string for each column. I measured about 3″ for AD1- 1899 but made columns for AD1900 and AD2000 wider. You can secure the twine using short strips of masking tape. You may then cover up these taped-up bits with the horizontal sheets that make up every 25 years. Note that in the photo, I’ve already labeled the years.
Here’s the completed Board of Ages. Not a very nifty name, I know, but I couldn’t think of anything else! For the record, it took me about 3 hours to do this (with a few breaks between).

It sits in front of our unused fireplace, right next to where we do read alouds.

If you don’t fancy Beautiful Feet’s timeline sets or figures, you may also find links to timeline figures at Paula’s Archives or by googling them. If you plan to create one of these too, good luck!

Economics Through Free Comics

A very grateful hat tip to Lori of Freely Educate and Annie of Learn At Every Turn for blogging about these comic books from the US Federal Reserve.

These comics are 100% free! I like the nostalgic, old-fashioned style of illustrations quite well. The language isn’t too simplistic, neither is it too complicated. I would guess it should be accessible even to an interested, younger elementary-aged student but I do think kids younger than six or seven will need parental assistance with terminology etc.

Our books (reprinted editions of 2008-2010) arrived today in the mail, about a week after I’d ordered them. Very good timing, since the kiddo has been a little put off by an uneasy tummy and wants to recline on his bean bag and do nothing else but read.

I’ve only had a chance to read two booklets so far so let me give you a peek into these. Each booklet is about 24 pages long and in full color.

A Penny Saved (pix above) describes why saving is important and introduces terms like compound interest, liquidity, inflation, stocks and dividends. Not bad for a 24-pager that takes less than 30 minutes to read! Quite a bit of tongue in cheek humor too.

Once Upon A Dime introduces concepts like trading/ bartering and the convenience of using currency instead of goods to trade through a slightly silly but still enjoyable tale about the inhabitants of an imaginary island. It also talks about the introduction of paper money and moves on to laws of supply and demand.

Other titles we received:
The Story of Money
The Story of Banks
The Story of Inflation
The Story of Monetary Policy
The Story of Foreign Trade and Exchange
The Story of Checks and Electronic Payments
The Story of the Federal Reserve System
Too Much Too Little

A quick flip through shows that most of the books were written by a different team of writers and illustrated by one of three or four artists.

Get your copies at The Federal Reserve System Publications Catalog’s Comics Page. If you’d like to see sample pages of The Story of Money, click here.

If the kiddo likes these well and wants to learn more, I have it in mind to find a used copy of The Cartoon Introduction to Economics. If anyone has a review to share on this book, I’d love to hear it! Other books I have a mind to check out:
Whatever Happened to Penny Candy?
Show Me The Money

Poetry for Children

We don’t “do” poetry appreciation. Or for that matter, copywork or memorization either. Less than 10 times a school year-dictation is about as far as we’ve gone into such realms. But the kiddo will read poetry for fun and I wonder if it’s because we don’t do it in a structured way that he loves choosing from our poetry collection at home. In fact, he adores funny poetry and for that reason, to date, Ogden Nash and Shel Silverstein and Jack Prelutsky are his favorites.

Here are poetry anthologies and collections and single-poet books he’s loved. As well as titles we hope to be reading soon:

The Tree That Time Built: A Celebration of Nature, Science, and Imagination

The Hutchinson Treasury of Children’s Poetry: his Christmas gift in 2006 when he was just about 4 years old. Still a highly treasured tome even if it’s sans dust jacket now.

A Family of Poems by Caroline Kennedy: LOL, gosh I still remember trying to schedule this when I was following April’s wonderful Mosaic ancient history curriculum. We’ve covered so much more ground and enjoyably too, not scheduling it.

A Child's Introduction to Poetry: Listen While You Learn About the Magic Words That Have Moved Mountains, Won Battles, and Made Us Laugh and CryThe Tree That Time Built: A Celebration of Nature, Science, and Imagination: a relatively new addition to our collection, it features many sweet, nature-themed poems.

A Child’s Introduction to Poetry: a homeschooler’s favorite, along with Poetry Speaks to Children, and Hip Hop Speaks to Children.A Child’s Introduction to Poetry: Listen While You Learn About the Magic Words That Have Moved Mountains, Won Battles, and Made Us Laugh and Cry


Ogden Nash's ZooMy boy’s current favorite poet…and I keep getting to listen to recitations from a very reluctant-to-read-aloud kid too so this tells you how much he loves the man.
still researching others…will update this list once we’ve found ones we like 🙂


One of my favorite poets too 🙂 Will always be grateful to Sheila for clueing us in on this intelligent and funny poet.

A Pizza the Size of the SunPizza, Pigs, and Poetry: How to Write a Poem


He usually spends some of our waiting-to-pick-up-Dad trips (my hubby works close to a Borders outlet) reading a Silverstein book:

Runny Babbit: A Billy Sook

Please suggest books you or your child has loved too 🙂

My Family and Other Animals

My Family and Other AnimalsI’ve been reading Gerald Durrell. Or perhaps reading is not as accurate a description as the one I am seeking. I’ve been at turns, erupting with laughter and stewing with envy while feasting my eyes on what is clearly one of the best natural history-themed, very imaginatively-written, childhood memoirs I’ve had the good fortune to pick up.

My Family and Other Animals is the tale of 10-year-old Durrell who, with his highly eccentric family members, moves to the Greek island of Corfu and drinks in its natural history with a joyful abandon that makes me wish I could have been there with him, discovering the weirdest beetles, chocolate-candy-colored scorpions, and immunerable other magical living things, and being owner to delightful canines and even an owl with attitude.

Durrell’s poetic words remind me that when the heart or health is not at ease, one should always turn back to the never-fail antidotes of childlike wonder and animal revelry. There’s nothing like a story of mating tortoises to get one back in track, don’t you think?

Here’s the Wikipedia page on Durrell. Below are other Durrell lovelies on my list and another thanks to Becky for suggesting them.


And here’s a dramatization (Masterpiece Theatre):

English/ Language Arts

In my Year 3 plan, I had mentioned the Language Arts books that have worked well for us so far. But I didn’t have a chance then to expand on why we like them so much. Lately, a couple of friends have asked about our choices for learning grammar and writing mechanics. And I realized that I haven’t put up a booklist for this area of learning yet. So here’s a little more detail about books that have been successful here as well as a few new finds I’m excited about.

Grammar-Land (Yesterday’s Classics) by ML Nesbitt was the first book that got the kiddo very excited about learning the parts of speech. He just loved following the stories with Mr Noun, Little Article, Sargeant Parsing, etc. I recently found this website where a very obviously hard-working mom has compiled worksheets you can use with the text. Grammar Land is also available as a free download from Google Books (I believe this is for US users only?).

Grammar Cop (Funnybone Books, Grades 3-5)

Grammar Cop (Funnybone Books, Grades 3-5) and the No Boring Practice Please workbooks like Parts of Speech, Sentence Structure and Fairy Tale Grammar were helpful because they offered the sort of quirky, humorous proofreading and practice exercises that he loves. Because he loved giggling over them so much, he would usually complete these workbooks during his free time.

Once the kiddo started Year 2, I tried including a little more “serious” grammar instruction so we’ve tried Grammar Works! (Grades 4-8) and Teach Terrific Grammar, Grades 4-5. He and I both like the former more than the latter. Grammar Works! contains a good mix of humor with quite high level practice and diagramming questions. However, Teach Terrific Grammar is helpful in the sense that it offers quite a lot of practice at each level of instruction and the practice involves solving little codes.

The Giggly Guide to GrammarVery recently, I found The Giggly Guide to Grammar by Cathy Campbell. Now this 275+-page text is both a bit of a hoot and a lovely way to gently introduce Grammar concepts. I wish I had known about this 2 years ago (but it was only produced in 2008 so perhaps I wouldn’t have found it anyway LOL).

It’s quite similar in style to two other Grammar manuals we really like: Nitty-Gritty Grammar: A Not-So-Serious Guide to Clear Communication and More Nitty-Gritty Grammar but includes practice exercises after each topic and really cute and silly ones too :).  At the time this post was written, there was no Search Inside function on Amazon for the Giggly Guide so here are a few snapshots to give you a sense of thickness and content:

We may one day also check out the Nitty Gritty Grammar Student’s Book and Nitty Gritty Grammar Teacher’s Manual and I’d love to hear reviews if you’ve already used them.

The kiddo hasn’t required any specific spelling instruction because he is a natural speller but I like to throw Spelling Works! (Grades 4-8) at him just for the fun of it and since it has some pretty neat and silly proofreading exercises, he laps it up.

For Vocabulary, we did try English from the Roots Up, Vol. 1 but it got a little tedious for us after a while.Instead, he was very excited to work on Words on the Vine because it has, as you may have guessed, funny exercises in it 🙂

Unjournaling: Daily Writing Exercises that Are NOT Personal, NOT Introspective, NOT Boring!For Writing, nothing has come close to being successful as Unjournaling. I can’t stop singing its praises. The prompts given are exactly up the kiddo’s funnybone alley. I am keeping an eye on this packet from Cottonwood Press on more Unjounaling-style prompts as well as  DownWRITE Funny for future practice.

So this has been the crux of our “learning proper use of English” journey so far. And it hasn’t been easy finding these books, let me tell you.


It should have been easy for me to teach Grammar, being an English major and all. But it wasn’t. I admit to disliking Grammar modules very much in college. It didn’t make sense to me to learn something in such a dry, unimaginably complicated way, and from professors who obviously weren’t passionate about teaching it. Yet, I knew I could write passably well and enough to get myself a job in advertising copywriting and later, as a healthcare writer. Of course, these days, I don’t mind my Grammar as much as I should, but writing feels a lot more enjoyable and comfortable when I’m not feeling worried about tenses and clauses and stuff like that. I am starting to see it in the kiddo too. When he feels deeply about something and communicates it via writing, he does it really well, without needing mechanics and structural instruction. This is also very possibly due to his love for reading. Since we try to choose higher quality books all the time, he sees good writing in application.

However, he still needs practice. So that’s why I still assign some English every day via these hilarious materials because really, learning should be fun! And I’m done calling it Language Arts. I’ll just call it English from now on, thank you very much. 🙂

With a learner like he is, it just didn’t work to use highly structured or narration-based programs such as those recommended by Well Trained Mind and Charlotte Mason lovers. But if you think you might like to still have a lookie at the materials we’ve tried but haven’t been able to stick to, here they are:


First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind by Jessie Wise

Simply Grammar: An Illustrated Primer by Karen Andreola

English for the Thoughtful Child, Vol. 1 by Mary F. Hyde et al

Primary Language Lessons and Intermediate Language Lessons by Emma Serl

Language Lessons for the Elementary Child Vol. 1 by Sandi Queen

Reposted at 7.20pm: I forgot to add that the kiddo simply didn’t take to the Michael Clay Thompson Grammar Island/ Town curriculum that so many homeschoolers have raved about. I am in two minds about it as a curriculum. I find the books interesting in approach but am not altogether sure how to use them in practice. Perhaps I will be after learning more about them later. 

All the best!

FunSchooling Biology!

I already have a suggested living biology books reading list here for elementary to middle school age students.

We haven’t read all the books listed there together yet but having read quite a lot on his own, the kiddo is very obviously ready and eager to read higher-level biology books. At the same time, he is not yet ready for too much technicality and in-depth labs.

I’ve been trying to pool together resources and ideas for this “in-between” stage. Something that will also appeal to this very non-sciency Mom (I have every intention of learning along LOL). We need a very fun course, with a focus on human biology and diseases of both the brain (including personality disorders) and the body, because that’s where his more intense interests lie at the moment.

At the same time, he has “some” interest in plant life and animal ecology too, just nothing in-depth. His interest revolves around carnivorous and poisonous plants as well as adorable animals so we will focus only lightly on those topics for now.

It is quite likely that somewhere along the line, the kiddo and I might take diverging paths, reading or learning from different books. I’m listing all choices here for anyone who needs ideas.

The most popular reference texts for high school biology seem to be
The Way Life Works: The Science Lover’s Illustrated Guide to How Life Grows, Develops, Reproduces, and Gets Along or the more textbooky version Exploring The Way Life Works: The Science of Biology
and this apparently must-have biology reference by Campbell and Reece.

The Way Life Works: The Science Lover's Illustrated Guide to How Life Grows, Develops, Reproduces, and Gets AlongI don’t think he’s ready to pick up the Campbell-Reece text yet and neither am I. We might eventually get to complete The Way Life Works or Exploring The way Life Works but that may not be for now either (LOL). I really like these books though due to their highly visual appeal.
This companion website to Hoagland’s Exploring The Way Life Works, contains a number of links that coincide with the sections. Both Exploring The Way Life Works and The Way Life Works are organized in a similar fashion so you won’t go off the mark by using these links. But a word of caution: a quick exploration showed that some links are broken.
We are not following a tried and tested skeleton for FunSchooling Biology. A lot of the book picks are going to chosen based on interest of the moment. But if you’d like a guideline on how to structure this list, you may very well use The Way Life Works as a guide. Or, here is another idea that I like from K12.
Living books that seem really fun to add:
The Way We Work by David Macaulay
What is DNA? A Biology Adventure from the Transnational College of LEX
The Cartoon Guide to Genetics by Larry Gonick (supervision suggested for younger ages
BBC Brain Story by Susan A. Greenfield
The Human Brain Book by Rita Carter
We’ve picked up a number of used Psychology textbooks over the past few weeks from our library’s for sale sections so I would strongly suggest you keep a look out at your library too. You’ll never guess what treasures you may find 🙂

Microbe Hunters by Paul de Kruif
A Field Guide to Bacteria by Betsey Dexter Dyer


Almost anything by Gerald Durrell (I really liked Catch Me A Colobus)
King Solomon’s Ring: New Light on Animals’ Ways by Konrad Lorenz
A Naturalist Indoors: Observing the World of Nature Inside Your Home and other books by Gale Lawrence



The Science of Life: Projects and Principles for Beginning Biologists by Frank Bottone Jr looks delectable. We haven’t purchased a high-quality microscope yet so for now, we’ll pick and choose experiments according to supplies we already have.

More serious learners might like Biology Inquiries: Standards-Based Labs, Assessments, and Discussion Lessons by Martin Shields. Also, don’t miss Subadra’s high school labs post.

AP Biology from MIT
Stanford Mini Med School (videos featuring scientists and physicians from Stanford School of Medicine)
HippoCampus AP Biology (free animated online Biology lessons)
Serendip (amazing wellspring of info for Biology with hands-on activities for HS teachers here)
Copernicus Project (videos on biological processes)
HHMI Holiday Lectures (free biomedical research DVDs shipped free too!)
HHMI Ask A Scientist (ask a question on major Biology topics)
iBioSeminars (short videos on a variety of biology topics)
Biology Junction (powerpoint slides on various topics)
Learn.Genetics (hands down one of our favorite websites on the Internet)
Cells Alive (video microscopy of cells with 3D animation)
Biological Animations (short animations of biological processes)
Interactive Animations (a student companion site to those using Boyer’s Concepts in Biochemistry 3rd edition)
The Inner Life of a Cell (Flash movie on unseen molecular mechanisms of white blood cells)
Kathy Ceceri’s Home Biology blog (see her sidebar for even more links to explore!).
In addition, see this link for seven universities that offer free Biology courses online (includes MIT).
Subadra and Jennifer’s amazing lists.
I also like these BioZone links: Online Textbooks and BioLinks (but have no experience with the workbooks yet).
Julie Knapp, owner of the Homeschool Diner, has a lovely list of Biology resources here. And here’s a Well Trained Mind forum thread on Biology living books. (lots of thanks to Subadra for these tips!).

And we’re going to try to catch as many public lectures on diseases as we can, near where we live.

For Living Science Yahoo Group members: I’ll post a downloadable file of these links as soon as I am done scouting for more resources.

Acknowledgements: In preparing this list, I have borrowed a lot from conversations and discussions with other homeschoolers. I am sorry that I am unable to name everyone personally since a few were bookmarked ages ago through conversations in passing. I do want to especially thank (in alphabetical order) Becky, Jamie, Jennifer, Sarah, Subadra, and Ruth. Each home-educating mother’s blog is already such a huge source of information and ideas for me. Add to that their plans for high school biology and I am in sheer, planning heaven! I’m also always grateful to members of the Living Science Yahoo Group who have selflessly shared names of resources that have worked for them.

Quick caveat: Please note that the websites listed here are authored by other parties and hence, I am not able to guarantee that links will remain active or the info, updated.

Funny Books For Summer Reading

I’m hoping to add even more giggles and mirth to our home this summer with this list of great-sounding titles. I’m very indebted to my wonderful fellow Secular CM Yahoo Group friends for their suggestions.

Books we’ve read or are reading that are great for laughs:
1. Pizza, Pigs, and Poetry: How to Write a Poem by Jack Prelutsky
2. Life of Fred‘s very quirky math stories (the only curriculum-ish book I can think of that is a hoot so far)
3. Cartoon History of the Universe 1 Vol. 1-7 (Cartoon History of the Universe) (Pt.1) and others in series by Larry Gonick
4. Kings and Things by HE Marshall
5. Horrible Histories, Science, Geography and Murderous Maths series
6. The Great Brain by John Fitzgerald
7. Roald Dahl’s children’s books (we haven’t read a number of these yet so a great reminder for me, Becky!)
8. Detectives in Togas and other Ancient Rome stories by Henry Winterfield
9. Asterix the Gaul comics
10. Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater

And suggested by others:
1. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
2. Barry Boyhound by Andy Spearman
3. Witch Week by Diana Wynne Jones and other DWJ books
4. The Wee Free Men and
5. The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents by Terry Pratchett
6. The Penderwicks series by Jeanne Birdsall
7. Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry et al
8. The Dot and the Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics by Norton Juster
9. The Teacher’s Funeral : A Comedy in Three Parts and
10. Here Lies the Librarian by Richard Peck
11. I Was a Rat! and
12. The Scarecrow and His Servant by Philip Pullman
13. The Adventures of Tintin series
14. The Water Horse by Dick King-Smith
15. A House Called Awful End series by Philip Ardagh

For older readers,
1. Books by David Sedaris
2. Books by Bill Bryson
And Becky, list moderator of the yahoo group, suggested I check out Funny Business: Conversations with Writers of Comedy compiled by Leonard Marcus for more ideas.

Lots of thanks again for these suggestions!

More from Simon Basher…

We are huge fans of the Simon Basher books…Periodic Table, Astronomy etc.

So it was quite a joyful eyeful to see that 3 more books are scheduled to be released this July…
Math: A Book You Can Count On
Punctuation: The Write Stuff (but I do wish they would do away with this cliched subtitle)
and Chemistry: Getting A Big Reaction.


Physics & Chemistry Booklist

I haven’t had a chance to read every one of these so please preview suitability on Amazon.com or at your library.


For 6 – 10 year olds (approximate)
Physics: Why Matter Matters by Dan Green and Simon Basher
Janice VanCleave’s Physics for Every Kid: 101 Easy Experiments in Motion, Heat, Light, Machines, and Sound by Janice VanCleave
Janice VanCleave’s Energy for Every Kid: Easy Activities That Make Learning Science Fun by Janice VanCleave
Gizmos & Gadgets: Creating Science Contraptions That Work (& Knowing Why) by Jill Frankel Hauser and Michael Kline
Science Lab in a Supermarket (Physical Science Labs) by Robert Friedhoffer and Joe Hosking (also see Physics Lab in a Hardware Store, Physics Lab in a Housewares Store)
Physics Experiments for Children by Muriel Mandell

For 10+ years up (approximate)
Archimedes and the Door of Science (Living History Library) by Jeanne Bendick
The New Way Things Work by David Macaulay
The Cartoon Guide to Physics by Larry Gonick
Physics in Everyday Life by Richard Dittman (A little textbooky but nice coverage of concepts and interesting discussion questions. Could be out of print. Check your library)
Touch This! Conceptual Physics for Everyone by Paul G. Hewitt
Conceptual Physics Media Update, 10th Edition by Paul Hewitt


For 6 – 10 year olds (approximate)
Janice VanCleave’s Chemistry for Every Kid: 101 Easy Experiments that Really Work by Janice VanCleave
Transformed: How Everyday Things Are Made by Bill Slavin
Fizz, Bubble & Flash!: Element Explorations & Atom Adventures for Hands-On Science Fun! by Anita, Ph.D. Brandolini and Michael P. Kline
Super Science Concoctions: 50 Mysterious Mixtures For Fabulous Fun by Jill Frankel Hauser and Michael Kline
Adventures With Atoms and Molecules: Chemistry Experiments for Young People (Book 1) by Robert C. Mebane and Thomas R. Rybolt (also see Book 2)
Mad Professor by Mark Frauenfelder
Glues Brews and Goos by Diana F. Marks (also see Book 2)
Periodic Table: Critical Thinking and Chemistry by Cindy Blobaum and published by Prufrock Press (workbook-style, looks quite fun)

For 10+ years up (approximate)
The Mystery of the Periodic Table (Living History Library) by Benjamin Wiker
How Did We Find Out About Atoms? by Isaac Asimov (also see other titles in the How Did We Find Out series. Titles are likely to be out of print. Check your library)
A Drop Of Water by Walter Wick
The Cartoon Guide to Chemistry by Larry Gonick and Craig Criddle
The Joy of Chemistry: The Amazing Science of Familiar Things by Cathy Cobb
Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments: All Lab, No Lecture (DIY Science) by Robert Thompson
On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen by Harold McGee


This is a suggested course of study for a child very driven to study introductory chemistry. My son took this trail (almost entirely self-driven) during our Years 1 and 2. But it could easily be adjusted to younger or older kids depending on interest and motivation on the part of the parent.



We have been especially enjoying this periodic table poster, purchased from Web Elements.  The poster is a stunning visual reminder that we’ve placed strategically where we hang out the most…our family room. With poster and a Dad-invented mnemonic chant that uses each element’s abbreviated name, he has memorized much of the periodic table.

We also play from time to time, the AtomMate card games. Another game is the hugely popular Elementeo but it currently doesn’t appeal to DS for some reason.

For fun, we keep a box of Ein-O’s Essential Chemistry: Molecular Models Box Kit by Tedco for DS to play with. This is a very basic kit. If you can afford it, I’ve heard that the Molymod kits are among the best.


These are very enjoyable when read aloud. Or read independently at about a third to fifth-grade reading level:

Adam’s Atomic Adventures by Alice L Baxter, a very cute, interesting story about a boy who is sent by his mysterious Chemistry teacher to the Periodic School to locate a missing oxygen atom.

It’s Elementary! by Robert Winston. Packed with amazing graphics and fun facts, the book offers a very eye-opening, introductory guide through the elemental ingredients of the world.

The Periodic Table: Elements with Style! by Simon Basher and Adrian Dingle. Although he thought the illustrations were cute and the descriptions useful, DS was disappointed that it doesn’t cover all the elements.

For older or independent learners, try

Nature’s Building Blocks: An A-Z Guide to the Elements by John Emsley, an intriguing, almost encyclopedic account of each element that’s actually very easy to read.

For high schoolers, Molecules At An Exhibition: Portraits of Intriguing Materials in Everyday Life, also by Emsley, may be an interesting supplement.


The curriculum that most appealed to us in terms of scope, layout, ease-of-use as well as interesting tidbits and projects was Ellen J McHenry’s very well-written The Elements. We are not using it as one traditionally would a curriculum. Instead we thumb through the binder and pick and choose pages and activities as they appeal to us.


Definitely the most engaging among periodic table sites we’ve visited is the University of Nottingham’s The Periodic Table of Videos.

Go back to Living Science Booklists.

The Joy of Codes and Ciphers

I have been considering The Cryptoclub: Using Mathematics to Make and Break Secret Codes by Janet Beissinger for DS for some time now. Not only for its subject matter but also because it looks like a highly visual sorta book, just the type I like. The publishers are offering a free pdf download of the workbook pages too (and check out the companion website here). We have a trip back to Malaysia planned for the coming semester so with my plans to give math curricula a break, this might be a great book to throw into the suitcase.

DS has had lots of fun working through code-style math workbooks I’ve listed here. I thought I’d provide a carousel of some of the purely code/ cipher based books he’s read in the past too for anyone who has a cipher-crazy kid like mine.
I must say that the whole code/ cipher concept has been a huge help for us in DS’ learning journey. When he was a baby, we focused a lot on teaching reading and less on math. I often wondered how I would teach him math when it wasn’t a strong subject for me.
Then, when DS was about two and a half, he started showing a propensity for numbers and finding hidden words in longer strings of words (he was already reading and sounding out simple phrases by then). The hubby thought playing word-number games would be a good start for DS’ math journey. We started writing simple codes for him to solve. E.g. we’d write a list of addition sentences like 2 + 3, 1 + 5 and so on and equate the answers to an alphabet. If he got the answers right, he’d spell out a hidden code word and this made him so excited that deciphering codes became his preferred way to learn math. Of course at that age, I did most of the writing out for him but he could actually figure out the simple math on his own…and he’d do it over and over just to decipher the code.

Once we’d figured out that he loved codes so much, he was an easier child to deal with 24/7. We didn’t drive then so we’d ride the bus or MRT (what the subway in Singapore is called) and keep him busy by giving him addition or subtraction codes to crack on his little Magna Doodle. Each time there was a meltdown on the horizon, out would come the Magna Doodle. Phew!

It’s a pretty time-intensive way to teach a kid but when you have only one kid and when you want him to love learning and do it joyfully as opposed to thinking of it as a chore, I would say it’s worth all the effort. In the end, this is how he learnt most of his math operations, from addition and subtraction to fractions.

I would strongly recommend using codes for any math-reluctant child too. Usually, because the focus is on cracking the code instead of the algorithms, the child might find it infinitely more enjoyable. I know I wish I was taught this way too.
A few more codes/ cipher links for code lovers:
For an extensive list of code/ cipher resources, be sure to visit Subadra’s fantastic blog.

DVDs/Videos We’ve Enjoyed

We don’t subscribe to cable TV at home so we checked most of these DVDs out either via the Santa Clara County Library system or through our Netflix.com account.


The Story of 1 (PBS)
Very entertaining production on the history of the number one. DS watched this over and over and over again. Available on Netflix.com and possibly through your library too.

Donald in Mathmagic Land
Acclaimed video of Donald Duck in a land full of numbers. See how math is connected to the arts, nature and more. We watched it through Netflix.


Secrets of Ancient Empires: The First Civilizations
The rise of man from primitive hunter to city builder and that of the earliest civilizations. Ancient cities profiled include Babylon and Jericho.

Egypt: Rediscovering a Lost World (BBC)
A six-part production. Shows like a movie but filled with memorable lessons in Ancient Egyptian history. Among the luminaries profiled are Howard Carter (who discovered the tomb of King Tut), Giovanni Belzoni (who found the many monuments built in honor of Ramses II) and Jean Francois Champollion (first to decipher the hieroglyphs on the Rosetta Stone).

Lost Treasures of the Ancient World series: lots of titles to choose from, including Ancient Egypt, Ancient China, Ancient India, Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, Ancient Jerusalem, Dark Age England, Samurai Japan, Empires in the Americas and many more. We’ve watched about 8 to 10 of these and have enjoyed them to varying extents. There are instances of violence, reference to promiscuous behavior and so on although nothing extremely overt has assailed DS’ senses so far. Nevertheless, I would strongly suggest viewing them with your child or at least previewing in advance.


Walking with Dinosaurs (BBC)
Walking with Prehistoric Beasts (BBC)
Always hits in our home. Amazing CGI effects! They look so real that younger kids may have a fright.

The Ascent of Man
Surveys the survival of Man: from primitive times to today’s high-tech world. An American Film Festival Award winner. Not as riveting as some of the other DVDs listed here but very educational.

Einstein’s Big Idea (NOVA)
Dramatizes how E=mc2 came to be. Profiles not only a dreamy, younger Einstein but also, the contributions of Michael Faraday, Antoine Lavoisier, Mme du Châtelet (a French, aristocratic lady mathematician and scientist who translated Newton’s Principia Mathematica) and the brilliant Lise Meitner (Jewish lady physicist largely responsible for her discoveries on nuclear fission but glaringly left out by the Nobel committee).

Other good biographical works we’ve watched (with and without DS in attendance):

Einstein Revealed (Nova)
Galileo’s Battle for the Heavens (Nova) – Based on Galileo’s Daughter by Dava Sobel (some parts may not be age appropriate)
Newton’s Dark Secrets (Nova) (April 2009)
Infinite Secrets: The Genius of Archimedes (Nova) (March 2009)


The Life of Birds (BBC) (Feb-March 2009)
A riveting series narrated by Sir David Attenborough. A must for the young (and older) bird lover. We loved the close ups! And boy do some birds have attitude!

and another title lovingly narrated by Sir Attenborough: The Life of Mammals (May 2009). There are liberal references to mating and sexual reproduction in a few parts.

My attempt to get the kiddo very interested in marine biology/ ocean science didn’t go smoothly. But oh well, I personally liked these videos.

Deep Blue, narrated by Pierce Brosnan (amazing underwater photography!), James Cameron’s exciting Aliens of the Deep and gorgeous Earth, narrated by James Earl Jones.


A definite treat for a budding young biologist is National Geographic’s Inside The Living Body which takes a fascinating trip through the body of a human female right from birth to her 80’s. Expect mesmerizing (and to some, it might look real gross) footage of how food goes through the gut, how the immune system attacks viruses and basically how our body, well works! It was immensely riveting to DS and I but there are also inevitable references to puberty and sexual reproduction and even a death scene which might make you squeamish or nervous to show around young kids. Preview if possible and/ or use the remote liberally to forward to more comfortable parts.


We are huge fans of Dr Neil deGrasse Tyson and loved NOVA’s Origins which he narrated.

We also watched a little of Teaching Company’s My Favorite Universe (May 2009), beautifully narrated by Dr Tyson, for some reason that I cannot remember, not completing the viewing.

NOVA’s The Elegant Universe is another must-watch if you have a space/ astronomy fan at home.

Just thought I should mention that all of these videos take the evolution view of how the universe and our world came about to be.

Very recently, we’ve been watching History Channel’s The Universe, (we’re on Season 1 for now; there are a total of 4 seasons I believe) and are enjoying it very much. I personally found the parts on Mars: The Red Planet and The End of the Earth: Deep Space Threats to Our Planet very intriguing. I should highlight that if you have a very sensitive young viewer who would immensely dread any possible threat to Earth from outer space, you might want to wait a while before watching this with him/ her.

On the to-watch-soon list:
Planet Earth – The Complete BBC Series

Links to video sources:
Library Video
Delta Education’s List – inspiration for DVD titles to check out from Netflix or your library

Poetry: Something Else Unschooled

From A Child’s Introduction to Poetry

This is a post for the days in the future when I wonder why we didn’t “do” any poetry.

Every effort to “school” poetry has fallen flat. Poetry in the academic sense is just not his cup of tea. But he will pick up any book on poetry that’s prettily illustrated all on his own and spend many minutes (notice I don’t say hours) poring over it. He will pick it up again readily a day, days or weeks later with the same enthusiasm, not getting bored despite having read a poem before. But ask him to recite it, memorize it, do something with it other than analyze its rhyming structure (this he loves for some reason) and I would get the blankest stare possible. He has written a poem or two before this. He just wants nothing to do with studying it for anything other than enjoyment…which I guess, is what poetry is for isn’t it?

From Hip Hop Speaks To Children and
And Then There Were Eight: Poems About Space

Anthologies/ collections he has enjoyed very much:

The following websites are among a few that I have found helpful with ideas/ activities of a poetic nature, if you, like us, follow a delight-directed path:

Poetry 4 Kids
Jack Prelutsky helps boys to love poetry
Poetry Teachers
On Teaching Poetry in Schools
Poetry for Homeschoolers

Becky over at the FarmSchool blog wrote this excellent post listing poetry resources back in March for National Poetry Month 2009.

And among the first poems he read after our move to the US were by this poet.