Funschooling is 5 … and Year 6 Begins!

Can’t believe the blog is five years old! What began as an experimental log of our homeschooling journey in August 2008 (when kiddo was in Year 1 or first grade) has evolved into an obvious part of my life now. I might not update the blog as often as I used to but I do look forward to posting when I can and am thankful I started it when I did. I can’t rely on memory alone much these days. I’ve made so many wonderful online friends through the blog too…a most unexpected and valuable experience! 😀

So kiddo is now in Year 6. Sixth grade. Almost 11 years old! Wowzers! Continue reading “Funschooling is 5 … and Year 6 Begins!”

Randomly Recent

It’s been a while since I’ve written one of these. Gee, it’s been a while since I’ve written anything here lol! What we’ve been learning about, playing with, reading, eating, watching, discussing, repeating, trying to remember to, asking, contemplating, etc. in no-particular-order: Continue reading “Randomly Recent”

2012: Counting My Blessings

2012. I can’t wrap my head around how every year appears on my horizon, all tantalizing with possibilities, and then it’s over as if only seconds have passed. That 2012 is doing the same, that I’ve seen my wonderful, amazing kiddo turn 10 and lived watching him blossom into this cool kid that he is, I am just so thankful for this. I am not a religious woman but I feel blessed nevertheless.

Frequent readers will know how I try to write a post to commemorate each homeschooling year. I usually do that every summer. But I have some time on my hands today and the thoughts are pouring forth.

So here goes. These are my key memories of 2012.

1. Tinkering, building, taking things apart. What began as a fun autonomous vehicle project has now morphed into a true-blue crazy science experiment. You may remember me posting about the rover in January. It started off looking innocent (R). In summer, the boys built a special control station (tray for iPad, linked to backpack containing power source – L) so that kiddo can easily maneuver the car around the neighborhood. During the Christmas break, hubby and kiddo have further transformed the car into a part-autonomous vehicle, part-Lego Mindstorms monster, part mini missile launcher (for want of a better word). With an ominous name like The Black Death, I’m guessing we’re in for some pretty interesting special effects in the coming weeks. 🙂 Yes, I have courageous neighbors lol.

I’ll post pix of the new machine when I can or better still, have kiddo explain it on his blog (but hedgehogs may croon Auld Lang Syne before that happens!).

Given hubby’s busy travel schedule, kiddo isn’t able to spend as much time with his Dad as most boys do. But when he does, they get up to some pretty cool hijinks together.

The boys finished the backyard pond project this year and kiddo added basic furniture assembly to his repertoire of skills. To top it off, kiddo and his buddy also built a Rube Goldberg machine!

2. Learning adventures. 2012 was a fantastic year in terms of homeschool resource choices. This is how we homeschool: kiddo tells me what he wants to learn at what challenge level and I go seek tutors/ online courses and relevant books. His Dad and I may make adjustments to his wishes if deemed necessary but about 90% of the time, this is how we go about it. It’s nice to see him being in the driver’s seat. I occasionally still suggest courses or books because I can’t imagine not ever doing that lol. I keep an eye out for sagging enthusiasm and sudden roadblocks just to make sure he knows why it’s happening but most days, he’s able to identify and solve the issues himself. As a result, this year he is almost completely an independent learner. I don’t know whether it’s good for him to be 100% independent but I do know that if for some reason I am unable to oversee things, he will know how to carry on and that’s definitely a big load off my frequently anxious shoulders.

Kiddo’s math lessons are progressing swimmingly. His tutor is such a blessing to our family. I love watching kiddo interact with his tutor and have the time of his life every week. I will say this over and over again. If your kid is passionate about something and you can’t help him with this passion, find him someone who can (and who won’t take monetary advantage of you for it).

We are really happy to see kiddo satisfied with the level of math challenge he’s getting. He is certainly developing a good bit of stamina with those harder problems too. Kiddo also had a very busy but definitely invigorating summer filled with math camps: one was a research-style camp aimed at working on unsolved math problems and the other, a cryptology-themed math class with his tutor. He came away with much-improved ability to express his mathematical thinking in words.

The boy also made it through one half of a challenging Coursera course (took notes too!). He is ready to move on to year two of German and might be trying AP-level science courses next year, but without any expectations to actually take the AP exams.

As I am starting to outsource even more than we usual do, I no longer schedule literature or history studies for now but that hasn’t stopped him from voraciously finishing a significant number of well-written classics and enjoying my cobbled-together survey course in Shakespeare every morning during breakfast. Using an animated core program definitely has its advantages! 🙂

Yes, I still complain that he doesn’t write enough and writes his n’s like h’s and vice versa or forgets to put the date on his homework and leaves his study table in a mess no matter how many times I upsize the space. But blessing #2 is about celebrating how far the boy has come after all. 😉

3. Friends, family, good health. This year has also been a great time for nurturing friendships. I remember when kiddo was six and practically friendless because he was either “too friendly” or “too young” or “too chatty” or “too curious” for other kids in our area and “too physically awkward” for me to allow him to participate in some of the more sports-oriented friend-making avenues. Time has helped so much with finding friends who accept him for who he is and for me to realize that physical awkwardness is a normal part of child development, especially in boys. I am trying to accept that he might never take to martial arts or swimming like I’d hoped, but he is showing a lot of fondness for brisk walking and some interest in basketball and kayaking. And I am making him work on reaching 20 daily pushups by the end of January 2013. Let’s hope he gets there with a good attitude!

Our trip home to Malaysia this year was very well-timed too. Kiddo had a good time bonding with his grandparents and aunts and uncles. We had a blast devouring the seasonal fruits and the delicious food. It just felt so good to be surrounded by so much love when we are both home alone most of the time.

With Adrian joining us this year, we are benefiting tremendously. From our “pack walks”, from the general well-being that comes from having a pet, and just the idea that there’s one more little fella in the house who needs our love and generously returns it, no questions asked.

2012 isn’t all roses and rainbows. I grieve for the lives lost, both from natural disasters and from personal tragedies of minds gone wrong. I worry about what the future will be like both on a personal level and for the nation and the world as a whole. I just visited my family but I also miss them terribly. But I know how lucky I am to have what I have. To be able to watch my child grow healthy, happy and strong. To have a comfortable home and access to good food and books and safety. To have my parents and in-laws, my siblings and their own families. To have a furry friend who shows me unconditional trust. To have really, really good friends, both IRL and online, after spending the first 15 years of my life with only three, scruffy four-legged ones. I am blessed. And I am fortunate that I can realize this and appreciate it because I know it can be taken from me in a heartbeat.

I guess after all these years of trying to figure out parenting and homeschooling and worrying about books and curriculum and where we are headed, I think I might be getting the point. We can learn to learn anytime. It’s learning to live that’s truly precious.

Have a blessed, beautiful 2013 everyone!

World History with Videos

Kiddo’s world history learning has been nothing short of sporadic over the years. So far, for world history, we have relied on audiobooks, graphic novels (ala Larry Gonick), documentaries, history of scientific inventions and scientist biographies, miscellaneous historical literature, a child-led project or two and numerous dinner-table discussions.

This year, thanks to sale prices, I was able to grab this Teaching Company World History course for high schoolers by Prof. Linwood Thompson. It is very much a survey course and I don’t intend for us to go into too much depth since he’s already experienced some age appropriate depth in the past. And while history is an interest, it is not yet his passion. Treading lightly is therefore, my best bet.

The following are multimedia resources (fun websites, interactive maps where available and related documentaries) that correlate with the Teaching Company course. Experience has shown that when everything is planned ahead of time and links are easily available, we’ll be more likely to actually use what we buy. 🙂 So here we go with another list! (Ha, of course, who am I kidding…I’m also addicted to list-making!)

Note: Several links lead to YouTube videos and I should warn you that I’ve heard horror stories about hacked YouTube links. I‘m also using this list as a catch-all bookmarking spot without actually checking to see whether each one truly fits our purpose. I will weed out bad links that don’t do what they say they do. So until I get to watching them all, if you would like to use this list, please preview or supervise the viewing with your kids to prevent unpleasant surprises. Also, kiddo is almost past the stage of disliking violence in movies. Please be aware of possibly violent and other possibly inappropriate scenes if viewing with sensitive children. 

I will be adding more links to this list and including comments where possible as I find them and we view them so please stay tuned!

  1. Civilizations of the Fertile Crescent: Mesopotamia (interactive map), The Kings: From Babylon to Baghdad (YouTube) (part 1 of 10) — violent scenes alert!, East To West (Netflix)
  2. Egypt—The Gift of the Nile: Egypt: Engineering an Empire (YouTube) and also available for instant viewing on Netflix, Egypt: Rediscovering a Lost World (YouTube parts 1 and 2 of 4 only)
  3. Early India and China: An interactive ancient civilizations map
  4. The Ancient Greeks: BBC schools site on Ancient Greeks
  5. Ancient Rome: BBC schools site on an Ancient Roman death scene
  6. The Growth of Christianity: How Christianity Spread Throughout the Roman Empire (YouTube)
  7. The Fall of Rome: Engineering an Empire: Rome (YouTube) (part 1 of 10)
  8. The Byzantine Empire: neoK12 Byzantine Empire playlist (streaming video)
  9. The Rise of Islam: Islam: Empire of Faith (YouTube)
  10. Early Russia and the Fall of Constantinople: Engineering an Empire: Russia (YouTube) (part 1 of 5)
  11. The Early Christian Church: Christianity: The First 1000 Years (YouTube), Christianity: The Second 1000 Years (YouTube)
  12. The Vikings: BBC Viking Quest (game), Vikings interactive from the Smithsonian
  13. Medieval Life: Medieval Map (interactive map), Terry Jones’ Medieval Lives (YouTube)
  14. The Crusades: The Crusades: Crescent and The Cross (YouTube) (part 1 of 2), Crusades interactive map
  15. The 1300’s, The Age of Despair:
  16. The Renaissance:
  17. Africa—The Civilizations of the Sub-Sahara:
  18. China: Engineering an Empire: China (YouTube) (part 1 of 5)
  19. The Mongols and Marco Polo:
  20. Early Japan through the Tokugawa Period:
  21. Discoverers and Conquistadors:
  22. North American Explorers:
  23. The Old World vs. The New World—Hazards and Benefits:
  24. Civilizations of The Americas:
  25. The Protestant Reformation:
  26. Tudor England:
  27. The English Civil War and Parliament:
  28. The Monarchs of Europe:
  29. The Growth of Democracy:
  30. The American Revolution:

More resources:
We may also rely on this Story of the World-Netflix documentary spreadsheet that someone generously shared on another forum.

Figuratively Speaking: Literary Excerpts

I plan for us to use this workbook to learn new literary terms and review the ones kiddo already knows. We are going at our own pace with this and may use our own sequence instead of the suggested order.

I am bookmarking links to the miscellaneous poems and texts peppered throughout the book, knowing that my curious guy will not be satisfied with reading only the excerpts. We’ll probably only choose a few of the original versions to read. Longer works have not been bookmarked — I will either use the excerpt in the workbook or check out the paperback versions if he wants me to.

  1. Denotation and Connotation: Autumn Within by Longfellow, The Rainy Day by Longfellow, Something by Hans Christian Andersen, and Home by Edgar A. Guest
  2. Hyperbole: One version of Johnny Appleseed, Pecos Bill Rides a Tornado retold, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County by Mark Twain, Birth of Paul Bunyan retold, Flying Fish and other Dave Barry articles
  3. Idiom: A Story Without an End by Mark Twain, and an online idioms resource
  4. Imagery: The Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore, a nature poem (I couldn’t resist linking my favorite…The Darkling Thrush by Thomas Hardy), and a painting to describe
  5. Metaphor and Simile: Taking Leave of a Friend by Li Po (scroll to bottom of the page), Jazz Fantasia by Carl Sandburg, She Sweeps With Many-Colored Brooms by Emily Dickinson, A Forest Hymn by William Cullen Bryant, Song of the Sky Loom (a Tewa traditional poem), Thirty-Five by Sarah Josepha Hale (I’m not able to find this one!), and Winter Dreams by Fitzgerald
  6. Oxymoron and Paradox: The excerpts in the workbook will be sufficient for our study
  7. Personification: The Mice in Council by Aesop, Young Goodman Brown by Nathaniel Hawthorne, and The Grass So Little Has To Do by Emily Dickinson
  8. Symbol: Mending Wall by Robert Frost, Beauty and the Beast, and Rose Symbolism (Wikipedia)
  9. Alliteration: The Ruin (from a blog post and includes interesting explanation), and because we love this device, purely for fun…Amusing Alliteration, and other examples
  10. Assonance and Consonance: The Bells by Edgar Allen Poe, The Hayloft by Robert Louis Stevenson, I Saw in Louisiana a Live-Oak Growing by Walt Whitman, The Chambered Nautilus by Oliver Wendell Holmes, The Arsenal at Springfield by Longfellow, Concord Hymn by Emerson, Ode on the Confederate Dead by Henry Timrod, Beat! Beat! Drums by Walt Whitman, There is a Solitude of Space by Emily Dickinson, Hampton Beach by Whittier, The First Snowfall by James Russell Lowell, The Marshes of Glynn by Sidney Lanier, The Outcast of Poker Flats by Bret Harte, War is Kind by Stephen Crane, Upon the Burning of Our House by Anne Bradstreet, Preface to God’s Determinations by Edward Taylor
  11. Form: A selection of haiku poems by Matsuo Basho, cinquains explained, a few limericks by Lear, a Skeltonic verse idea, catalog poetry, picture poems, and free verse
  12. Onomatopoeia (oh joy!): The Princess by Tennyson, Lepanto by G.K. Chesterton, The Congo by Vachel Lindsay, The Sound of the Sea by Longfellow, and Canto First by Shelley
  13. Parallelism: Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll
  14. Repetition and Refrain: The Open Boat and Do Not Weep Maiden, for War is Kind by Stephen Crane, and Good Night Irene
  15. Rhyme: The Duel by Eugene Field, The Blessed Damozel by Dante Rossetti, and An Alphabet of Famous Goops by Gelett Burgess
  16. Rhythm: Thanatopsis by William Cullen Bryant, Sea Fever by John Masefield, Recessional by Rudyard Kipling, There Is No Frigate Like a Book by Emily Dickinson, Preludes by T.S. Eliot, and Song of the Redwood Tree by Walt Whitman
  17. Run-on and End-stopped Lines: The Tide Rises, The Tide Falls by Longfellow, and Lift Every Voice and Sing by James Weldon Johnson
  18. Stanza: Trees by Joyce Kilmer, Be Strong by Maltbie Davenport Babcock, My Kate by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and Ode to the West Wind by Percy Shelley
  19. Allusion: The excerpts in the workbook will be sufficient for our study
  20. Characters and Characterization: The excerpts in the workbook will be sufficient for our study
  21. Conflict: The excerpts in the workbook will be sufficient for our study
  22. Dialect: A Red, Red Rose by Robert Burns, and On Top of Spaghetti
  23. Dialogue: At Last by James Whitcomb Riley, and short story selections at Classic Shorts (specifically for this lesson I suggest A Telephonic Conversation by Mark Twain)
  24. Flashback: The excerpts in the workbook will be sufficient for our study
  25. Foreshadowing: Beauty and the Beast, Little Red Riding Hood, Goldilocks and The Three Bears, The Three Little Pigs, and Cinderella
  26. Genre: The excerpts in the workbook will be sufficient for our study
  27. Irony: The excerpts in the workbook will be sufficient for our study
  28. Local Color: short story selections at Classic Shorts
  29. Mood and Tone: The Raven by Poe
  30. Moral and Theme: The Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing by Aesop
  31. Narrator/ Point of View: The excerpts in the workbook will be sufficient for our study
  32. Plot: The Lady, or the Tiger? by Frank Stockton, and The Most Dangerous Game by Richard Connell.
  33. Poetic License: Mannahatta by Walt Whitman, and an e.e. cummings biography
  34. Pun: Hymn to God the Father by John Donne
  35. Rhetorical Question: The excerpts in the workbook will be sufficient for our study
  36. Satire, Parody, and Farce: L’Art by Ezra Pound, and Jurassic Park by Weird Al
  37. Story Within a Story: The Storyteller by Saki, and The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County and A Story Without an End by Mark Twain
  38. Stream of Consciousness: An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge by Ambrose Bierce, and The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Eliot
  39. Surprise Ending: The Necklace by Guy de Maupassant, The Gift of the Magi and Hearts and Hands by
    O. Henry, An Inhabitant of Carcosa by Ambrose Bierce, and for The Third Level and The Face in the Photo by Jack Finney, there’s this affordable copy of About Time.
  40. Suspense: The Monkey’s Paw by W.W. Jacob and Moxon’s Master by Ambrose Bierce

Links are active at the time this post was composed.

July Daybook

Outside my window…
the ivy on our stone fencing walls is growing waaaay too long. I remember falling in love with the zen-like clean, grey walls when we first viewed this house (it’s been three years since we moved! where does the time go?). In fact it was one of the reasons why I wanted this house vs. another one we had viewed earlier that day. I like how the walls shut the rest of the world out (not to mention the busy street behind us). The introvert in me was whooping with joy. But now the ivy, lush and green as it is, is blocking my beautiful wall from my view. Time to plan…should we cut it back, or pull the ivy off altogether…?

Around the house…
I’m fighting a losing battle with the Company That Will Not Be Named. We receive these catalogs so often and with such tantalizing coupon code offers…sigh. I’ve made sure my snapshot of my latest collections include the codes in case you might want to use them, dear reader (leave a comment if you can’t see them!). Oh no, now I’m trying to share my addiction with others! Forgive me?

Never buy when not on sale. And when on sale, use a code when possible for more savings!

We’ve lately taken to reading these catalogs before bedtime. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing. Are we becoming addicted to hoarding these DVDs as much as we do our books?

I am thankful…
that July wasn’t as busy as I’d blogged it would be. We were going to be quite over-scheduled thanks to my sudden weakness for trying new classes. One class in and I realized what an error it was to sign kiddo up for a College for Kids summer camp. It wasn’t really college for kids, it was too far away, required too much time outside and in the intense heat for shy ol’mom to be able to tolerate and also wasn’t generally deep, involved learning anyway. My main reason was to try to introduce a little more social exposure to kiddo’s routine but neither of us wanted that in the end. What a relief it was to cancel the camp! A pricey mistake though. We couldn’t get a refund.

I am thinking…
Must learn from mistakes! Must not repeat too many expensive ones.

The kiddo…

chose to take two more math classes this summer! I feel guilty telling him about them but he does seem to be enjoying them despite the hard work. He’s been such a trooper that I am tempted to make a certificate to reward his winning attitude.

I am reading…
The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax! Very, very fun so far! 
We’ve been playing…
Have you watched Under The Boardwalk yet? (YouTube trailer link. Watch instantly on Netflix!)

I am looking forward to…
taking a long break once his classes end in August to just read, read, read and possibly watch our Company That Will Not Be Named acquisitions. I am also looking forward to September because I’ve been gradually collecting living books to learn more about economics principles and also biology. We’ve neglected those topics for a bit and there’s so much I need to brush up on myself.

A favorite quote for today…
from Mark Twain: “Life is short. Break the Rules. Forgive quickly. Kiss SLOWLY. Love truly. Laugh uncontrollably. And never regret ANYTHING that makes you smile.”

Using Weebly To Centralize Learning Links

Last summer, I wrote about organizing assignments with a blog. We like to follow different “tides” in our learning pattern and the blog became a little stifling when we felt unschoolish. From an assignment space, the blog morphed into another link-collecting space. Since I already have funschooling to park links, as well as the free, online bookmarking site Diigo to categorize links for online games, I ended up with long lists of unused links. Well-categorized, true, but still too much clutter!

Since late winter, I have been playing around with a different tool. I started compiling only the links kiddo uses most often, both for online classes and for fun, into a Weebly site. Of course, a blog will still work for this purpose. Weebly just makes it easier with its free, drag-and-drop widget-based interface. Most important, kiddo seems to prefer this to the blog. He just clicks on the site’s icon (he bookmarked it on his browser’s horizontal navigation bar) and now has visually clean, quick access to all his classes and preferred links.

How I created the site:
  1. I signed up for a free account at Weebly
  2. I personalized my chosen template with kiddo’s photo instead of the standard stock photo. 
  3. One can include a website name. The standard domain name, unless upgraded, is
  4. I made pages for the main subject areas we like to learn.
  5. I added sub-pages to each page. Pages automatically turn into drop down menus when sub-pages are added. A sub-page can be an actual page on the site or a link to another site. So far, I haven’t encountered a limit to the number of sub-pages allowed in the free account plan.
  6. Below kiddo’s photo, I included an at-a-glance, simple schedule of subjects using the text/ paragraph widget. You may separate the paragraphs as I have done into multiple columns (I chose 5 for the 5 weekdays). This schedule provides structure on the days that he wants it, and may also be changed easily, just like how you would edit any text box. Where possible, I also added links in the text.
  7. Below Friday, I added a button to remind us to check out Coursera’s offerings and sign up for any new ones that catch our eye.

We have been using this site for a few months now and we really like it.

Another benefit I see to this is that I can save every schedule in a separate page to keep a “record” of what he learned each year and how he learned it. It could be a convenient, quick-glance list vs. the longer blog records that require a few days’ worth of writing, editing, and photo-compiling. After saving the record for the previous year, I can update the site with new links and schedule for the next year.

Math Journey: ages toddler to 7

This is the second in a series of posts I want to write for my records about what we did per subject and how we did it. My post on our science journey from ages 4 to 9 is here. I’ll continue with math journey: ages 7 to 9 at a later date.
I write these posts for my own memory-keeping purposes. Of course, these memories reflect what worked for my one specific child but if there’s something here that’s of use to you dear reader, I’d love to hear your response.
Ages 2 – 5: Kiddo started showing a great propensity for words and numbers at about age 2 to 2.5yo.  He enjoyed finding shorter, “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 his math journey. We started writing simple codes for him to solve. E.g. we’d write a list of addition sentences like 1 + 1, 2 + 2 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 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 figured out that he loved codes so much, he was an easier child to deal with 24/7 (he’s an angel now but during his babyhood, kiddo was a terror!). We didn’t drive a car then so we’d ride the bus or MRT (Singapore’s high speed train service) and keep his attention occupied 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!
He really adored those puzzles. Whenever possible, we drew objects or showed him real objects instead of just the numerical symbol that represented the number. For example, sometimes the codes would show two apples plus two apples instead of the numerals 2 + 2. Thanks to this, he had a good grasp of number sense from toddlerhood.
He was also in the Kumon math program from ages 4 to 6-ish. Around age 5, perhaps, due to the combination of drill-kill Kumon worksheets and some traditional grade level books at home that I’d mistakenly thought would be good for him, I noticed kiddo’s interest in math dwindling. We eventually pulled him out of Kumon when we moved to a different city.
Ages 5 – 7: I discovered the Living Math website. Initially, overwhelmed by the idea of trying non-traditional math instruction, I gradually began to feel as if I’d struck gold. I credit the living math approach for turning his growing resistance towards math at age 5 into a deep and abiding love for the subject. Even then, not every math literature book interested him. He still wanted funny codes to solve. His need for humor and cipher-like puzzles was intense. Over time, I found a few code style workbooks and these helped for a while. He began making up his own cipher systems, in his head, and would write codes based on these systems (e.g. his favorite was a reverse alphabet subtraction code). He began writing codes actively, on our whiteboard, for me to solve. Writing out numbers became an eagerly-anticipated activity although he was still reluctant to write sentences.
For teaching, I chose MEP, supplemented with Singapore Math. Some days, I would insist that he complete the worksheets as written. Over time, I noticed that instead of the sequential, finish-the-worksheet method, he responded better to choosing just a few problems and working them out on the whiteboard. He didn’t like the MEP lesson plans and using manipulatives so we used only the worksheets. Our manipulatives were usually images drawn on the whiteboard or on paper. I suspect that he could see the numbers well enough mentally and didn’t need handheld aids. As a result of our “whiteboard math” and kiddo’s reinstated love of numbers, we finished several years worth of MEP and Singapore Math in a very short period of time.


Around 6.5 yo, kiddo started making more leaps in math. I found an old video of him figuring out how to convert irregular fractions into mixed numbers (but am unable to link it here, sorry). It was a wonderful game for him. He enjoyed finding patterns in everything.

It makes me smile to think how much he enjoyed working on the whiteboard. I used to frequently have him “teach me” math too just to see how well he understands it. No wonder that he still scribbles stuff for me to figure out, and loves showing me how to solve them.
I am grateful that I have managed to overcome much of my own unease with math by learning it with my son at home. I don’t know if sending him to school would have led to the same result. I am so thankful for all the time we’ve had together, and to watch him grow to love math so deeply. A subject I grew up dreading!
Homeschooling just rocks!

Science Journey: Ages 4 to 9

I recently answered a question about homeschooling science on the Living Science Yahoo Group. I decided to record it here to help me to remember what we did for science when kiddo was younger. I find myself forgetting things so easily with so much on my mind. While blogging is increasingly becoming the last thing I am able to attend to when I’m free, I am still grateful I have this blog as a memory-holder.

“Explain to me how you define “living science”. What does it look like in your home? What is your philosophy and how do you apply it?”

Answer (edited yahoo group post for grammar where I could, and added details, links and photos):

It will look different for everyone. Here’s what it looks like in our home.

Ages 4-5: I had no idea what a living book was but did wonder if my son could lead our science studies based on curiosity alone (all those why questions that never stopped had to amount to something right?). So that’s we did. We just answered his questions. And he did quite a lot of collecting! He collected leaves and rocks and observed birds and tried to mimic their calls. We did this on “nature walks” while living in a busy apartment community in the middle of a busy city. He did a preschool science class at the local community center where they studied slimy things, flight, weather and so on using simple kits. We grew lima beans. We tried categorizing the leaves and rocks he had collected. He also “collected” clouds, planets and nebulas, and scientists! He would intensely “study” them then mentally file them away and move on to the next interest. Then at about 4.5yo he was obsessed with death and diseases so he voraciously consumed information on the human body and names of diseases and tried diagnosing every little thing.

I lelped him with experiments (we didn’t do many, just a few key ones) or did demonstrations for him. I sometimes checked books out from the library and always found a couple that were much more interesting, beautifully illustrated and just so much more rich and worth our time than others.

I only later discovered that this is basically what living books are. Wonderfully written, usually by a single author who is very passionate about the subject. Not dry, or by committee. We tried a number of curricula written for homeschoolers, found them lacking (or requiring too much tweaking to work that it didn’t make sense) and just went back to working with the living books to supply information and ideas for experiments where he wanted them. He read some books over and over. We supplemented with a lot of dinner table discussions. And Curious George. 🙂

A basic DNA extraction lab

Ages 5-8: I learned about the Charlotte Mason method and living books as the name to describe the well-written books we were using. I found the CM method wonderful but not the best fit for how my son likes to learn.

However, the living books themselves were working so well for him that we continued using these, and our home library grew and grew. I added The Happy Scientist videos ($20/year membership) and documentaries galore. We added science kits where available/ interested.

David Attenborough’s Life of/ Life in (Mammals, Cold Blood, Undergrowth etc) series was especially well loved. Son developed an intense interest in chemistry so we took that bunny trail for a long, long time with more living books and mass market books and a class or two, and finally a twice-a-month group class that continues to this day (ask me how to set this up if interested).

Made a glider using a kit

We like integrated learning. While chemistry was going on we continued to watch life science themed shows, did a few nature-themed classes, discussed a lot of physics with physics-loving dad, and created a few projects, usually something to do with physics, and with magnets and also followed another intense interest in diseases, viruses etc.

We are amateur (very!) stargazers when there’s a chance. We watched a lot of PBS/Quest/NOVA astronomy shows. We “video/ book-stalked” science celebrities: we adored Neil deGrasse Tyson, then Brian Greene, then Oliver Sacks (and visited a neuroscience lab too). We listened to a number of Naxos audiobooks for children about scientists and inventors. Took field trips/ road trips where we could (fell in love with red rock formations for a bit).

Age 9: We are continuing the above but at a slightly higher level now (e.g. using a higher level kit for chemistry such as the one in the picture under this post’s title). And it works beautifully. There are areas he is ignorant about (gaps galore!) and that’s fine with me but if it’s not fine with you, maybe you could do a little gentle goal-setting to see what is important to you for your child to know by what age. There’s a book called Home Learning Year by Year by Rebecca Rupp that will give you an idea of the usual “what to do by when” stuff. There is also What Your First Grader Needs to Know and others in the Core Knowledge series by Hirsch that could provide a simple guideline.

Basic electrolysis lab

My philosophy? I tell my son to have fun and let his passion consume him and to try to do it by himself because honestly, his mom is no help when it comes to science lol. But in the end, it looks too tempting for me to watch from the sidelines and I have a go at it with him too. For a while, I agreed to be an unschooler with science. This year, we took a more structured approach, using a distance ed science class because we think it will help him answer a lot of questions he has and also build a good work ethic.

Another family may find that using an even more structured approach or a particular curriculum or two works best for them with living books as supplements; still another family could be more into nature exploration, allowing nature studies to lead their learning adventures with art, sketching, real-life observation and discussion and experimenting being the focal points instead of doing all the sciences at once or living books being the focal point. It really depends what your particular bent is. You’ll find it developing as you get into it.


  1. Start one step at a time. Don’t let it overwhelm you. Everything starts with those little baby steps.
  2. Have a nice big whiteboard to jot down thoughts, questions and discussion topics…for yourself and your child(ren).
  3. Start collecting everything you can find for free or cheap for science experiments. I have cabinets and drawers full of empty bottles, rubber bands, paperclips, string, cardboard, thread spools etc for experiments. It was hard at first to look for things to experiment with but now, after 5+ years of collecting I now have a good amount of things we don’t have to run out for if an experiment idea pops up. 🙂
  4. Ask questions yourself. Model the “let’s find out” habit for your child. It’s okay if you don’t know the answers. You can google a source and then google another source to verify your first source and it will lead to some interesting discoveries in the process. You will also be teaching your child to question and double-check answers and not trust every answer too easily.
  5. Scientific method can be introduced early. A good book to read together when your child is ready: How To Think Like A Scientist by Stephen Kramer.
  6. Don’t sweat the writing if your child is reluctant to write. Unless there are learning issues or disabilities, it will usually fall into place. You can always scribe for your child.

Note: The living science books we used are listed both on this blog and in the Files section of the Living Science Yahoo Group website.

Free Finds!

A quick round-up of free resources found recently on my web travels (I have forgotten how I found some of these so please forgive me if I don’t mention all my sources).

  • Astronomy buffs, be sure to check out this introductory astronomy course from Starship Asterisk
  • Kiddo is a fan of Arthur Benjamin, he of the charming grin and sprite-like enthusiasm in the Secrets of Mental Math lectures. We researched Harvey Mudd College where Prof. Benjamin teaches, and found Mudd Math Facts, a library of fun math puzzles and articles.
  • Biology Online: Nice shockwave animations here on biochemistry and organic chemistry topics.

Reading and Listening To…


The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean, narrated by Sean Runnette
We listened to the unabridged audio book in April and I’m so glad I chose audio over print.

Prime Curios!: The Dictionary of Prime Number Trivia by Chris Caldwell could soon eclipse kiddo’s previous favorite math trivia tome, Number Freak. He is also enjoying Here’s Looking at Euclid by Alex Bellos. He doesn’t read these in any sequence. He savors them like you would a small and exquisite piece of expensive Belgian chocolate. He runs to google a little fact every few minutes or pulls out his math notebooks to create patterns from what he reads, forgets about them for a couple of weeks and then pores over them all over again, sometimes spreading all of them out in front of him at the same time.


The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett and The Lion’s Paw by Robb White were read alouds that we both loved.

I managed a good bit of a British accent reading aloud The Secret Garden. Who says watching Downton Abbey doesn’t help? The Lion’s Paw is an adventure story about three children, aged 15, 12 and 9, who run, err, I mean sail away on a sloop to search for a sea shell, the lion’s paw. We started every morning by reading it beside our new backyard pool and learned a bit about sailing and catching alligators! 😉 

Owls in the Family by Farley Mowat is a hoot of a tale about a boy with two pet owls, with echoes of Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals (only, Billy’s family is not as eccentric).

Ginger Pye by Eleanor Estes and Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes were free reads. He enjoyed reading about the Don much more than I thought he would and he keeps regaling me (I haven’t caught up with reading DQ yet) with what the Don or Sancho did. Yes, DQ is rather PG-13 in case you are wondering but the kiddo was just so ready for the story that I closed my eyes to the various libidinous references and agreed to let kiddo have a go at reading it.

Me: I just finished To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. I have read it once before in my teens but the references did not make a full impact at the time. Having read it a second time, I realize I just can’t do this book justice in a few lines. It deserves an entire post of its own.

I absolutely loved it.

I am going to persuade kiddo to name our future pets (if we have any) Atticus and Boo. That is, if he doesn’t choose Hobbes and Snoopy first.


Reading aloud The Mysterious Island by Jules Verne and a thrift store find, If Only They Could Talk by James Herriot. Listening in the car: Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery, narrated by Kate Burton.

A Quick 2012 Half-Year Learning Review

Yes, we’re still homeschooling! I know it’s been a while since I posted an academic update. I just haven’t been able to keep up with these updates as much as I’d like to.

Kiddo’s fourth grade year is officially over according to our charter school. But since his two core subject classes began in January, we are just going to keep plugging away over summer (at a slower pace), into the first semester of fifth grade in the fall and possibly beyond, in spring 2013 too. 
Our 2012 curriculum choices are quite successful so far (but don’t be surprised if six months from now, things look very different!). He chose most of the resources after I listed some options based on his interests and ability level:

Geometry with his Online Tutor is his favorite core course this year! Going very slowly but very steadily too (according to his tutor, this is good for his math stamina; but it is not good for impatient mom).

Physics with Derek Owens: Kiddo loves the lectures and practice videos but the homework and tests are hard work. Still, he’s managing this on his own so far. This and German are his first officially graded courses.

Irasshai Japanese I: His favorite elective. He’s finished half of Japanese I and is currently reviewing the 30+ lessons using the Irasshai workbook.

German Online German I: He’s able to lead, read and understand simple (and silly!) German conversations. Three more chapters to the end of German I.

Literature and Philosophy discussions with:


Philosophy lessons are read one or two at a time and included into daily conversations. Kiddo has read the lit titles and we’ll listen to the audiobook versions in the car in the coming weeks. We discuss interesting bits as the opportunity comes up but without emphasis on mechanics or analysis for now.

History and Other: History happens on an extremely random basis here. History through math and science is so much more eagerly embraced than history through curriculum. We periodically read aloud from well-written children’s books (mostly fiction) and listen to audiobooks too…I’m hoping kiddo is soaking something up from there.

Kiddo also finished a three-week audit of Introduction to Cryptology with Coursera. He wanted to work on it himself in the evenings and finished half the course at a slower pace.

ETA: Piano and swimming continue with the former being a hit and the latter being in between hit and miss. Kiddo participated in a jazz band program for six weeks in spring and even sang lead vocals for one song!

I’d love to read your school year reviews if you’ve written them. Please link to them when commenting.

Happy summer everyone!

Learning from Debate

Kiddo’s debate classes are over for the year. Yesterday, he had his final debate for the Public Forum session. The resolution: Birthright Citizenship Should be Abolished. Kiddo was for the resolution and debated alone against a team of two other students.

He has been taking classes at this debate school for six months and due to other commitments, we have decided not to continue over the rest of spring and summer. He may decide to participate in the fall again because he really likes the instructor so he’s not saying goodbye altogether. He has learned so much over the last six months and has met his match in many of the other students and I am so glad for all the incidental lessons that he’s gained from this experience too. He didn’t win at the latest finals but came away learning very important lessons about research and preparation, time management, communicating and thinking critically on his feet, not under-estimating his opposing team and taking defeat with a great attitude. All the more reason to work harder at the next challenge!

I was most pleasantly surprised when the instructor spoke to me privately about how much kiddo has grown from this. He was impressed enough with kiddo to use kiddo’s class assessment as a sample assessment on the school’s website. He is also using a recording of one of kiddo’s class sessions to show another class how to debate well! This is praise that I hope kiddo takes with humility and generosity of spirit. 

I highly recommend debate and public speaking for any child interested in it. We drove many miles to give kiddo this opportunity so it didn’t come cheap but it was very worth the effort and time spent.

Onward to another fun challenge!

Randomly Recent…

Baking butter cookies!

The FunSchoolers discovered a very yummy recipe and have so far experimented twice with it:

  • Once by replacing some of the flour with hazelnut meal and the white sugar with brown (and reducing the amount too). 
  • Once using the recipe mostly as is but with less butter, flour and sugar (pictured here).

Both were delicious although the first batch was a little runny and couldn’t be decorated satisfactorily. The second batch had a melt-in-the-mouth buttery flavor. Kiddo had tons of fun decorating it. Next time, we’ll first plan the decorations before going trigger happy with the icing tubes. 🙂

Swimming lessons have resumed

After a difficult start when we first began, kiddo is doing very well and I’m very happy with how he’s being taught. He’s learning how to flip and push off between laps now. 

Philosophy discussions

He is currently very interested in philosophy. We have chosen to read aloud and discuss Philosophy for Kids by David White once or twice a week during afternoon snack time. We really like the book so far.

See this post on kiddo’s blog.We didn’t have the time to record every single point discussed but it does give you an idea of how we are using the book.

Learning as usual

It’s good to have our rhythm back after the holidays and the flu. Physics is going well with full marks in his grade book so far but the suggested pace is obviously too rapid right now. I’m not terribly concerned. It just means he may take longer to finish the course. I’m trying to keep my expectations neutral. Learning to stay out of the way is hard for this control freak, but I’m getting there!

Math and German are proceeding at a steady pace. I am enjoying learning this way and I can see kiddo is too. We have more time to learn and digest the information instead of rushing from one lesson to another. I wish we could somehow fit Latin into our days but we don’t seem to be able to right now. I’m trying to work in 15 minutes of Latin three times a week. Since we don’t do any “language arts”, Latin is my back-up plan for grammar and vocabulary studies.

Debate finals!

The highlight of last week was kiddo’s team debate finals. He was team captain for one of the teams. The teams were judged based on three mini-debate topics:

  • California schools should improve fitness goals (Kiddo’s team: affirmative)
  • Ice cream would rather be ‘poor’ than ‘rich’ (An odd topic, I know! Kiddo’s team: negative)
  • Environmental disasters should be classified as crimes against humanity (Kiddo’s team: affirmative)

The teams were both tied in the end. 

Kiddo is enjoying speech and debate very much and will continue with the next session of classes in two weeks. I couldn’t be happier. He’s learning many other skills through the class. He’s learning to research and present his arguments coherently. He’s learning the difference between fact and opinion. And he’s learning leadership skills.

He’s fond of the State of Debate game here. If you know anything else like it that can be played or followed online, I’d really appreciate a heads up!