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”

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!

Randomly Recent and a Treadmill Desk

Boys who once disliked writing can become happy note-takers!

He Who Hated To Put Two Words Together with a pencil is eagerly translating frames from his German Asterix comic into English! I’m glad I skipped penmanship lessons (it was too much busywork when I briefly tried it a couple of years ago).

Kiddo is also determined to see a free online course from the Stanford U folks through. It is harder than he thought it would be. But he is somehow plodding along. It’s a wonderful experience for him in time management and note-taking and hopefully, he is learning a little about coding, ciphers, and all the technical jargon I can’t wrap my head around.

Oh, I feel So Old sometimes. And. So. Slow.

Some notes from around the house…

I love watching the birds that visit our yard. We have scrub jays and mourning doves taking turns to sip from our water fountains. One day, I even noticed a mourning dove passive-aggressively trying to push the jay away! A hummingbird, too tiny to comfortably drink from the pool fountain, frequently visits our smaller fountain on the side to cool its body and quench its thirst. These beautiful visitors never fail to delight me!

I have started a blog category called “what’s cooking”. It makes me laugh I tell you. Me, the mom who will avoid cooking at all costs if she could, starting a category about what she cooks. Better check to see if something porcine is flying outside.

I hope you, dear reader, will laugh with me, and not at. 🙂

Here’s a delicious (if I should say so myself) chicken porridge I made today. It smelled so good that kiddo kept getting distracted during his online math class. We have been avoiding rice but I thought we deserved a treat since we haven’t had it in a long time. I used three quarters a package of low-sodium chicken stock and about half that amount of water plus sliced, boneless, skinless chicken breast pieces, sliced onion and some garlic-ginger puree for the base. I like to keep dry-fried tofu handy (it’s great with stir-fried vegetables) and added some of that too. A little sesame oil and a handful of baby carrots went in next. And once everything was happily boiling, I poured in a cup and a half of rice and let it simmer gently for about 20 more minutes. Cilantro and sliced baby bok choy were added towards the end just before serving, with salt and spice to taste. A yummy meal perfect for an under-the-weather day or if you just want something easy to prepare for lunch.

Ah, and I hacked a closet wire shelf into a treadmill desk! It was so much simpler than what was suggested on various You Tube videos. Simply head to Home Depot and buy a 3ft x 1ft wire shelf, like this one by ClosetMaid. I had two, black snap-locking straps and used them to secure the shelf to each handlebar. These straps look very much like shoulder straps from laptop bags or perhaps, narrower versions of luggage straps. You could also use zip/ cable-ties in place of the straps but I wanted something easier to remove. Voila! I walked for an hour without even realizing it today while working on the computer. On a relatively gentle, no-incline pace, that was close to 250 calories gone!

Till next time, hopefully, by a slimmer, more streamlined Suji lol.

A Theme-based Approach for Year 4.0

We began our Year 4 summer session in June. We’re having a more relaxed two weeks finishing up the final bits of summer work while waiting for our Year 4 proper to begin on August 29.

I feel another change in the way I’m approaching his learning. I’d felt this in Year 3 and now, feel it even more strongly. I’m more inspired and confident that following my child’s lead is most beneficial to his homelearning journey but of course, with some direction from me on fleshing out the learning so that it is both enjoyable and challenging.

My definition of being an eclectic homeschooler too has changed. The yearning to use the “regular stuff”–and by that I mean popular WTM/CM style homeschool curricula that is heavily discussed on well-known forums–isn’t as compelling as it used to be. Eclectic to me now means using even more of real-life experiences, whole books and the multitude of offerings from audiovisual and Internet sources than before.

Kiddo will take math and German classes online on a regular schedule. That’s the thing with online classes. Helpful though they are, you have to work regularly–which usually means daily. But he likes this stuff and we chose the providers based on his input so hopefully, it will go well.

For other areas of learning, I’ve been debating and scheduling and re-debating and re-scheduling it all in my head and on my Excel spreadsheet. I think I finally have an idea of what will happen. I will definitely quite possibly change my mind a hundred times by the time we begin (and even afterwards) but for now, here’s a rough draft of what’s on the drawing board (in other words, a rough draft of the rough draft!).

Theme or Project-based Learning Plans (on a block or rotated schedule):

Patty Paper GeometryTheme 1: Geometry – Lots of playful exploration with geometrical constructions before moving on to a formal, proof-based Geometry program. I like Michael Serra’s Patty Paper Geometry because it’s rich in examples. The text is to the point without fluff and builds good conjecturing. I might suggest geometry-based stitching or craft projects and construction idea-books for added enjoyment.

Theme 2: The Physics and Math of Machines and Motion – Kiddo loves making models so for this semester, he will use Exploration Education’s Physical Science kit (that we began last year but didn’t get past Chapter 1–yikes!). I might try to introduce applied math in physics by adding the appropriate TOPS math and science booklets and activities, googled articles, videos and real-life observations.

Theme 3: The Psychology of Crime Fiction and Comics – We’re excited about this! I’d be happy if we can get it started though lol. When I posed the question to kiddo whether we should combine three of his interests into one theme-based study, he tartly asked “do you think I’d ever say no to that?”. The cheek, lol! I will create our study from scratch with MIT Open Courseware for inspiration, using not only related fiction and web research but hopefully also, some thought-provoking discussions on various angles and POVs of authors and characters. I’m hoping it will tease some writing out of him too. He is already compiling a list of fun books to read or read again for this study. If it’s successful, I’ll post details when we’re done!

Will continue as-is in other areas: co-operative learning with friends; Japanese and drawing/ sketching for fun; audiovisual learning, discussions and good literary works; and the usual piano and swimming.

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!

6 Across: Cryptic Obsession


It’s been raining criss-crosses these days. I have shreds of newspaper all over the carpet, all opened to the puzzles pages. I used to throw them away but these days realize that if it’s a fad with him and he suddenly forgets about it, at least I have proof of this very surprising development.

NY Times puzzles. The Daily Commuter puzzles. And even if he doesn’t touch these, he’s bound to at least attempt half a Bonus Crossword. So far the consensus is that The Daily Commuter is Easy-Medium, with NY Times and the Bonus Crosswords being closer to Medium-Hard. We do try to solve at least 80% without help from Google or Crossword Solvers. And he tries to solve at least 50% of that 80% without my input but so far it’s closer to 30% to 40%. He’s getting better at it though.

As obsessions come, this is one of the few that have seen him intensively sit for 2 to 3 hours straight on the same spot on our carpet. A close second is his code-style math workbooks. The only thing that comes close or even exceeds puzzle hours so far are his all-time favorite (no, not ice cream): movies!

Thankfully, the crosswords are packed with lots of catalysts for fun learning moments. Titus or Tiberius abbr? EMP (both were emperors of Rome). Arizona’s ___ Mountains? GILA. Kyoto honorific? SAN.

We sure get a kick out of guessing some of these and realizing we were spot on after all (he’s quite particular that I’m very sure about my guesses or he won’t write them down, eventhough he uses a pencil).

Here’s a fun website on little tidbits about, and on solving, the daily New York Times puzzles. And here’s one of our favorite Crossword Solvers, used when we are truly stuck.

19 Down: Stoned Exclamation

Mystery and Morse Code

The last time I got this excited about a book was when my sis introduced me to the Harry Potter series. I remember reading HP Books One to Three in two days, not being able to put them down (OK, I was childless then and living under the same roof as my mom-in-law, a gifted cook and a sweetie at taking over the kitchen whenever I became a temporary zombie…me being culinarily challenged and all, I’m sure DH was immensely relieved).

This past week, The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart has had me riveted. The plot may seem elitist to some, out-of-this-world to others…four gifted kids are recruited by the narcoleptic (narcolepsy is a sleep disorder) yet lovable Mr Benedict to infiltrate the dodgy Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened (LIVE). Their mission: to get to the root of the mysterious goings on there, and stop a brilliant maniac from taking over everyone’s brains. And oh yes, the world is also experiencing some sort of Emergency…people doing odd things, times looking bad (Sound familiar? Not so out-of-this-world after all eh?).

Me thinks Mr Stewart has an enviable talent for making his characters shine. The Great Kate Weather Machine wistfully reminded me of the girl I might have grown up to be and Ms Perumal was a pleasant surprise…the rare (and may I say unlampooned) Tamil character in an American mystery novel. I can see myself picking this book up again and again. DS will read it in a few days (I kinda pre-read a lot of the stuff he reads…DH accuses me of being worse than the Malaysian Film Censorship Board). It will be interesting to see the kiddo’s reaction to the book.

Anyway, inspired by the book, I suggested to DS that we both learn the Morse Code, a survival skill sorely needed in these dangerous times. We’re using a trusty flashlight and The Dangerous Book for Boys as a reference.

It’s good to know that Mr Stewart has a sequel, The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey (and looks like another planned for Oct 2009 release: The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner’s Dilemma). See his books below…plus other survival handbooks I have my eye on.

And a couple of interesting Morse Code links:
Learn Morse Code
English-Morse Code-English Conversion