Teaching Your Children – and Yourself! – Shakespeare

1 Oct

My kids have had the fantastic experience of performing in a Shakespeare play with our local homeschool group so we already had our eye on the Bard, but I loved experiencing “How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare” by Ken Ludwig.  This is a hands-on, BRAIN-on approach to reading, interpreting, understanding, reciting, and memorizing key passages from the Bard’s best works.  One chapter builds on the next to move from plays that are easier to understand to more complex stories as you and your children get an introduction to and overview of Shakespeare’s work.

The focus of the book is memorizing the key passages.  I really like the memorization steps involved because I feel like to be able to recite something from memory makes it your own in a completely different way from simply being familiar with it.  My kids are proud of being able to recite passages from Shakespeare and love to use them in conversation or when discussing another subject.  It’s something they don’t get a lot of from other sources, so this was a great addition to our homeschooling lives.

I also think the entire structure of the book is set up in a great way to work and learn right along with my kids, which is their favorite part of homeschooling (well, that and the fact that their young brains memorized the passages faster than my old brain did!).


** This book was provided to me for the purposes of this review by Random House.  The opinions are my own. **

Puppy Power and Postponing our Plans

8 Jul

Here’s the thing about homeschooling well (and, really, living well): it’s important to make plans, because it’s helpful to visualize where you’d like to go and what you’d like to become.  I like to start each new bit of time – each new school year, each quarter, each week – with at least a framework of general plans, so I can better decide how to spend my time each day.

If the kids have a goal like learning to play an instrument or earning a new belt in karate, mastering long division or speaking a new language, I can help them understand that goals like that are best met with regular doses of practice, and having plans for things like that helps me remember to remind them to practice.

If the kids have bucket-list type dreams from picking cherries off the tree to going on a family vacation to Washington, DC, penciling those things into our plans helps us make sure we don’t put them off.  The same is true for classes, concerts, library events, and other opportunities: having them written in our plans makes us more likely to do these fun things.

Each season in our life brings a different rhythm too: depending on the number of people in our days (are we watching Munchkin this month?), the number of outside opportunities (are we out all the time, or home all day?), and our particular needs (are we dealing with emotional and behavioral struggles, or are academics at the forefront?), we will structure our days and weeks in different ways, and it’s helpful to think about that ahead of time.

There are lots of great reasons to have a plan in place for your homeschooling life.  There are also lots of important reasons to let those plans go.  Here’s one:


This is our new Jackabee puppy!  The kids decided he deserves a blog-name, too, so let me introduce Boggle!

A friend of ours from the local homeschooling community has a Jack Russell who had a litter of 5 Jackabee pups (their father is a Beagle), and we had the opportunity to bring one home.  We’ve wanted a dog for several years but now was the first time that the stars aligned for us to meet the right puppy when we had time, space, and finances that allowed us to have a big bundle of fur in our family.

Boggle is only 8 weeks old and needs lots of love and attention right now.  That means that the plans I had laid out for July, which often included being gone from home for most of the day to attend library programs and spend hours at the pool, have been set aside so we can spend that time with our puppy instead.  Not a one of us – not even Mama, who was the one who wrote out all those plans in the first place – minds shaking up our lives for this great new experience.  Plans are just the ideas we had for our lives before this day, and if this day brings something new, we grab it.

It’s important  to plan, but it’s also important to be open to all the unplanned joys that life can bring!

Tags: ,

Funny Games for Teaching Health, Hygiene, and Anatomy

5 Jul

My daughter Jenga has the biggest affinity for POTTY HUMOR I have ever seen in a six-year-old!  Her big brother Catan was never really one for the bodily-function jokes but Jenga has always loved farts, burps, and boogers.

When we spotted the game Scabs & Guts at a yard sale this summer, we knew we had to get it as soon as we read the action card, “Burp 4 letters of the alphabet.”


We finally got to play a full game of Scabs & Guts this week and it hit the extreme level of hilarity that we were expecting, and the kids learned something too!

Put out in 2009 by Imagination Games, Scabs & Guts is a simple answer-and-move board game for 2-4 players.  On your turn, you try to answer a question in the category that matches the space you are on.  If you get it right, you get to move a number of spaces that’s given for that question.  Make your way to FINISH first and you win!  The graphics are bright and humorous and the game was a good fit for our family.

While some of the questions are fairly challenging for Catan, who is in 6th grade, many are easy enough for Jenga, who is in 1st grade.  Lots of them are downright silly: “What is the organ responsible for removing waste from the body? (a) the heart (b) the kidney (c) the butt” led us into two solid minutes of: “My butt is an ORGAN, just LISTEN!”


The game was a great jumping off point to discussions of all kinds of things related to the body, health, and nutrition, as well as a side-splitting way to spend the evening.  Jenga drew the card that made her act like a blood-sucking leech…


Scabs & Guts is educational without being heavy-handed and it is delightfully silly.  My kids have already asked to play it again and again, so if you happen upon a copy at your thrift store or neighborhood sales, pick it up and give it a try!

The other game we have been playing this week on the same theme is a much lighter game for younger kids, but my kids enjoyed it too – Check-Up Charlie was put out in 1995 by Milton Bradley, and is for 2-4 players of preschool age or higher.

This is a set-collecting game for the youngest crowd – you get to perform 4 check-ups on Charlie, your young patient, and receive a puzzle piece for each one that you complete.  When you have all 4 puzzle pieces, you win!


Each check-up is a random spinner or card draw – you will either see Charlie’s smiling face or the Icky Germs on the scope, on the thermometer, under the cast, or on an x-ray card with the help of a lightbulb (definitely the favorite activity!).  If you see Charlie’s face, that means you’ve cured him, and you get to keep the puzzle piece.  See the germs and you have to keep trying.

Jenga really enjoyed this game and kept playing with it after the rest of us were done.  Catan enjoyed the novelty of it and happily played two games in a row, but then he moved on.  It did open the door to some discussions with Jenga about what the different equipment was, what you might be checking for, and why your broken foot is not healed if there are germs under your cast!

Check-Up Charlie is a fun game for preschool or kindergarten kids, and worth a play or two even for olders (the x-ray light bulb gave Catan a few ideas about secret messages).  If you do spot it at a sale, be sure that the four check-ups work, especially that there isn’t battery damage in the x-ray machine.

These games were a hit at our house this week – have you enjoyed these or other games about health & hygiene?  Can YOU burp the first four letters of the alphabet?

Tags: ,

The Sixth 4th

4 Jul


This is the sixth 4th of July that my kids have celebrated together – look how they’ve grown!

We wish you a day full of family and friends and fireworks.  Happy Fourth!


Review: Fine Art Pages from Classical Composers Monthly

3 Jul

One of the best things about homeschooling and being with your kids as they learn, grow, and explore every day is realizing that the world is teeming with possibilities.  Everywhere you look are new ideas, different approaches, and fabulous things to learn and try.

That’s also one of the hardest things about being with the kids.  I am an optimistic packrat of educational ideas.  My Pinterest boards are overflowing with activities, my bookshelves are crammed with books, my closets are bursting at the seams with fabulous materials, and my brain is stuffed with all the things I truly want to do with the kids, because Everything is so great!

Deciding what we can realistically fit into our days, and what has to be left aside, can be heart-wrenching for mamas like me who see the good in every opportunity.  My kids didn’t get to do tennis lessons or archery this year because we just couldn’t make the time in our schedule, and my grand plans for Art Appreciation were winnowed down to a few museum trips.

Of course those few museum trips were delightful and definitely valuable, but I always wish I could do more.

Erica at Classical Composers Monthly has created a product to try to help out with this puzzle: Fine Art Pages.

image from Classical Composers Monthly

Fine Art Pages by Classical Composers Monthly is a downloadable PDF of ideas followed by 25 printable cards.  Each card contains a large image of a famous work of art; beneath the image is a list of information including the artist, date, materials, and the current home of the work, as well as an interesting fact about the work or the artist.

To see more information about the Fine Art Pages and look at a sample, click here.

Erica’s basic plan for using these cards is super-simple and low-key. Hang them in your house. That’s it.

Hang them by the toilet, or on the back door, or in the hallway.  Hang a few or a lot.  Just hang them up and let the kids soak it in.  Maybe you’ll make a bit of a game out of it – asking the kids at dinner if they can name the artist of the painting that’s hanging in the upstairs hall, or tell you something interesting about the painting that’s hanging by the toilet.  Maybe the new art hanging on your walls will inspire questions, or conversations, or give the kids the desire to make some art of their own.

Whatever comes of it, I’ll know that at least my kids are seeing this art, and even if I don’t have time to discuss it in any depth, they will become familiar with the works and the names of the artists.  I remember vividly the print that hung on my parents’ bedroom wall when I was little: it was Young Mother Sewing, by Mary Cassatt.  I really felt connected to the painting after all those years of seeing it on the wall, and it is still one of my favorites.  I can’t help but smile and feel my heart fill any time I see it anywhere else.

image from Metropolitan Museum of Art

Hopefully my kids – and your kids too – will relate to at least one of the pictures from Fine Art Pages in the same way.  Someday, my daughter Jenga might be visiting a museum and say, “Hey!  I loved this painting when I was little and it was hanging across from the toilet!”  It’s that connection, that familiarity, that I think is the best piece of the simple but solid Fine Art Pages.

Fine Art Pages by Classical Composers Monthly is available this week at the introductory price of $9.95 for 25 cards.  Click here to order now!

This product was provided to my family for the purposes of this review.

Tags: ,

Invitation to Play

2 Jul

One of the new things I was planning to try for the coming school year is the idea of an Invitation to Play: items set out in a new and inviting way, just begging to be played with.  I combed Pinterest and my own closet shelves for a list of interesting ideas, with the intention that I would use these Invitations in the fall, when my 2-year-old niece Munchkin would be with us during the weeks.  I thought that at that time, Munchkin and Jenga could mostly play with these together and give me a block of time when I could work more intensely with Catan.

But my own kids decided they just could not wait for September to see what unusual tricks I might have up my sleeve, and they asked me to start the Invitations when our new-paperwork-year started – this week.

On Monday, the kids were greeted with some new-to-us stand-up cardboard figures – a King and Queen, Prince and Princess, with their castle and steed and a fairy godmother, an archer and a dragon.  I set the figures up in their little stands atop a green leafy playsilk.


This Invitation was a huge hit, as my kids adore pretend play in many forms.  6-year-old Jenga played with the figures herself for about 45 minutes before Catan woke up, and then they played with them together for nearly an hour, cooperatively and with great give-and-take.  The story started out being about a curse that turned people into ogres but by the end, it was a meta-story about people making a movie about a curse that turned people into ogres!

On Tuesday, I set out a more abstract Invitation.  I dumped out a bag of foam pattern blocks and set out three small wooden nesting boxes.  I made my own pattern on the top of one of the boxes to give the kids a jumping off point.


This Invitation was a little rougher, but only because Jenga likes to copy everything that Catan does, and so when he made a pattern using all of the small rectangles, she got mad that there weren’t any left for her.  Eventually they smoothed that out, but they only played with this one for about half an hour or so before going on to something else.  In the end, Catan had decorated one box with a pattern and then used more blocks to build a fancy bridge leading up to it.  Jenga laid out plates of pattern-block food!

It will be a challenge for me to keep up all year, but here’s my own motivation: the kids react as if they’ve been given a brand-new toy to play with!  Even when it’s something we’ve had for years, like the pattern blocks, somehow seeing it set up for them, maybe in a different way or with a different mix of items, really is inviting and draws them right in.

Do you use invitations to play?  I’d love to hear your ideas and experiences.


Time Flies

1 Jul


Time flies, doesn’t it?  We’re starting a whole new paperwork-year and so today my kiddos are in 6th grade and 1st grade.  They have picked new blog-names too, so I hereby introduce to you my son Catan (11 years old) and my daughter Jenga (6 years old).

We have an interesting year ahead of us – Catan has chosen to do an in-depth study of the Roman Empire as the core of his work this year, besides a little spine of spelling and math, and all the outside activities he will continue to enjoy.  Jenga is right on the cusp of really being able to read after being diagnosed with a severe astigmatism this year (and so she must wear the glasses which she is not wearing in the photo… I am not good at remembering to remind her to put them on unless we’re actually sitting down to read together).

Like many of my used-to-be-blogger friends, I have found the F-place a much more convenient way to stay in touch with most of my friends and family, but in the past few months I have had several people ask why I don’t blog anymore, and I’ve come across several opportunities to help others or to review products that I had to turn down because I wasn’t regularly blogging here.  We’ll give it another whirl and see how it unfolds!  Welcome to our new year!


66 Pages, or Why Blogging is a Flattering Mirror

1 Aug

Last night, I had a conversation with Leigh about my scrapbook pages for the month of July, and the conversation swirled around to blogging, and so here I am, blogging a bit again.

The conversation went something like this: I really have enjoyed making our digital scrapbook pages lately – in fact, I made sixty-six for July 2012 alone – one or two a day, with as many as seven on days that we had very special events.   Leigh told me she was impressed with how much we did in July, and I told her that I really felt like we hadn’t done much, but had honestly thought that we had way too many slug-around days with the oppressive heat and humidity.  But when I looked over those 66 pages amassed at the end of the month, I realized that we really had done a lot of interesting things, and that even the most sluggish days had moments of joy, or peace, or wonder.


Before FB was big, I blogged nearly every day, and sometimes twice a day when things were exciting.  I used the blog as a way to keep in touch with friends and family who were far away, and also as a way to make new friends who had similar interests.  Now, FB mostly fulfills those roles, so why would I keep up with the blog too?

I remember, though, that I felt like I did SO MUCH MORE in those years of daily blogging.  I don’t think I did, really, beyond one or two projects that I decided to do just to join in with a blog party.  Blogging is a very flattering mirror, though: reading back through it can remind me of just what we do accomplish even on our sluggiest days.

How hard can it be to keep up with a blog, and FB, and daily scrapping, and homeschooling three kids?  Couldn’t be that much harder than just FB, and scrapping, and homeschooling, and wouldn’t that extra, flattering reflective surface be worth it?  Let’s see.

Clinging to My Priorities

5 Jul

It’s the one time of the year when I think – yes, maybe one day I will look back and say we didn’t do enough sit-down math and handwriting worksheets, maybe we spent too many hours of our lives out exploring and enjoying ourselves.  Yep, it’s end-of-the-year assessment time.  I think every homeschooling family I know gets a little rattled at this time of year about whether they’ve done enough.

Don’t worry: I have clung tightly to my priorities and have been making sure the kids still get their many hours of park and/or pool time every day, plus plenty of extra time added in for cloud-watching, afternoon napping, thumb-twiddling, duct tape creating, and general deep thinking in the guise of woolgathering.


Happy Fourth of July!

4 Jul

Picnics, parties, sprinklers, sun, games, friendship, fireworks… above all these, my favorite Fourth of July tradition is taking a picture of the two kids outside.


I love to see how they’ve changed over the years – and how they’ve stayed the same!