February 26, 2010


We went on a field trip recently and I wanted to share some pictures.  The first picture shows (sort of) helictites - they change direction once they come down from the top and go all sorts of wonky directions.  There's a clearer picture here.  The picture below that shows formations that only form under water.  They didn't know there was a 5,000 gallon body of water there when they blasted the wall.

February 25, 2010

Struggle for a Continent

Struggle for a Continent by Betsy Maestro 
Overall I felt that this book did an excellent job teaching about the French and Indian Wars. The pictures were very helpful but sometimes a little bloody. Nothing gross, but it was there. We enjoyed learning about many of the battles and tactics and then discussed how we might have done it or what they should have done differently. I had each boy build a model of a battle when we were done and they had fun blowing up Lego guys and shooting down rows of soldiers. Should that worry me?

Most of the Maestro books have a slight White Man Is Bad flavor to them. We always take the time to discuss that hurtful and unjust things were done on both sides. I feel that the value of the books (especially since there are very few children's books about the French and Indian Wars) outweigh the negatives.

This book was a little harder for my 6-yr-old to understand. He's been great with the earlier books but I think all the names and battles and such made it difficult to remember. Probably best for 2nd or 3rd grade on up.  Recommended.

Yes, those are Pokemon posing as the French, English and Indians in the first picture.  We strive for realism here.  In the second picture, the cannonballs are suspended on yarn to show them "flying through the air."  He has several miniature cannons set up on the bookcase to lob said cannonballs.  The purple yarn in the bottom picture represents fire and there are several "Lego men who have been blown to pieces and there is blood everywhere."  Lovely. 

February 23, 2010

Snow, snow, snow

Snow may not be exciting for some of you, but for us it's a miracle!  We've had one snow day this winter season.  That day they woke up to snow and by noon it was gone.  I was so glad we homeschool because they were able to play in it all morning while their friends were at school.

Well, today they woke up to more snow.  It's noon and it's still here!!!!  Here are some pictures of a rare event in Texas.  My 9-yr-olds challenged the high schoolers walking by to snowball fight.  And I also found them playing snowball baseball.  When they came in they decided to take a warm bath....then forgot they were running the bath and it overflowed.  I found it when the bathroom had about 3 inches of water on the floor.  My husband went downstairs and found water pouring through the vents and lights.  It was awesome.

February 18, 2010

Need Australia help!!!!

We're learning about Australia right now, and I know some of you live there.  What are some must reads?  And what are some must studies?  We're planning on hitting animals like wombat, kangaroo, koala, Tasmanian Devil, and emu.  Major landmarks like the Opera House and Uluru and the Great Victorian Desert.  Australian words and life in the Outback.  What else do I need to cover???

Thanks you!

February 9, 2010

Burning Peanut M&Ms

Did you know that if you focus the light of a magnifying glass on a peanut M&M it will first sweat, then blister and finally catch on fire? Did you know that the flames will be 2 inches high? I didn't know that either. But I wanted to share with you.

We've been studying astronomy in science and are learning about the sun. So to show the strength of the sun's rays, we took our magnifying lenses outside. We burned the M&Ms, dry grass, bark chips and melted some nasty gum that had been squished on the sidewalk for a few months.  One of my sons would like us to cook this way for the next week.  I told him we'd try s'mores, but that's as much as I'm willing to commit!

February 7, 2010

More iPod for the homeschool

Okay, here are some new apps we've been enjoying. I need to stay far, far away from the app store!!!! Thank goodness for Christmas gift cards. In fact, my 6-yr-old put "iTunes gift cards to the app store" on his Christmas list.

1. Cash Cow ($2.99) - So, I love this game and so do my boys. You need to make coin combinations to make a certain amount of money, then you use that money to buy things for your farm. You unlock certain bonus games and things like "gold nuggets" as you go. I love to watch my kids figuring out money - "If I have 2 dimes and a nickel that makes a quarter and then if I add 3 more quarters it's a dollar." Oh, the painless learning. And it's fun. There is a free "lite" version you can try first to see if you'll like it. Very highly recommended.

2. Coin Math ($1.99) - There are 4 different games here. First, you match the front and backs of coins to a piggy bank. Then you can count coins and choose the answer from several possibilities. The last 2 games are "shopping" games. You need to figure out the coin combinations to buy something, like a $.52 hamburger. The kids enjoy it and even the littlest can play. Very highly recommended.

3. Color Friends ($.99) - So dumb. My 3-yr-old asked me to take it off the iPod because "it's boring and stupid". You would click on a color and it would show a picture with that color, but it didn't say the color out loud and didn't do anything fun or fancy. There was no matching involved, just looking at colors. Not recommended.

4. eliasABC ($.99) - These are ABC flashcards with minimal animation. You tap the card and it will say "T is for tie" or whatever. Cute and simple. My 3-yr-old has only played with this a few times though. It doesn't hold his attention. I would also have liked it to teach the sound, not a word that begins with the letter. Not recommended.

5. eliasZOO ($.99) - Animal flashcards. When you tap the card it says the animal's name (the name is written underneath too) and then the animals make a sound. Most of them are fairly realistic, some are not. Cute animation. He looks through this once in a while. Recommended if your kid really, really likes animals.

6. Lola's Flag Adventure ($1.99) - This is a memory type game with world flags. We tried the free version and my older boys kept asking for more so we bought the full version. It's a fun way to quiz them on flags. There are 3 levels - easy, medium and hard. Recommended.

7. Monkey Preschool When I Grow Up - ($.99) - There is really no academic value to this, but my 3 and 6-yr-old love it. You get to choose a monkey (2 boys and 2 girls) and dress them up, then the monkey does a silly dance and some animated stuff happens. They love to make goofy creations like a pirate dancer or princess farmer or astronaut policeman. Very cute and really well done. Highly recommended if you're just looking for something fun or need a few minutes of quiet time.

8. Ranch Rush ($.99) - We all love this game. Here you manage a farm. You have to plant and harvest crops. You have to fill customer orders and buy new equipment or seeds. You also have to plan your movements so you are doing things most effectively. It's challenging for me, but easy enough for my older boys (9-yrs-old) to play. I think it's a great learning tool for money and time management. There is a free version you can try first. Very highly recommended.

9. Sums Stacker ($.99) - This is a really interesting math game. You can choose the type of object you want to count (fingers, blocks, written number, number symbol, Roman numerals and more) then you can choose if you want to "race" or "solve" the problem and you can choose easy or hard. Tons of options. Then it gives you 3 "stacks" of numbers. For example, it might say "11, 1, 9" across the bottom and give you 6 numbers above. You have to rearrange those six numbers to equal the numbers across the bottom. So not only are you learning to recognize different symbols/numbers but you have to count, add and subtract. Yippee! A great mind workout. Very highly recommended.

10. Toddler Teasers Shapes (free) - They show 3 shapes with the word written at the bottom and then it says "Touch the _____". If you get it wrong the wrong shape disappears. If you get it right you hear clapping. After a few right you get a sticker. My 3-yr-old enjoys it and for a free app I think it does the job very well. Highly recommended.

11. Word Cub Letters & Sounds ($1.99) - There are 3 modes of play - Letter Match, Word Discovery and Sound Match. You see three blocks in the middle of the screen. For Letter Match the blocks spin to show you a word then it says, "Touch B" and says the alphabet name. Each time you get it right it spins for a new word and letter. For Word Discovery it shows a 3 letter word, sounds it out then reads it to you. In Sound Match it asks you to "Tap rrrr" or "Touch mmmm", the phonetic sounds. After you get a certain number right it cheers for you and you get to pop bubbles. I play this with the 6-yr-old for 'reading lessons' sometimes. They don't pick it up to play on their own, but they have fun with it once I direct them to it. Best for new readers or those learning their letters and sounds. Highly recommended.

12. Wriggle (free version) - You try to get the worm out of the hole, but there are other worms in the way and he can only move certain directions. It's kind of like Rush Hour, but your moves are more limited. All of the kids love this, from the 3-yr-old to the 9-yr-olds. We'll be getting the full version soon. Great logic and problem solving with super cute graphics. Very highly recommended.

13. Meet the Letters - Lowercase ($.99) - We love the Preschool Prep Co. videos so this app was a good fit. It gives you the choice of 3 lowercase letters, says it out loud and you choose one. It turns into an animated letter and does something cute. My two youngest sons like it a lot, but it would be nice if after a few letters they got a song or some other reward instead of having to go through the entire alphabet. I can't wait for their other apps to come out. Highly recommended.

February 2, 2010

Mini Unit Study - The Human Body

Our most recent science mini unit study was the human body.

Books we used (in alphabetical order):

Big Book About the Human Body by Joe Kaufman - This book has short, simple but not dumbed down explanations. It has excellent illustrations. It really has a lot of information and detail, but we never felt bogged down. There are even a few suggestions on experiments to do. The first few pages are about babies and how they uh, get here. There are 4 small pictures of the equipment used, and one short paragraph on how it happens. We've sort of skipped over that part because I'm not ready to have that talk, especially not with all of them together. We may use that section later though because it's short, scientific and doesn't really go into detail like other books I've read. This will be my main book when we study the body again, unless of course I find something better! You can only find this book used, but I think it well worth the effort.

Blood and Guts by Linda Allison - We used a few of the ideas/experiments here, but definitely not all. We enjoyed what we did do. I liked how there were explanations as to why things worked the way they did. I found that most of the books that we read had similar ideas at the back so we didn't use this as much as I thought we would.

The Body Book by Donald Silver - Very similar to the Easy Make and Learn book, only for older kids. We used a few projects from this book and they are very well done (a bit time-consuming to photocopy, cut out and put together) but worth it. The kids either played with their creations, hung them on the walls or put them in their science books. Or all three. This would be a good choice if you have all older elementary/middle school kids, otherwise the Easy book is better for youngers. They have different models in each one though, so they do work well together without duplicating.

The Brain and Nervous System (Human Body) by Steve Parker - I didn't use this with the kids. It was more in-depth than I wanted and would have taken a long time to get through it. The pages have a lot of text and it's dense stuff so you could probably only read 2 pages at a time. There are good illustrations, but not as good as I've seen in other books. This would probably work well for middle school to junior high, but it is a bit dry.

The Circulatory System (True Books) by Darlene Stille - This was a good, basic covering of the circulatory system. The illustrations are very well done and were very helpful in visualizing how it all works. The text isn't overly engaging, but it does a good job explaining blood, the heart, etc. We were able to read it in one sitting. Until I find an utterly fascinating book on the circulatory system this one works just fine for K-4th or so.
Oh, I should mention that there is one small picture of a doctor holding a heart ready for transplant. Not gory, but it might gross out a kid or too. There is also a picture (a bit bloody) of an artificial heart. All my boys were okay with it, but wanted to make you aware of it in case your kids might not be.

Easy Make and Learn Projects: Human Body by Donald Silver - We had so much fun with this book. We read about a certain part of the body (in a separate book, although this book does have some explanations in it) and then made the project that goes with it. You do need to photocopy them if you have more than one child or want to use them again. Once you've done that though it's color, cut, paste, etc. My kids loved the fun things they could wear or play with like the Brain Hat. As we colored together we talked about what we're coloring and what it does in the body and examples of how it works, etc. It was a relaxing time to see what they've learned and to add a little more to their store of knowledge. We put a lot of the pieces into their science notebooks. Very highly recommended if you have crafty kids or just want to add a hands-on element to your studies.

Flip Flap Body Book: What Happens to Your Food?, How Are Babies Made?, How Do Your Senses Work? (Usborne) by Alistair Smith - We read the What Happens to Your Food? section and parts of the How Do Your Senses Work? section. I both love and hate this book. It has good illustrations and good information, but seems a bit dumbed-down at times. For example, we read about "hearing" today. From a book we read yesterday we learned that sound goes in the ear canal to the eardrum, hits the hammer, the anvil, the stirrup and then the cochlea, then the information is passed on to the brain. Both 9-yr-olds understood this and the 5-yr-old told his dad at dinner all the parts of the ear and how it worked. In this book, today, we read, "Your eardrum sends the wobbles on down inside your head." No pictures of the other bones involved. No further explanation. Wobbles. Just wobbles. Now, from my experience at dinner with aforementioned 5-yr-old I know kids can understand more. Why treat them like idiots who can only understand "wobbles"? Weebles understand wobbles. But still, the pictures are somewhat helpful, more so in some sections than others. We'll probably continue to use this book because a) we own it and b) the 3-yr-old likes to be in charge of opening the flaps. Good for the little guys, but not much use above pre-K.

Germs Make Me Sick! by Melvin Berger - It explains germs (bacteria and viruses) in a simple and clean manner. They were able to understand why people get sick. That knowledge though scared the stink right out of them - their eyes got big and their mouths dropped open. What do you MEAN our cells are dying? You feel sick because germs are KILLING your cells? They looked terrified. So we had a little chat about cells, how they constantly die and new ones are formed and that when you're sick they die a little faster than normal until your body catches up. Big sigh of relief!!!! I don't think the book did a good enough job explaining that process though. And I think it needed to. We have the old book. There is a newer one where the illustrations have been redone but I can't comment on that. The older ones are just fine. The comments by the animals were a little lame, but my kids liked them. Overall a good book and a good intro. Just lacking in a few things to make it really superb.

How Our Blood Circulates by Merce Parramon - This is a really solid explanation of how the blood circulates (and a bit about the lymph system too). It goes into a bit more detail than the other books we've read like giving red blood cells 2 pages instead of a paragraph. The illustrations are fantastic. The text is a little small so the pages appear less inviting to read. And it's not a "fun" read. It is, however, informative and well-done. This could be used for K-5th or so.

The Human Body (How it Works) by Kate Barnes - I really liked the large format of this book and the excellent illustrations. The text is easy to understand, but not very in-depth. Well, it would work for kindergarten, maybe first grade, but I feel like it's necessary to add other books to gain more information and to get more detailed illustrations. I would recommend this book but there's a section on reproduction with a huge picture of the male and female parts, like a whole page each. And there are a few paragraphs that discuss what happens in detail. It's very matter-of-fact and "scientific" but it's not something I'd want just laying around for the kids to read. I think that's something we discuss together.

Magic School Bus Chapter Book: Search for the Missing Bone by Eva Moore - All the boys loved it. It was "scary" and they were "freaked out" by the howling clock and the disappearing skeletons. All of this said with big grins on their faces and lots of begging to keep reading. Each chapter takes you through a part of the skeletal system - feet, legs, spine, head, etc. While it is fairly detailed I'd pair it with a hands-on project or experiment to help cement the learning. I also found it helpful for them identify the bone we were reading about in their own body. This is typical Magic School Bus so if you don't like the writing style, you won't like this book. I didn't so much appreciate the scary skeleton stuff, but it wasn't bad. And like I said, the boys loved it. We read this in a week. A good reader could read this independently along with some projects and come away with a good understanding of the bones.

Various other Magic School Bus books including Magic School Bus Inside Ralphie: A Book about Germs; Magic School Bus Explores the Senses; and Magic School Bus Inside the Human Body by Joanna Cole - We all love the Magic School Bus books. We've read these a number of times and they also like to watch the videos. We'll probably be using these for years to come!

Me and My Amazing Body by Joan Sweeney - This was a very easy, very gentle introduction to the body. All the major things are talked about (bones, muscles, heart and blood, lungs, blah, blah, blah) but it doesn't go into detail at all. The pictures show what it being talked about, but aren't super intricate. And the cute little smiling girl is on almost every page. My older boys liked it, but it was definitely below them. My 5-yr-old said it "was funny, not scary". Score! My almost 3-yr-old was extremely concerned because the girl fell down and cut her knee and needed a band-aid, pronto. Fortunately the next page showed a band-aid on her knee but he had to continue to talk about it for the rest of the book. An excellent introduction for pre-k through first grade. Non-threatening with just enough information.

The Nervous System (True Books) by Darlene Stille - I didn't like this one as well as the True Books Circulatory System, but it is very adequate in explaining the nervous system. The illustrations were very helpful and the text solid. Well worth using for your study of the nervous system although it's not "super exciting". I think you could use it for K-4th or so.

The Nervous System and the Brain (Invisible World) by Nuria Bosch Roca - I didn't use this one - it was too advanced and/or would take too long. I think this might work nicely for middle school to junior high. The illustrations are good, but not as good as other books. A bit on the dry side and very dense. Would be a good choice if your library already had it, otherwise I would look for something else.

See Inside Your Body (Usborne) by Katie Daynes - For such a short book, this is packed with information. While it is not in-depth, it would more than work for kindergarten, maybe even first grade. We're using it with the Joe Kaufman book. My kids love to lift the bazillion flaps and the pictures are very well done and very informative. The text, while short, is accurate and clear. I don't feel this speaks down to the kids like the other Usborne book does. There is one small section (1/4 of a page) on the ear and it covers significantly more than the Flip-Flap book although it does say "ear bones" for the middle ear. Between this and the Big Body Book I feel like we're hitting it fairly well though. I think this book would also be great as a review. Each body system has a 2-page spread and the pictures alone would jog the memory. The text would add to that even more. I'm very happy with this purchase and would recommend it alone for the younger elementary years, and with another book for the older ones.

What Happens to a Hamburger? by Paul Showers - This was a fun and easy look at the digestive system. My kids enjoyed it and were able to narrate back with ease. The illustrations of the digestive system itself were clear and colorful. I know the book has been redone, and it may be worth seeking out, but I have this older version so can only comment on it. For K-1 this would really be all you need. You would need to add a few more things for the rest of elementary. A good, solid book.

What Happens to Your Food? by Alistair Smith - This was a good book on the topic, but I prefer the first one we read (What Happens to Your Hamburger?). I was a little bugged that it didn't use the correct terms for things (like esophagus - it just kept saying "food tube") and left out whole parts of the digestive system (like the liver). Even my 5-yr-old was able to understand the body parts involved and describe what happens when you eat. I felt this book sort of dumbed it down. My kids did enjoy the flaps. They've looked through it many times. If I had my choice I'd use the other book, but if your library only had this then use it, it'll work just fine.

Well, I'm not much help here. We just used the activities/experiments suggested in the books listed above. We also used The Body Book and Easy Make and Learn Projects for hands-on visuals.