Books We Are Using This Year
  • The Story of the World: Ancient Times (Vol. 1)
    The Story of the World: Ancient Times (Vol. 1)
    by Jeff West,S. Wise Bauer,Jeff (ILT) West, Susan Wise Bauer
  • Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding: A Science Curriculum for K-2
    Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding: A Science Curriculum for K-2
    by Bernard J Nebel PhD
  • Math-U-See Epsilon Student Kit (Complete Kit)
    Math-U-See Epsilon Student Kit (Complete Kit)
    by Steven P. Demme
  • First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind: Level 4 Instructor Guide (First Language Lessons) By Jessie Wise, Sara Buffington
    First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind: Level 4 Instructor Guide (First Language Lessons) By Jessie Wise, Sara Buffington
    by -Author-
  • Drawing With Children: A Creative Method for Adult Beginners, Too
    Drawing With Children: A Creative Method for Adult Beginners, Too
    by Mona Brookes
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Entries in learning & teaching (18)


Learning tools: reading

Reading as a skill is hot button topic. Back in the days when we were shopping for schools, before we decided to homeschool, it seemed that every preshool in twon was advertising their success in early reading training. Where kindergarten used to be about learning your letters, today it's about hard core reading drills. In many programs kids are expected to be independent readers before they enter the first grade. The push for early reading skill development is strong.

I think reading is one of the most important skills a child can master. Just thnk of all the doors that open up for a child who is reading on his own, a child who can seek his own information and follow his own dreams and desires. But it's because of this that there is so much pressure placed on educators and kids surrounding the reading topic, and the stress has drained it of enjoyment. Flashcards, computer programs, audio programs, workbooks, easy readers, high demands, outrageous expectations...when the most important tools we have are simply a library card, and patience.

Where my unschooling plans have failed in other subjects, they have succeeded with flying colors here. Reading is a huge passtime in our house; we are readers ourselves and have created a culture of reading in our home. We read to Calvin many books, many times a day, beginning on day one before we were even home from the hospital. Instead of toys he has always had only books on the shelves in his room. When he showed an interest in reading I provided him with a selection of the Bob books and lots of my time, but I also also got him started on keeping a journal, with which I credit much of his reading success. Calvin is now an advanced independent reader who sees reading the way other kids see video games or TV, and my biggest job now is to make sure he has lots of quality reading material available to him, the operative word being quality.

So what does reading education look like in our house? What are our greatest tools?

Books, of course. Lots and lots of books. But where do we get them and how do we pick them? Library checkouts—as soon as he had memorized his home phone and address and could write that information legibly I took him to the library to get his own card, and that card gets a workout. But we also hit up used book sales, particularly library used book sales.

And it looks like reading together and out loud. It looks like journal keeping, and illustrating. It looks like listening to books while illustrating them ourselves.

It looks like a life revolving around reading.


Learning tools: creativity

What about creativity? What about throwing convention to the wind? I don't encourage it as often as I should, in part because I don't feel confident in my own creative abilities and it's not the first thing that comes to my mind when I'm thinking of ways to spend an afternoon. To combat this, we cleared out an extra bedroom in our home and turned it into Calvin's "offce", where he has his own art table and access to a variety of tools and materials. We do create together sometimes, or Calvin will create while I read to him, and we try out suggested crafts pretty often, but some of Calvin's best creative moments happen when he disappears into his office and goes to town with whatever he finds there.

So, what do we keep at his disposal?

glue (of varying types)
pencil sharpner
Modge Podge
tape (of varying types)
hole puncher (single and triple)

odds and ends (leftover packaging, scraps, etc.)
pipe cleaners
Play doh

construction paper
paper bags
poster board
scraps of just about anything
tissue paper
tracing paper
water color paper

chalk pastels
charcoal pencils
colored pencils
oil pastels
tempera paint
water colors
water color pencils

lined music composition paper
sandbox and tools
the whole outside

And creativity occurs elsewhere as well, and need not be confined to the tangible. Improvisation at the piano, building with Lego blocks, designing a garden, building a rock sculpture in the yard, writing a story in a journal, acting out a story, or any make-believe play. It's all creativity. Creativity isn't the creation you end up with, it's what happens in the process of creating.

For more on creativity check out this post at OLM.


Learning tools: TV and Video (age 5)

I don't have much to offer in this field. As a general rule we don't watch TV, not because it's forbidden, but because we don't care for it. I find it over-stimulating and we enjoy getting our information from books. But that doesn't mean we don't use video at all. Nowhere else can you get a good look at animals that live in faraway lands (without leaving your house), or actually see how people lived long ago.

We use the TV mostly for documentaries, usually through Netflix because we don't have cable. We also use a number of internet video sources. I stumble on a lot of fantastic short videos by visiting The Kid Should See This every day. When I find videos I think Calvin will enjoy I pin them to a board on Pinterest so he can explore as he wishes (to avoid YouTube's annoying list of possibly related videos).

We watch a lot of demonstrations, or short animations of concepts.

Right now we use a lot of documentaries (BBC, History Channel, Nova) to get a feel for ancient civilizations.

We enjoy looking up orchestra concerts or operas on YouTube broadcasting them to our TV.

We also enjoy old movies from time to time, like the silents (Charlie Chaplin is a favorite), or old musicals.

Internet video sources (current favorites):
The Big Bang (Stephen Hawking) 
Decorah Eagle Cam
The Epic of Gilgamesh
Eureka! Physics 
Formation of the Solar System (Stephen Hawking)
Kahn Academy
Minute Physics (on YouTube)
National Geographic
Ancient Mesopotamia (a timeline)
Prehistory 101: Prologue (from 23andMe)
Prehistory 101 Part 1: Out of Africa (from 23andMe)
Prehistory 101 Part 2: Weathering the Storm (from 23andMe)
Schoolhouse Rock (on YouTube)

TV video (current favorites):
The History Channel
The Incredible Human Journey (BBC, Alice Roberts)
National Geographic
Planet Earth (BBC, Attenborough)
The Walking With Series—Monsters, Dinosaurs, Prehistoric Beasts, Cavemen (BBC)

So it's a pretty weak list—kind of a stretch—but it's all I have at this moment. You can find more lists via OLM.


Learning tools: Math (age 5)

Math in our house looks like a little bit of everything. Calvin does a few sheets from a curriculum a few of times a week, but most of our math now comes in the form of games or real life usage. I am finding that the real opportunities for learning math come when a question presents itself and, instead of simply answering it, we work with Calvin to reach the goal, doing all the steps together along the way.

In fact, the more comfortable I become with the unstructure of the unschooling life I always wanted but was afraid I could never do, the more I find that I am able to leave the curriculum behind and seek learning in life itself. Calvin has never been the problem—it's me who keeps getting in the way. (and I have many unschooling bloggers to thank for my increasing courage, especially Stephanie at OLM—thank you for sharing what you do).

So here is a list of math learning tools from a mom that desperately wants to be unschooling, and is getting closer every day.

Math in everyday life:
Keeping a calendar for library books
Measuring and building, or measuring and making crafts
Recording the savings and spending of allowance
Telling and measuring time

Lollipop Logic (books 1-3)
Math-U-See (blocks and books—now on Beta)

Board games:
Any game that requires adding up a score
Blokus Junior (Mattel)
Math War (School Zone)
Monopoly (Hasbro)
Qwirkle (Mindware)
Shut the Box (ours is by Melissa and Doug)
Totally Tut (Learning Resources)

Other games and activities:
Making games, graphs, mazes
Pattern Play (by Mindware)
Piano (now on Piano Adventures, level 2A)
Tangrams (Puzzles by Chris Crawford, and Grandfather Tang's, by Ann Tompert)

Internet games:
Feed Fribit (addition and subtraction,
Math Lines (addition,
Count the Cubes (
Turtle Pond (graph manipulation)

Shut the box

Puzzles (Dec 2011)

Cooking (February 2011)

Math-U-See (Sept 2011)


Qwirkle, and keeping score (Aug 2011)

Legos (July 2011)

Piano (sept 2011)

See other great lists of math tools over on OLM.



Speaking of games. A few days ago he asked us about the chess set sitting on our bookshelf. It's a set that Jon brought back with him from a choir trip in Budapest—a pretty set of varying woods and simple carvings. Calvin was curious but it had been years since either of his parents had played and we were both a bit shaky on the general rules. At the used book store on Saturday morning we happened across a chess book by Usborne, aimed specifically at kids (or somewhat slow adults). For $2 it turned out to be a great find, and timely, too. We've added a few new rules to our repertoire each day since and we're slowly working up to a full game, or at least to one that makes sense. I've always wanted to learn how to really play chess. I think by the end of this journey I will owe most of my knowledge to my son.