Creative Learning Connection

Educational Resources from a Veteran Homeschool Mom

More Fun with Shakespeare

Learning to Love Shakespeare

How many characters do you recognize from Sir John Gilbert’s painting, “The Plays of Shakespeare”?

As I mentioned in a post a couple of weeks ago, I have grown to love Shakespeare over the last two decades. Teaching it, reading it, watching it, or even just listening to it, can all make me extremely happy. And as a teacher who started teaching Shakespeare with a very sad amount of prior experience, I have spent much time researching the subject as well.  I’ve listened to lectures from the Great Courses on Shakespeare and collected and read a fair amount of books as well.

Shakespeare Experience for Adults

But until last week there was something I had never done connected to Shakespeare – I had never been to any type of teachers’ workshop or other such event with a Shakespeare theme.  It’s kind of sad to think that for more than a decade I’ve been attending teachers’ workshops on other topics of interest to me (the U.S. Constitution, Civil Rights, and Economics to name just a few), but had never managed to attend one on Shakespeare.

Okay, so even adults can have fun!

And now that I’ve attended my first, I hope there will be many more to come! My first in-person event  wasn’t technically a teachers’ workshop, and didn’t include only teachers – it was a camp for adults – the No Kidding Shakespeare Camp put on by the American Shakespeare Center, to be exact. But much of what we did there will be very useful for those of us who do teach Shakespeare.

Fun with Shakespeare

Earlier in the week I mentioned some of the fun things we did at camp in a post entitled Creativity Comes in Many Forms (on www.CatherineJaime.com). But in that post I didn’t go into most of the actual Shakespeare-related activities we did – several of which I’m hoping to incorporate into this year’s Shakespeare classes. (Yes, I know, I’ve officially retired from homeschooling after 35 years and from running a homeschool center after almost 14 years. But that doesn’t mean I’m quite ready to give up teaching Shakespeare. We’re returning to where we started – classes in my living room.)

Boydell Shakespeare Prints

Our first activity of the week involved pictures – black and white engravings of paintings from different Shakespeare plays. Several years ago I had put together one of my art appreciation books on Shakespeare – and had actually used a few of these prints, but I hadn’t realized how many of them there were in this magnificent collection, painted for the Boydell Shakespare Gallery in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

Pictures/Scenes from Shakespeare

A Boydell print – do you recognize this play? Answers at the bottom of the post.

It was a fun activity, if a bit overwhelming at first. We had 27 prints on the walls and tables of the room, numbered, 1 -27 (of course). And then we had 27 short passages from different plays printed on several sheets. They were lettered A to Z, plus an AA. We were tasked with identifying which scenes went with which pictures. Extra points if we could identify which plays they were from. Some members of our group even managed Act and Scene numbers – way beyond my Shakespeare knowledge there! But I did go in on the scene sheets and identify almost every play the scenes were from. (I think I was missing 3 names out of the 27.) And I could probably have told you on most of them whether they were from the first half of the play or the second half – but beyond that, not a chance.

My first mistake was not transferring the names of the plays right to our answer sheet. Instead I started trying to identify the pictures, and only wrote the names down as I was putting the letters with the right numbers. Consequently, I only got 32 of the total 54 points possible. (Putting me about 4th in a group of almost 20. Not too shabby for someone with no formal training in the subject.) Had I written in all the play names I knew (and not mixed up As You Like It with All’s Well that Ends Well – something I’m forever doing for some odd reason – though probably not after this!) I would have ended up with more like 40 or more points. Oh well, it was still fun to do.

I think many of my students would recognize the play this picture represents.

Our Variation of the Activity

In fact, the activity was so much fun, I think I’ll start this fall’s Shakespeare classes with a variation of it. I think trying to match scenes, names, and paintings all at the same time would be too much for most of my students, and I find, at least with the students I’ve had in recent years, that they do better with group activities than individual ones.

Identifying Scenes

For my students I plan to divide them into groups (probably of 4 or 5 students in each group, depending on this year’s class size). I will try to make sure my groups contain a mixture of Shakespeare newbies and Shakespeare veterans.

I like to give each group a small white board and a dry erase marker to put their answers on. I’ll have the small scenes typed up and distributed in a package to each group. I’m going to have them take turns reading the scenes aloud. After a scene has been read, they can decide as a group if they know which play it’s from.

After each group has had sufficient time to consider and write their answer down, I’ll have each group read the answers out loud. I’ll keep score of team points on a separate white board. (I’ve used this format often in my classes, and find it works well. We’ve made it into a game of sorts, with just a slight edge of competitiveness. And this way, no one feels singled out if they don’t know many of the answers.) As each scene is identified, the groups will have a place to record the play name, to assist them with the next step.

Identifying Pictures

I considered using this print – most of my students would  definitely recognize the thumb biting insult.

After we go through all the scenes I’ll pull out the different paintings/engravings for them to look at. Each picture will match up with a different scene; basically like we did in our activity here in Staunton – the big difference being that the scenes will already have been identified.

I had planned to print copies of each of the pictures, but I’ve been putting them into PowerPoint, and I think it will be easier to just show the slides one at a time from the laptop. So we’ll probably do this like the first portion – with their small white boards for writing answers on.

My class periods are an hour and a half, and I can see this activity and related discussions spreading into most of that first period. But I think it will be a great way to start the semester – reviewing plays that many of them will already be familiar with, and introducing many others.

And if that sounds fun, but too much work to put together, have no fear – I’ve done all the pre-work for you. You can see the set, Shakespeare Activity: Matching Scenes and Pictures,  here on CurrClick.

More Activities to Come

I had planned to share about some of the other fun activities that we did last week at camp, but I can see that I will need to spread this over more than one blog post.

Happy learning! And remember, as Hamlet said, “The play’s the thing.”

Cathy

*Prints here are from the Tempest,  Othello, and Romeo and Juliet. (Too many characters to identify in the color painting at the top, sorry. )

Beginning to Homeschool by Breaking Down the Tasks

I decided to do something different this week – I’m writing my posts for both blogs (here and on www.CatherineJaime.com) on the same topic. But if you happen to read both, no worries, the posts are similar but still different.

The topic came to me last week when I was preparing for a trip with my oldest daughter. We got through the massive preparation list we had by breaking down the large list into smaller lists that we could tackle each day.

A Talk for New Homeschoolers

In the midst of those last hectic days before our trip I also gave a small talk for new homeschoolers. That was when the idea of writing two versions of this topic came to me. The homeschool mom I was primarily counseling seemed very overwhelmed by what lay ahead of her as she looked into homeschooling for the first time in the upcoming school year.

Breaking Down the Tasks of Homeschooling

While beginning to homeschool can be a daunting task, it helps to break it down into smaller pieces. Because we live in Alabama I will approach this from the perspective of an Alabama homeschooler, but the overall tasks would be similar for homeschoolers in any state.

 Philosophy of Education?

If you are beginning to homeschool, my suggestion for where you should begin may differ a bit from what others tell you.  I base my advice on 35 of years of homeschooling and more than 30 years of assisting other homeschoolers (20 of those here in Alabama). My thought is that new homeschoolers should first consider what their philosophy of education is. As you continue to homeschool your philosophy may change. But at the beginning, consider what you think is important. Are you looking for a cookie cutter education, what I would call “school at home”? Or are you wanting to focus more on a diversity of education? Do you think textbooks are critical or are you willing to look for other educational materials?  I speak in more depth about different philosophies in my short booklet on CurrClick – Philosophy of Education, and in a chapter of my homeschool book, Organized Ramblings.

Your Homeschool Package/Homeschool Covers

Once you have an idea of your philosophy, you can start thinking about what your homeschool package should look like – will you be focusing on textbooks or non-textbook alternatives? Hand in hand with that, as a new homeschooler in Alabama you will have to decide whether to join a cover or choose one of the other options. If I was still homeschooling I would still be in a cover group. Of all the options, it is the one that makes the most sense to me. But each homeschooler has to make that decision. Choosing a cover should go hand in hand with the decision of what your homeschool package will contain.

Decisions are not Irreversible

One of the things to keep in mind throughout all these decisions is that they are not irreversible. Homechool packages can be changed. Even homeschool groups can be changed. We were fortunate to have chosen a cover when we moved to Alabama that we were quite happy with. But many homeschoolers I knew during those two decades were not as fortunate the first (or sometimes second) time around. But changing covers was always an option for them.

First Tasks for Homeschoolers

So, all of a sudden that overwhelming task of starting to homeschool can be broken down to these three major  tasks: Figuring out your philosophy of education; choosing your homeschool package; and choosing your homeschool cover.

Your Loose Plan

From there I strongly recommend that homeschoolers (new or otherwise) make a very loose plan for the school year. Plans are important – but remember these are not plans that should be written with pen; they should be written in pencil. Changes are inevitable. Don’t fight them; it is better to embrace them as part of the journey.

Daily Plans or Weekly Plans?

Another decision you will want to make in conjunction with that plan is whether you want to make daily plans or weekly plans. Daily plans are likely the most common, but I preferred to make my plans on a weekly basis. I liked the flexibility that weekly plans gave me. Nothing fancy is really needed for keeping said plans – a Word document or a notebook with note paper both work just fine. But for those who prefer a slightly more formal place to put their lesson plans, I put together several easy and inexpensive options that have been very popular with many of the homeschoolers in our area.

          

From there it’s just a matter of putting one foot in front of the other – taking on each day/week as it comes up. Make the changes you need to make, and enjoy the journey!

Next year will be easier, and I really believe you can accomplish this.

Happy educating.
Cathy

Sharing Shakespeare with Students

Almost twenty years ago I started a literary journey of discovery that I may never turn back from. Sad to say, at that point in my middle-aged life, I had never read an entire Shakespeare play. In 7th grade we had studied portions of Macbeth, but I’m fairly sure that was the sum total of my previous Shakespeare (reading)  experience.  I’m not sure how I managed to graduate from high school (as valedictorian, no less) with no other encounters with Shakespeare. But I don’t know which frustrates me more – that fact, or the fact that I actually took a Shakespeare class while I was a student at M.I.T. – and we never read a total play there either!

Enjoying Shakespeare

Yes, there are lots of ways to enjoy Shakespeare – watching his plays on the stage or on a screen certainly aid in that process. I even wrote a guest blog post for Folger about  “Three Ways to Have Fun with Shakespeare,” so I’m clearly not against those types of activities either.

Reading Shakespeare

But playing with or watching Shakespeare should come with reading Shakespeare, not take its place.  And I’m not talking about reading about Shakespeare – I’m talking about reading Shakespeare. Yes, the plot development and characters in Shakespeare are pretty amazing – but It’s his words that rise to the top when I ponder why students need to become better acquainted with the Bard. And there’s no better way to make that acquaintance than by reading his plays – from start to finish.

Another way to read Shakespeare.

My First Classes

When I started this journey it was at the request of one of my older sons. He had been reading Shakespeare on his own (having fairly well exhausted the literature in the family’s extensive library). But he was tired of reading the plays alone. The conversation went something like this: “Mom, you should teach a Shakespeare class. I want to read these plays aloud with others.” Me: “Of course.” (As I’m wondering how I’m going to teach about something I know so little about.)

But as happened so often in the thirty-five years that I homeschooled, not knowing something didn’t get in my way. I was going to make this work – and learn Shakespeare along the way, right alongside my students. The first year I “taught” Shakespeare we invited one other family (so between us we had eight readers). In order to have a good balance of plays, we started with Much Ado about Nothing, Hamlet, and Henry V, giving us a taste of his comedies, tragedies, and histories. Those three plays had the added advantage of being easily available in video format. (Though I found out the hard way that the version of Hamlet we rented needed to be screened.)

Sadly, I can’t remember now whether we watched the video versions and then read the plays, or did it the other way around (and over the years of teaching since then I’ve done it both ways). But either way, when it came to reading the plays, we passed out characters amongst each of our readers, and then read each play, from the first scene to the last one.

Characters and Lines

It didn’t take me long to run across the first problem – trying to determine which characters had the most lines.  With students of a variety of reading levels (from elementary age through high school), it was crucial to have an idea which characters spoke most often and with the greater number of lines. After a great deal of searching I gave up and took care of the problem myself – creating a character-line chart for each play we were preparing to read. (How many lines does Hamlet have? Or Ophelia? Or the King? I could soon answer all of those questions and then some!)

After one year with just one other family I was branching out and inviting other high school students I knew.  Pretty soon I was teaching a bona fide high school Shakespeare class of sixteen students. We mostly read Shakespeare, occasionally watched Shakespeare, and sometimes we even discussed Shakespeare.

Other Resources

While I was teaching, I continued to learn about Shakespeare – reading a number of other books along the way. (A couple of my favorite books included Asimov’s Guide to Shakespeare and Shakespeare for Dummies.) As I taught and studied I fell further and further in love with Shakespeare.

Recently I’ve also discovered several Audible books related to Shakespeare that I’ve also enjoyed, including Shakespeare Saved My Life and several Great Courses lecture series – Shakespeare: The Word and the Action; William Shakespeare: Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies and How to Read and Understand Shakespeare.

None of the above are absolutely critical for starting to teach or learn about Shakespeare, but any of them will help add to your understanding if you are interested.

Sharing Shakespeare

And I can safely say that I have now shared my love of Shakespeare with dozens of students directly over the last two decades, and through other teachers that I taught, probably hundreds more. Many of them benefited from the guide I wrote during my first three and a half years of teaching every Shakespeare play – Sharing Shakespeare with Students.

Happy learning!

Cathy

Teaching History without Textbooks

If I could only choose one subject to try and convince people to teach without the hindrance/help of textbooks, it would be history. History out of a textbook is generally just about memorizing dates and names long enough to take a test. (The regurgitation method I mentioned in the previous blog post, Teaching Curriculum vs. Learning Curriculum.) But how much of that is actually learned? From my personal experience, I would have to say very little.

Dates and Names?

Are the dates and names really that important? Why do we want our students to memorize things that are (a) so quickly forgotten and (b) so easily looked up?

King Richard I

When I think of history and what’s important about it, the first thing I think of is the stories. Isn’t it the stories of people and events that matter? It’s not just those long lists of names, whether they be presidents or kings or explorers. No, it’s what those men and women (and occasionally, children) did that make them worthy of being on a list in the first place. If we stick to the stories of history, much of the remembrance will come. And again, what we don’t remember, we should at least know how to look up.

Flow of History

Civil War Ruins

The other important part of history we shouldn’t neglect is the flow of history. I didn’t necessarily need my students to memorize the dates of the important events – but I did want them to have a sense of what came before what. Many, many years ago I read an insightful book, What Do Our 17-Year-Olds Know? The statistics in the book were rather startling. The majority of high school juniors and seniors couldn’t place things like the Civil War in the right half century – on a multiple choice test. While I may not think that every student should be able to tell you without hesitation that those dates were 1861 to 1865, I think they should all have an idea that it was fought in the second half of the 19th century and that World Wars I and II were fought in the first half of the 20th century.

History Options

So, when we are choosing our educational packages for our students for the upcoming year(s), what should we take into consideration in our decisions for history? Can we look beyond what the curriculum companies package together for us and consider what might be a better “learning curriculum” instead?

Should We Cover Hundreds or Thousands of Years?

First, I would recommend asking whether it’s really necessary to study such a long period of history in such a short amount of time. It is amazing to me that almost every American History curriculum insists on a study that covers hundreds of years, and of course, World History curriculums are generally worse, covering thousands of years.

At what point did we decide that history should be taught that way? Who can really make sense of that many events in such a short time? Why not choose a portion of American or World History to teach – and go into it in more depth? Many homeschoolers hesitate to stray away from canned curriculum because they might miss something. But, as I’ve always said, covering something is not the same thing as learning it. (Go back to that difference between Teaching Curriculums and Learning Curriculums.) Shouldn’t we be more concerned about what actually gets learned?

Tests?

Another common fear I heard often was “What about tests?” When we’re not using the packaged curriculum, we’re giving up those nice, neat tests they generally provide. But since I don’t see a real value in tests in a homeschool situation, I never really missed them myself. And if you really need a test, you can always write one yourself. Or better yet, have the student(s) write it! What a great way for a student to show they have learned about a particular topic – if they can write the test that shows what the most important things were that they just studied.

Where do I begin?

So, you might be asking, if I’m going to teach something smaller, like say, the Civil War, and I’m not going to use a curriculum, what am I going to use? There is an endless supply of resources for teaching history – from field trips to movies to “real” books – both fiction and non-fiction. My family spent an entire school year studying the Civil War. (I put our favorite resources in my book, Civil War Topical Study.) We visited battlefields in a number of places, including Shiloh, Chattanooga, and Gettysburg. We watched several movies, including the Great Locomotive ChaseGettysburg and Glory. (The first one is a family movie and the other two are great movies – minus the bad language and some typical battle violence – as with all such things – preview before you show!) And we read countless books, from the public library and from our own personal library. For older students and adults, Jeff Shaara is my absolute favorite history author. (And he has written historical novels on a fairly large number of American wars besides the Civil War – including the Mexican War, the Revolutionary War, and both World Wars I and II.)

Using Games

As I’ve said before, games are another great way to learn and reinforce topics like history. Timeline games are one of our favorite tools for increasing history learning. I talked about those more on my other blog in Writing Timeline Games. But if you are unfamiliar with the concept, they are basically what they sound like – a timeline in a game format. In keeping with the priority of learning the flow of history without memorizing specific dates, the games can be played and won without having any of the dates memorized. You don’t have to know exact dates – you just have to know which events came before and after the other events in your timeline.

Options Outside of Textbooks

Hopefully you are getting the idea that there are lots of history options outside of textbooks. Choose a time period or a war and start learning together with your student(s). You don’t have to have it all figured out in advance and you don’t have to have all the answers!

Happy learning!
Cathy

Teaching Curriculum versus Learning Curriculum?

Learning and Teaching

I want to expand on the ideas I presented last week in “How do I Encourage my Children to be Lifelong Learners?” Learning and teaching are two of my favorite topics and have been for a long time – that’s why I have read books like John Holt’s classics, How Children Learn and How Children Fail, for decades now. And I listen to Great Courses lectures like How We Learn and Mind-Body Medicine: The New Science of Optimal Health.

Mind-Body

You can probably see where I’m going with those first titles, but may be scratching your head on that last one.  One moment I was talking about learning and teaching, and the next I was talking about medicine.  Well, not quite. Professor Satterfield teaches about much more than medicine in this lecture series.  He also speaks of how we learn, in the context of how our mind and body work together. In Lecture 7 he said something so simple, but so significant, that I stopped what I was doing at the time, so I could write it down. Professor Satterfield asked: “Do we want a teaching curriculum or a learning curriculum?”

Where is Our Emphasis?

In that question lies the crux of what I believe more educators (at home and in schools) need to address – is the emphasis on what is being taught or on what is being learned?  I’ve been asking that for at least the last decade or so, maybe longer, as I’ve counseled other homeschoolers: Just because we’ve taught something, or covered something (i.e. force fed textbooks and tests after textbooks and tests) doesn’t mean it’s been learned! Professor Satterfield mentioned another thing I’ve been saying for a long time – learning something long enough to regurgitate it on the test, and then promptly forgetting it, isn’t true learning at all.

Our Learning Goals

So, when you are trying to decide what your student really needs to be doing in this coming school year, please keep that in mind. Let’s get to a point where we are focused more on helping our students be better learners, rather than just better test takers. I was a straight A student through high school, but that doesn’t mean I had a quality education. It meant I knew how to memorize things for the tests. It wasn’t until after college, when I came face to face with the history around me, that I really started learning for learning’s sake. That (and homeschooling my own kids for the past 35 years) is when my real education began.

What Makes a Great Education Package?

A truly great education package doesn’t teach our students everything they need to know (since that is a goal we will never achieve). But, rather it gives them the tools and the desire to learn. That is the gift that I hope I have given my children and my other students in my 35-year journey of homeschooling. There are certainly things they didn’t learn from me that they could have, but that isn’t the issue. Did I open their eyes, their minds, and their worlds, so that they could get a taste of what it meant to truly learn, and then did I send them off with the tools to learn whatever they needed/wanted to learn? That was my goal and I hope that I have accomplished that to the best of my human ability.

Happy learning!

Cathy

How do I Encourage my Children to be Lifelong Learners?

Questions Homeschoolers Ask Themselves

Along the way to finishing our homeschooling journey, I asked myself the same questions most homeschoolers ask themselves at some point: What are our goals? What do my children/students really need to accomplish before they graduate?

Ultimately, I distilled those questions down to what I consider to be the most critical question: How do I encourage my children to learn? (And as part of that question – to want to learn?)

Encouraging our Students to Learn

Can’t we honestly say that everything we are trying to accomplish in teaching can be boiled down to that question: How do we encourage our students to learn?

We can disagree on what they should learn, maybe even why they should learn certain things, but regardless of how long our children learn at home – our ultimate goal might best be stated as “We want our children to be lifelong learners.”

So, how do we accomplish that? Even if we all agree on that principle, it’s doubtful we will all agree on how to accomplish it. But, let me be so bold, after thirty-five years of home educating, to offer my thoughts on the subject:

The Tools to Learn

First, we have to give them the tools to learn – starting with the basics of reading and writing in most cases (there are exceptions, when students truly can’t learn those, but those are rare – and will likely be the topic of a future post). But for most of us, the ability to read well will open more doors than almost any other skill. (And, I might add, the enjoyment of reading would be a close second.)

A Desire to Learn

But more than just the tools, we need to give them a desire to learn. How many times does it seem like as the homeschool parents/teachers we’re in the business of squashing interests, rather than developing them? Let’s whet their appetite to learn new things, rather than extinguish it.

Introducing them to New and Exciting Things

We need to introduce them to new and exciting things – to expand their horizons beyond themselves. One of my favorite ways to do that has been through travel. A friend sent me Mark Twain’s quote about travel while I was on my most recent trip: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” And aren’t those some of our goals as homeschooling parents?

Every time I travel I am personally motivated to learn more about my destinations – their history and culture, their people and their geography.  I am glad I have been able to take my children on a fairly large number of trips during my decades of parenting/homeschooling. As Mark Twain put it so well, and I have believed for as long as I can remember, travel is a great way to increase our/their horizons,

Opening their Minds

But if travel is not in your budget or desires, choose other ways to open their minds – books of other lands and times are a great way to pique their interests. Introduce them to new and different people. Watch movies about things that introduce them to other cultures. The list of options is endless.

Encourage Creativity

In addition to opening their minds in this manner, encourage creativity. Too much of school is geared towards finding “the right answer.” But how much of life is actually about finding a unique solution to a problem – troubleshooting, figuring out how to use the resources at hand? Most of that type of knowledge comes from experiences – not from the pages of a textbook.

For far too long I didn’t consider myself to be a creative person – because I’m not particularly artistic or musical (particularly compared to other members of my family). But I finally figured out that creativity manifests itself in so many other ways – such as writing. How many of our students are being deprived of creative opportunities – whether musically, artistically, or other – simply because we are too focused on getting through our textbooks?

Logic and Thinking Skills

Similarly, work on developing logical and thinking skills. Our family plays games and puts together puzzles regularly, both of which build thinking skills and logic. (I wrote more on how important games are in a previous post.) We also used materials from Critical Thinking Press frequently – a great treasure trove of materials for “building thinking skills.”

When we have given our students the tools of learning and a taste for learning, and helped develop their creative and logical skills – what in life will they not be able to tackle?

What are others saying about this topic?

I was putting the finishing touches on this post when I saw the email from Mises Institute, with their post, “Four Reasons Why College Degrees are Becoming Useless.” Their first point mentions the importance of “critical thinking skills.” And on the FEE website I found another article specifically about creativity: “How Schooling Crushes Creativity”

So what do you think? What is important as you teach your students? How do you encourage them (and yourselves) to be lifelong learners?

Happy learning and living!
Cathy

One of our Favorite Games – Quixx

Family Game Playing

As I mentioned in last week’s post, our family is big into games – board games, dice games, card games. At any one time we generally have 100 or so in the family collection. We’ve managed to contain all except our large supply of Monopoly games and a few variations on Risk in a large bookcase at the moment (pictured in last week’s post). At different times we’ve had a “game closet” or just taken over shelves and shelves of my library.  I like having them generally in one place – it makes it easier for someone to dig through them.  On Memorial Day there were six of us at home and my daughter-in-law just went in and grabbed a stack of games that said “six or more players.” We worked our way through several of the older games, before returning to the newest favorite game – Quixx.

New Favorite – Quixx

We encountered Quixx recently when a family friend introduced it to my youngest son. It is another simple (but addictive) game that the rest of us had never seen before. After a quick explanation (the rules can be read or explained in under five minutes), several of us were ready to play.

Playing the Game

And after only a few rounds, most of us were hooked! It is a relatively simple dice game that requires deciding if and when to mark off numbers on your personal board (4 rows of numbers, 2 going from 2 to 12 and 2 going from 12 down to 2). The most important rule is that you can only mark off numbers to the right of any that you’ve already marked off. (Making the “if” of marking numbers as critical a decision as the “where” of marking them.)

Basic and Deluxe Versions

There are several different variations of the game currently available, but I’ll just explain the two we have – the basic game and the deluxe game. There’s a pretty big price difference between the two, so if you’re getting it to check it out, you probably want to go with the basic game (under $8 at the time I’m writing this). But if your family enjoys it as much as ours does, you might find yourself buying the deluxe game pretty quickly (about $20 at this time). (And if you end up with two games that way – you can always share the first one, or keep it on hand for your travel pleasure!)

There are two major differences between the two versions – the deluxe version has larger dice and dry erase boards instead of the disposable paper ones. If you play the game very often, those reusable boards are what make the deluxe game worth the extra money. Oh, and the dry erase boards are actually double sided – so you also get a new variation on the game with the deluxe.

Reasons We Like Quixx

So, why so much excitement in our family about this game? Let me see if I can run through the reasons we like Quixx so much:

  1. It’s very quick to learn the rules and the game play itself is easy to figure out.
  2. Each turn someone roles the dice (you start with 1 each of 4 different colors and 2 white dice)
  3. And each turn everyone is deciding whether to mark off zero, one, or two numbers.
  4. As simple as the game is to play, it really is a thinking game, as you make each of those choices.
  5. The more you play, the more you work on your strategy, and the more fun it becomes.
  6. It’s fun with three people, or fun with more. (We haven’t played it with two, but would imagine it would be fun then, too.)

Quixx Mixx

The second side of the dry erase boards is the “Quixx Mixx” version of the game.  As the name implies, it’s a mixed version of Quixx. The four rows of numbers are still in the same order, but the colors are mixed up. My biggest complaint about the Quixx Mixx version is that the rules on “locking” and scoring aren’t clear, which frustrates some of my family members. We’ve played it with at least three different variations on the rules, as we’ve tried to figure out which are the “right” ones. The biggest recommendation I have for that is that you make sure everyone understands which way those rules are being interpreted.

Game Recommendations

The box recommends the game for ages 8 and up, with up to eight people. We’ve only played it with adults thus far, but I can definitely see older kids enjoying it, too.

So, if you are looking for a new family-friendly game to play, we can certainly recommend Quixx!

Happy playing!

Cathy

Games, Games, Games

I spoke several weeks ago about how fun and learning going hand in hand, and about the importance of games in an educational package.

Games as Good Entertainment

Today I wanted to go more into the value of games for entertainment as well.  I grew up playing games, for which I am quite thankful. And as a result, games are an important part of my family as well. (It would probably be a toss up in our family as to which get given more often as gifts – games or books!) You can see a small sampling of our current game collection in the picture at the top of the post.

Family Fun

When we planned our first family reunion (my husband and I, our twelve children, and their various significant others, as well as the grandchildren) – there were two important things to decide after we had settled on the dates and locations – how we were going to do meals and what games we would be bringing. I would say for many of us the games were at least as important as the meals. In fact, generally, if folks weren’t preparing, eating, or cleaning up after a meal – they were probably playing a game. We brought a LARGE Rubbermaid container full of the “must have” games and got through quite a few of them during the three-day reunion.

Every family gathering before and after that reunion has probably included games. Whether it’s the holidays and lots of extra family members are on-site, or just an hour before bedtime and there are several of us in the house with a little time to spare – the main question isn’t will we play a game (or two or three…) but rather, which game(s) we have time to play.

Family Favorites

At different times, we have different family favorites that tend to be played again and again. And in future posts I hope to give more details on some of our current favorites. But for this post I thought I would start by sharing a list of some of the most popular games at our house at this time. (A note of warning, some of our old favorites are becoming harder to get – after one of our favorite game makers, Out of the Box, went out of business a couple of years ago.)

A Wide Variety

We enjoy a wide variety of games in our family – but we generally like ones that require a fair amount of thinking skills/logic. They also need to have a bit of luck worked in, or the same person would tend to win all the time, and what’s the fun in that! Generally we prefer games that are quick to learn, but that is not the case with all of these. We also have a variety based on how many people can play at a time and what personal preferences include.

Quixx (Gamewright)

Our most recent purchase, after being introduced to it by a family friend. Easy to learn – but takes time to develop a good strategy.

Fuse (Renegade Game Studio)

A fast-paced, cooperative game. Very addictive for those who like such things!

Innovation (Asmadi Games)

Much longer to learn than some of the others, but for many of us that time is well spent.

Code 777 (Stronghold Games)

Another game that’s easy to learn, but not easy to master.

7 Wonders (Asmodee)

Of all our favorite games, this was one of the longest to learn! But once learned it quickly became the favorite of many of us. We enjoy it with or without the expansion packs:

Codenames (Czech Games)

Two teams – give the clues so your teammates find your words and only your words.

Six Word Memoirs (University Games)

 A game played with partners – how well can you give your teammate a six word clue?

Hit or Miss (Gamewright)

Another one of our favorites, that sadly has become another difficult to find game.

Ticket to Ride (Days of Wonder)

An entire series of great games, always fun:

Imagine (Gamewright)

Uses a different part of the brain. Imagination is definitely the name of this game!

Backseat Drawing (Out of the Box)

Hilarious fun! Not our standard logic and thinking game – another game that uses other skills.

Journey Through Europe (Ravensburger)

I wouldn’t pay $100 for this game (or any other game, for that matter), but if you ever run across it a good price, it is a long time family favorite:

10 Days (Out of the Box)

Another series of great games. These are by Out of the Box, meaning they are now difficult to find, but well worth it if you do!

Eye Know (Wiggles 3D)

At least in our family, this is the preferred way to play a “trivia” game. 

Wits & Wagers (North Star Games)

But this is the ultimate trivia game – trivia meets betting with chips. If you’re okay with that aspect of it, this is a wonderful, team game that can be played with up to twenty people.

Celebrating Celebrations

This time of year weddings and graduations are often on people’s minds. Add Mother’s Day and in families like ours, several birthdays, and it can be a month centered around celebrations.  Which isn’t such a bad thing, if you ask me.

My Mom and my Daughter-in-law were both in town for Mothers Day 2017. What a treat.

This year was an unusual one for us – there actually were no weddings in our immediate family (though two of my five married children had their weddings in past months of May) and there were no graduations (also unusual, since between high school and college graduations we’ve also done quite a few of those in previous Mays). But we still had our share of birthdays, including my youngest son turning 21. And it was fun to celebrate Mother’s Day this year with three mothers in the house (me, my Mom, and one of my daughters-in-law).

To celebrate a month of celebrations, I thought I would share some of my favorite quotes on each of these topics:

Weddings (Love)

  • “Who, being loved, is poor?” Oscar Wilde
  • “Where there is love there is life.” Mahatma Gandhi
  • “Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.”  William Shakespeare
  • “The best and most beautiful things in this world cannot be seen or even heard, but must be felt with the heart.” Helen Keller

All dressed up for Wedding #4 (February 14, 2016)

Graduation (Education)

  • “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” William Butler Yeats
  • “Education is the key to unlock the golden door of freedom.” George Washington Carver
  • “Learning is not attained by chance, it must be sought for with ardor and diligence.” Abigail Adams
  • “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” Benjamin Franklin
  • “I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.” Albert Einstein

One of our many, many high school graduations (this one in 2012).

Mother’s Day

  • “I remember my mother’s prayers and they have always followed me. They have clung to me all my life.” Abraham Lincoln
  • “A mother’s arms are made of tenderness and children sleep soundly in them.” Victor Hugo
  • “The mother’s heart is the child’s schoolroom.” Henry Ward Beecher
  • “A mother’s love for her child is like nothing else in the world. It knows no law, no pity, it dates all things and crushes down remorselessly all that stands in its path.” Agatha Christie

With three mothers in the house this year, flowers were in abundance!

Birthdays

  • “May happiness and sunshine fill your day not only on your birthday but the whole year through.” Author Unknown
  •  “Today you are you, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is youer than you.” Dr. Seuss
  • “May you live all the days of your life.”  Jonathan Swift
  • “And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.” Abraham Lincoln
  •  “I am long on ideas, but short on time. I expect to live to be only about a hundred.” Thomas Edison

Celebrating another birthday at our house – this one Eli’s 21st.

What are some of your favorite quotes for birthdays, weddings, graduations, or Mothers Day? Please share.

Happy celebrating!

Cathy (Mom of 12) – which means lots of celebrations!

The Wonder and Value of Audio Books!

Books on Tape

I’m sure by now most or all of you have enjoyed some form of “Books on tape.” For those of you too young to remember the things that came before CDs (or are even CDs becoming old school now?), my earliest memories of books on tape were when my Dad was in Vietnam in 1970. He read aloud a book for us, recording it on a cassette tape, one chapter at a time and mailing the tapes to us in the United States. My husband did the same thing in 1999 when we were in Germany and he was in Saudi Arabia with Desert Storm. (My dad read a horse story and my husband read Mouse and the Motorcycle.)

Audio Books vs. Read Alouds

Since those times, I have listened to hundreds of audio books, and I don’t think the best narrators out there will ever surpass those experiences. But I will say that many of the narrators I’ve listened to make the power of the written word come alive in some pretty wonderful ways. And while reading aloud to our children should be a regular part of parenting, sometimes it’s nice to be on the receiving side of read-alouds, and not just on the giving side.

One of the nice things about audio books (as opposed to read alouds) is that they can be listened to again and again without wearing out the narrator (read: parent or older sibling). And they can be enjoyed at almost any time. One of my sons who learned to read late commented recently that he would have LOVED to have had more audio books available when he was younger. (We tended to have enough for road trips, but certainly not near as many as “real” books, so he and other late bloomers were at the mercy of their older sibling’s reading time when they wanted to enjoy a good book together. (Chronicles of Narnia and the entire American Adventures series were popular read alouds.)

Traveling with Children

We tend to listen to A LOT of audio books while traveling, regardless of who is in the car. Obviously the choices of books vary, but the act of listening to books is a common part of road trips in our family. In the early years it was generally CDs picked up from the library or tapes and CDs that we had purchased. Even the one vehicle we’ve owned with a DVD player in it (our 8 passenger Toyota Sienna), involved much more listening than watching. (See the blog post on travelling on the Lewis and Clark trail for more information on how we handled that.)

When traveling with children, I can’t even imagine not having a vast variety of audio books to help fill the hours with fun and education.  As I mentioned in the Lewis and Clark post, we have a special love of Odyssey, Jungle Jam, and Jonathan Park stories for road trips that involve children.

Children’s Books

As time moves on, so does technology. So now, we are just as likely to be listening to a book we’ve downloaded, but in many ways the more things change, the more they stay the same. I have been an Audible account holder for three years now, and since that account is more for me, than for others, it does contain a lot of books that I got just for me to listen to. But, in the midst of all of those there is still a fairly good mix of children’s books – from Winnie the Pooh and the Little Prince to the Water Horse and Pippi Longstocking (and the Hobbit, if you can include that on a list of children’s books, which I have mixed feelings about). I’ve listened to this particular recording of the Hobbit all the way through twice, and if you won’t think less of me, I’ll even admit to having listened to the Water Horse and Pippi Longstocking (actually I’ll admit to those either way – they were fun books). I have only listened to the beginnings of the other two, but in time, I hope to add those to my completed list. (Maybe I’ll look for an opportunity to share them with my grandchildren.)

Educational Value of Audibles

For children learning to read, the ability to hear a book and follow along on a physical copy can be very fruitful. And for older students, the amount of educational materials available on Audible is quite impressive.  Their collection of the Great Courses lectures series alone makes Audible invaluable. The lectures are aimed at college students and other adults, but with careful use, many of them can also be very useful for high school students.  (More on Great Courses below.)

My Personal Audible List

My listening library is as eclectic as my physical library (and the books I write, for that matter). My interests are vast and varied – and a quick look at my audio library shows that. Many of those books are ones that I sought out for one reason or another, but many others are ones I found thanks to one of Audible’s great sales (their “Daily Deal” being one of my favorites – though sometimes I find they can go many, many days before I see something even worth looking at). One of the many things I like about Audible is that when you have a membership they give you 12 months to decide whether you actually like a book or not. (And when an account gets as backlogged as mine does sometimes, that’s a nice time period.)

With that wonderful refund policy, I’ve actually returned about 10% of the books I’ve gotten from Audible. I usually make returns for one of two reasons – I don’t like the narrator or the bad language is just too much to put up with. Or, thirdly, on a few occasions it was because I just couldn’t get into the story. And it’s nice to be able to return a book for any of those reasons.

And, as a result of their specials, and their generous return policy, I’ve discovered a whole world of Audio books I wouldn’t have known existed.

Great Courses as Audibles

I would be remiss in not mentioning one particular category of Audible books that alone would make my Audible account worth having – the Great Courses lecture series.  Almost every Great Courses series that can be bought as just an audio can be gotten through Audible. At just $10 – $15 (depending on your credit costs), I know of no better way to listen to their amazing array of wonderful courses! (And if you watch the sales, sometimes they are even cheaper than that!) I still buy the occasional video-based course straight from Great Courses, but if it will work as just audio, I buy it from Audible!

Just a small sampling of some of my favorite Great Courses Audible books (and I’ve bought over 40!):

Other Types of Books I Enjoy

And of course, I do listen to “real” books in addition to the many lectures I enjoy –  both fiction and non-fiction.  Some of my favorite non-fiction books have included more books on writing, more on history (I’m sure both of those surprise you), in addition to more Shakespeare and economics. My fiction books are pretty well mixed as well, though I have discovered that I enjoy quite a few “political thrillers” and “cozy mysteries,” – with Rhys Bowen being one of my favorite, newly discovered authors!

At $10 – $15 for the “full priced” audible books I buy, and $5 or less for the sale books, I get lots of bang for my bucks for the Audible books I purchase.  If you haven’t already given Audible a try, I can strongly recommend it!

Trying Audible

Now that I’m three years and three hundred plus books into my Audible journey, I’m constantly amazed at how many people haven’t tried it. For $15/month, you get one credit (which equals one regularly priced book), or for $25/month you get two credits. (And it probably won’t surprise you to know that there’s an even more impressive/expensive membership for those of us who want to get an average of more than two books per month.

So have you given Audible a try for yourself and/or your family? What are your favorite books to listen to? I would love to hear what your thoughts and experiences with Audible have been.

Happy listening!

Cathy

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