Creative Learning Connection

Educational Resources from a Veteran Homeschool Mom

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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

Yes, Learning Can Be Fun!

Do You Believe Learning Can Be Fun?

Are you one of those teachers/parents who question whether school can actually be fun? If so, sadly, I would put you in the majority. For some reason, the idea that learning can be fun seems to escape most teachers I talk to (teachers at home or in classrooms).  It’s as if we’ve come to associate learning and drudgery, education and pain.

Do You Incorporate Games?

So after homeschooling for the better part of thirty-five years and helping other homeschool families for at least half of that time, I guess I shouldn’t be amazed by how many people don’t incorporate games into their homeschooling packages.

When Do You Use Games?

Instead, it seems that “fun learning” is something we hold over our students’ heads – “after you finish your assignment, you can play that game, or put together that puzzle.”

What is “Real” School?

But, maybe it’s time to reevaluate what we consider as “real school.” My proposition: If learning is taking place – education is in effect.  And education counts as “real school,” even if it’s outside the scope of a packaged curriculum.  If learning is fun, we have less resistance, our students want to continue it longer, and they will retain more of it.

So where, exactly is the problem with any of that?  Maybe because it takes us away from our comfort zones of lesson plans, “canned curriculum,” and tests. But maybe that’s exactly what we need to be doing.

Games – General

Too often we think of games as merely entertainment or the reward for completing the required schoolwork. But as I said, my contention is that games can and should be a regular part of our educational packages. We need to look more seriously at the “non-schoolish” things that can comprise the various elements of how we educate our children. Those elements should include hands-on learning when feasible and games can make up a unique part of that type of learning.

Games – Valuable Ways to Expand Education

Games often stand alone in their ability to combine fun and repetition with learning. The best games also bring family members of various ages and abilities together in ways that canned curriculum will never do. Once you have started thinking of games as valuable ways to expand the education of your children, you should start to see games and game ideas in a variety of places.

Games You May Already Own

You may want to start by relooking at the games your family already owns.  Have you ever stopped to consider the educational value of games like Monopoly, Yahtzee, and Scrabble? Most of us have owned those games for years, but how often do we break them out as part of school? Sadly, not often enough.

New Rules for Old Games

Consider the games you already own according to the rules they came with, but also try to look at them in a new light. How many of them would serve other purposes if we tweaked the rules some or came up with brand new rules? When children are learning their math facts, dice are a great tool, and when they are learning to spell, Scrabble letters are very useful.

Thinking Outside the Box

And I have found that once we get our children thinking “outside the box” they often exceed us in coming up with new and creative ideas. And of course, beyond revising the games you already own, it can be worth taking a look at new games as well. Well-made quality games are pricier today than when I first started buying games for my family, but the next time you find an educational game you think might meet the needs of your family, but you are balking at the price, consider how much we often spend on just one textbook or teachers’ manual!

All of a sudden that game, which could occupy numerous members of your family for many, many hours and help them obtain or practice a new skill, may be a great value indeed. We need to view prices as just part of the value factor and not the determining one. A very cheap game that no one likes, or that teaches little, can be a very bad use of our money, while the pricier one may prove to be the best value in your educational toolbox.

Repetition Without Pain

Games are particularly useful for young children and students of any age with learning disabilities, but that does not mean you should shy away from them for your other, older students. A key ingredient in any learning is repetition, and a prime factor in repetition without pain is fun! Too many times we discount the importance of fun in education, and we do so at our own loss, and that of our students.

Enjoying a Card Game

Card Games, Dice Games, Board Games

Now, I’m not talking computer games or electronic games here. I will not go so far as to say that there is no educational value in any of those, but I will say that in the case of most kids, they need less electronic stimulation, not more. I’m talking about the value of card games and dice games and good old-fashioned board games.

Good Books and Lots of Games

I was fortunate to grow up with two very important things in my home – lots of good books and lots of game playing, particularly cards. Consequently, my own children have grown up surrounded by both as well! At one point my children counted the games in our game collection, and we had over one hundred. (At last approximation we had over five thousand books in our home as well.) Not that every game gets played equally, but many, many of them have been enjoyed for countless hours by a large variety of people – in and out of our family.

Travel Games/Cards

When we buy each other gifts, they are as often as not books, games, or both. When the older children come home for holidays or breaks out come the favorite games. (Or along come new games, that are often destined to become favorites.) And any time is a good time to pull out a deck of cards! When we travel, it isn’t a question of if we’ll pack any games, but how many we’ll pack.  Even if space is tight, there’s always room for a deck or two of cards. And whether our current group consists of two or ten or more, we can find a game that will work.  (And on the occasion that our group is larger than that, something which happens more and more these days, we just lengthen the table and play multiple games at the same time!)

Specifics: Playing Cards

We would be lost without multiple decks of playing cards around our home.  Cards are an inexpensive, portable, versatile activity.  The youngest to the oldest can be occupied with them. Younger children can match colors and numbers, even with a partial deck of cards.

Card Games for Younger Children

It’s a shame that cards seem to have lost their universal appeal in many places. Cards are not just good fun and shared memories (which would already be enough to make them valuable), they are also great for improving memory, strategy and thinking skills. While most card games involve some level of “luck,” the better ones also require planning and thinking. With younger students there are always the old classics – Memory, Go Fish, Old Maid, Crazy Eights, and War. (Stop and think about the educational value in each of those if you have previously discounted them.)

Memory Games

Memory games are wonderful, and put various ages on an equal footing; my youngest children almost always beat me in these games. (And the beauty of memory games is that they can be made to help introduce or review almost any different topic!)

Card Games for Older Family Members

In our family, we enjoy various card games with anywhere from one to twelve players.  Most of the games we play build thinking skills and the ability to strategize. As the kids got older, some of our family favorites have included Spades, Hearts, Blackout, Canasta, and Shanghai Rummy.

And nowadays you can find the rules for any or all of those on-line, so if you haven’t played them before, or don’t remember how, that is no excuse!

Specifics: Timeline Games

 Chronology

Many years ago I stumbled upon a special card game called Chronology. The original Chronology contained six hundred cards, each with a date and event from their list of important dates in world history. If you can ever find the game, it is a great introduction to or review of world history.)

With Chronology each person starts with a card face up in front of them, and the idea is to build your own personal timeline. If it is your turn, the person next to you on the right takes the top card of the draw pile and reads you the event on it. You don’t have to know the date on the card, you only have to know where it falls relative to the other card you have. (Before in time? Or afterwards?) If you guess correctly you add the card to your personal timeline. Your goal is to eventually arrange a predetermined number of cards in chronological order in front of you.

Time-Line Games

It’s a great way to review (or learn) the flow of important events in history, without sitting down and trying to memorize them.  We liked the idea so well that we made a number of our own Time-Line games, including the History of Astronomy, Space Exploration, the American Revolution, the American Civil War, and many more.

And of course, you can also make your own. You can take a timeline of any period of history you are studying with your family and make your own timeline game. You could even make one of family history, including births, deaths (if desired), marriages, and other key family dates.

Specifics: Chess

Chess is a wonderful tool to develop thinking skills.  It is inexpensive, fairly easy to learn, but difficult to master.  It will occupy one or more students for great lengths of time.

Specifics: Puzzles

Puzzles are great builders of both visual skills and thinking skills.  Ravensburger Puzzles have been our all-time favorites, with 24 to 5,000 pieces. Beautiful pictures and quality pieces make them a real joy to put together by all ages.  Larger puzzles can be put together as a cooperative effort by many family members.

 Conclusion

 Games can be store-bought or home-made.  When you are considering games to purchase, look for games that are

  • Educational
  • Versatile
  • Long Lasting (enjoyable to play for years to come)
  • Economical (cheaper is not always the best investment)

Quality German Games

Some of the best games in the world come out of Germany.  I was reading an article in the December 9, 2002 issue of U.S. News and World Report that discussed this phenomenon.  German games topped seven out of ten of Games Magazine’s 2002 categories.  German games are often more expensive – because they are so well built – but they are generally worth the investment.  Our current game collection (over one hundred games) includes a number of games that we bought when we were in Germany –  again, many of them from Ravensburger. German games tend to include more strategy than their American counterparts, and are generally fast-paced.

Educational Games

Educational games can be considered part of our “curriculum package”.   Retention is aided when the students are having fun while learning.  Games can introduce a concept, or help reinforce an existing lesson.  They do not have to be saved until “after school”, they can be part of school.  Buy good games to supplement your other materials – or make your own!  Or better yet, have your students make them!  What a great way to reinforce learning.

Games and Reinforcement

Games can and should be used as a supplement no matter which method(s) we primarily use.  Because games are fun, and easy to repeat, and three-dimensional, they reinforce learning in a way that’s hard to replicate with other methods.

I hope I have helped convince you to look at educational games in a new light. Don’t be afraid to create your own games to help your children repeat or review important concepts. And be sure to take a fresh look at the games that already exist in the market. In conclusion, strive to make learning a little more fun for your family!

 

Have fun learning!

Cathy

Celebrating 35 years of Homeschooling, 40 years of Parenting, 60 years of Life

I think parents in general and homeschoolers specifically have a tendency to become too focused on the here and now. We tend to worry about when our children will learn to read, whether they’ve finished enough textbooks, and how we’ll get them through high school. But although I covered homeschooling highschoolers in an earlier post, I don’t think even that is where we should be focusing our attention. What will their lives look like when they are adults? What will our relationships be with them then? While they will always be our children, our relationships with them can and should change as they become adults.

As a result, I’m not one that cries at graduations or weddings. I see those as further celebrations of the job that we have done (as imperfect as it may be). Maybe it’s easier for me to think that way, since as of last summer, all of my children are adults. But let me encourage you by telling you, it’s all worth it! All the struggles, all the concerns, all the difficulties along the way to seeing them growing up – someday our jobs raising them really are completed.

I’ve been celebrating the completion of almost 35 years of homeschooling since my youngest graduated last May. I had threatened to dance across the stage at that graduation, but since I was also the key note speaker, I only danced internally.

In July the youngest turned 18, marking the passage of all my children to adulthood. (Even if Alabama thinks that age is 19, we’ll go with 18. I don’t want to wait another year to consider that job done, especially when the “child” in question has already graduated and left home!)

Those were celebrations, to be sure. But I think the final celebration of my work as a “Mom of 12” came when my children honored me with a video for my 60th birthday this past week. I laughed and cried (tears of joy) all the way through the 30-minute video where my children and “bonus children” (my son-in-law and daughters-in-law) shared various memories from the last many, many years.

And while no one will ever doubt that I’ve made as many mistakes as any other parent, I can know that I did my best as I raised my children, and that through it they all not only survived but also thrived.

As I watched the video (multiple times, in fact), I have to say that these are the types of things that bring joy to the heart of a homeschool mom, when she hears the thanks for:

  • Always believing in them when they struggled with learning something
  • Always being there for them (even when we were geographically apart)
  • Being willing to say, “Yes, and…” in support of their ideas whenever I could.

Teaching them:

  • To think outside the box
  • To never give up
  • To be willing to try new things/to be adventurous
  • To be thoughtful
  • To be questioning
  • To do their best (but not stress about the scores/results/etc.)

Several of my children enjoying a game.

Instilling in them

  • A love of Learning
  • A love of Games
  • A love of Travel
  • A love of History

Statue of York in Louisville
Following the Lewis and Clark Trail gave us history and travel!

So, when the homeschooling or parenting path is difficult, and you just want to throw in the towel, remember, they do grow up. (I’ve always heard “They grow up too fast” – but I don’t think I would go that far!) And someday, you too will be developing new relationships with your adult children and just looking back at these days as memories.

In the meantime, enjoy the present, don’t stress about the past, and look forward to that day in the future when you too will be retired from this current job that sometimes seems like it will go on forever.

Happy learning and living!

Cathy

Messier Objects

Astronomy Fun

Once upon a time I taught a series of classes on Astronomy, or more accurately, the “History of Astronomy.” It was lots of fun, and as with so many of my classes, I learned at least as much as my students, probably more! (And, of course, as a writer, I put what I learned into several different learning packages on CurrClick and on Amazon.)

Painting of Charles Messier

Charles Messier, French Astronomer

Messier Catalog

Along the way to learning so much about astronomers and astronomy, I kept running across references to Messier Objects, or the not so occasional references to numbers from the Messier Catalog (currently M1 through M110).

So it was fun when we finally studied Charles Messier, the French astronomer and comet hunter, who started the whole cataloging system in the eighteenth century. Messier’s Catalog was designed to help himself and other comet hunters distinguish the comets they were searching for from the non-comet objects they were also encountering in the heavens.

NASA Photographs

And, now, courteous of NASA, we can all enjoy bright and colorful views of many of the objects from Messier’s Catalog (as well as other galaxies and nebulae that Messier didn’t catalog)!  NASA describes nebulae as “enormous clouds of dust and gas occupying the space between the stars.” Most of the pictures here were taken by the Hubble Space Telescope or the Spitzer Space Telescope. (You can see more of these great photos at their new website – images.nasa.gov/

Enjoy!

Cathy

Traveling Along the Lewis and Clark Trail

Family Trips

We have used family trips as learning experiences on many occasions, including going to numerous National Park battlefields across the country, and traveling to Jamestown in 2007 to celebrate the 400-year anniversary of its settlement. But one of the most memorable trips our family has ever taken was when we traveled along the Lewis and Clark trail in 2005. There were seven of us in our eight-passenger minivan and we travelled for almost three weeks. It was an amazing trip. In fact, as the younger children got older they often asked when we would do that again. Sadly, it was probably a one-time event, since schedules just become more complicated as the kids grow up.

Packing for the Trip

Of course, with seven of us in that van, space was at a premium.  As we planned the trip, we quickly decided that seven suitcases going in and out of the hotels almost every night would be a bit insane.  So, we went with three very large suitcases and one smaller one.

In each of the large suitcases we packed two days of clothes for each of us. And in the smaller suitcase we packed our overnight stuff and our swimsuits. That way we only took in two suitcases each night – the small one and one of the larger ones.  Most times we were staying in a hotel for just one night, but on several occasions we had more to see in the area, and we planned a two-night stay. Of course, on those nights we made sure we brought in a suitcase that still had two days’ worth of clean clothes in it.

Laundry Along the Way

And of course, we had to do laundry several times on the trip, since it was a 20-day trip and we only brought seven days’ worth of clothes. I did laundry one night at a hotel while the kids (which included my 27-year-old daughter) hung out at the hotel’s pool with a water slide. And I did it another time at a laundromat, so I could get our many loads done quicker.

For that trip, we had our general route planned out at least as we headed north and west from St. Louis (that was easy, since we were staying as close to the Lewis and Clark Expedition as we could do in a car). We had considered camping, to save some money, and be more like the Expedition, but we gave up that idea pretty early into our planning – we would have had to bring more gear for camping, which would have pushed us over the edge for fitting into our minivan. And it would have made it more difficult to arrive at our destination late at night, which we often did.

Hotel Rooms vs. Camping

So, we decided to splurge and go with hotel rooms, a decision we were very happy with. (We saved money in other ways – keeping a big cooler in the van with sodas and the makings for lunch meat sandwiches, so we typically only ate fast food once a day, and then only with water.)

We started the trip with our first two nights’ reservations made. Our first day’s drive got us to the St. Louis area, where we knew there would be much to see and do; since the expedition had officially begun at Camp Dubois, just a bit outside of St. Louis. But we had no other reservations made beyond that, because we didn’t know how far we would get each day. We had to make an average of 260 miles each day, in order to make it to the Pacific Ocean and then back to Montana for a family reunion in two weeks. But other than that, the schedule for those first weeks was fairly flexible.

Planning as We Went

So we worked out the details as we went along. My oldest did almost all of the driving, and I played navigator and tour guide. Depending on what there was to see and do on each particular day, would determine how close to the average we actually got. Some days there were too many sites to visit, and we logged significantly less miles. But some days the drive was the main event, and we could make up some of the earlier “missed” miles.

When we started the trip, we hadn’t discovered a particular hotel chain we liked, and we typically chose our hotels based on what we found in the little hotel brochures as we crossed into different states every day or so.  From those we could see what was ahead, what the prices of several different hotels would be, and which of our preferences we could get – an indoor swimming pool, a large room or two connecting ones, and free breakfast. And, while we had cell phones by then, they were not the mini computers we carry around with us these days! By the end of the trip we had found ourselves choosing from the Choice Hotels line the majority of the time, and that is still our go-to chain more than a decade later.

We couldn’t always get a hotel with an indoor pool, but we did on enough occasions to make the younger kids happy.  And on more than one occasion the teenagers were watching the younger kids in the pool while my oldest and I were repacking the van. (Wet swimming suits were a small price to pay for happy kids and smooth packing!)

Packing Sanely

Fortunately, moving our supplies was easier than it was for them!

Speaking of packing – two of the things that we did on that trip that helped immensely were color coding everyone’s tops and using gallon size Ziploc bags to sort clothes. Into each bag we could put one person’s shirt, socks and underwear.  The bags were marked by names and colors, making it easier to pass out clothes each day, and making it easier to sort the clothes back into the right bags and suitcases after doing laundry.

Before we went on the trip, we sat down as a family and chose 7 colors. Then I checked to see who had what colors of shirts and who was missing what colors. Trips to a couple of thrift stores and we were all set. Matching colors also made it easier to spot the other family members when we had stopped somewhere.

Entertainment Options

Another decision we made that proved very helpful to us, was to allow only one DVD per day. We brought along a container full of family approved DVDs and another one full of CDs. On the first day, the youngest one got to choose the day’s DVD, on the second day, the next to the youngest, and so on. There was no arguing over the chosen DVD, since each person would eventually get their turn to choose. And there was no arguing about additional DVD’s, since that would have resulted in fewer DVDs being watched on the trip, rather than more! (Being the “mean Mom” that I am.)

When they weren’t watching a DVD we generally had a CD on – and we rotated through several different series that were generally liked by all (Jungle Jam and Friends, Father Gilbert Mysteries, Chronicles of Narnia, and the unabridged version of Undaunted Courage).  Whenever I had historical facts to share, or things to point out, the CDs would be paused.

Reaching our Primary Destination

By the time we made it to the Pacific Ocean we had all seen, done, and learned an amazing amount of things connected to the Lewis and Clark Expedition!

And by the time we had returned, I had almost completed our journal of the journey, The Lewis and Clark Expedition Jaime-style. The book from Fodor’s Travel Historic America series, the Lewis and Clark Trail was very useful to us. If you are considering a trip along even a portion of the trail, that book is well worth the investment!

For more of our ideas on learning with travel, you might also want to check out our book, Learning as We Go: Teaching through Travels.

Concerns about Homeschooling through High School

Our High School at Home Adventures

When my family started homeschooling more than three decades ago, we weren’t committing to homeschooling all the way through high school; at the beginning the idea was to take it one year at a time. It wasn’t until our older students were teenagers that we finally decided we could indeed homeschool through high school.

From then on, the decision was basically made – to homeschool all twelve of our children all the way through to graduation. That didn’t mean that high school looked the same for all twelve of them, or that we didn’t make changes along the way. But we had at least made that initial decision about high school.

As with all other aspects of homeschooling, there isn’t one right way to homeschool the high school years. And while our family decided, for the most part, to homeschool straight through to the end, that isn’t necessarily the decision that all homeschool families will make.

But regardless of different family decisions about how long to homeschool, or how to homeschool, one thing we all have in common is that we want what’s best for our children!  Because of that, we want to be the ones to direct their education – whatever direction(s) that education may take.

And yet, in spite of those desires, many homeschooling parents fear the high school years.  Every stage brings unique challenges and unique pleasures. But, in my experience, there is something really special about the teenage years. The “difficult” tasks (like potty training, learning to read, etc.) are done by then. (Okay – teaching them to drive is not a piece of cake either.  But we survived that twelve times, so I’m guessing you can too.)

I personally like to teach teens. They can generally listen well, read well, and argue well. Call it “discuss well” if it makes you feel better, but with teens the two are basically synonymous. At this stage, our students are well on their way to becoming independent adults, one of our primary goals for homeschooling (or, at least in my humble opinion, it should be!).

Concerns about Homeschooling through High School

So, why are home schoolers so often intimidated by the thought of teaching their own teens?  The answers I usually hear include:

  • Concern over classes (especially “difficult” ones like foreign languages and higher math)
  • Concern over credits and transcripts
  • Concern about getting into college (I covered that question fairly extensively in the Homeschooling Questions and Answers blog post, so we’ll just look at the first two concerns in this post.)

Our first (of 7 and counting) College Graduate with his youngest sister.

Let’s start with the first of those specific concerns:

High School Level Classes

The idea of home schooling through high school causes unnecessary stress in many families.  How to handle higher level math classes, science labs, and foreign languages rank at the head of most lists of potential problems.  But why?  It shouldn’t be, for several reasons:

  1.  First of all, most homeschooling parents can personally handle teaching more of those classes than they give themselves credit for. (I had never read a Shakespeare play all the way through when I started teaching my first Shakespeare classes. And I certainly knew very little about teaching Government when I started that – but with may topics we can learn as we go, right alongside our students.)
  2. High schoolers can handle much more of the load themselves than we give them credit for. (And there are a growing number of online resources, such as Kahn Academy, where they can do upper level work on their own.) But, remember, though, even when they can be self-taught, they are not necessarily self-motivated! Your job at that point may become more of a director than an actual teacher.
  3. Nowadays, homeschooling mothers and fathers (as well as others in the community) are offering many of these subjects as classes. (And again, online options are multiplying!)
  4. Correspondence schools are another option that we’ve tried for high school classes.  It wasn’t one of our favorites – but it did work. (My oldest got her high school diploma through The American School.)  For some families it may be just the answer to these concerns.
  5. And last, but certainly not least, local colleges can fill in just about any other gaps in higher level high school classes.  When my fourth child got to the Saxon Calculus book the summer before his senior year, he decided that while he could do it on his own, he didn’t want to, so he went to the local university and jumped through the hoops to enroll in their Dual Enrollment program. Since then I’ve had several children who did Dual Enrollment and/or Early Enrollment while in high school.  It isn’t the answer for every student, but it certainly adds to a family’s options.

I can’t leave the topic of college without addressing one of my personal concerns after so many years of homeschooling. One of the growing trends seems to be for homeschoolers to rush their kids through their schooling and graduate them early. But I have to ask, why do we want to be in such a big hurry to graduate our students?

They certainly aren’t lacking for subjects that they can study at home. What do we gain and what do they gain by rushing the process, versus what is lost – more time with their family; more time to mature; more time to pursue special interests?  There are exceptions, of course, but I think home schoolers would do well to rethink this trend.

So, as you look forward (or at least ahead) to the high school years, please remember that home education equals parent-directed education.  Helping find the right places for them to study the subjects that they need is an important part of our everchanging role in their lives, even when we are phasing out of being their primary instructors. (When and how that happens will vary between families, and often between students within a family.) We should be anticipating the time that they graduate and move on to their own lives, and we can start that process slowly, rather than the day they are handed their diplomas.

High School Credits

How to award credits for high school classes is another big, but mostly needless, concern.  I know of two accepted standards for awarding a credit.

  1. Starting and completing a high school level textbook. (Or mostly completing one, since in reality, classroom teachers aren’t completing most of them anyway.)
  2. Logging approximately 120 – 150 hours in a specific subject – reading, discussing, listening to lectures, writing about it, and watching related videos all count towards the necessary time.  I found the book Design-Form-U-La to be very helpful when we started keeping these kinds of records, though sadly that book seems to be harder and harder to find.

Our family granted most credits based on the “hours logged” in a subject, rather than through textbook completion, since we used so few textbooks, even in high school.  Textbooks are not totally bad – but they are so two-dimensional! I cover more about that in my blog post, Homeschooling through Topical Studies.

Learning can and should be three-dimensional. In addition to the standard academic classes, high school (even at home) can include:

  • Athletics
  • Drama
  • Essay & speech contests like those sponsored by  the Optimist Club as well as a growing number of homeschool debate clubs
  • Real life political events such as God & Country rallies and election involvement
  • Youth in Government programs

All of my children did Mock Trial one or more years!

And students can receive high school credit for work done before high school, in seventh or eighth grade, if it’s high school level work.

High School Transcripts

Transcripts also intimidate many folks – but they’re really easy to do.  The standard way is to break courses up by school year, one section for the freshman year, one for the sophomore year, etc. But in our family, we preferred to show them by subjects instead, with all the English classes listed together, and then the math, and then the science, etc.  Like so much else, it’s easy to find samples to look at with an online search.

Transcripts need to include the student’s name, date of birth, and school years covered.  Each class listed should include the general subject it was in (such as science), followed by the specific Course title (such as Biology), a grade, and a credit (usually ½ or 1).  Not too complicated.

I hope this has helped you feel a little less intimidated by homeschooling through high school. This is an exciting time to be sharing that time with your children who are on their way to becoming adults.

In my book, Teaching Teens, I go into these and other related topics a bit more, as well as give example forms for counting credits, tracking grades, and making transcripts.

Happy Learning!

Cathy

Homeschooling with Topical Studies

Homeschooling without Textbooks

Do you struggle with reluctant students?  Or “lazy” students?  Are you having trouble hanging in there until the end of the year?  Maybe it’s time you reevaluate your methods, rather than giving in and giving up. Have you taken a look at homeschooling with topical studies? Maybe it’s time.

What are Topical Studies?

A friend and I coined the term “topical study” a number of years back to describe something more limited in nature than the “unit studies” that were becoming popular with many homeschoolers. A topical study is more the study of a particular topic within a subject, rather than the “all encompassing” type of study that a unit study often entails.  For instance, for much of our 35 years of homeschooling we studied history topically – the Civil War was our topic one year, and the Lewis and Clark Expedition was our topic a different time.  These topical studies might cover some other subjects as well, art or music, or science, for instance, but they were primarily designed to deal with a particular topic – for us generally history or science.

Why Topical Studies Make Sense

Real learning involves getting familiar with something and getting comfortable with it!  Familiarity and comfort don’t come when one topic after another is thrown at a learner. They come from repetition and context.

We must encounter the same words, the same concepts, the same dates many times before we “own” them, before they become a part of our vocabulary, something that we remember. Textbook teaching does not lead to this kind of ownership very often.

In my humble opinion (my bias will definitely show here) History and Science should be taught exclusively with the Topical Study/Unit Study method through at least eighth grade (though I have to admit to sticking to that method even in high school).  Is it too painfully obvious here that I have an aversion to textbooks?  It’s not that textbooks are totally worthless, but I would have to say they are often close.  Let’s be honest here:  How often do you go to a textbook to find the answer to a question?  How much of what you endured “learning” through textbooks, do you actually remember?  Enough said.

Holt, Gatto, and Harris Weigh in

John Holt (a well-known unschooler back in the days when we began our homeschooling journey) talked about “how children fail” and “how children learn.” He suggested that if we have reluctant and/or lazy students, we should blame our materials and/or our methods, not our students!

And please remember that most of us are basing our methods and materials on the public school systems – because that’s the only thing we know.  As John Gatto (a New York City teacher of the year) reminded us in Dumbing Us Down, the public school system is failing, so why are we trying so hard to copy it?

Many years ago, Gregg Harris (a popular homeschool author at the time) proposed “delight directed studies” to take care of the problem of a reluctant student.  This can be our delight or their delight.  This is a very important point when you start looking at Topical Studies.  You need to pick something your family will get excited about.

Da Vinci has been a delight of mine for many years!

What if We Miss Something?

One of the questions often voiced about getting away from textbooks is, “What if I miss something this way, what if I don’t cover something that should have been covered?” My first response when someone asks that question is often, “Covered according to whom?”  Contrary to what some folks would lead us to believe, there is no one “correct” curriculum for, say, fourth grade, or sixth grade, or any other grade.

Also, remember that covering material does not equal learning it!   There is an important distinction here!  Please don’t miss it.  With topical studies, we cover less, and learn more.

Aren’t Topical Studies a lot of Work?

Why do we want to go to the “trouble” of topical studies? It is more trouble than just picking up a textbook and going through it.  But it is also more effective!  It’s more fun!  And it’s usually more enjoyable for students and teacher alike!

Topical studies also give siblings something in common: shared knowledge and experiences.  We can carry our “school” discussions much beyond the “classroom” this way, since several of us are studying the same thing at the same time.  And that includes the teachers, since they are now spending their time preparing a topical study, instead of writing out lesson plans, grading tests, and checking assignments.

Okay, But Now What?

I hope you’re convinced, and that you want to try a topical study.  But you may be asking, now what?  How do you actually plan the studies?

They don’t have to be long.  (Even though ours usually ended up taking up an entire school year or more, they certainly don’t have to!)  You might want to start with something small, like a two week study.  They don’t have to be involved.  And you don’t have to pull them from thin air.  A good place to begin is with a topic someone is really interested in.  That’s how ours usually begin.  The key to successful topical studies is often timing and interest!

Some good science topics to begin with

(But remember, “the sky’s the limit”!)

  • Birds
  • Bugs
  • Butterflies
  • 7 Days of Creation
  • Creation vs Evolution (we want our children to be critical thinkers!)
  • Gardening
  • Dinosaurs
  • Flowers
  • Endangered Animals

 

Biblical/Christian topics

  • Martyrs
  • Missionaries
Some good history topics
  • Indians (1 tribe/week or month, for example)
  • Presidents (1/week, for instance)

Specific Wars
  • Revolutionary War
  • Civil War
  • World War II
Specific Eras
  • Renaissance
  • Reformation
  • Middle Ages – knights, castles…

Geography studies
  • States (all 50 – 1 per week, for example)
  • Countries (from around the world, or within one continent)
  • Continent (maybe 1/month)

Anything else of interest to your family!!!

Once you have a topic, where do you begin?

  • The library
  • Your own books
  • Encyclopedias
  • On-line research
  • Used books
  • Multitudes of catalogs
  • Friends
  • Experts

I find that once I’ve chosen a topic – the resources practically jump out at me.

Depending on your topic, there may be oodles of free materials available for the asking:

  • County Extension Office
  • State Tourist Offices
  • On-line
  • State Welcome Centers

Two of my favorite, inexpensive resources for History, Geography, and Science studies are:

  • Dover Coloring Books
  • National Geographics

National Geographics have wonderful maps and pictures, and can usually be bought for very low prices at used book stores and places like Salvation Army and Goodwill.  (They do need to be edited occasionally.)

Scheduling a Topical Study

Start with a schedule/timeline for your study.  Do you want to study the topic for two weeks or two months?  Have a starting schedule, but be flexible…If it fizzles out sooner, stop!  If you’re having so much fun, you want to continue when your time is up, continue!

One main topic/day works well for us; we incorporate:

  • “Lectures” (one of my favorites)
  • Read alouds (a favorite for most of the students!)
  • Silent reading assignments
  • Research Assignments (give written or oral reports)
  • Art assignments (could include drawing/collages/sculpture)
  • Field trips as we can work them in

History through Topical Studies

With topical studies you can cover U.S. or World History in depth, over the course of many years.  Why “cover it all” in one year, again and again, never really going into any detail? With Topical Studies we never covered either World or American History from “start to finish” – but my children have a fairly good knowledge of both through the Topical Studies we have done throughout their many years of study.

In Conclusion

If you haven’t tried topical studies or unit studies with your family, please do.  If you have and didn’t like it, please try it again.  Your family could benefit greatly from the experience!

This blog post was primarily excerpted from my homeschool book, Topical Studies.

Happy Learning!

Cathy 

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