Homeschool Discoveries

Sharing a few things I've discovered along the way…

“Lego Star Wars: Save the Galaxy” (and the Creative Writing it Inspired) February 29, 2012

Filed under: Books — kirstenjoyhill @ 12:48 pm
Tags: ,

Mr. E really likes Star Wars books a lot, so I think it’s really saying something when he says that “Lego Star Wars: Save the Galaxy” is the best Star Wars book he has read so far.  We found this fun and unique book at the library last week.  It’s an oversize board book with the story of Star Wars Episode IV (A New Hope) told in comic-book format.  But it’s not just any retelling of “A New Hope” — it is very funny and irreverent with lines like “You’ve been Darth-in-Vadered!”

After listening to the story several times and looking through the book on his own a few times as well, Mr. E wanted to write his own story inspired by this book.  He narrated it to me (in the format of a play or screen play, perhaps, given that he gave me a list of characters first), and I wrote it down (some of these are close to being quotes from the book…others are totally made up by Mr E):

A Star Wars Book, by Mr. E


  • Darth Vader
  • Princess Leia
  • Obi-Wan Kenobi
  • Luke Skywalker
  • Han Solo
  • Sand People
  • Batman
  • A Battle droid
  • The death star
  • R2D2
  • Geent Cho (a Storm Trooper)
  • Water Bottle Man (a Storm Trooper)
  • Superman
  • Sarge (he shoots a piece of cheese)
  • Zeebu (a lego guy)
  • Dinosaur Cot (a lego guy)
  • Kungs (a super hero)
  • Batarang Man (a military truck that does Karate)
  • Gimme Twenty (a military truck disguised as Chick the race car)

Princess Leia: Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope!

Darth Vader:  I got you, Luke Skywalker!

Sand People: No Stereo? Who doesn’t have a stereo in their land speeder?

Obi-Wan Kenobi: Boo, I got you Sand People!

Meanwhile, R2D2 is trying to dig for a new land speeder in the dirt

Obi-Wan Kenobi: Here’s a light saber!

Princess Leia: Not you again!

Han Solo: Should I blow up the death star by shooting my gun?

Darth Vader: Search the Can Opener for the crew!

Obi Wan Kenobi: Luke, you must go on without me!

Batman: I’m flying in to the rescue! I’m coming to fight the death star by throwing batarangs at it.

Death Star: I’ll shoot lasers at you!

Zeebu: Hi-Ya! I’ll get you, battle droid!

Batarang Man: Flying to the rescue! I got you, Darth Vader!

Superman: I’m flying to the rescue too! I’m going to break the storm troopers with my super punch!

Princess Leia: {Pew! Pew! Pew!} [Shooting her gun]

Batarang Man: Ouch! Where am I?

Storm Trooper: Your’re in a trap, Batarang man!

Batarang Man: I’ll just throw a Batarang and it will shoot lightning and make a hole and I’ll get out. But wait, how can I get out?

Kungs: Magical, Magical, make the death star a motorcylce! This is Kungs in disguise! I’m coming to get you Darth Vader

Sarge: Yes, it is time to shoot cheese at these storm troopers!

“Chick”:  Vroom!

Han Solo: I’m shooting all the Storm Troopers!

The End!


Tech Tuesday: Apps We Like for Math February 28, 2012

Filed under: Technology — kirstenjoyhill @ 10:49 pm
Tags: ,

Math facts and other math skills are a natural fit for practice on the iPad.   Miss M practices her math skills in many ways — regular RightStart math lessons, RightStart math games, practice worksheets from RightStart or elsewhere and of course on the iPad.  Here are a few apps we like:

For basic, no frills, math facts practice we like Math Drills.  This app allows for multiple users and customization for each user of the difficulty of each type of problem.  Want your student to practice on only more difficult adding problems, a full range of subtraction problems or only 2’s and 3’s facts in multiplication? It’s a cinch to set that up.  You can also customize the number of problems that will be offered for un-timed review, timed practice or a test.  I found this to be well worth the $1.99 I spent on it!

Skill Builder Numeracy is a free option (at least as of this writing) for no-frills practice with fewer customization options and no differentiation between users that we used before purchasing Math Drills.

For math fact practice with lots of fun included, my kids really enjoy HyperBlast and Doll House math.  HyperBlast lets the user ride through a tunnel shooting aliens, avoiding obstacles, and other challenges.  There’s a brief break in the arcade style action every few minutes to answer a few math problems.  Dollhouse math lets kids buy dolls and items for a doll house after completing a few math problems.   There’s more “fun” than practice in these apps, but it’s always nice to sneak in a few extra math problems here and there with the fun!

Number Math is a great app for practicing other numeracy skills, such as greater than/less than, skip counting and number order.   This app is free as of this writing, and features multiple levels of difficulty for each skill.

The only app for time telling that we’ve tried so far is Jungle Time.  I read a lot of favorable reviews for this app, but it was not as much of a hit with my 7 year old.  She found the interface for entering the time a bit difficult to use — there were many times when she knew the correct answer, but accidentally entered the wrong time anyway.

Do you have any apps you love for math practice?

I’m linking up with:


A is for Abacus February 27, 2012

Filed under: Curriculum,Weekly Highlights — kirstenjoyhill @ 8:51 am

I love moments like this in homeschooling:

Miss M with our RightStart Abacus

Last Friday, Miss M asked if she could do school in her “prairie girl dress” (and of course the bonnet is a required accessory).  We weren’t doing anything messy, so there was no reason not to wear it. She’s using the abacus here to help her say the multiples of seven.

The abacus is one of my favorite parts of RightStart math.  It helps the student easily visualize what is going on with various math operations.

I’m linking up with…

Caitlin @ Those Wandlings for “You Don’t See That in Public School!




Collage Friday: A Short School Week February 24, 2012

Filed under: Weekly Highlights — kirstenjoyhill @ 2:09 pm

This was a short week of school for us.  Tony had the day off on Monday for President’s Day, and he took a vacation on Tuesday so I could take baby J to an all-afternoon appointment without the other three kids in tow.  Here’s a few highlights from our week:

1.  Here’s two things Mr E is proud of this week — His “Giant Monster” duplo creation and reading the book Stop Pop (nearly) all by himself!  The flip-a-word series of books is a great phonics-based series of books. (we find them at the library) — it’s too bad they are out of print!


2. It snowed on Tuesday, producing great excitement in our household.  Have I mentioned lately that I live in Minnesota?!?  Normally, we should be groaning and complaining about snow by the end of February, but not this year! I think this is only about the second time we’ve had enough snow to need a shovel or be able to send sleds down a hill.  While James and I were at his appointment, Tony took the kids sledding at the neighborhood park and out for hot drinks and treats and the nearby coffee shop


3. We were back in the swing of things on Wednesday.  More math drawing lessons for Miss M!  I think we’re almost through the geometry/drawing lessons in Right Start Math level C.


4. We’ve been working on lesson D-7 in our science book, Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding, for the last couple Family Science Nights.  We talked about orbit this week — I didn’t know until recently that orbit is caused by a perfect balance between the forces of gravity and inertia.  Here, Mr. E is “orbiting” the “earth” (aka tape on the floor) and learning this concept.  We also listened to a really interesting portion of a Radio Lab program talking about Newton’s theories about orbit.


5. Monday holidays generally mean 50% of sales at our nearby thrift store.  Often the sale is just on clothes and textiles, but this time it was on everything! So, Miss M and I spent some of our President’s Day holiday perusing the book section, and picked out…18 books! Miss M was excited to add more Boxcar Children titles to her shelf, and I was excited about several Newberry award/honor books and titles to fit in with future history studies.


6. We started a new “whole family” read aloud — Prince Caspian, the second book in the Chronicles of Narnia series.  Mr. E took this picture of daddy reading to everyone.  We haven’t done whole family read alouds very often yet,  but I am sure it is something we’ll do much more of as the boys get older.


7. Just in case you ever think that things are peachy and perfect all the time around here, I thought I better share a picture like this from a couple days ago. The school room looked like a disaster after the boys spread leftover valentines and miscellaneous art supplies around the room.  Then Mr K dumped the crayon bin on the floor.  On purpose.  After several refusals to clean up (complete with consequences after each refusal), he finally cleaned up.  Needless to say, school was interrupted while all this happened.  Then this morning I went upstairs for less than five minutes, the boys decided to make a huge mess by dumping a bunch of tiny stuff (legos, cars, etc) behind the couch.  Life is not always smooth sailing as we homeschool, but we try and learn through it all (including me, as I learn to keep my cool through it all!!!).


8.  Not really related to homeschooling, but I was so happy that I was able to get baby J on my back in my mei tai carrier without help.  After a couple nearly disastrous tries when Mr. E was a baby, I never even tried with Mr. K and assumed I would need to use a buckle carrier (I have a toddler patapum) to carry my babies on my back.  But apparently lots of practice with a buckle carrier prepared me to now be able to safely do it with the mei tai. Yeah!


9. Miss M “caught reading” at the table.  She decided to go back and re-read “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” for herself (we read it outloud as a family several months ago).  She is enjoying it so much that she’s been reading it every spare minute and will finish in record time.


Have a happy weekend! I’m linking up with Collage Friday @ Homegrown Learners and Weekly Wrap-Up @ Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers! 



Book Discoveries This Week: Funny Picture Books February 23, 2012

Filed under: Books — kirstenjoyhill @ 10:12 pm

I just love finding picture books that make the boys giggle.  Today I’ll share a few particularly funny ones we’ve discovered at the library recently:

Not a Box by Antoinette Portis: This simple board book has inspired a lot of imaginative play over the past couple weeks.  It’s a pretty simple concept – a box being used in creative ways. But the execution of that idea is very well done in “Not a Box”.  You know the book is good when the boys beg me not to take it back to the library even though we had already read it many times!  We may end up buying this one for ourselves.

Harry Hungry by Steven Salerno: A baby with an over-sized appetite eats everything in sight and grows to giant proportions.  We had a fun time imagining our baby J growing as large as Harry Hungry.  🙂

Zombie in Love by Kelly DiPucchio and Scott Campbell: This was one of our read-alouds last week for Valentine’s (selected by Mr. E), but the boys requested it several times last week.  A zombie desperately wants a date to a dance, but he just can’t please the ladies with his diamond ring (still attached to a finger!), dead flowers, and “interesting” attire.  As long as your kids know that zombies are, as Mr. E puts it, “just pretend dead people monsters”, then they might enjoy this one!

Gimme Cracked Corn and I will Share by Kevin O’Malley:  Call me corny, but I really like puns.  In fact, so does my entire family, which is why I grabbed this book at the library. I laughed a lot at the puns, but I had to explain a lot of them to the boys the first time through in this story of two chickens searching for a hidden treasure trove of corn.  My having to explain the puns didn’t seem to diminish the boys’ enjoyment of the book however, since they requested it several times.  An egg-citing read!  😉

Do you have any favorite funny picture books?

I’m linking up with Read-Aloud Thursday @ Hope is the Word!


100 Days and Leap Day February 22, 2012

Filed under: Holidays — kirstenjoyhill @ 10:40 pm
Tags: ,

I started the school year with great intentions of tracking exactly how many “school days” we had completed so that we too could have one of those cool “100th day” celebrations I had heard about.  Our state does not require a particular number of school days nor are we required to track or report “attendance” in our homeschool, so it was purely my own motivation driving me.  Obviously it was not a large amount of motivation, because my cute checklist fell out of use around day 20!

I had my planner out today to count how many weeks we had left before we take a summer break (we’ll do some school over the summer, but a much lighter load), and how this corresponded to the number of lessons we have left in RightStart Math level C.  (I think we’ll have somewhere between 10 and 20 lessons left in the level by the end of May).

On a whim, I decided to look at the calendar and attempt to count how many days of school we have completed.  While I am not 100% sure of my accuracy, I think today actually marked our 100th day.  Whoops!

Not being one to want to miss out on a celebration, I think we’ll have a slightly belated “100th day” celebration next week and celebrate “Leap Day” (aka February 29th) as well.

There are so many ways to celebrate 100 days — many of them involving math of course!  Here’s one link I liked with many, many ideas!

I also created a board on pinterest with some of the links and ideas I have found so far for celebrating both 100 days and Leap Day.

Do you celebrate 100 days of your homeschool year? Are you going to do anything special for Leap Day next week?

{photo credit}


Tech Tuesday: Finding Great Educational Apps February 21, 2012

Filed under: Technology — kirstenjoyhill @ 10:09 pm
Tags: , ,

When we got our iPad last fall, it didn’t take me long to realize that finding good educational apps in the app store can be a frustrating experience.  I felt like I was wasting a lot of precious time sorting through page after page of apps, while finding few that would meet our needs.

I feel very fortunate to have discovered a great site — Apps for Homeschooling.  Site owner Jennifer has reviewed dozens of apps, maintains a page of free and sale price apps that is updated regularly, and regularly does give-aways or “tosses” for promo codes that can be used to get free apps.   This is really not just a site for homeschoolers — anyone looking for educational apps for their kids will find this site useful.

If you like Apps for Homeschooling on Facebook, you’ll see almost-daily alerts to these free and on-sale apps, as well as having the opportunity to jump in on promo-code “tosses”.  Even when you do find apps you like for your iPad, iPhone or iPod, it’s easy to be tempted to spend way too much money buying them all.  🙂   By checking the Apps for Homeschooling site or reading Jennifer’s posts on Facebook, I have gotten many, many apps for free or for a very low price.

Another site I recommend is Digital Kindergarten, a blog written by a Kindergarten teacher who uses iPads in her classroom.  Check out the two pages she mentions in this post for a long list of apps she finds useful.

I also take note when bloggers I already enjoy share about their favorite apps Carisa at 1+1+1=1 and Erica at Confessions of a Homeschooler both share lists of apps they like.

As I mentioned in my first Tech Tuesday post, I have a Pinterest board dedicated to homeschool tech, including several links to posts or sites with lists of educational apps.  I’ll keep adding more as I find them!

What sites have you found to help you discover great apps?

I’m linking up with Tech Tuesday @ Sunflower Schoolhouse!


How We Picked a Math Curriculum — Part 1

Filed under: Curriculum — kirstenjoyhill @ 7:07 am
Tags: ,

When Miss M was about four and a half, I decided I wanted some of kind of curriculum to guide me as she progressed beyond simple counting.  I knew I wanted a program that would keep things fun, and would involve little to no handwriting, since at that time, Miss M struggled to write any numbers at all.  A friend had a copy of Saxon Math K that I was able to take a look at. I saw that this program involved no writing, and had scripted lessons for the parent to follow.  I soon found a used copy, bought a few inexpensive manipulatives, and began progressing through the lessons with Miss M.

The lessons in Saxon Math K are fun, and (in my non-professional opinion), age-appropriate for an older preschooler or younger kindergartener.  We started working on a calendar, we used plastic bears to count, add and make patterns and we reviewed shapes.  But something quickly became clear to me — the way Saxon Math K jumped around from topic to topic drove me crazy!  We would spend a day working on counting, only to have the next lesson focused on shapes, followed by a third lesson on a topic altogether different before returning to a lesson on counting.   I tried to make my own plan for re-arranging the lessons in a way that would involve less jumping around, but it was a lot of work to do so.   After using Saxon for a couple months, I knew that when Miss M started her Kindergarten year I needed to have something else.

As I researched math curricula, I learned that math programs generally either follow a “spiral” philosophy or a “mastery” philosophy.  Some may be more extreme than others in the degree to which they follow these philosophies.   Programs that lean toward the spiral philosophy introduce several topics, then “spiral” back to the first, second and so on to give the student greater depth and more exposure, then the cycle repeats.  Spiral programs have lots of built in review, and keep students from getting bored by varying the topics studied.  Some students, however, may be frustrated by only getting a taste of a topic and not having time to develop a skill before moving on to another topic.

The mastery philosophy is just what it sounds like — mastering one topic before moving on to the next.   Curricula that follow the mastery philosophy will also tend to pursue a topic to greater depth before pursuing a new topic.  For example, instead of moving on to single digit subtraction after single digit addition is mastered, a mastery curriculum is more likely to continue to two, three and four digit addition before introducing subtraction.  At the extreme a mastery curriculum may have the student studying the same general topic like addition or subtraction for an entire level of the curriculum.  Common criticisms of mastery curricula are boredom and lack of review.  Students may get burnt out studying subtraction for months on end, and may forget some of their adding skills in the mean time.

Having learned about these approaches to math education, I knew I would prefer a curriculum that leaned toward the mastery approach.  I didn’t think I would like something on the extreme end of the mastery spectrum, but in general the mastery philosophy made more sense to me.

Having ditched Saxon Math K not long before Miss M was beginning her actual Kindergarten year, I wasn’t quite ready to commit to a particular curriculum that I might be using for years.  As a stop-gap measure, I decided to begin K with Kindermath by Eagles Wings, a program I had recently received along with a phonics and spelling package I had purchased.

Kindermath is nice simple program for Kindergarten students.  It doesn’t have any bells and whistles — just a simple teacher manual and student workbook, both in black and white.  But, this gave me something I could do with Miss M for math.  We used it for the first four months of her K year.  After that, we began RightStart — the program we are still using!  I’ll discuss why we chose Right Start and how it works for our family in part 2 (Now posted — read it here!).

If you are looking for more information on how to chose a math curriculum, this article is a great starting point.  I also highly recommend checking out the wealth of resources (including articles and product reviews) at!

What resources have you found helpful in the process of picking a math curriculum?


(photo credit)


Collage Friday: Valentines Fun and New Stuff February 17, 2012

Filed under: Weekly Highlights — kirstenjoyhill @ 2:42 pm
Tags: , , ,

Our week had a bit of a different rhythm than usual with a fun day of “Valentines School” on Tuesday.  Here’s a snapshot of our week:

1. I had so much to say about Valentines day that it got its own post with a full recounting of our activities.

2. Grandma Karen dropped by for a couple hours on Wednesday.  Aren’t all the kids cute cuddled up with her in the big chair while she reads?

3. Miss M got a “Sand Art” craft kit from Grandma Karen as a Valentines gift.  Here she is working on it at her desk in her room.

4. The geometry lessons in RightStart Math C proved a bit more challenging this week.  At one point neither of us could figure out how to divide a circle into thirds.  This happened in the late afternoon one day (we had procrastinated finishing the math lesson).  When I was more awake the next day I remembered how to do it and could help Miss M!  Using the drawing tools to make a clock also proved a bit challenging.  I thought I was giving Miss M the proper directions, but the first result was a clock with 12 numbers ending about where the seven should have been.  Whoops! I had to make one myself before I could explain to Miss M how to do it properly.  The drawing lesson directions clearly assume a bit more spacial reasoning than I seem to have!

5. We finished Mystery of History vol. 2 this week and started in with the first two lessons of Mystery of History Volume 3.  I love the full color pictures!

6. I also gave Miss M a new book for writing practice — Spectrum Writing Grade 2.   While I wouldn’t say that this basic workbook is an excellent method for teaching writing, I am in the “something is better than nothing” mode with this.  Since I was ordering Mystery of History Vol 3 from the Hearts at Home curriculum store anyway, I picked up this book on sale as well.  Miss M told me she really likes her new writing workbook, so that is a good sign, I suppose.

7. Miss M practiced counting by sixes and sevens this week.  When Mr. E saw the bugs on this sheet from Miss M’s math book, he wanted to know if he could learn how to “count by sixes all the way to nine.”  That led to a great discussion about what it means to “count by” something, and he practiced counting by 2’s!

8. Late night Lego play with daddy — he let the boys stay up an hour past their bedtime to make some really fun Lego creations together.

9. Just for fun — gotta love the Nutella “beard” on Mr. K!

Now TGIF!…(part of our day today involved all three kids taking a turn at spilling all the cards to a certain game in which the cards need to be sorted in a particular way…and the cards were spilled on purpose each time.  Sigh!)  We’ll have a definite three day weekend from school since daddy is off from work on Monday.  Tuesday baby J has a medical appointment and circumstances are such that we might not get much school done that day either.  A mini-break will be nice!

Linking up with Collage Friday @ Homegrown Learners and Weekly-Wrap-Up @ Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers! 


Valentines 2012 Wrap-Up February 16, 2012

Filed under: Holidays — kirstenjoyhill @ 11:08 pm

We had a whole day of fun and “Valentines School” for Valentines Day this year…and we didn’t even get to everything that I had in mind! Here’s some of what we did:

Some years I have made a special breakfast for Valentine’s, but this year I just made a dish that is a favorite with my kids — baked apple french toast.  We started our day of “Valentines School” with fun printables.  Everyone enjoyed the Valentines Early Learning Printables from Homeschool Creations.  I also printed a couple of Valentine’s word searches for Miss M.

After everyone was bored of working at the table, we read a stack of books related to love or Valentines.  Most were selected by the kids during last week’s library trip.  I selected the classic “Guess How Much I love You” from our bookshelf.  None of the books the kids picked out were particularly classics, though “Zombie in Love” did get several readings this week at our house! I also re-read with Miss M the chapter from Mystery of History II on the true origins of Valentines Day.

Following the theme of love, we read 1st Corinthians 13, the traditional “love chapter” in the Bible.  I printed out the key words from the “love verses” and had the kids put the verses into categories of what love is or is not and we discussed those qualities of love.  The kids were very excited to decorate the poster when they were done.

Heart shaped food is great for Valentines of course, so I made the kids heart-shaped grilled cheese and I attempted to draw hearts in their tomato soup using whipping cream and a tooth pick.  The kids laughed at me in a good-natured way and said they didn’t look like hearts, but I think they appreciated the effort.  🙂

After lunch it was time for candy math! Using inspiration and printables from several sites (here, here, here, here and here) we tore into a bag of conversation hearts and went to work.  Miss M and Mr E both most enjoyed making a graph of the colors of candy hearts in each of their bowls, while Mr. K’s favorite activity was making patterns.

Miss M took some time to finish a “Heart Tree” craft kit she started last year at Valentines, but never finished.  It’s now decorating our buffet!  After that, she finished addressing envelopes to mail a few valentines.  Yes, our recipients got them a little belatedly since they went in the mail on valentines! This was Miss M’s first time addressing envelopes on her own, and it was a good practical lesson on our fun “valentines school” day!

We went out to drop off a few valentines at neighbor’s houses and take our larger envelopes to the post office.  Upon returning, we opened valentines mail and gifts we received!

We rounded out our special day with heart shaped pizza, homemade white chocolate pudding with strawberries and special drinks that daddy brought home.

It was a fun and full day…no wonder I was exhausted at the end of it.  🙂

I’m linking up with Love-ly-ideas at Homegrown Learners! I’ll be looking forward to reading what other bloggers have posted and bookmarking or pinning ideas for next year!