Our summer reading is arriving!

Our floor can look like this. Lots of books. Everywhere. But that's good because it encourages reading.

Our floor can look like this. Lots of books. Everywhere. But that’s good because it encourages reading.

I like books. I love books. In fact, we have boxes and boxes of books. We just moved, and moved over 30 boxes of books. I have a hard time parting with books.

My kids like books. They read all the time. In fact, the other night I caught them (2 hours after they were supposed to be asleep) in my son’s room, with him reading a HUGE stack of books to Abby. There must have been 15-20 books in the stack. Nicholas is currently obsessed with Greek Mythology and loves reading myths. Abby just likes Minnie Mouse and Strawberry Shortcake. She also likes anything her brother reads to her.

I’ve been pursuing the web, looking for fun and interesting books that I think will hold my son and daughter’s attention this summer. Here’s the list I cam up with (and ordered) so that we have new books for summer. Our goal is one a week. But normally it goes about 1 a day. Then we head to the library and check books out, and then read those too.

Someone asked me how I get my kids to read? The answer is simple – I like to read. I encourage reading. We read together. We have reading time. We have LOTS of books around (see above about the boxes of books). When kids are exposed to books and someone who loves reading, they will love reading too. It’s great because they learn and grow, all without realizing they are actually doing anything important.

And before you ask – yes, I indulge my children’s peculiarities by getting them books about characters they like. I want to encourage reading in all it’s shapes and forms. This means reading whatever they want. It is reading. And that’s what matters most.

Here’s the first summer reading list for our house:

Ella Bella Ballerina and Cinderella

Ella Bella Ballerina and Swan lake

The Three Ninja Pigs

Ninja Red Riding Hood

Trouble at the Arcade (Hardy Boys: The Secret Files)

The Missing Mitt (Hardy Boys: The Secret Files)

Have You Seen My Dragon?

Treasury of Greek Mythology: Classic Stories of Gods, Goddesses, Heroes & Monsters

Puppy Love! (Strawberry Shortcake)

The Hero’s Guide to Storming the Castle

The Hero’s Guide to Being an Outlaw

The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom

Reading Adventures Disney Princess Level 1 Boxed Set

May I Please Have a Cookie? (Scholastic Readers, Level 1)


Website review: NextLesson

I’m a HUGE fan of technology. I like it for my kids to play with, to learn with, and for me to use to develop lessons. I also use it to share all kinds of information with (hence this blog).

NextLesson is a website that has pre-made lessons, and a method for you to make your own. They are integrated with Google, so students need to have a Google account to get the most out of the experience.

The pre-made lessons come in two different types: whole lessons and worksheets.


The worksheets are really neat. They have math worksheets based on real athletes and real statistics. My son got a kick out of the LeBron James (and other basketball stars) multiplication worksheets. The worksheets are all tied directly to Common Core standards. They are listed. It’s easy to print them off and use them. It’s even easy to find them – you simply click on the worksheets tab. Then you can search by grade, or simply browse them to find what you like.

Pre-Made Lessons

The pre-made lessons are also amazing. The lessons cover a variety of subjects – and if you need the Common Core correlation standards they are all right there.

Once you’ve signed in, you simply search and the download the lesson. The lesson appears in the lessons section of your account. Each lesson is fully contained. You can print each part of the lesson, or you can simply browse through it online. I took some of the sheets and put them into a PowerPoint (just to see if it could be done) – and it was very easy. So if you don’t want each student to log into the lesson separately, you can just project what you need through PowerPoint.

Each lesson is broken into clear steps. Each step takes you to the next logical place in the lesson. The assessments are all done for you. All you have to do is follow the steps.

The lessons also allow you to assign a code to join the lesson. Then you email the code to the students, and they join a lesson using a Google account. So there can be online and long distance collaboration.

Another great feature is that the lessons allow you to customize them. You can add tasks, videos, and all kinds of fun stuff. I added some extra ranking tasks and videos to the “Animal communities” lesson. It was easy to do, and I got to add some specialized information about the animals my child likes best.

Making your own lessons

Once you have downloaded a lesson, it is easy to create your own. You simply click on the “create a lesson” tab. You can pick between starting from scratch and starting based on one the community already has. I started one from scratch. It is a very easy interface to drag and drop everything.

It certainly makes organizing my own thoughts easier, and it is simpler and allows for more “stuff” than simply typing out a lesson in MS Word and creating my own worksheets. I can add videos to watch, clips to listen to, and all manner of web-related activities. It also lets me put the lesson into steps – so I can do that all online rather than having to mark it out in the MS Word document.

It’s a very easy interface to use, and is much simpler than making a long list of websites to visit and videos to view while typing a lesson plan out.

My favorite part

So you might be asking what my favorite part of the whole thing was? It is that things are grouped clearly and the outline are already done. The lessons are customizable. But the outline of the lesson – and really the whole lesson if you want – is already done. I just like to make each lesson “mine” by adding something here or there – and that was really easy to do.

The only problem is…..

The problem is that some of the lessons require “golden tickets.” The golden tickets are used for the premium lessons, and there’s nothing that I can tell about why some lessons are premium and some are not.


Overall it’s a good website. It doesn’t have a lot of the younger kid stuff- there’s no preschool or basic letters/words anywhere. But it does have a plethora of older kid stuff. I love it for practicing math – there are so many examples that are based on multiplication but aren’t simply answering multiplication facts. It’s great because the kids think they are solving sports problems, but they are doing multiplication.

I’d definitely sign up for their basic service. The basic service – if you go now – can be as low as $4/month. Considering how much is already done for you, and how many lessons there are on the site, I’d be willing to spend the money to be a basic member. I don’t know about access for the premium lessons – there’s not a real good way to preview them so I can see if I’d like them. But for all the basics – absolutely.


Caveat – I did receive a one-year subscription in exchange for this review.

Free play: 7 skills you can learn with play dough

play dough as a learning tool

Abby and her play dough cakes.

Sometimes the best playtime is free time.

I’m working really hard this summer to let the kids have free time every day. Today that turned in play dough (and a huge mess).

I admit, I use the commercial play dough. Not because it’s cheaper – but because it’s already made. Plus I already have a ton and don’t feel like making any. It’s a mess to make, as well as a mess to clean up. Since I already have it made, when I use that it’s only half the mess (just the clean up mess, not the making mess). And it comes in really great colors. Bright, vibrant colors.

So they kids pulled out the play dough bin and got to work.

Here’s the 7 skills they learned and worked on with play dough:

  • Cooperation (they had to share the tools and the play dough)
  • Creativity and Art (you should see the things they come up with)
  • Physics (how high can you build something before it topples)
  • Sharing
  • Fine motor skills (cutting it with scissors)
  • Gross motor skills (making balls and rolling them on the floor)
  • Cleaning skills (they made the mess, they can help fix it).


It’s a messy free play activity – or it can be messy. With my kids it is certainly messy. But if you make them help you clean up, it reinforces some good habits (and gives you help cleaning).

Free play also allows the kids to express themselves. I got about 10 birthday cakes, 2 castles, 3 cars, and a whole host of animals (none of which I recognized and used the universal “ah, that’s nice” comment).

What was best about the whole thing is that the kids played together. I could hear the scuffles they had. But I sat in the kitchen, cleaning dishes, and refused to interfere. They made it through the scuffles with some serious negotiating skills (Abby got the pink play dough in return for giving Nicholas the knife and roller she was using).

Best of all, they worked all kinds of skills and had a bunch of fun without me having to “lead” them in any activity.

Happy summer!!!

Toddler Tuesday: The race track and numbers.

Learning math is fun for young kids when the learning is play.

Learning math can be fun. It is important – especially for the younger kids – that the learning they do be more fun than anything else. Otherwise, they will lose their love for learning because they will equate learning with work.

race tracks can be used to learn math.

We labeled the race track with two numbers. This version has 1 and 2. We also did 2 and 4, 7 and 8, 9 and 3.

We have been having a little trouble with learning numbers – well recognizing numbers. Abby can count to ten – accurately – with objects and her fingers. She can identify the number 1 and zero. She can write her numbers, if an example is placed before her (and she is using her purple pencil, otherwise all bets are off).

What she’s not good at is being shown a number and knowing what number it is. This is true for all numbers except 1 and zero.

So today we had a spare bit of time and I thought we would play with numbers for her – just a bit. As an added but of fun, she got to boss her brother around in this “lesson.”

First I made the race track. It’s a piece of shelving we aren’t currently using and some electrical tape. I ran a tape down the middle. Then  I put numbers with tape in the top two boxes (you can see the number one, but not the two, in the picture). We used the following sets of numbers:

  • 1 and 2
  • 2 and 4
  • 7 and 8
  • 9 and 3


I would’ve done more but it ran into dinner time. I was hungry even if the kids pretended they weren’t.

Abby told Nicholas which cars to put in which slot. She actually went into the toy bins and got a ton of cars out so she could have different colored cars each time (I made her tell me the colors of the cars too – just to make sure she was getting a good review). Then she had to tell Nicholas which car went into which lane.

I had to make sure Nicholas would only listen to her when she gave a number, not just pointed – and that was the hardest part of the lesson. He got the idea after a time or two, and she was forced to actually say the numbers.

I changed the number sets pretty often. I wanted to make sure she didn’t get to comfortable. We’d do about 5 races with one set of numbers, then switch. Then switch back, but put the numbers on the opposite sides of the track.

Abby was forced to recognize the numbers properly in order to get the cars going where she wanted them to go. She also got to be the “race starter” and call out “go!” Nicholas thought it was great fun to try and guess which one would win based on their velocity (mass times acceleration – and generally the heavier car won).

That was our number lesson for the day. It was a fun bit of inside play, since the weather wasn’t great, and it also covered a lesson without either of them realizing that they were doing school work.

After all, play is the best way to learn.

I’m back!!!!!

It turns out the move was a lot more
stressful than I imagined. I needed to take a break from blogging while finishing the packing and doing the unpacking.

But now we are unpacked (mostly) here in Santa Barbara and enjoying life.

So I’m coming back to blogging.

I’m hoping to spend some time this summer finishing the online Civics curriculum and putting together a whole Civics book for homeschoolers. I’m also hoping to get the whole Civics curriculum onto the Teachers Pay Teachers website.

There are other goals too. I need to review my Calculus so I can stay ahead of my 6 year old. And practice German so we don’t lose all the skills we gained over the last year.

That’s all for now from sunny Santa Barbara.


%d bloggers like this: