Friday, February 27, 2015

Dino Math Tracks Game: a review

Rose and I just started a new math program - we are trying out Miquon. So far it is going great, but I'm going to give it a few weeks before forming any opinion on it. After we finished Math Mammoth 1a, and while we waited for Miquon to arrive, we spent a lot of time playing Dino Math Tracks. I got this game way back when Grace was a kindergartner and it is just as popular with Rose as it was with her older siblings. This game is designed to teach place value skills and it does an awesome job of it. Before we started playing, Rose really did not understand place value at all and she had a hard time reading numbers over two digits. One of the reasons I did not like Math Mammoth for her is that it just wasn't giving her a good sense of number value; she found any discussion of place value super confusing. After we played Dino Math Tracks twice, she could easily read a 4-digit number and she understood what each number really stood for. Pretty impressive stuff!


As you can see, the Dino Math Tracks board is brightly colored and covered in...dino tracks!  Each player (there can be up to four) chooses a dino herd to play with. There are three different dino herds, plus a herd of woolly mammoth. Each of the four herd members is a different color to match the track they will follow on the board.  Your 1000th place dino is blue and follows the blue tracks, your 100th place dino is purple and follows the purple tracks, and so forth. The object is to get all your dinos to the finish line first.


On your turn, you roll four dice and line them up on the little place value chart in front of you. The dice can be arranged in any order you wish - their order determines how many each dino will move. The 1000th place dino would move six on this turn! I always ask Rose to read the number she has made out loud.

I really love the dino playing pieces. They are so cute and colorful! They are made of a kind of rubbery material and have a nice feel to them. 

This is a game of strategy too, since you choose the 4-digit number to make.  I had to help Rose with her strategy the first couple of games, showing her how she could put a bigger number in the 10's spot if that dino was lagging behind, but she caught on quickly.  When two dinos end up on the same space they have a showdown, which involves rolling a special green die to see who gets the higher number. A little extra math practice!

There are several options given to make the game easier or harder. To make it easier, you can play with just the ones or the ones and the tens.  You can up the challenge by adding in the math problem cards, which ask you to solve addition and subtraction problems.  We haven't tried those yet, but I am sure we will when she is ready.

The only downside I have found to this game is that the board is pretty compact, so if more than two people play it gets crowded. But that doesn't stop her older brothers from asking to join in. We are still playing Sum Swamp, but Dino Math Tracks is definitely the new favorite math game around here.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

more than halfway

Most of my kiddos hit week 21 of our 36-week year this week. They are behind in some things, ahead in others, but on average week 21 is the week we are working on. This is the first year that I planned most subjects out week-by-week and it has been really great. It took some time over the summer to set up, but it will take even less time this summer since I am used to doing it. Having that plan in place has saved me so much time this year, plus it helps keep me on track when I am tempted to slack off. Basically, I just set up a spreadsheet with a row for each week and plugged in lesson numbers for math, writing, grammar, logic....whatever I hoped we would accomplish each week. I also plugged in Book Shark weeks, which don't match up with the week we are currently working on because, except for Rose, we didn't start with week 1 of Book Shark at the start of the year. Months ago I said that I would do a post on how I set up our 36-week plan, but I haven't gotten around to it yet. Soon!

I updated our curriculum page to better reflect what we are actually doing. I was surprised to find that very few updates were needed because we have not had to drop or change a lot of things.

A few mid-year updates....

Rose (6): We dropped Song School Latin shortly before the holidays, because she wasn't very interested. She has been asking about it lately so we may start again, but it isn't a priority right now. The only other changes we have made are in the math department. Rightstart B was just not working for her (too  many bits and pieces), so I switched her to Math Mammoth. We finished MM 1A, then I decided to try MiquonMM just wasn't too interesting for either of us and she wasn't getting any of that strong "math sense" that I think my other three picked up from Rightstart. I have high hopes for Miquon and will definitely do a blog post on it once we've had a chance to get acquainted with the program. She is flying through Bookshark K, because the readings are light and she always wants to do more. I think we will finish with that by the end of March. 

James (9): He finished up Math Mammoth 4a, then switched to Teaching Textbooks 5. Math has been a bit of a struggle for him this year. He did okay with Math Mammoth, as far as comprehension goes, but he definitely wasn't enjoying math. I probably would have stuck with MM, but we already had TT5 and I suspected he would do just fine with it.  He has done 10 lessons so far and he wants to do math first every day, which is a bit of a shocker.  We stopped Life of Fred for awhile because the division chapter was confusing to him. We will pick the series back up once he covers long division in TT. He finished up the level of Dr. Funster's that he was working on, but I don't plan on having him do any more logic this year.

Christopher (12): He started out the year doing  "science kit science" a la The Well-Trained Mind, but he missed reading science books and I had trouble finding good kits for his age. We tried the Young Scientist kits but were not impressed at all. Plus science kits are just plain expensive for what you get! I ordered Book Shark Science 5 for him (the equivalent of Sonlight Science F) and he has been enjoying that. He likes having the books to pore over and the illustrations to study and it is a fairly easy science to implement. I am hoping that Book Shark will release the next science level in time for him to use it next year.  Life of Fred: Fractions was getting too confusing for him, so we dropped it for awhile. He is still doing Teaching Textbooks 6

Grace (14): We haven't changed anything so far. She finished Greek Code Cracker and started Galore Park's Greek and she is doing fine with that. She also finished Latin for Children B and has moved onto  Latin Alive. She is doing well with both; thankfully she has taken on the job of learning these languages entirely by herself, because I am totally clueless!

And I think that is it as far as changes and updates so far!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Monday Musings

Thoughts for the week of February 23rd....

Thinking about

Right now, I'm thinking about how I'm going to get through another week of super-cold temperatures and still-sick kids. It was a rough week last week and this week looks like more of the same. But I think I have complained enough about February. The first of March is fast approaching and we are all very much looking forward to it.  I think we all just need a change of scenery, badly. 

Plans for this week

We have our usual line-up, for whoever is well enough to go out! I have been reading some of Susan Wise Bauer's stuff on self-education lately and feeling really inspired by it. Last week I sat down and spent 20 minutes a day working through Teaching Textbooks on my own. This week I hope to do the same. I started with Level 6, because that's what we have. Math is not my strong point, so I hope to just do a quick review of fractions and decimals, then try my hand at algebra. Not sure yet how I'll go about that.  I  picked up How to Read a Book at the library and I want to spend a few minutes each day going through it. At least that is the plan.

Homeschool notes

Grace is going double up on Bookshark readings for awhile because they have been a bit light for her. I tried to convince her that we should get a higher level Sonlight Core for her to work through, but even though the books are too easy, she doesn't want to skip ahead. So she's going to double up days and see how that goes. Rose's new math arrived - we are going to be trying out Miquon this week and she is very excited about the Cuisenaire rods. I had to open them over the weekend for her to play with, because she just could not wait.  Hopefully this enthusiasm will last!

Around the house

I got some little fake candles (battery-operated) for my birthday and they are so fun. At first I thought, what on earth will I do with these? But then I stuck one in the middle of the Clue board while we were playing....instant ambiance with no risk of setting sleeves on fire. I also brought one up to bed with me to put on my nightstand while I read. Fun. Lots of games, lots of crosswords, lots of movies, lots of refilling drinks, taking temperatures, opening up new boxes of tissues....that's pretty much what's going on around here. 

Out of doors

It looks like there will be only one day, maybe two, this week that will be okay to do something outdoors for any length of time. So I think outdoor time will be the top agenda item for those days. James had an assignment last week to do some nature photo-journaling and all of the outdoor photos in this post are by him. He greatly enjoyed himself and I ended up sending Christopher out to take his own batch of photos because he was jealous. 

In the kitchen

We made Chinese for Chinese New Year, which reminded me why we usually do Chinese as take-out! It is a lot of work to make just a few dishes and the mess afterwards is a bit daunting. At least it made enough for two meals, which is always a plus. This will be our second week of using our new meal rotation plan and it was such a relief to make a grocery list without also having to decide what we were going to eat!

Watching & reading

With the kids, we watched two IMAX films: one about the rainforest and one about the Hubble. For movie night we watched the pilot movie of Little House on the Prairie, which Rose loved (I did too!). I think watching the rest of that series will keep us busy for quite awhile. Without the kids, we watched The Red Violin, which was very good. 

 Reading-wise, I read through Dinner: A Love Story, but did not like it nearly as much as I thought I would. I was pretty annoyed with her suggestion that kids under three should eat separately to make things simpler.  That just turned me off on the book right away, because what kind of family table is that? The overall tone of the book was just kind of snobby/pretentious and really not my style at all. Now I am reading
 Eat, Pray, Love, which I am enjoying much more.

Have a wonderful week!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

february projects

This month we have been staying home (and inside) far more often than we normally do. Sometimes our plans are canceled due to snow, sometimes our plans are canceled due to extreme cold, and now our plans are being canceled because we are passing around a virus. This is what February is all about! I tell the kids. You need to hunker down and get through it, and it isn't always easy!

Cabin fever has definitely arrived.

On the bright side, we have had time to do a few extra projects around the house. We set up a new game closet in the living room, which I forgot to take pictures of. I have been working on plans for our trip this spring and re-doing our chore charts. Also....

Rose and I made truffles one day. We got the recipe from Mommy and Me Start Cooking, a new book we found at the library. This child loves chocolate, so the truffles were the very first thing she picked to make. The chocolate mixture was a little hard to work with, so we could not get them very round.  I think we will try a different recipe next time, but they tasted great. We did them up with Valentine sprinkles. 

I had the kids help me make up a dinner plan rotation. I found this cute printable to help, then we just brainstormed easy things everyone likes and filled in the spaces. We printed two of these and have about eight weeks filled in so far. Someday I hope to do a separate post on this!

 We participated in three of the four days for the The Great Backyard Bird Count, which I thought was pretty good. We didn't get any terribly exciting birds this year, just our usual line-up of chickadees, a nuthatch, tufted titmice, cardinals, juncos, and a woodpecker. We had fun though! Now we just need to submit our results.

For Valentine's Day we made some pretty marshmallow treats. These are so easy and great for any holiday. To make them, just melt chocolate chips, swirl the top of the marshmallow in the melted chocolate, add sprinkles and/or colored sugar, and let them set.

Naturally, we had to get conversation hearts for the holiday. I even went out and got more, because one bag was apparently just not enough. These were a great amusement over the long snowy weekend when Rose was too sick to go out anywhere. Poking through the pile, reading them, giving each other funny ones, stacking them, eating's amazing how a simple thing can brighten a dreary day.

And of course, our biggest project lately is keeping warm! Which isn't easy when this is what your thermometer says in the morning.  I am not sure what the 54 degrees up top is all about, I am pretty sure it was not that cold in the house. But the -6F on the bottom was definitely accurate.

My next big project is homeschool planning for next year. Seems like just yesterday I was planning for this year. Fortunately I love doing it, so I am really looking forward to getting started over this next stretch of snowy, sick days: I have one more down with a fever as of this afternoon and we have more snow on the way!

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Complete Book of Animals: a little review


Rose and I are doing  Well-Trained Mind-style science this year, her first grade year. Have I mentioned this is my last time teaching first grade? I might cry if I think about that too much. Anyway, we started the year with a fun human body study, and now we have moved onto animals. For our spine, I chose The Complete Book of Animals. On my curriculum page, I said we were also going to use the Kingfisher First Animal Encyclopedia, but The Complete Book is just so complete (ha ha) that we are using it all by itself.

How the book is set upThe Complete Book of Animals is an encyclopedia, workbook, and activity book all in one. It is by no means an exhaustive survey of the animal world, but it includes most of the animals kids would be interested in learning about, plus a few that were new to us.  There are sections for Arctic animals, Central & South American animals, African animals, and so on. Other sections include insects, reptiles, farm animals, pets, and animals that live in the water. There is also a section on science and animals which includes information on classification, the life cycle of a frog, animal adaptations, and other basic stuff. The book wraps up with a "facts and fun" section, including a board game you can cut out and play.

What's included: Each section has a good variety of activities in it. There is a separate page for each animal, with a colored drawing and a paragraph or two of interesting information. The writing style is more encyclopedic than literary, but Rose enjoys reading facts, so it works well for us. After the text comes the "Think and Learn" section, consisting of three or four questions about the reading. A line is provided for the child's answer and at least a couple of the questions are fill-in-the blank or one word answers. We do the questions orally and I think  they help her to pull out important information from our reading.  Every few pages there is a little activity to do....things like word searches, coloring pages, pull out storybooks, dot-to-dots, and hidden pictures. Rose enjoys doing most of them; we skip any she doesn't feel like doing.

How we do it...We generally cover 7-8 pages of the book, two times a week.  We read about the animal, discuss what she remembers, then read about the next animal. We usually spend about 20 minutes reading, discussing, and doing activity pages. This book lends itself well to practicing narration skills because the readings are so short. After we read I have her choose one of the animals and tell me what she remembers. I write her narration down and we file it in her science binder. We do a narration about once a week.

To me, this feels like plenty of science reading and we don't usually add anything to it. The Complete Book is certainly a no-frills program, but it is cheap, nicely laid out, and Rose enjoys it, so it is a win around here. Plus, this year, I really wanted no-frills! The only thing missing are experiments, but she generally participates in her siblings' science experiments and sometimes we work on a Magic School Bus science kit.  I think we will cover most of this book in the next few weeks, then end our year with a short plant study. Assuming spring ever arrives that is!