Our Favorite Educational Apps (Part One)

stack

I have to admit, it is so much easier to homeschool today than ever before.  Not only do we have literally millions of pages of free resources, information and support online thanks to the internet, but we have educational apps that we can get for next to nothing (or nothing at all) so kids can learn while playing — anywhere they are.

Our kids got Kindles for Christmas a couple of years ago when they went on sale for $35 each on Black Friday.  We also have an iPad that I bought used for a great price and some of the kids have iPods they bought with saved up allowances.  So they have a plethora of ways to use apps and things to use them on.

I figured I would start compiling lists of our family’s favorites, with about 5 each time.  I think most of them are available for either Apple or Android devices, but some may be for one or the other. Some are free, and those that aren’t generally have a free trial version.

Here are some of our favorite educational apps.

  • Dragonbox:  We’ve loved this algebra-based game since it was first released, and now they’ve added to their arsenal with a more advanced game and a science version.  This is the priciest app we’ve purchased (around $5 to $8 for different games) but I consider it worth it since the kids enjoy it so much and honestly understand the concepts related to algebra and such through using it. (Elementary and Middle School)
  • Rocket Math:  Alex loved this game since he was a preschooler and now Fiona loves it, too.  Kids design their own rockets but must do math to earn the money to get the parts to fly it.  There are different kinds of math and it’s fun to play. I believe there’s a short, free version but we paid .99 for the full version.  (Preschool, Elementary)
  • PBS Kids:  Fiona likes to watch her favorite PBS children’s shows on my iPad using the app.  She likes to come into my room while I’m working online and bring the iPad so she can lie on the bed and keep me company while watching it.  I believe it comes with games, too, but she mainly uses it to view programs.  Honestly, I don’t consider it terribly educational but she enjoys it and it does teach some basic concepts and character traits. It is free.  (Preschool, Early Elementary)
  • Stack the States:  All of our kids love this little geography game, even the teenagers.  They learn U.S. geography and go back to play again and again.  We also have Stack the Countries, which got Rhia on a kick to memorize all of the capitols of the world a couple of years ago.  There are free versions but it’s well worth the dollar or so for the full version. (Elementary, Middle School)
  • Kindle:  We have the Kindle app on all of our devices and it is such a help for homeschooling.  All of the kids have downloaded free e-books — everything from educational picture books to chapter books to Shakespeare and more.  Daryl is now subscribed to the Kindle Unlimited reading program (affiliate link) so the kids are, too (they’re connected to his Amazon account), so now they can read over a million books and magazines for free on their devices.  (Speaking of which, I created a Homeschooling with Kindle Unlimited Facebook page for other homeschoolers who use KU, where I post books that are free to read in the program.)

There’s a start, and I’ll try to add more lists in the next couple of weeks!  I know there are so many that the kids really enjoy.

Now I have to cuddle a little girl who’s fighting off the flu, make up another batch of elderberry syrup, and get ready for the daily construction stampede.

What are your family’s favorite apps, if you use them?  Please add them in the comments!

Homeschooling Through Construction Mayhem

There’s been a little more mayhem than usual in our homeschool the past few weeks.  We’re having extensive home repairs done on all four floors of our house (main floor, second floor, attic and basement).

This is what our back porch looked like last week after they ripped out the floor, walls, insulation and ceiling.

porch

To say it’s been hectic is an understatement.

While it will be so worth it in the end, it’s been pretty exhausting — especially since we had just one day notice that they’d be starting on the renovations since we set it all up early last summer!

The construction crew knows we homeschool (of course) and I’m pretty sure they think that involves nothing at all (!) since we’re not doing anything remotely traditional while they’re here.  After all, they’re ripping up floors, walls, counters, windows, you name it, and it’s not like we could just pile into the kitchen to do science experiments and lapbooks all day or read quietly through the hammering and drilling!

Nonetheless, we’ve still managed to learn and play through the chaos.

Here are ten ways we’ve learned and played during the construction.

1. Alex and I have been playing Timeline on the new living room floor.  We have three sets of this fantastic little history card game (Discoveries, Inventions and Historical Events) and love them all.  The other kids have been joining in some of the games too (Rhia even played a few rounds with her college friend one night!).  Not only is it great for putting historical events in perspective to each other, but it’s led to all kinds of great conversations on everything from pulsars to Darwin and Lincoln (they were born the same day of the same year, as you may know).

Pressure cookers are way older than I realized. #timeline #history #homeschooling #handsonlearning #educationalgames

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2. We’ve been reading lots of library books.  Winter is always the time to hit up the library extra often and it’s a good place to escape to when the chaos is too loud, too.

3. The boys have been playing Dragonbox for algebra.  It’s been a while since the kids played it so I loaded it up on Jack and Alex’s Kindles and had them do a little every day.  I’m planning on getting the higher level one (Dragonbox 12+) for Jack once he finishes the original version, too.  The nice thing about educational apps is that kids can just hole up in a room somewhere or just take them in the car with them and use them anywhere.

4.  Fiona, Alex and I have been playing Wildcraft. It’s a wonderful game that I finally broke down and bought last year after coveting it for years.  I love that it’s cooperative and that it teaches so much about helpful plants.  All players work together to get to the top of a mountain and gather huckleberries for a pie for grandma.  Along the way, they run into various maladies (sunburn, insect bite, hunger, sprained ankle, etc.) and they see if they have any of the plants that can help the ailment (jewelweed, field mint, plantain, echinacea, etc.).  If they don’t, one of their teammates can help them if they have a cooperation card, or they can use cooperation cards to pull the player who’s farthest behind up to their space.  It’s a bit like a nature studies “Candy Land” — except everybody works together and it teaches you.  🙂  It’s also just plain pretty!  Fiona especially loves the game and asks to play it constantly.

wild-craft

5. Daryl has been taking the kids hiking and longboarding at the nearby state park.  The weather has been strangely warm for February for Minnesota (we had rain last week!) so they’ve been taking advantage of it to get some much-needed fresh air, sunshine and exercise — and of course, some nature studies!

6. I’ve been teaching the older kids about Kindle publishing.  Now that I’ve published my first Kindle book, it doesn’t seem so overwhelming and I’ve realized what a great tool it could be for the kids to share some of their knowledge and passions.  I told Toria that I would love to see her publish a “Hard Core Nature Studies” book because she has taught herself so much cool stuff about hands-on projects for serious science and nature lovers (like how to whiten bones), for instance.

Shameless plug…. Speaking of my book, it’s free to read if you subscribe to Kindle Unlimited.  Otherwise, it’s $2.99.  There are 52 nature study projects, broken down so there is one a week for all four seasons.  Most of the projects are ones that we’ve done many times in our own homeschool over the years, including lots of our favorites.

naturestudiescover

7. Alex is on a spelling kick.  With all of my kids, spelling was one of the last things to kick in naturally — well after they were reading very well.  Alex was no different, and it was to the point where I cringed when I saw his spelling even though we did play spelling games, talk about spelling rules and activities like that.  As with all of the kids, though, it did finally click and he found his own way to learn to love it and excel at it.

In his case, his spelling suddenly skyrocketed because of two things — texting friends and spelling everything he says to me.  He now communicates half the time by spelling his questions and sentences to me.  It drives the other kids a little crazy, but he jumped a good 2 grade levels in spelling the past month just through these two habits.

(It should also be noted that the two friends that my 9 year-old boy texts the most often are a 9 year-old girl who lives a block away and a middle-aged world-traveled lawyer from Beverly Hills who lives next door to us.  The neighbor has become a close friend to our whole family since she moved in last spring, and it makes me smile that Alex texts her regularly to check in on things.  🙂  I love that homeschooling means that “socialization” occurs with all ages and all types of people, instead of kids growing up segregated into grade-level groups of like-minded peers.  I also love that it often means that kids have no concern about gender or age when choosing friends.)

8. I’ve put on lots of educational TV.  I love having You-Tube, Netflix and Hulu because it means there’s always something entertaining and educational to occupy the kids when things get hectic.  The younger kids particularly like Maths Mansion, which we watch on You-Tube.  It’s the weirdest children’s show I’ve ever seen but it’s oddly hilarious and even the big kids watch it because it’s just so bizarre. It’s a very surreal British show that I read about a while back on another homeschool blog.  It features a villain who traps children in a spooky house and makes them do math to escape and a nice (but ridiculous) guy who teaches the kids the math concepts.  The villain also accosts random real life people on the streets to ask them strange math questions.  🙂  It’s really odd but we like it!  It covers some pretty advanced math for a children’s show, too, and gives the kids problems to solve at the end of each show.  They’ve also been watching Myth Busters, National Geographic documentaries and various other programs.

9. We’ve been dragging out various books in spare moments to learn American history, algebra, science and more.  One of the nice things about having a massive library amassed from thrift stores and the occasional Scholastic book splurge is that we have wonderful books to teach about everything from how gravity works to rocks and minerals.  Today, I grabbed a Scholastic book about “everything you need to know about American history for homework” and we read through the section on the French and Indian war.  Alex figured out how many years ago it started and we read through the causes and results (pretty monumental).  Earlier in the day, I read a picture book with Fiona and Alex about how gravity works (and then added to it since it didn’t do much of a job of explaining it).  A couple of days ago, I went through a college-level “algebra for dummies” book with Jack upstairs when they were tearing up the living room.  These books give us small doses of pretty rigorous information and discussions that we often continue later.

10. Of course, the kids are learning all about construction, electricity, plumbing and renovation work.  I can’t possibly name all the things the kids have learned from the workers and the work they’ve done the past couple of weeks.  When the foreman found out we had an older type of wiring called knob and tube wiring in the attic, he explained how electricity passed through it as opposed to modern systems and what the risks were.

Knob and tube wiring gets its name from the ceramic knobs used to hold wires in place and ceramic tubes that act as protective casings for wires running through wall studs or floor joists. Instead of the three wires found in modern electrical installations, knob and tube wiring has only two — a black (hot) wire and a white (neutral) wire. This means there is no ground wire in the system for excess charge or in the event of a short.

The kids have also watched how counters are replaced, how all kinds of power tools are used, how various kinds of flooring are laid, how a frame is built for a bathtub and shower, and tons more.  Toria talked to the foreman about how many boxes of flooring they’d need for her to do our hallway later on, figuring out square footage for the hallway and factoring in how many square feet are in each box (and figuring the cost).  They’ve learned about plumbing lines, material costs, housing codes and oodles more.

And yes, it’s going to be so worth it when it’s over. Here’s a picture of Fiona practicing drawing and writing on our living room floor last summer.  We had pulled up the big area rug thinking they were going to start on the renovations soon (the original completion date was supposed to be in August!), so we were looking at this floor for about 7 months!

More reading and writing, as requested by Fiona. #homepreschool #handsonlearning #homeschooling #summerdays

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Here’s a picture of Fiona meditating on our new living room floor last week.

fififloor

It’s a happy sort of chaos, then, and one we are grateful for!

This was just another example of how well homeschooling can work so well around life.

We have homeschooled through getting snowed in while visiting other cities, making trips to take care of my ailing grandmother, vacations, new babies, Toria’s cancer, Daryl’s hip replacement and all kinds of other challenges.  I am so grateful that with homeschooling, school can so easily fit around life, instead of life having to fit around school.

But boy will I be glad when the construction is finished.  🙂

~ ~ ~

(This post contains affiliate links.  Purchases made through these links earn us a small commission at no extra cost to you.  If you do, thanks!)

10 Ways We’ve Learned and Played Lately

We’re 2 weeks into 2017 and hanging in there.  I had a birthday a week ago and Rhia has a birthday next week.  She’s turning 17 (how did that happen?) and I won’t tell you what age I turned.  😉

birthdayselfie

(Yes, our kitchen ceiling is completely covered with the children’s art!)

We had some more sadness, as my grandmother died right before the new year.  She was 93 and impatient to move on to her next adventure, but that doesn’t make it easier.  I am very glad that we made so many trips to Ohio for the kids to really get to know her, especially this year (3 trips in 6 months).

That doesn’t mean homeschooling was happening, though.  Or magical moments.  Here’s a bit of what we’ve been up to lately.

  1. Daryl has been doing “Teach Your Monster to Read” with Fiona just about every day.  She is beginning to get the hang of how phonics and words work, and she enjoys it.
  2. I got out an old science kit that I found at a thrift store years back, dusted it off, and started doing science experiments with Alex.  It contains a hand-held scope and lots of gadgets and chemicals.  We did things like examined different cloths under the scope, compared types of salt under magnification (black lava salt just looks dirty!) and did some simple experiments.  We’re going to try to finally start putting it to regular use.
  3. Daryl is acting in a winter play.  He has the lead in a community theater production in Worthington.  It’s a comedy and he plays a detective.  Rhia goes with him to rehearsals and all of the kids help him run his lines.
  4. Toria is working on getting our family Etsy store running.  She has some beautiful glass fox pendants that I got her for her birthday as a start to her own business (I purchased a large assortment wholesale for her to sell).  We are planning to sell a variety of things out of a family store.  Rhia creates elaborate zentangle-like artwork that she’d like to list and I have been creating magical homeschool sort of printables (such as colorful cards of hands-on ways to do all different subjects).  It has been a fun learning experience for all of us so far. Toria is taking pictures this week and then we should be able to finish creating the storefront.
  5. Rhia has been writing songs.  She is very talented on the guitar and writes amazing songs.  She wrote one last week that is quite feminist, and wrote another for a friend who needed cheering up.  She also has been learning how to cover other songs on the guitar.  Daryl and I heard a song I really liked during “Listen to Your Folks” on campus radio last week (Painting Houses) and she and Daryl learned to play it and performed it for me.
  6. I wrote a Kindle book.  I decided that it was time to start writing about the things that I am passionate about again, and that I finally needed to learn how to write Kindle books and give it a try.  There’s a steep learning curve but I got my first book written.  It is part of a series I’d like to write under the umbrella of “A Magical Homeschool.”  This one is A Magical Homeschool:  Nature Studies (52 Wonderful ways to use nature studies for science, math, art and more).  I am working on the cover today.
  7. Rhia is learning Spanish.  She has started doing Duolingo and has progressed quite far already.  Toria has been using Duolingo to master German for years, and Daryl does the free language app daily in German, French, Spanish, Norwegian and Swedish.
  8. Jack has been running D&D games for Alex.  This role playing game involves creating a world, drawing out maps, storytelling and running the game to create the adventure as the players go along.  Players roll dice to determine the outcome of decisions, battles, etc. and use miniatures to represent the players and the world.
  9. Alex, Fiona and I played a US states geography board game.  It involves drawing cards of states that you need to travel to and then answering questions about the states to move across the board and try to reach your state.  Once you visit all four of the states you’ve drawn (driving across the country in your car token), you win. A friend lent it to us and Alex really enjoys it.  Fiona doesn’t have to answer the questions.  We just let her roll the dice and travel across the country, and she is still picking up geography from the states she “visits.”
  10. Daryl and the kids have been shooting winter footage for a movie.  Daryl has a friend making a movie down south and she needs to incorporate footage of winter memories for the characters, who are supposed to be in Montana.  They have been shooting footage of snowy scenes and of the kids running in the snow and so on.  Daryl, Toria, Jack and Rhia have all shot footage, and Alex and Rhia have been in some of the scenes.

Of course, we’re doing all the usual homeschool stuff too — reading books, playing games, texting, blogging, using educational apps and shows, nature studies, cooking, chores, math pages and so on.

And now, I’m off to work on that cover and pretend I’m going to get housework done.

Okay, really try to at least get a little housework done….

Have a magical week!

Pre-reading Fun

Fiona has asked me to help her learn to read and since she’ll be turning 5 in the fall, I know that it will all start clicking for her in the next year or so.  We don’t use a formal reading curriculum to teach the kids to read.  With all of the older four, we just did lots of reading readiness in the form of reading together, playing letter games, having fun with phonics, doing early writing, and so on.

I found a fish puppet in the broom closet the other day as I was trying to reorganize.  Of course, there was a fish puppet in our broom closet!  🙂  I had also picked up a bag of assorted decks of kids’ games at a thrift store that week, and there happened to be a deck of letter cards in there.  Voila!  A pre-reading game came together!

I posted a pic online and on the Magical Homeschool page, if you want to peek.

Today's reading practice. Fiona has asked me to do more all day. I just made a game of feeding letter cards to a fish puppet I found to help him spell words. We also are spelling words with the cards and she wanted to write the words.

Today’s reading practice. Fiona has asked me to do more all day. I just made a game of feeding letter cards to a fish puppet I found to help him spell words. We also are spelling words with the cards and she wanted to write the words.

I explained:

Here’s how we play games to help learn reading. This particular one involved a puppet I happened to find in a closet as I was cleaning. I had some letter flash cards so I made a game with Fiona where the fish puppet would ask in a silly voice for her to feed him things that started with each letter. She’d have to find the letter and then he’d gobble it. Then we moved on to spelling words for him, such as HI. She ran and got her colored pencils and paper and wanted to copy the words, so she wrote simple words such as HI, MOON and CAT that we “fed” to the fish. We also used the cards to change words, such as changing MOON to SOON by moving one letter.

I was going to post more, but my noisy crowd (well, those who aren’t off at the ocean) just got back from pageant rehearsal and mayhem has once again ensued.

I have promised Fiona that we will continue to do some sort of reading fun together just about every day.  I’ll keep updating here with a peek at what we do.

 

 

5 Nontraditional ways we’ve learned math this week

I just found this post in a window of my computer, unfinished, from last week.  Since I wrote this we’ve been to Cincinnati and back, and have done all sorts of other learning.  That’s another post, though!  🙂 

darts_

You know we’re never very traditional, and that includes math.  The kids do some math through more conventional means like Khan Academy, Prodigy (a free site that uses Pokemon-style games to teach math concepts) and worksheets, but they also do it in all kinds of not-so-typical ways.  Here are a few that we’ve done this week:

  1. Playing darts:  We got an electronic dart board at a thrift store a couple of months ago and it’s been a great source of fun.  We typically play 301.  You take turns tossing three darts at a time trying to get down to 0 from 301 points.  Once you get near zero, if you go over, you bust and your turn is over.  You can hit any number between 1 and 20, bulls eye (25) or double bulls eye (50), plus you can get doubles or triples of 1-20.  The kids are constantly figuring out what numbers they (or we) need to get exactly the points they have left.  For instance, if they are down to 51, they’ll call out “Triple 17!”.  Then if someone hits another number instead, they’ll figure out what combinations of darts they can use to still get zero that round from the new number.  They’re good at figuring out if there are doubles or triples of anything to get a necessary number, and also of recognizing prime numbers that mean it’s impossible to get to zero that round.
  2. Mad scientist math:  We’ve been doing this for years and did it again in the car yesterday on the way to Mankato.  Daryl and I took turns asking the kids weird mad scientist questions (If a mad scientist made cats that had 5 legs and 3 tails each, how many more tails and legs would 3 of his cats have compared to regular cats?) and other oddball questions.  Daryl asked Jack a tricky question about battling a hydra — if every time you cut off one of its heads it grows two back, how many heads will it have after x many times you’ve chopped its heads off?  We also did lots of Vikings football player volume ones (how many can you fit in a swimming pool and such, like these at Magical Homeschool).  The kids love them and they really get them thinking about complex math.
  3. Foraging:  You know we do a lot of foraging as a family and math even comes into play there.  Daryl and the kids gather asparagus just about every day in May and they always weigh it (along with everything else we forage) to keep a running total of our harvests on the fridge.  The kids tend to hold the bag and estimate the weight before weighing it on the kitchen scale.  They’re getting very good at estimating weights.  Then they add that total on to the last tally.  (In case you’re curious, we’re at just over 25 pounds now and here’s how we find wild asparagus in different seasons).  Also foraged so far in May — morels, pheasant back mushrooms, oyster mushrooms, violets (violet liqueur is steeping now), waterleaf, ramps and probably a few I’ve forgotten.
  4. Walking math:  When I go on walks with Alex, I make up math questions as we go along.  For instance, I’ll ask him what 1/4 of 300 is, or ask him how much a shirt would cost if it was 90% off and it was originally $18.  I also ask him spelling questions, and do the same thing with Jack while I’m driving with him. There is also a lot of time we just spend chatting, but it’s a nice way to sneak in some homeschool.  Yes, I am that homeschool mom.  😉
  5. Helping the neighbor:  We have a new neighbor next door to us and she was trimming her trees the other day.  Alex, Jack and Fiona gathered to help her trim and haul the branches, and she thanked them for all their work.  After they were done, she got out a big coffee can of change the last owners had left and divided it among them.  Fiona got mostly pennies but still had over $3, and Jack had over $7 and she told him he owed her an hour of work sometime for the extra (Alex didn’t tell me his total).  The older kids helped Fiona count her change, and they all started making plans for how much they would spend on what. The boys are constantly torn about spending their money or saving it up for better things.  Jack has been wanting to save up for a Wii U but it’s a daunting amount of money.  Alex wants to buy a 3D printer and I told him that I’d chip in $100 if he and any of his siblings could gather the rest.  He gets $15 a month allowance and Jack gets $30, so he was figuring out how long it would take them with my contribution if he was the only one saving, if Jack helped, and so on…

 

Snow Days

bootswinter

We’ve been snowed in for two days with a winter blizzard that’s led to closed highways and canceled plans.  While I’ll be awfully tired of this business in a month or two, I kind of like this part of Minnesota winters for now.

We’re forced to slow down, stay home and do cozy things like read, play games and bake.  I take long baths and browse seed catalogs to plan my spring and summer gardens.  I use up apples, pears, berries and pumpkin puree that we put up last summer and fall in homemade muffins and gluten free mix and match snack cakes.  We watch silly British math shows.  The kids have tickle fights and show each other funny videos.

We picked up this geography game for 99 cents at a thrift store and finally got around to playing it yesterday. It was quite old and exceptionally well made, and luckily every piece was still there. It led to quite a lot of great learning about geography and history for Jack,  Victoria and even me.

nationalgeographicgame

This morning, I set the little ones up with a giant bin of snow and ice cube trays of colored water.  They had so much fun mixing colors and experimenting with making tunnels with water.

snowday

Later, Victoria did marshmallow homeschool with Jack, Fiona and Alex while they warmed up with hot cocoa after shoveling the driveway.  She asked them questions related to math, social studies and spelling for them to earn marshmallows (examples for Jack: What’s the difference between a slave and an indentured servant?  If 4x + 4 = 20, what is x?).  She googled questions for various grades in order to come up with good questions.  My kids always love doing marshmallow or chocolate chip homeschool.  Afterwards, Jack asked me to do more algebra with him (no treats involved).

marshmallow

Hopefully, we’ll be able to dig our way out in the next day or so.  If not, I can live with a longer break from the outside world.  We have plenty of groceries, a warm house and a nearly endless supply of games, books, shows, Pinterest crafts and other goodies that I’ve been meaning to get to for far too long now (which led to last February’s Use it Up challenge).  🙂

Stay warm!

Free Fun U.S. States Game!

Relentlessly Fun, Deceptively Educational has created an awesome free printable card game that helps kids learn all about the geography and history of the states.

Battle of the States is played a little bit like “War” but by comparing numbers and dates related to the states such as population, number of counties, electoral votes and year of statehood.

One nice thing about it is that it is slightly skewed in favor of younger players, since they start the game and pick the category to compare first.  The player who has the higher number in that category gets both cards and gets to choose the next category.  The player with the most cards at the end wins.

I’m hoping to try the game with at least a few of my kiddos once I find enough cardstock to print them out.  I seem to have been raided by small crafters lately.  😉