Field Trips

Field Trips? Do They Count? A Guide for Homeschoolers, by Jen N.

Are you one of those homeschoolers? You know, the kind that watch dolphins at the zoo and call it school?

Um, no.



Do field trips have a place in a classical curriculum? I think so. Classical home schools spend plenty of time on memory work and mastery of the basic subjects in order to have the foundation to later study more advanced topics. If you only read recipes and never get in the kitchen to actually cook, could you call yourself a chef? How do you make that outside-of-the-books time really count?


Nothing will put the kabosh (urban dictionary: a termination) on the whole idea like a bad field trip. As with the rest of homeschooling, it’s going to take some planning on your part. Look around at museums, zoos, historical societies within driving distance. Even in small towns you can find history and science that you can get out and really see. The first thing to do is decide what your objective is. Then go online and look at current and future exhibits.  That will usually bring you to a corporate sponsor page or a page where the exhibit is presently or was previously. Even if you decide that maybe this one isn’t worth taking an afternoon to see, you’ll have the links which will include plenty of pictures and info that you can use during your history class at home. Most traveling exhibits require a timed ticket for entrance.  I try to get tickets for afternoon hours. The idea behind the afternoon is that you are still working in the morning. Get Latin and math done before you leave. Or plan for a scheduled day off. I usually pick a Wednesday or Thursday. I don’t want to end the week being annoyed that it’s Friday and I’m behind for Monday.

I realize that not everyone is within 15 minutes of a museum. Back in the day, I had four kids all under the age of 10. We lived at least an hour away, so we had to take the whole day off. We’d leave the house at 10am. Upon arrival, we would make a beeline from the coat check straight to food. After feeding and watering, my youngest was okay with sitting in the stroller and my target audience was ready to see something. My strategy was to pack all I could into the 2 1/2 hours we had. That actually is the right amount of time. The old adage Always leave them wanting more is true.

If nothing  matches your syllabus you can still prep the kids anyway for the trip. We haven’t done an American history year in a long time. If there was a good opportunity I would still take them to Washington, DC.

A word about free museum days: Budgets are tight with only one income. If it is the only way you are getting out there, then just prepare for both crowds and the fact that hardly any museums are actually all “free” on “free” days. Verify that you will see what you are planning.

Getting there on time

Back to timed tickets -They are actually a plus for you as a educator. It means there won’t be mobs of people in the front blocking your kids from seeing it all. In fact, try to get there a little early and sometimes you can get in at the tail end of the last time slot. That five minutes puts you ahead of the new crowd. The gallery attendants are more likely to have a extra minute for your questions. Staying behind the crowd will accomplish the same thing.

Check your coats. Just do it. If you are members it’s probably free. If not, trust me – it is worth it. Even if you have a stroller, you don’t need it stuffed with coats. Hit the bathrooms next. What to bring?  Drawstring backpacks are perfect for all ages of kids and adults. I like mine to bring a small blank notebook and a pencil or two. I have a couple artist type kids, and they will often sketch something they have seen. On the other hand, I have a pencil-phobic kid as well. I usually write notes for him. The idea is that this is no less a school day than any other. If you take your writing assignments from your content (science or history) than you can get something out of this trip as well. Even a pictorial shot with your cell phone will jog memories at home later. I don’t require written work after every trip, but it is nice for you and the kids to have a record.

Let’s go in!

I like to have the kids tell me at least one specific thing they want to see or ask a question about. Try to get them to pick different things. If this exhibit is applicable to your studies this year, you’ll be amazed at the connections that your kids make without prompting. Don’t be afraid to let your kids ask questions (or not). Museum folks love this stuff – they don’t work there for the money. Members nights are actually great for this (and don’t cut into the school day), but if you happen upon a slow day and a friendly face, maybe your kids will really get inspired by someone who has chosen to spend their work life exploring the subject on display.

Bringing work with? No. Just don’t. High school kids can catch up at night. There is no point in bringing them with if they sit on a bench reading their math book.

That was fun!

Afterwards I like to find a table or bench and discuss what we’ve seen before we leave. Often kids will think up questions, and this way we still have access to the experts. If time allows, we will just browse and that either ends up with us planning a return trip or we realize that we’ve covered everything offered right now. The Field Museum says it best: As educators, we inspire wonder and understanding. Isn’t that homeschooling in a nutshell?


Jen N. Jen has spent her time homeschooling her five children since 2001. She has read over 5,000 books aloud. A fan of all things geeky, she calls her children her horcruxes — each one has a talent for something she might have pursued herself. Jen and her husband have created a family of quirky, creative people that they are thrilled to launch out into the world. With the three oldest graduated, Jen now has time on her hands and has started a blog:

CF: Preschool/Kindergarten

How the Arts Can Fill "Holes" When You Don't Do Formal Preschool, by Cheryl

Our family owns a performing arts academy. Our kids have all done a lot of dance and music for preschool, both at the studio and at home.

Trust me when I say the arts can add so much to your home preschool!

Pre-Reading Skills

Nursery rhymes are a great way to teach rhythm and rhyme. Read, memorize, and recite these with your preschooler. Sing them while you build with blocks or color. Don’t make it work or “school,” just a part of your day.

A library music day or a preschool dance class is likely to use fun songs and games that will help your child learn to rhyme and develop rhythm.

Introduction to Mathematics: Counting and Geometry

In my preschool dance classes we make circles; we travel in straight lines, diagonal lines, forward, backward, and sideways. We count as we hold stretches and repeat steps in a dance.

Rhythm from dance can help a child’s math skills. We work with counting the music, cutting time, basic addition, and more. The students don’t realize what they are doing, but there is a lot of math in a dance class!

At home we listen to music that includes numbers and counting. We cut out shapes for our art projects. We use math daily as we go through our day. How many plates do we need on the table? Where will the big hand point on the clock at lunchtime?

Develop Creativity

Singing, dancing, drawing, painting, playing the piano – all of these develop creativity. You do have to be careful; too much instruction will stifle a child’s natural creativity. Too many rules can end it. But a little instruction and guidance can go a long way.

At home, I provide arts and crafts supplies and let my kids do what they want. As my daughter gets older, we are studying famous art pieces and imitating them to learn new skills, but most of her art time is spent creating freely.

In dance, I teach my preschoolers skills and steps, and we put them in dances. There is structure, but I also give them time to be creative together and on their own. We play games, and we have free dance time with and without props. It is their favorite part of class – and mine too!

Pre-Writing Skills

The best way to develop writing skills is actually to not write. Before kids can write, they need hand strength and fine motor skills. Without these, they will have trouble holding and controlling a pencil to form letters and numbers.

Color with your kids. Start with fat crayons and markers, move on to regular-size crayons, and then colored pencils. At some point they will start to color in the lines and imitate letters on their own. At this point they are ready to begin writing. Still keep it light: copy a few letters 3-4 times each and then stop. Continue building hand strength and learning the letters with other medium – shape the letters out of play dough, use your finger to write in shaving cream or sand, paint the letters, draw a letter and turn it into an animal.

Each of my kids developed writing skills at different times and in different ways. My oldest son received a dry erase board with letters before two and immediately started tracing the letters. My second child colored all the time and showed no interest in writing letters until she was closer to five. She has beautiful handwriting now (at seven). My third is still in the scribbling stage and that’s okay; he’s only two.

Life Skills

Some parents are concerned that their preschoolers need to learn to take turns, wait in a line, interact with kids their age, and be away from mom and dad for a little while. Kids will learn these skills as they participate in your daily family life, but for the parents that want their kids to be taught these skills in an intentional way – dance class is great!

Preschool dance, music, and art classes are generally pretty short. Just enough time for the kids to be away from mom without missing them too much. They have to take turns, share, wait in line, and they will have a lot of fun with kids their age.

I have done very little structured preschool with my oldest two. They have progressed at different rates and excelled in different areas. All three of my kids have had early exposure to art, music, dance, and musical theatre. It has given them a rich and amazing preschool experience.


Cheryl–Cheryl is a singing, dancing, baking, homeschooling mom of three. She has danced her whole life and taught ballet and theatre for most of her adult life. Her favorite pastime has always been cooking and baking, and as a Pampered Chef Independent Consultant she gets to share that love with others. Home educating her three children has been and continues to be one of her greatest learning experiences! It is an adventure she is ready to continue.

CF: Preschool/Kindergarten

Preschool Curriculum? Just Say No! by Lynne

Thank goodness I wasn’t really online when my children were preschoolers. I might have ended up with an anxiety disorder. There is so much contradictory information about what is and isn’t beneficial for preschoolers, it can make your head spin. Now that we are in our fifth year of homeschooling, I feel that I have a good perspective on those younger years. However, if I were just starting out on the homeschool journey, I’d probably be a little confused.

I’m pleased that the moms of Sandbox to Socrates are discussing preschool articles in our Facebook group. It’s a great way to share our views and help others feel less anxious about this time in a child’s development. We’d love for you to join the conversation here.

Hanging out at the beach with my preschoolers

In various online homeschool forums, I have seen many questions asking about the best curriculum for preschoolers and how to best prepare preschoolers for school later on. Honestly, I’m shocked by these questions every single time. When my children were of preschool age, the thought of looking for a curriculum never entered my mind. Not even once.

I was, however, interested in activities that would engage my kids and help them improve the skills that they had already acquired, so I talked with one of my sisters about it. This sister can research the living daylights out of anything, so I often trust her legwork and take her suggestions. She recommended a book called Slow and Steady, Get Me Ready. It outlined weekly activities that you can do with very young children to get them ready for future learning. As I read it, I found that, by intuition, I was already doing similar activities with my kids, but it did give me further ideas and inspiration. I used it as a guide rather than as a curriculum, just as I do much of the homeschooling material that lines my bookshelves.

The play-based preschool my children attended was a fabulous experience for all of us. The boys went for a couple hours in the afternoon a few days a week. They were happy to play with different toys, read new stories, dress up in costumes, and paint on easels. I was happy to get to know several really terrific moms who are still friends six and seven years later.

My younger son and my niece were in the same preschool class.

Here’s the thing – if I were going to homeschool preschool, knowing what I know today about my kids and about homeschooling, I’d probably have them play with toys, read stories, dress up in costumes, and paint on easels. In fact, they did all of that stuff at home in addition to preschool. I also read them 500 million books. Okay, some of those were the same book 10 million times. We also went to the park, played in the baby pool, visited museums, and visited grandparents. I sang songs and recited nursery rhymes with them. We played Hi-Ho-Cherry-O and Candy Land. We had our fair share of Thomas the Tank Engine, Bob the Builder, Go, Diego, Go!, and Land Before Time videos as well. When my older son was three, he was obsessed with Thomas, and we had the whole train table set with which they both played nonstop. They learned about magnets by joining the cars up and physics by running the trains along the tracks. The younger son learned about different animals from Diego videos and trips to the nature center and zoo.

That’s all the curriculum a preschooler needs.

Having fun trying on costumes at the Anne of Green Gables center.

With regard to language, I never talked down to my kids. I mean, I did smoosh my face into their necks when they were babies and say, “Oooo, you smell so nummy, I’m gonna eat you up!”, but I never really dumbed down my vocabulary or altered my way of speaking to them when they were toddlers and preschoolers. I spoke to them like I would anyone else. “Hey, guys, it’s time for your bath. Why don’t you get the toys you want and throw them in the tub?” “Please put these napkins on the table for dinner. Thanks.” “No, you may not throw sand. You are creating a dangerous situation for other kids who might end up with sand in their eyes.”

Throwing corn isn’t a great idea, either.

What I would do differently is to get them more involved in the daily activities of the household. I did do some things, like have them help stir things we were baking or help me sort laundry into piles. I gave them cookies to decorate if I were making treats for the holidays. I had them pick up sticks in the yard before I mowed the lawn. If I had it to do over again though, I would have them help me with yard work, cleaning, cooking, shopping, and organizing much sooner. Preschoolers are pretty industrious and are fairly willing to be helpers. I’d worry less about things being done “right,” and I’d let them help me more. I’d have them empty small trash cans and put away groceries and use a mini broom and dustpan to clean up messes.

Three and four year olds don’t need a curriculum. They need activities, play, encouragement, and love. They will have plenty of time for learning. There are tons of great activities and games and fun sensory projects you can do. If you’re worried that your child has a significant delay in some area, go ahead and have that checked out. Otherwise, let your kid play and be a kid. It will be okay.

If you homeschool older kids, your preschooler may want to school along with them. By all means, give them some “school” work to do, as long as their interest holds. My kids were reading before kindergarten, so we worked on phonics by reading and discussing phonics in books and playing sorting games with words. I thoroughly believe classical methods are the best way for my children to learn, but with that same conviction, I believe that preschool and much of the early grades should be interest-led.

Enjoy the precious preschool time with your little ones.

Playtime is the best.


Lynne–Lynne has enjoyed homeschooling her two sons for the past 4.5 years, after their brief stint in the local public school.  Her older son is a humorous fellow with high functioning autism who thrives in a home education environment.  Her younger son is a sensitive soul with a great deal of patience. The boys, Mom, and Dad, along with the two guinea pigs, live in Northeast Ohio.  Lynne holds a Master’s Degree in French Language and Literature.  She is also a Harry Potter fanatic, enjoys line dancing and Zumba, spends hours scrapbooking, and loves organic vegetables.  You can visit her soon-to-be revitalized blog at

Student Spotlight

Student Spotlight: Miranda's Paper on Franklin Delano Roosevelt

9th Grade History

Franklin D. Roosevelt

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was born on January 30, 1882, in the Hudson Valley town of Hyde Park, New York. He was the first and only child born to businessman James Roosevelt I (1828–1900) and his young wife Sara Ann Delano Roosevelt (1854–1941).

Both of his parents were from wealthy, high class families, the Roosevelts being one of the oldest families in New York. Franklin was originally going to be named Warren, but was changed to Franklin, after his great uncle, because of the recent death of his cousin Warren Delano.

Franklin’s mother Sara was very possessive of him and was the main influence in Franklin’s life, from childhood to until she died at age 87. Once Sara stated “My son Franklin is a Delano, not a Roosevelt at all.” While most people say that his father, James Roosevelt I, was rarely around, there are some people that say he was around Franklin a lot more than was normal for the time period.

Franklin and his parents went to Europe very year from when Franklin was age seven to age fifteen. From his frequent trips to Europe Franklin learned to speak both German and French. During his teen years Franklin also learned to ride, sail, shoot and row. He played polo, lawn tennis and golf, all of which he was very proficient in.

Franklin went to Groton School, an Episcopal boarding school in Massachusetts. It was mostly wealthy students much like Roosevelt himself. While going the Groton School, Franklin was heavenly influenced by his headmaster Endicott Peabody. Peabody encouraged helping the less fortunate and doing public service often.

Like everyone else in his graduating class, Roosevelt went to Harvard College. He lived in what is now part of Adams House, which was in the wealthy area of the college. Franklin was a member of the Alpha Delta Phi fraternity and the Fly Club. He was also the editor-in-chief of Harvard’s daily paper The Harvard Crimson. He graduated in 1903 with an A.B. in history. In 1929 Franklin also received an honorary LL.D from Harvard in 1929. Roosevelt went to Columbia Law School in 1904, but dropped out 1907 after passing the New York State Bar exam.

On a train to Tivoli, New York in 1902, Roosevelt met his future wife Anna Eleanor Roosevelt (1884–1962). Eleanor was Franklin’s fifth cousin and the niece of former president Theodore “T.R.” Roosevelt, Jr. A year later the two were engaged to be married. Roosevelt was twenty-two and Eleanor nineteen.

On March 17, 1905, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Anna Eleanor Roosevelt married. The resistance of Franklin’s mother, who believed that her son was too young, almost ended the engagement, but the two decided to marry anyway. Theodore Roosevelt stood in for his brother, Elliot, in the wedding as both of Eleanor’s parents died by the time she was ten.

The newly-wed couple moved into Springwood, Franklin’s family estate, where his mother was a frequent house guest. Franklin and Eleanor had six children: Anna Eleanor Roosevelt (May 3, 1906), James Roosevelt II (December 23, 1907), Franklin Roosevelt (March 18, 1909), Elliott Roosevelt (September 23, 1910), Franklin Delano Roosevelt Jr. (August 17, 1914), and finally John Aspinwall Roosevelt II (March 13, 1916).

Starting early in their marriage, Franklin started having affairs. The first being Eleanor’s social secretary Lucy Mercer in 1914. The relationship ended in 1918 when Eleanor found secret notes and confronted Franklin. He said that he would stop seeing her but later broke his promise in 1941 many years later. This affair was not publicly noted until the 1960s.

Franklin’s son Elliott stated that he had 20-year affair with his private secretary Marguerite “Missy” LeHand. Another one of his sons, James, stated that Princess Märtha of Sweden may have also been a mistress. This probably happened when she lived in the White House during World War II. The Princess was sometimes called “the president’s girlfriend”.

While Eleanor knew about all these affairs, they were never officially divorced. This is mostly because Franklin’s mother said that if he divorced Eleanor she “would not give him another dollar,” because it would lower their social status. Even though they were still legally married, their marriage was more of a political partnership than intimate relationship. Eleanor moved to Hyde Park at Valkill and rarely visited. She did not even move back to Franklin when he told her he was dying.

In August 1921 Roosevelt contracted polio while on vacation at Campobello Island, in New Brunswick, Canada. The polio resulted in Franklin becoming permanently paralyzed from the waist down.  He was very self-conscious of his disability and refused to accept that he would never regain his health. He tried many forms of therapy but never improved.

In 1926 he purchased a resort at Warm Springs, Georgia and founded a hydrotherapy center for polio patients called Roosevelt Warm Springs Institute for Rehabilitation. It is still running but is now called the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, or March of Dimes.

Because he believed that nobody would vote for him, Franklin convinced people that he was getting better. While in private he used a wheelchair, in public he wore iron braced on his hips and legs. Roosevelt taught himself to “walk” by swiveling his torso while supporting with a cane. There are only two pictures of him in a wheelchair that are known of.

In 1944 Franklin Roosevelt was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. A year later, on April 12, Franklin had a stroke sitting for a portrait painting by Elizabeth Shoumatoff.  His mistress, the recently widowed Lucy Mercer Rutherfurd, had convinced him to sit for the painting. Before it was finished he said, “I have a terrific pain in the back of my head,” then collapsed in his chair. He died that night.

His death was a big shock to America who did not know of his failing health. His wife Eleanor was shocked to find out that Anna their daughter had arranged Franklin’s meetings with Lucy, his former mistress.  Franklin was buried in the Rose Garden of the Springwood estate. Even after all their marriage troubles, when Eleanor died eighteen years later, she was buried next to him.


Miranda Elise–Miranda is 14 years old, is one of three sisters and has been homeschooled since the third grade.  She is an avid photographer, loves to cook, and hopes to work in the restaurant business someday.  In addition to learning at home, Miranda also takes courses through a local co-op once a week.  She is looking forward to graduating in 2017, and is considering culinary school.

About Homeschooling, How We Make it Work

Homeschooling is the Right Choice…But How Do I Convince Others? by Brandy

As any homeschool mom will tell you, there are daily challenges – the baby is sick, the furnace went out, the middle child is dragging his feet through spelling, and the toddler is wrecking the living room. But sometimes there are bigger challenges which must be confronted before homeschooling can even start.

I was determined to homeschool, but my husband was dead set against it.

I currently homeschool my two older children. My daughter is seven and my son is five . Neither one have ever been to public school. That was almost not the case though.

When I was much younger and in school myself, homeschooling was only attempted by radical “crazy” people. My aunt pulled my cousins out of school and homeschooled them through graduation. I clearly remember thinking she was doing them a huge disservice and that they were going to be so messed up. Fast forward ten years. My very first sweet baby was approaching the age where most parents start to consider preschool. I was not ready for her to be away from me for any amount of time, so I kept putting it off. I started looking into homeschooling. The more research I did, the more it convinced me this was the right thing for my girl and our family. I kept that thought to myself for a long time. My husband felt about homeschooling exactly as I had ten years earlier and was not going to be easy to convince otherwise. He is a very open-minded man, but this was one area I knew he just would not see the positive side.

Finally, a few years had passed, I had done hours upon hours of research, and I was determined to homeschool my daughter who would be starting kindergarten in the fall. I brought it up to my husband and just like I thought, he was against it. He thought she needed to go to school to make friends and learn and be in a regular classroom environment. My daughter was, and still is, what many call “spirited.” I knew if she went to a traditional classroom she would get into trouble often and her unique qualities could very easily be stifled.

I was determined, but not only was my husband not on board, every other support person in my life thought I was crazy as well. Those people did not really have an impact on whether it happened or not, but they definitely had an impact on my confidence in this endeavor. I suppose I could have played the dictator and just said “this is what is going to happen,” but that is not how my marriage works nor how I want it to work.

At this point, homeschooling was non-negotiable for me, but I was the only one who felt that way. I had to find a way to convince my husband that this was what was best for our family. I  approached him again and asked for a trial year. Our daughter would be a fairly new five year old when starting kindergarten and I knew that even if it did not work out, she would not miss too much. So I worded it that way – asking him if he would let us take a year to see how it goes. “She is so young that she will not miss out on much and if it does not work out, we can always enroll her in school.” Those were the exact words I remember saying to him. He grudgingly agreed to that one year.

Three and a half years later, we are still going strong. I can’t say that he is 100% on board even now, but he sees how much our children grow and thrive everyday and knows this is what is best for them at this time, and he 100% supports that. Will we always homeschool? I hope so, but if it is ever in any of my children’s best interests, we will put them in public school. So while I struggle with other challenges such as children crying because they hate reading or trying to do school while my four month old screams and my three year old climbs on everything,  getting my husband to agree to try homeschooling was my biggest challenge. And it’s been worth every minute.


Review: A Mind for Numbers, by Lara

One of the main reasons I started the homeschool journey was to give my children a fuller learning experience, to have them learn at their own pace and not be sucked into the cycle of memorizing facts, then spitting them out on a test – a cycle that had me, as a student, retaining maybe 50% of what is “learned” for more than an hour after the test. I had all these lofty ideas about how my child was going to learn stuff—not just take tests. She was going to be immersed in learning and be able to take her time when it mattered, not be rushed by some random schedule. We school year-round so that I can go over material as many times as needed. This worked well for us for a number of years; then, suddenly, it wasn’t working anymore. What changed?

Well, lots of things changed. I had younger children who needed more one-on-one momma time for THEIR turn in the learning experience, so the older child by necessity had to be more independent. She started high school, and I was thrust into the world of credit hours and a looming graduation schedule. Sure, it was four years away, but there really isn’t much time for dragging of feet and repeating the same lesson over and over again until every concept is solid. High school moves at a faster pace, and she needed the tools to learn things the first or second time around. Then there was the child herself: she dislikes math. She is good at math, although she doesn’t believe this. Math intimidates her. She would drag her feet and not do the homework. Math was taking three hours a day for both of us, since I had to sit on her to get it done. I hadn’t done this much hand-holding with her since the fourth grade! Just when I needed her to be more independent, she was sucking more of my time than ever before.

Clearly changes were needed in our school, but what? She had a good textbook, but extra practice was just making my day longer. She needed encouragement; she needed to know that she could do this math thing and be successful. So when I saw a book at my local library – A Mind for Numbers, How to Excel at Math and Science (Even if You Flunked Algebra) written by Barbara Oakley, PH.D – I picked it up. I was immediately charmed by a self-depreciating story of poor high school math and science scores. The author had a  brilliant mind for languages that didn’t “get” math but later in life was forced to learn math and science. Not only did she learn math and science, she excelled at them. This was the encouragement my artistic, story-writing, history-loving, math-hating child needed!

Little did I know this was a book about not only learning math and science but learning how to learn! Anything! This is a book about how the brain works and how it retains knowledge. Per the author, once you understand how learning occurs, you can change how you study to match how your brain learns. Barbara Oakley, PH.D., explains how the brain stores information and uses that information to make those “leaps” in logic that help us problem solve. This book isn’t about how to do math problems better. In fact I don’t think there is any math in this book, just the science of how to learn.

What if we could retrain ourselves by studying the way the brain learns, instead of fighting it? We all know that cramming isn’t the best way to learn, but do we know why that is ineffective? After reading this book you will.

What I found to be of particular interest about Oakley’s writing/teaching style is that while I was reading, she is teaching me how this learning method works. I found myself being led to follow her suggested steps in order to study her book! Her easy, personable writing style didn’t put me to sleep or make me feel like I was in over my head with the science. She uses “her” technique to help readers learn the technique. I use “her“ in quotation marks because this isn’t anything new in the world of science, but the writing style and teaching methods are her personal stamp that makes this doable for the average, super-busy, no-time-for-learning-another-thing, homeschool mom.

Whom do I recommend this book for? Anyone, of any age, that wants to improve how they learn.

While doing some research for this review, I discovered that the author, Barbara Oakley, Ph.D., teaches a course through Coursera called “Learning How to Learn: Powerful mental tools to help you master tough subjects.” I am going right over there to sign up. Perhaps I will see you there!


Multisensory Math, by Cheryl

Sit at your desk and do a page of math problems and then take another page home. Drill, drill, drill so you can pass that timed test. Faster, faster, faster! So you don’t think when you do your basic operations.

This is the math that I remember from elementary school.

I have always been good at math. I enjoyed the drill; I got a thrill from finishing a timed test. The competition worked for me. But not all kids thrive in that situation. My own children do not do well with the “drill and kill” method of arithmetic study.

With Aidan, short sessions with a few practice problems each day while continuing on to more advanced concepts worked best for learning his basic facts. Once he understood 8+4, he did not want to drill it; he wanted to move on to 138+224. That same math fact is practiced, but the concept as a whole is harder. This is how he learned his addition facts. All the other operations were learned in the same method – start easy and memorize as you work with more difficult concepts. You can read a little more about math with Aidan here. For my daughter Lilly, math has been completely different.

Manipulatives have been more important for math with Lilly than with Aidan. He would push them off after a problem or two because they slowed him down. Lilly needs the hands-on aspect of working with the blocks, crayons, toys, or even our fingers.

All year I assumed that she needed the manipulatives because she did not know her facts or understand how to break down the numbers in her head. Last week she proved me wrong. She sat down to do this worksheet on her own:

I had planned to skip it. I did not think she was ready to work with the numbers that way. She worked on it while I read The Silver Chair aloud. She finished the worksheet in the time it took to read one chapter. She had found all but the two number sentences that overlap some she had already found.

She further surprised me when she pulled out a box of addition flashcards and asked to do them with me. She quizzed me on the first 10 cards and then I tested her with the remaining cards. She only missed a few, and a questioning look from me was all it took for her to correct herself.

Apparently our methods are working better than I thought! Here is a sampling of what we do.


Our main program is Singapore Math. We are currently in level 1a. We use the text, workbook, and extra practice book. I have drill sheets that I printed from the internet and Math 1-2 for more practice.

Singapore Math approaches computation problems in many formats – pictorial, matching, puzzles, and games. Math 1-2 is straight forward addition and subtraction problems set up in the standard format. We use manipulatives with both books.

We take it slow. We typically do about five problems a day. Occasionally, she is able to focus for 10-15 problems, but this is rare.

We are also slowly working through the Life of Fred series. Very slowly. We are only on Butterflies. It has been great for making math interesting.

Computers and Apps:

Lilly has loved Reading Eggs for phonics and reading practice. She also enjoys playing around on MathSeeds. (A membership was included with our Reading Eggs membership!) It is great for reinforcing math facts and concepts in a way that is engaging for her.

Math 1-2 comes with software for a fun math game that she plays occasionally as well.

I have also tried a few flash card apps on my phone. They are okay but not engaging enough for Lilly.

Games and Manipulatives:

We have lots of games at our house. Aidan practiced math all the time with some of our favorite games. Lilly is finally to a point where she can play some of these games without one of us doing all her math for her! Some of our favorites are Yahtzee, Sum Swamp, and Monopoly.

Sometimes, I really just need to get her moving. We have had races across the yard. I give her a math problem (3+4), she solves it (7), and then jumps or skips that many times across the yard. Then she gives me a problem. We see who gets across first.

At the table, she needs something in her hands at all times. We use Mortensen Math blocks most of the time, but we have also used our fingers, crayons, colored pencils, and toys.

One of my favorite ways to get her engaged in math is baking. She likes to help and has no idea we are practicing math! She helps measure and keep track of ingredients. Then we keep track of how many cookies we have baked. How many can we cram on one tray? How many are in each row? How many rows? How many all together? You can’t beat math that ends with a sweet treat!

Our approach has been multisensory. We see the problems on paper, work them out with our hands, play games that engage her with sound and fun visuals, and move our bodies. What we do each day is often based on her mood when she wakes up. Sometimes we just bake cookies!


Favorite Online Math Resources, by Lynne

Choosing a math curriculum for your child is somewhat akin to buying an outfit for him. The length might be perfect, but the waist size is too big. Or, you like the style but the color is all wrong. Finding a perfect math curriculum to fit your child’s needs and abilities and your desired participation level is often a real challenge. You might really like how material is presented in your chosen program, but there is not enough practice material. Or, there are plenty of exercises, but the explanation of concepts leaves a lot to be desired.

For these reasons, many families look to supplement curriculum with websites and apps that can provide the needed explanations or practice. Sometimes, families rely solely on websites and apps to do the teaching for them. Just searching for websites and apps bring up myriad choices, so I asked for recommendations from our contributing authors to help you find the extra math help your child may need.

The following websites and apps provide instructional material, videos, math games and more.

Dreambox– This is an online personalized curriculum for elementary and middle school students. There is a fee to use this program, but you can sample some lessons for free on their website.

Khan Academy– Khan Academy is an interactive website that provides free lessons in a variety of subjects. You can find lessons on everything from basic arithmetic to differential equations.

Homeschool Math– A treasure trove of information can be found here, along with plenty of games, printable worksheets, links to videos, and more.

Mathseeds– This program is an introduction to math and problem solving for very young children. There is a subscription fee, but you can register for a free trial.

Education Unboxed– This site provides a host of video demonstrations to show parents how to teach math concepts using Cuisenaire Rods.

Xtramath– This website allows students to practice their basic math facts and improve their fluency and retention.

Arcademic Skill Builders– Dozens of free, fun arcade style games will peak your child’s interest and provide the review you need.

Dragonbox– A set of three apps will help you and your child look at algebra and geometry in a whole new way. This program was the most highly recommended by several of our contributors. Fees apply.

Rocket Math– This app kept my kids busy in several waiting rooms. Use your arithmetic skills to acquire parts to build a rocket to launch.

Timez Attack– This engaging video game will reinforce and help with mastery of basic math facts. A fee schedule is provided on the website.


MathStart Books, by Lynne

Sometimes I think I’m the only homeschool parent who hasn’t used Life of Fred books with her kids. Life of Fred is a series of books written in the format of a story that contains math concepts and problems presented in a real-world setting. I’ve heard great things about these books from many parents. For our family, though, they weren’t something we wanted to try. We are happy with our math curriculum and didn’t see a need to add those in.

However, before I knew about Life of Fred and before I even started homeschooling my kids, I came across a different series of living math books that we all adored. I utilized the interlibrary loan feature of my library’s website to track down every one of these books that I could. We read many of them several times. The series is called MathStart by Stuart J. Murphy.

There are 63 books in the series, with three reading levels ranging from preschool to fourth grade. Each book presents a math concept within the context of a picture book story. Level 1 books include topics like counting, recognizing shapes, and comparing. Level 2 books are more involved, with topics such as rounding, timelines, and symmetry. Level 3 books introduce ideas like estimating, negative numbers, and metrics.

The brilliance of these books is that my kids had no idea they were learning math. To them, these were just fun stories added on to the gigantic pile of picture books we read each week. My younger son really enjoyed Dave’s Down-to-Earth Rock Shop, while my older son was partial to Let’s Fly a Kite and Too Many Kangaroo Things to Do! I remember reading Tally O’Malley over and over, along with Shark Swimathon, Game Time, and Divide and Ride.

If you’re looking for something fun and interesting to add into your elementary math routine, I can’t recommend these books enough. The best learning comes through fun activities and engaging books. This series provides both.


Lynne–Lynne has enjoyed homeschooling her two sons for the past 4.5 years, after their brief stint in the local public school.  Her older son is a humorous fellow with high functioning autism who thrives in a home education environment.  Her younger son is a sensitive soul with a great deal of patience. The boys, Mom, and Dad, along with the two guinea pigs, live in Northeast Ohio.  Lynne holds a Master’s Degree in French Language and Literature.  She is also a Harry Potter fanatic, enjoys line dancing and Zumba, spends hours scrapbooking, and loves organic vegetables.  You can visit her soon-to-be revitalized blog at