Lately we’ve had a great time reading and learning through a series of ‘Math Adventure’ books by Cindy Neuschwander and Wayne Geehan.  Sir Cumference and the First Round Table neatly teaches the concepts of “radius”, “diameter” and “circumference” in an entertaining, engaging and unforgettable way.  The other day my five year old son and I were in a store that used an open barrel for fabric storage with a yardstick nearby for measuring.  He picked up the yardstick and was so excited to measure the diameter of the barrel.  Then, knowing the diameter, he was able to estimate the circumference – it was so cool!

The other five math adventure books in no particular order are:  Sir Cumference and the Great Knight of Angleland, Sir Cumference and the Dragon of Pi, Sir Cumference, Sir Cumference and All the King’s Tens, Sir Cumference and the Isle of Immeter. Sir Cumference and the Sword in the Cone.

If your child is the right age to be learning these concepts,  try these books.  For us they’ve been like stumbling upon some precious little gems.

Clark loses interest in a basic presentation rather quickly.  The obvious answer would seem to be to have the next few (or several) works prepared in advance to keep his interest.  The problem is that he doesn’t get the necessary repetition he needs because he will always race to do things in the biggest, tallest, farthest, most spectacular way possible; so I’m regularly trying to come up with some way to entice him to slow down and repeat something enough to ensure he knows it.  I know it sounds like I’m not following the child, but believe me I am CONSTANTLY following him.  But many times he’s proven that he skims over the basics of something and then doesn’t know it when he needs it.  My latest creative attempt to get him to practice using the bead frame and to practice simple math facts has been quite successful.

We have a handful of “math” dice, which are just a few cube shaped dice where some of them have higher than typical numbers, the highest up to 30.  I combined them with a few traditional dice and suggested to Clark that we roll them and then add each number to the bead frame to find out what the sum would be.  Clark loved that bit, especially the dice with the non traditional numbering. But true to form, after the first sum Clark thought of a way to kick it up a notch.

The next time we rolled the dice he wanted to leave the total on the bead frame and add the next dice to it so we would have the total of both rolls.  We continued to add each total to the previous total, but that wasn’t enough.  Next Clark wanted to add bigger numbers to the bead frame so he started adding the numbers from the dice in his head as high as he could before adding them onto the frame.  He decided he wanted (as usual) to keep going until we got to ten million (or at least one million).  That’s when we upped the ante a little more.

We raided the game cabinet to get every kind of die we could get our hands on.  We have quite a few, lots of colors, different shapes and amounts; oh the excitement!  So armed with about fifty dice, Clark had many variations to add together in his head and we carried on, adding each total to the previous one.

After a couple of weeks passed, I orderd a “Pound O Dice” by Chessex from Amazon.com and Clark was over-the-moon excited.  It was about a hundred dice and the variety really can’t be beat. Let me just cut to the chase and say that our sum is currently over 40,000.

Of all the things we do, Clark will spend the most time on the fraction circle work that we do together.  Of course, a simple presentation doesn’t hold his interest for very long so our version of the work is quite involved and he will, quite literally, work at it for hours at a time.  (I’m a bit concerned that the basic presentation of anything will rarely hold his interest, but that’s a whole other discussion.)  As usual, we’ve ended up at the current version of how we do the work because I’ve followed the child.  This is how it goes.

Clark plays the role of a pizza parlor owner and I am all the customers.  We have cardstock fractions that correspond to all the parts of each fraction circle (pizza slices) and I hand him my order by placing a cardstock fraction on an empty paper plate.  He fulfills the orders easily one after the other and then I deliberately ask him for something he cannot fulfill exactly as requested, but for which an equivalent exists.  For example, I may ask for 1/3 of a pizza but all the thirds are already gone.  He then needs to find the equivalent such as 2 sixths, 3 ninths or 4 twelfths.  This continues until all the fractions circles are gone because Clark always insists on doing everything in the largest way possible.

Lately, we’ve been taking the role playing one step further by charging 75 cents for each slice (we charge the same price no matter the size of the slice).  Back when Clark was learning about money we made lots of dollars out of green parchment paper in different denominations so we use those dollars and the coins from the Money Trading Game.  He starts out using the bead frame to calculate what I owe him but it doesn’t take long for him to see the pattern that two slices are $1.50 and four slices are $3.00, etc.  It’s really gratifying when he puts the bead frame aside because he can calculate it faster in his head.  The newest lesson is in giving me the correct change-which is going quite well.

Through our work Clark is recognizing written fractions as well as the visual representation, learning fraction equivalency, reviewing money and coins and learning to make change.  I expect that the next phase of the game will either be to assign a different value to the various sizes of pizza slices or perhaps to add in a drink that would be a different price–perhaps three or four sizes of drinks.

By the way, I made our fraction circles.  They aren’t high quality, but are certainly working for our purpose.  Let me know if you’d like to know how I made them.

I’ve been preoccupied with many things homeschool related lately and plan to have a post about it before too long.  In the meantime, I wanted to share some fun resources we’ve been using.

The first is “Geographic Terms, Content Area Mini-Books” by Donald M. Silver and Patricia J. Wynne.  It’s a book of fifteen engaging mini-books  to create, read and interact with to really learn about key landforms.  It also comes with a corresponding landforms poster and a landforms wheel for review.  The book has reproduceable pages for creating the varied types of interactive mini-books, instructions for making the book, teaching with the book, supporting activities and resources.  I scan the reproduceable pages for the books and then print them on cardstock to color before putting the books together.  Since we have a one student school, I ususally print enough for both of us to make our own book.  Then when it’s time to store them we put one with landforms work and the other where appropriate.  For example, the volcano mini-book focused on Mt. St. Helens, so one copy of the book went into the North American continent box.  The landforms covered are:  Canyon, Cape, Cave, Glacier, Gulf, Island, Lake, Mountain, Peninsula, Plain, Plateau, River, Shore, Valley, Volcano.  The book said it’s for grades 2-4, but my 5 year old is quite happy with the work.

I stumbled accross the Landforms book after following Clark’s interest of all things swamp related to a book called “One Small Square:  Swamp” also by Donald M. Silver.  There began our study of biomes even though I didn’t plan it (but isn’t that the best part of homeschooling?)  The book examines one 4×4 square (cube, actually) of a swamp environment in a very engaging way.  There are also activities to do along with the book if you’re actually able to go to a swamp.  I immediately ordered “One Small Square:  Woods” since our house has a protected woods out our back gate and “One Small Square: Backyard”.  We plan on having lots of fun with hands on activities once spring is in full swing.  There are many other “One Small Square books like Cave, Arctic Tundra, Cactus Desert, Seashore, Pond, Coral Reef, Night Sky, Tropical Rain Forests, etc.  Hope you have fun, too!


If you’ve read my blog recently you know that my 5 year old DS started piano lessons in September.  Since I chose the Suzuki method of training I am VERY involved in the process.  There is no dropping your child off for the lesson, running errands and then picking up your child.  In fact, I attended a series of parent classes and was required to read several books on the method prior to Clark ever even sitting at the piano.  The parent classes helped to put my role in perspective and convinced me that I chose the right teaching method for him, but it’s still up to me to figure out a way to get him to practice.

There’s so many things to figure out.  Among them are:  how much should he practice and when, how to get him to practice without nagging him, how to help keep him focused and encouraged (especially when he needs to be corrected on something)?  Luckily, we’ve seemingly been setup to succeed in a few different ways, our Montessori approach to homeschooling keeps him fairly self-directed, our Suzuki piano teacher is also a Montessori teacher (which is ubiquitously evident), the location of our piano makes it always easily accessible, and Clark can read fluently.

Within the first week or two of lessons I setup the following approach which is at the core of what we do.  This is the required prep.  I use two sets of craft sticks.  I write each individual thing he needs to practice during that week on a craft stick and color the opposite side of each craft stick blue (because it’s his favorite color).  On the second set of craft sticks I write silly things to do to challenge himself while playing one of his blue sticks (e.g.  stand on one leg, close your eyes, stick your tongue out the whole time, have someone try to distract him during the song, etc.).  I color the back of each of the challenge sticks orange (for no particular reason other than it’s easily distinguishable from blue).  I purchased three short square vases (about three inches tall) and filled them about half way with small red kidney beans and set them all next to each other on the piano.  All the blue sticks go into the first vase and the orange sticks in the second vase.

Throughout the day, Clark picks a blue stick and practices whatever it says.  He may or may not take an orange stick as well, it depends on his mood.  When he’s done with a stick it goes into the third vase.  Clark may decide to do all his “blue sticks” at once, or he may pick one up when he’s walking by the piano and happens to notice them.  When the first vase is empty, his expected practice for the day is completed.  That’s the time he can practice other things that he’s not specifically working on with his teacher at the moment.

Though the “blue sticks” aspect is the main feature of our approach to piano practice, there’s a lot more I do as a parent to support the whole effort.  I’m learning right along with Clark, so I practice as well.  I take notes during his class, but sometimes it’s hard for me to see the exact fingering or the right notes.  So usually when we get home, we review the new things together to make sure that we both got it right.  It helps us to get the week off to a good start.   Sometimes during the week we’ll challenge each other to see who can play it with no mistakes, or who can practice something through more times.  Also, as is the Suzuki tradition, we play a recording of the songs he’s learning for about six hours a day.  It’s playing in the background at LEAST during homeschool, breakfast and lunch (not dinner, that’s when daddy is home and is reserved for family conversation) and whenever the mood strikes.  We can even keep it playing during piano practice because when you’re playing the piano it’s so much louder than the recording (which is played on a device in another room).  Don’t underestimate the value of knowing the piece by heart that you’re trying to learn to play!

Also, the day after our lesson Grandma visits.  Grandma has always wanted to learn to play the piano, so on that day Clark teaches Grandma something.  It used to be something from his recent lesson, but Grandma doesn’t practice enough so she’s a bit behind (smile).

Another thing we do is have Clark give mini performances to those loved ones who aren’t so involved in the lessons (Grandma and daddy).  We try to do it at least twice a week.

Something we’ve just started to do is to put the recordings on a portable device for Clark so he can have it near the piano.  This is so that after his required practice is done for the day, he can try to pick out a piece by ear that he wants to play but hasn’t been taught yet.  (In the Suzuki method, reading music comes later.  First, they learn by ear.)

Our humble approach has been working great so far, but it’s only been 3 1/2 months!  I’m sure my naivete on the subject will be embarrassing in years to come, but it’s working so well right now that I wanted to share it with others who might benefit.  I would appreciate comments and suggestions from those more experienced parents.  I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE hearing the piano being played in the house and I hope it continues for years to come.




My family has been looking to increase our charity giving and a few months ago I heard a sponsorship request on the radio.  It wasn’t a commercial, it was from a talk show host who had sponsored a child from Senegal and was trying to get as many people as possible to sponsor a child from the same village so huge impact could be felt in the same community.  We ended up sponsoring a five year old boy named Hamad from Senegal in Africa via World Vision.  My son is also five and I hoped having that in common would help the relationship between the sponsored and the sponsor to be more interesting and meaningful for both of the children.  Clark and I discussed what Hamad’s life is like, what his house might look like, what he might be doing, etc., and, as a side benefit the information was also fodder for our Africa continent box.

Hamad has two brothers and two sisters so we asked World Vision if they could find out if we could sponsor his siblings as well so we could make a really big difference to this one family.  Because of how the program is organized finding out about Hamad’s siblings wasn’t necessarily an easy request, but eventually we got an answer back that they were all sponsored already.  What great news that was.

So while on the phone with customer service at World Vision I asked if they could locate a child from another part of the world with the same birthday as my son (month, day and year).  She found a child Indonesia who matched the criteria.  Apparently that country does not allow photos published on line for the safety of the children.  I thought it would be really hard for that child to be chosen without a photo so we decided to sponsored Irsyad as well.

When I got off the phone I went on the website and was actually able to find a child with my son’s birthday in all six inhabited continental regions, 2 girls and 4 boys.  World Vision does not list children from Australia or New Zealand but Indonesia is categorized as part of the Australian continent.  For North America, I was able to find a child from El Salvador in Central America, which is categorized as part of North America.

My son was very excited.  I explained that no people make their permanent home in Antarctica so Clark asked if we could sponsor a penguin (smile).  Of course, I checked it out an we can actually sponsor penguins through the world wildlife fund, but we would actually be sponsoring a species.  I sent a note to the WWF to ask if they have any species exclusive to Antarctica that they support.  Won’t Clark be surprised if they do!

Other than the obvious benefits of sponsorship, I intend to extrapolate as much as I can for our cultural studies.  Currently I’m looking for a six picture frame for the children’s photographs to hang over the continent box area of our home.  We’ll do lots of research about the probable life of each child and use that in communication with them.  Then, of course, the practice in letter writing, envelope addressing, snail mail participation will all have a benefit for our little homeschool.  I expect Clark to learn so much about the world around him from this experience.

Here’s a list of our new extended family…

First Name – Gender – Country – Continental Region

Hamad – Boy – Senegal – Africa

Emtimai –  Girl – India – Asia

Irsyad – Boy – Indonesia – Australia

Luiz – Boy – Albania – Europe

Lisbeth – Girl – Bolivia – South America

Erick – Boy – El Salvador – North America

I’ve been wanting to buy the Montessori bells work for a long time but, for our household, it’s prohibitively expensive–even the “discount” sets.  We’ve also been searching for a Suzuki method piano teacher since Clark was 2 1/2.  I’ve had no piano training, but while searching for lessons for him it seemed as if the Suzuki method is the Montessori version of music training.  Dr. Suzuki called his method the “mother-tongue” method and believed that children can be taught musical ability similar to the way they learn to speak their native language.

Proper Suzuki training is very positive and nurturing and the child is taught only as long as they’re attentive during the lesson.  Recordings of the pieces to be learned are played for several hours each day so the child knows the music he’ll be playing by heart.  The teacher models the fingering and then, during practice, naturally, the child will be able to self correct because he knows what it’s supposed to sound like.  The child is also encouraged to “pick out” the next piece they’re going to be taught by ear.

Clark is five now, and we’ve finally found someone near us and have started piano lessons.  The teacher happens to also be a certified Montessori teacher who teaches music at a Montessori school in addition to giving lessons from his own studio.  Clark has had a month of lessons now, so far so good.  I’ve been trying to get creative to inspire daily practice in a positive and challenging way and stumbled upon something that’s working for now.  Let me know if you’re interested in what we’re doing.  I’d love to hear how others are inspiring daily practice.

Since our piano instructor is also a Montessori teacher I was able to discuss the bells work with him.  There are two pianos side by side in his studio so he said that he would be able to work on pitch matching with Clark and between that and the “playing by ear” aspect of early Suzuki training I shouldn’t need to purchase the bells.  For now, I’m comfortable with spending our school budget on other things–but I still wish I had a set of bells for our school room!


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.