7 Favorite Games for Learning

Learning Games Title

I don’t know about you, but if we can develop academic skills while having fun I’m all for it.    Today I’m sharing some of the games we enjoy playing.
Scrambled States  – We’ve had this game about 3 years now and it continues to be a favorite.  We’ve adjusted the rules so speed doesn’t matter (decreases frustration AND keeps the cards from getting torn up).  It really helps the kids learn their states, capitals, and locations in a fun way.

Blokus  This game is great for developing spatial skills.  The game is for 2-4 players but we’ve found 3 is  ideal for everyone to be able to play all their pieces.  2 is too easy and 4 is very competitive and one person can be blocked and picked on.  With 3 players we can help each other out and usually get everyones pieces on the board if they play wisely.

Mastermind – This one is an oldie. I remember playing it with my mom.  One person makes a “code” with 4 colored pegs – the other person tries to guess the code in the right order from the 6 available colors.  I’ve heard some people allow multiple pegs of the same color but that seems like it would be impossible to solve.  After each attempt the guesser is given clues – How many pegs are the right color in the wrong space, How many pegs are the right color in the right space.  It really develops logic and critical thinking skills – in a fun way.

Uno  – We don’t play this one as much anymore, but I actually used it to help teach money.  We would play the game the normal way, but we kept track of our score using coins instead of writing it down.

Connect 4 –  This has probably been E’s favorite game since he was 3 or 4.  It seems like such a simple game yet it develops planning and strategy skills.

Bananagrams – The free form of Bananagrams works well with kids and I like the letter tiles.

Chunks  – I’m not sure how often we played the game, but the tiles come in super handy for rhyming exercises.

What are your favorite games?

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Weekly Wrapup with Fun Facts

Fun Facts:

Male anglerfish are a fraction of the size of females and don’t have a light for catching prey.  They bite onto a female and permanently attach.  The front part of the male dissolves and the two share a circulatory system.

Lactose tolerance varies widely by country.  Here’s a map of lactose intolerance. It’s probably not a good idea to invest in a pizza chain in China.

Jumping Mice can jump 3-4 Meters!

Geckos don’t use suction.  It comes down to molecular adhesion.

Painted Lady Butterfly

We released our butterflies this week.   They were in a hurry to leave, so this is the only open wing picture I was able to take.

Science Center Collage

We took a field trip to the Science Center this week.  The kids all made wooden key chain fobs in a homeschool Fab Lab class.  Things went much smoother for the boys using Corel Draw program this time.  They made a Lego Mini-fig and a Curiosity Rover with the laser cutter.

Ledges Collage

“Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you.”

Frank Lloyd Wright 

We enjoyed the wonderful weather this week.  The boys amazed me again with their powers of observation – from studying what was living in a small water hole in a log to enjoying the texture of young leaves.  Of course, there was plenty of jumping and climbing and running as well.

As always it was a delight to spend time with the boys this week – exploring nature, enjoying a good book together, and learning about fascinating animals.  When I look back at life, these are the memories I will always cherish.

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Homeschool Record Keeping and Organization – A Relaxed Mom’s Guide


I find it amusing when people find out we homeschool and immediately say, “You must be so organized.”

We did the traditional school thing for a few years.  Homeschool doesn’t require more organization, but it does require a different kind of organization.  I greatly prefer running our homeschool compared to overseeing everyone getting out the door on time with the needed “stuff” each morning.   With homeschool I’m dealing with long term project goals.  I also have a tremendous amount of flexibility and my kids have “bought in” on these goals.  Traditional school didn’t allow much flexibility for me or the kids. It did require flexibility and it frequently felt we were operating in the urgent/unimportant quadrant (you know – finding out Monday evening you need some supply for a project at school on Wednesday after you just went to Target on Sunday)

My traditional school organizational set up included:

  • hooks by the back door for backpacks, jackets, hats
  • a “mailbox” for each child where I could store papers / items that needed to go back to school
  • a “mailbox” for mom where I stored informational flyers for short term reference – notices about parties, concerts, sight word lists, ect.
  • an informational file where we stored papers we might need to reference – student # logins,  policy information,  and various forms
  • a file box of test papers and completed work we wanted to save
  • storage space for lunch boxes, water bottles, and other lunch supplies
  • a file of yearly test scores and report cards
  • a continual STACK of papers I needed to sort / file / throw away
  • a hodgepodge drawer of pencils, balls, and tidbits that came home as gifts and rewards

The day by day homeschool set up is much easier:

  • A bookshelf for math, grammar, spelling workbooks as well as reference materials and idea books (science experiments and the like)
  • A file folder for storing handwriting paper (I also have these bookmarked on the computer for easy reprinting as necessary)
  • A basket for library books
  • A spreadsheet for recording books read and hours spent on learning activities.
  • A dry erase board that stores our “All About Spelling” letter tiles.
  • A dedicated location for supplies like pencils, rulers, protractor, and calculator (same as when they were in school, but now there is only one set required)

When it comes to record keeping my main tool is a spreadsheet I created.  It includes a book list and activities list.

Screen Shot 2014-04-26 at 8.12.30 PM

The book list includes the title, author, reading level, who read the book and the count for the year.  Color coding each line makes it easy for me to process the information at a glance.  I could keep three spreadsheet pages instead of doing the color coding, but I find this method easier.

I want the boys to read books they find interesting regardless of the level of the book, but I also want to make sure they progressively read harder material.

Screen Shot 2014-04-26 at 8.21.17 PM

In the same file, I keep monthly lists of learning activities.  It’s very straight forward.  Date, activity, and the number of hours:minutes spent on the activity.  A cell at the top of each child’s column totals the hours for the month. The current month’s page has a cell that shows the yearly total hours.

Next year I plan to strengthen our record keeping by keeping a list of documentaries and television shows similar to the reading list.  I jot them down in the daily record, but I’ve noticed I don’t keep enough information to share them in a resource list.

I also scan any handwriting samples I want to keep.  E has started typing many of his stories and emails them to me.

Previously I’ve tried keeping a handwritten journal, but I’ve found the spreadsheet option works much better.  I like the built in calculations and the fact the record is backed up to the cloud.  If I haven’t remembered to record anything for the day,  I’m usually reminded when I sit down to check Facebook or do a blog post.

As far as yearly records, I keep a copy of our notification and testing results.  I also keep a summary sheet of unit studies, the yearly book list, and a list of the workbooks completed for the year.  All these records go in a three ring binder.

You will also want to store any documentation of learning issues or testing accommodations with the yearly records.  If you know your child will need accommodations on the ACT or SAT it is best to start building a record early.  Lexercise offers dyslexia screening and testing.  The screening is free and the testing is currently $300.  You aren’t obligated to use their tutoring.  There might be educational consultants in your area who can provide testing for a similar cost.  Going to a neuropsychologist will cost more (usually starting around $2500 and can be $5000 and up), but can provide more information and some of the cost may be covered by insurance.  Even if you homeschool, you may be able to get testing through the local school district depending on the state (don’t depend on the school district to know if they are required to do this).

In addition, the blog serves as a scrapbook of our homeschool activities and unit studies.  I really appreciate the weekly wrap-up sites for the accountability they create.  Because of them, I do a much better job taking pictures each week.

Please remember to check your state laws. Every state has different requirements.

That’s my relaxed record keeping strategy for the elementary years.  It’s no cost, low maintenance, and best of all doesn’t require a large volume of paper work.

Do you have any record keeping ideas to add?  If you did traditional school, do you find homeschool organization easier or harder?

Why We Homeschool

IMG_0493One of the things I really like about the homeschool community is the diversity.  Homeschoolers choose homeschool for a variety of reasons.  I think most of us who stick with it, do it because it works better for us.  I know in our case, we are a happier family because of homeschool.  So why did our family start down this path?

The tipping point for me was when our then 1st grader was sitting at the table doing some school related busy work and said in the most genuine tone, “We never learn anything at school.” I tried to be encouraging and point out the progress he made in reading over the course of the year. He really did have a fabulous teacher.  He looked at me with great sincerity and said, “I want to learn about science and animals like I did with you and Mrs. Jean (his preschool teacher).  I want to learn math not just do timed tests.”

I felt his frustration.  I understood it all too well.  I also knew there was another option.  My husband and I discussed homeschool when the kids were really young, but we also desired the social connections that come with school.  I had planned to go back to work part-time once the kids were in school.  The truth was – I missed the time we had together during the preschool years.  I missed going to the library for stacks of books and learning right along with the boys about animals and ecosystems.  I missed introducing them to new science topics and taking them on trips to museums and science centers.

We decided to give homeschool a try for a year.  It’s been three years and we all love it. For us it works better than traditional school.

So what are the reasons we continue choosing homeschool?

Choose Homeschool


1. Science is fun.  – In the elementary years, science seems relegated to a position lower than art or music.  At a time when children should be learning and exploring how the world works, science instruction seems extremely minimal. ( I’m sure the music instruction feels minimal to the future musician as well. )

While science is about facts, it is also an inherently creative pursuit. Kids need time to PLAY with science, be entertained by science, and make their own discoveries.  There is so much to learn from exploring nature and doing science experiments.  We have such great conversations about things we learn.

Because we homeschool, the boys have time to learn about coding and computing.  While I sometimes feel guilty that we haven’t done even more in this area, I know it’s so much more than they would have time for if they were in school.

2. Reading needs to be personal– I feel passionately that kids should be able to read books they find personally interesting.  If the book is slightly beyond their ability, we should take time to support the young reader.  If the book is far beyond their reading ability, but within their interest, it can become a read aloud.  Children should not be denied access to reading material BECAUSE of their reading ability.

One of our sons has dyslexia.   That doesn’t mean he can’t read, it means reading is not automatic or easy for him.  It takes him additional time to read most material.

In the homeschool environment our son has one on one reading support.  He selects his own reading material and has individualized instruction to teach him to read the books he finds interesting.  At the end of 3rd grade, he has read more than 40 books and had more than 25 books read to him this year.  His exposure to literature includes books like A Wrinkle in Time and The Phantom Tollbooth along with many non-fiction books with scientific vocabulary he chooses to read on his own.  We continue to work on decoding skills, phonics, and fluency.  Because of individualized instruction I’m able to listen closely for “near-sound” pronunciations and make corrections.  At school he could easily be buried under a pile of worksheets to be completed and assigned reading passages until there was no time or energy for reading books he enjoys.  If you are only reading assigned material because it has been assigned, the motivation to keep going ceases to be intrinsic and may vanish altogether.  It is far better to teach reading, and other subjects, in a way that preserves the internal motivation of the student.

3. An individualized pace enhances learning – In some areas both boys work well ahead of grade level.  These are the subjects that are fun for them.  In other subjects I’m sometimes concerned.  But really, once the learning becomes individualized – the ahead or behind becomes irrelevant. The personal growth of each learner is the relevant measure of our success. Every child is an individual and homeschool allows them to learn in ways and at a pace that works for them.

4. Flexibility – If you reach long division on a day when your child isn’t feeling 100% you can postpone the introduction for a few days.   If your child has play practice until late, you can make adjustments.  Need extra time for reading? No problem.  Want to check on your science experiment over the next couple of hours? Go ahead.  Want to learn more about a topic?  Do more research.  Going on a great vacation with lots of learning opportunities?  Count some of those hours as school.

5. Questions are encouraged. – One of the hardest things for me when I transitioned from school to work was adjusting to the open-ended nature of projects.  No one was giving me a  list of requirements or a word / page count.  There was no answer key.  An acquaintance, who happens to be a physicist, remarked that was the hardest part for her as well.  Suddenly she was no longer even given the questions.  It was up to her to figure out what questions management would have and answer those questions along with other questions she determined would be relevant.

I want to make sure the kids learn to ask their own questions and follow their own curiosity.  This is perhaps more about me not squashing their natural impulse to ask questions.  Too often children are told – “That’s not what we are studying now.” instead of “Great question. Let’s write that down and look it up once we’re done with this.”

When our learning starts with a question posed by one of the kids, it tends to go more in depth and be far more interesting than anything I select.

6. Failure should be an option.  People are not failures, but sometimes projects are. I want to teach my kids how to pick themselves back up when things don’t go as planned and to persevere when things are hard.

Every science department on every campus has some research projects that were flops.  When we ask new questions and try new things sometimes they don’t work, but that doesn’t mean those things weren’t worth trying.  It doesn’t mean it wasn’t a good idea to try or the people who tried weren’t intelligent. It simply means they learned what didn’t work under the conditions they tested the idea.

My kids are big Mythbusters fans.  I like when the show makes adjustments to their technique and revisits a myth.  That is what scientists and engineers do, they learn from their failures and try again. One of my favorite saying from the show is, “Failure is always an option.”

7. Less stress and clutter – I might be completely alone on this one, but homeschooling greatly reduced the amount of clutter in my house.   The boys brought home SO MUCH paperwork and so many trinkets from school.  I’m pretty sure a few trees have been saved as the result of us homeschooling.  Less clutter equals a more relaxed mom.

8. I enjoy seeing my kids developing accountability for their learning. It sounds sort of weird to me, saying that about kids who are 9 and 10, but they are really stepping up and telling me what paths they want to take.  They ask to be enrolled in zoo classes.  They  requested help finding a way to learn how to program Minecraft mods.  They tell me what things they think will be interesting to learn.  The older one sets goals for completing his math workbooks.  They are thinking about what career paths they want to follow, and directing their learning toward those areas.   They are far from being completely independent,  but they are developing a sense of responsibility for the path they take.

9. Relationships –  Relationships are enhanced by shared experiences.  Not only do we have more opportunities to go on field trips during the week, we also have more relaxed weekends and evenings to spend together.  The boys are used to spending time together, so there isn’t a readjustment period needed to enjoy vacations and holidays together.   Our relationships aren’t strained by homework or being in a rush.

10. Time is precious and limited.  The boys and I fall more toward the introverted side of the personality spectrum.  We enjoy people, but we also need time at home to recharge.    They need their own creative space and play.  Homeschool allows us time to focus on academic pursuits during the morning and early afternoon, followed by creative pursuits and play, and robotics or soccer practice in the evening.  I’m no longer trying to multitask through dinner prep, homework supervision, and sorting through their “take home” folders.  Having a well balanced schedule means everyone in the family operates in a better emotional state.   It also means we have time to build relationships with each other.  Our time with our children is limited – we want to make what time we have with them as long and as positive as possible.


What favorite subjects does homeschool allow you to pursue deeper?  What are your favorite benefits?


Weekly Wrapup – Flexibility

Isn’t the flexibility of homeschool great?   This week we were very thankful for flexibility.


We took a day off school to celebrate a birthday!  We headed to the mall for eurobungy and mini-golf.

We also took advantage of homeschool flexibility to sleep in a bit after a night of severe weather kept us all up late.  It was nice to know I could let the boys play games in the basement and not worry about what time they needed to be up in the morning.


Since we used our time well this year, we can be relaxed at this point.  Our friends are still in school and the pools won’t open until next month, so we are still doing some school work every day.    We’re also taking more nature walks and the boys are starting an online computer class.


We visited our favorite vernal pool location this week.  In addition to caddis flies and mosquito larva, we found several tadpoles.  I was hoping we might find salamander tadpoles, but I think these are green or wood frog tadpoles.

At home we are growing butterflies.


E made the most beautiful Mother’s Day present.  A Monarch Butterfly in polymer clay.  He enjoys using polymer clay and comes up with some really nice creations.  I love when the kids create presents completely on their own.

This is probably worth a post on it’s own, but as we near the end of the school year I couldn’t be happier with our decision to homeschool.  It is wonderful to to see the boys personalities shine as they pursue their interests.  Two years ago I had a lot of trepidation about homeschooling a child with dyslexia.  Now I see the benefits and I’m so glad we had the courage, freedom, and ability to choose the homeschool path.  As I look over the list of books he read this year and see how happy he is,  I know without a doubt we made the right decision.

I hope you are having a wonderful week of learning!  What fun activities do you have planned for the end of the year?

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A visit to Old Woman Creek Estuary


This week is one of our first truly beautiful weather weeks.  We’ve had a great time birding and generally exploring the outdoors.


Tuesday we took a “field exploration” day and spent the entire day birding and walking at Magee Marsh and Old Woman Creek Estuary.   We thought the tessellated pavers at the OWC visitor center were really neat.  It was so much fun to just walk and look for nests and signs of wildlife.  We were sitting on a little bridge taking a rest for several minutes before we noticed the raccoon prints. Wildflowers@OWC

The woods are finally starting to green up and it is really beginning to feel like spring.


The highlight of our trip was seeing 4 bald eagles in one day.  While we were at the estuary, there was an observation point where we could see one eagle perched in a tree while another was soaring around.  We could also see their nest, but not all from the same angle.  In a world where so many animal populations are in decline, it’s nice to see a species that is recovering.

These are the days I really love homeschool.  We’ve done plenty of math, reading and grammar.  Now during these nice weather days we have plenty of time to be outdoors adding experience to our learning.  In turn, the experience we gain on days like these helps us ask fresh questions and spurs us on to learn even more about the world around us.

Check out the Magee Marsh post for more pics – including a bald eagle on its nest and lots of warblers.

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Spring Migration at Magee Marsh

By now you know we are always trying to learn more about animals and nature here at Learning with Boys.  We’re fortunate to live near Lake Erie, which happens to provide us some fabulous birding opportunities.  I’ve never been a birder, but the boys are curious about all types of animals.

Magee Marsh Bald Eagle in parking lot

Nesting Bald Eagle picture taken by one of the boys

This week we visited Magee Marsh and Old Woman Creek Estuary.  We were thrilled to see bald eagles at both locations, plus a bonus sighting along the highway before we even reached our first destination.

Black-throated Green Warbler (?) @ Magee MarshMagee Marsh is a hot spot for warblers this time of year.  In fact, the local tourism boards and birder associations put on a big festival that draws people from all over the US.

Blue-winged Warbler (?) Magee Marsh 5/6

If you don’t know anything about birding this is actually a great time to go.  The board walk at Magee Marsh is filled with people who have some serious optics and considerable bird knowledge.

Tennessee Warbler @ Magee Marsh 5/6

Normally I’m the type of person who likes to avoid crowds, but as an amateur I found it really helpful to clue in on where other people were looking and ask what type of bird they were seeing.  Magee Marsh - UFO 1

Most of the time we didn’t have to even ask what type of bird people were watching, because when they saw children, they asked, “Have you spotted the…..?”

Magee Marsh - UFO 2

Photographing the birds was exceptionally challenging.  Many of them stay on a branch fractions of a second less than what it takes me to center and manually focus the camera. The black and white warblers are exceptionally cute, but they hop around branches so quickly I ended up with photos of empty branches.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

In addition to warblers, we saw a rose-breasted grosbeak, a winter wren, and some thrushes.  We also saw lots and lots of robins and red-winged blackbirds.


We’ve been learning about migratory flyways and the importance of marshes and estuaries, so the boys were delighted to get an entire day devoted to a field trip.

To top off our great week of bird watching we put out our hummingbird feeders and saw the first ruby throat of the season!  Maybe this year I’ll succeed in getting a picture at our feeder.  If you have a chance to visit Lake Hope, Ohio they have a wonderful hummingbird program where you can “hand-feed” hummingbirds starting in July.

Rainy Nights

Not to talk about the weather but…..


I super love this time of year, when the weather warms up, and we are doing field studies for biology and geology.  Monday we set off for Magee Marsh near Toledo, Ohio to see if we could find any migrating warblers.  I promise I checked the forecast – Rain in the late afternoon, high near 60 F.  I may have missed the wind speed.  When we got there it was 40 F with the wind howling off the lake at 30+ mph and steady rain.  The drive home was steady rain too.  SO… Our hike was a very short mile.  We did see a few warblers.  The warblers can’t to fly across Lake Erie in that kind of weather, so they were tucked in some low branches.  I wasn’t able to get any pictures of the warblers – I hope to remedy that within the next two weeks while the migration is still going.


The trip wasn’t a waste – We saw a couple of bald eagle’s nests (pictured) and actually saw an eagle land in the nest, disappear, and leave again about 5 minutes later.  We saw lots of egrets and what we think was a cormorant.  We are looking forward to making a return trip next week hopefully with warmer weather.

Egret at Magee Marsh

We spent some time reading Marvels in the Muck  by Doug Wechsler.  It’s a great book about salt water marshes and estuaries.   Of course now we are wondering, “What are the differences between salt water marshes vs. the marshes and estuaries around Lake Erie?”

FLL CollageAll the stormy weather this week was a great reminder how much E’s team learned during this past year’s FIRST LEGO League (FLL) season.  The theme for 2013-2014 was Nature’s Fury.  Each team selected a natural disaster, researched it and presented an innovative solution.  The solution isn’t just for FLL competition.  The kids share the solution with the community it is designed to help.  E’s team researched tornadoes and developed a Debris Protection System.  There’s no substitute for a safe shelter but the Debris Protection System can help because – “Wearing a helmet during a tornado is a no brainer.”

I was working on my end of year summary, and it was great to see how FLL contributed to some really great unit studies.  I love that these kids are encouraged to research, reach out to experts, use their creativity, and make a contribution to their community in addition to developing programming skills.  Sign up for the 2014 – 2015 FLL season begins May 5th.  The theme will be:


The promo says, “Teams will teach adults how kids want and need to learn.”  I’m really excited about this challenge.  I hope educators and policy makers are paying attention, because the kids are going to come up with some great ideas.

Speaking of great ideas – if you didn’t have a chance to check out the finale of the Angelic Scalliwags  Medieval study it is amazing.  Claire does such a great job guiding her kids through project based learning studies.

Much of our week was spent shivering beside soccer fields.  I really appreciate the coaches and all the time they put into coaching and encouraging the boys.  Wednesday night practices were rained out and I found myself walking around the house singing, “I love a rainy night.”  It was such a joy to have a relaxed dinner with the kiddos.

What places are you exploring?

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