Say Yes to Chess!

Chess is an elegant game, don’t you think?  I’ve admired it since I was a boy.  And to be honest, I sort of assumed it was primarily a boy’s game.  Turns out I was quite wrong.

About two years ago, I got the old chess board down from the game shelf.  The kids had just learned how to play checkers, and they were curious about what Chess was.  The liked it immediately, especially since it involved “horses.”

It took a while for them to learn the basic rules, but in time they learned.  Eventually, they wanted to join the local chess club.  Again, one of the joys of homeschooling is that it frees up the family’s schedule.  There are lots of activities and opportunities that open up.  They’ve been meeting with their chess club buddies and their incredibly bright coach for over a year now.

Aside from being a fun game, Chess helps to develop critical thinking skills.  Players are encouraged to think about the consequences of their moves and to anticipate the strategies of their opponent.

Whenever I sit down to a game of chess with one of my girls, I usually begin the game by asking, “Do you want me to play my best, or would you like me to take it easy on you?”  Even though I would gladly let them win (if onmly so they can practice their end game), they always say, “Play your hardest, Daddy!”  So far, I have a perfect record.  But gosh darn it, those little chess players are starting to close in on me.  It’s only a matter of time before they say, “Checkmate, Dad!”

Then perhaps I’ll move on to backgammon.

Build Vocabulary Skills & End World Hunger!

You might already be very much aware of this highly popular (and highly altruistic) website.  However, in case it managed to get under your cyber-radar, allow me to tell you about!

Partnered with the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University and the United Nations World Food Program, this simple but useful website asks multiple choice vocabulary questions.  It begins with four “tester” words.  Things start off easy with words like “marine” (a word synonmous with “oceanic”). From there it progresses to more difficult ones such as “passepied” (a rather strange word that means “triple-time dance”).

For every correct word, the website donates twenty grains of rice to people around the world who suffer from hunger.  Play it as often as you like!  My kids enjoy learning the strange new words.  They love the fact that it is multiple choice — so they can take logical guesses.  I enjoy increasing my lexicon just as much as the kids do.  And we all love watching the grains of rice fill up the bowl that appears on the right hand side of the web page.

Well done,!  Your website is prodigious!  (That means “amazing”)

Friday is Park Day!

We are blessed to live in a community where there are literally hundreds of homeschool families.  Not everyone is as lucky.  Many folks who homeschool feel isolated, perhaps simply because of their geopgraphy, or perhaps because they just don’t know many other families who homeschool.   And, even if the parents do know other homeschoolers — that doesn’t necessarily mean that they will interact with them very often.  After all, homeschooling for some might mean staying inside the home!

To inspire parents and kids to get out more and socialize with families with similar educational philosophies, one of our group’s top-notch, super-organized Moms established Friday as Park Day.  Each Friday homeschool kids are welcome to visit a specific park, where they can play with old friends or meet a new buddy.  It’s a very casual, picnic-like atmosphere — a way of congratulating the kids for another week of self-motivated learning.  And, perhaps more importantly, Park Day is a way for grown-ups to talk with other grown-ups!

If you don’t have this sort of social network, but it sounds appealing, try it out with a small group of friends.  Meet once a week at a safe, fun place in your community.  (It doesn’t have to be Friday, but I would choose a weekday to avoid weekend crowds.)  Soon, you are likely to find that other homeschool parents will want to become part of your weekly gathering.

“Speak and Spell” Online!

 Do you remember”Speak and Spell”?  It was a great educational toy created by Texas Instruments.  I haven’t seen them in the stores lately — LeapFrog Products and other high tech gadgets have taken it’s place.  But I nice that vocabulary building device, not to mention it’s cool Stephen Hawking-styled voice.

speak and spell

Well, if you are your kids have never tinkered with this amusing and instructive little guy, I suggest you check out the online version of the “Speak and Spell.”  It doesn’t have all of the features of the original — but it certainly brings back memories.

And here are some other word game favorites your budding spellers can play:

Scrabble Online

Boggle Online 

Spelling Match Game

Creating and Connecting Lessons

Do your children study one topic at a time?

Do you spend forty minutes or so working on math problems, and then (perhaps after a ten minute break) do you then move on to something seemingly different?

Sometimes that’s how we work at our house.  My wife has established a rather impressive routine of division and multiplication exercises.  For the most part, the girls love it.  (They obviously did not get my anti-arithmatic gene!)  When they are done with their math they usually move onto their music practice.  Then it’s independent reading time — or sometimes they read stories to each other.

For some reason, the girls won’t sit still for me the way they do with their mother.  Actually, I know the exact reason– They view me as a playmate rather than a teacher.  Early on, I decided that I would do whatever it takes to make learning fun.  And it has been fun.  I’ve had a blast with all of our lessons.  The downside is, if I simply ask them to write a paragraph they whine and complain because they want a combination of education and entertainment.

I realize this might be an issue that needs to be addressed in the near future.  But for now, I’m still happy to make our lessons fun and inspiring.  After all, I mainly work with the kids on Fridays and the weekend (usually Saturday or Sunday, but not both days).  During the rest of the week, I’m more of the teacher’s assistant than the official professor.  So, when I work one on one with them I want the experience to be special.

To make it special, my lesson plans are an unusual combination of unit study and improvisation.  I usually desiginate a time frame.  For example, last Sunday I decided that I wanted to work with the girls for at least two hours.  I also knew that I wanted them to work on several things:





To prepare for the lesson, I spent the previous night reading and taking notes on Confucious.  He was the historical figure I wanted the kids to learn about to continue on with their “Great Thinkers from History” Series.  So, I knew that many of hisfamous sayings wouldallow the girls and I to talk comparitively about Eastern and Western philosophy.  (Nothing heavy duty mind you — just a discussion of moral values.)

From there, I knew I wanted the girls to work on Spelling and Grammar but I decided to let that come naturally.  My older daughter is easily frustrated when it comes to reading and writing.  My younger duaghter is an excellent reader but often gets bored with writing.  So, instead of pre-selecting an activity, we had our discussion about Confucious and then I let the girls choose three of their favorite sayings from the Chinese philosopher.

Once they wrote the sentences, we turned it into a grammar lesson.  I asked them about the different parts of the sentence.  They enjoyed identifying the nouns and verbs, and I was able to remind them about the differences between adjectives and adverbs.

On a whim, I showed them a few words in Chinese.  The girls were fascinated by the Chinese characters — and pretty soon we were looking up all sorts of Chinese characters thanks to this great translation website I discovered.  Throughout the day — pausing every now and then – they spent hours writing beautiful Chinese characters along with the English word.  If I asked my older duaghter to write out ten spelling words, she would let out a long tired sigh.  But because she found something she was interested in, she happily learned a whole bunch of spelling words, all self-motivated.

Field Trip: The Emancipation Proclamation

Whew!  What a long, tiring, but ultimately fulfilling Friday!

While I was busy at work (boo hoo for me!) the girls and their mother met with other Homeschool families and journeyed to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.  If you are ever near Simi Valley, California it’s definitely worth visiting, especially now.  Why now?  Well, from now until Monday the Emancipation Proclamation will be on display.

According to my wife, the wait was extensive, but everyone in line was in good spirits.  The children enjoyed learning about how the esteemed document helped to create equality throughout our nation.  My kids are usually “so-so” on history.  they can take it or leave it as a subject.  Yet, there are some elements of history that really inspire them — and Abraham Lincoln is perhaps their favorite historical figure.  (According to my wife, she and the girls are a distant cousin of Old Abe, so the kids are always eager to learn more about their ancestor.)

A local news station arrived on the scene and interview some of the homeschool kids and other visitors.  The news cameras made the event all the more exciting for my girls.  They are such hams when a camera is involved!

Our Wonder Wall

Last summer, my family and I traveled to England.  Before we arrived, the kids and I spent weeks learning about the culture and the history of the British Isles.  As we learned, we began writing down information, sometimes just a sentence, sometimes a whole paragraph.  The kids and I started drawing lots of pictures too:

  • We illustrated the theories on how Stonehenge was created
  • We created colorful drawings of the Roman soldiers building Hadrian’s Wall
  • And then we started doodling the many kings and queens.

Basically, we made so much stuff, that a simple collage would not suffice.  So, I decided to make use of our big blank wall next to the stairs.  I began taping up the artwork and the information.  Once the kids realized that their work was going to be on display, they really got into the process and began to create more and more informative pieces.  Needless to say, it was a fun way to express our ideas about history.

Yesterday, I finally took down the British History material.  The wall was blank again.  but only for a little while.  The kids and I will be spending the next six months learning about GREAT PEOPLE THROUGHOUT HISTORY.  The first person we learned about was Archimedes, the mathematical genius of the Ancient World.  After we read about his life, the kids wrote out a list of all the different things Archimedes studied: Astronomy, Phsyics, Math, Engineering, etc.  Then, we drew pictures of some of his legendary inventions.  (Our favorite was Archimede’s Claw — a device that could clutch onto enemy ships and tip the vessels over!)

We placed the Archimede’s material on the wall by the stairs.  It’s a little bit lonely.  But pretty soon, the Archimede’s tribute is going to have A LOT of friendly neighbors.

Debunking the Socialization Myth

Yesterday afternoon, the kids and I decided to get some sidewalk chalk and make our own four-square court.  If you aren’t familiar with this school yard game, here’s a link to the rules.  Anyway, we are very lucky to live on a street where isn’t much traffic.  So, after about five minutes of playing in front of our driveway, the rest of the neighborhood kids just lined up, ready to play with us.  By the time we were ten minutes into the game, there were about fifteen neighborhood kids playing together, from ages 4 to 13.

Now, that’s what I call socialization.  My girls enjoy playing with their homeschool buddies, but they get along terrifically with the neighborhood kids too.  And so far, after three years of home schooling, my kids have yet to be ostracized or labeled as “weird.”

If you arleady homeschool your child, then you already know that your child can engage and interact with others — your kid can “socialize” with the best of ’em.  However, if you are new to the idea of homeschooling — perhaps you are intrigued but you fear that your child won’t be “socialized,” let me tell you what my girls have been up to this week.

After playing four-square, the neighborhood kids and my girls attempted to create the world’s longest hopscotch course. (We did a darn fine job too!)

Earlier this week, my girls went to:

  • soccer practice
  • guitar / piano lessons
  • chess club
  • park day with other homeschool friends
  • field trip to the county fair
  • girl scouts
  • art class
  • and a cool new class on forensic science (detective stuff!)
  • and let’s not forget… just hanging out with friends…

If anything — we’re socializing too much!

Patience and the Perils of Spelling

“My nine-year old may be the worst speller in the history of the English language.”

At least that’s what a little voice in the back of my mind keeps telling me.  There’s a lingering part of my brain that is still worried about the homeschooling process, despite how successful it has been for my family, and so many other people I’ve met.  There’s still a doubtful part of my mind that says, “Hey Homeschool Dad, don’t you think she would be doing better at spelling or reading if she was in a public school?  What makes you and your wife think that you can do better than a public institution that’s been around for decades?”

Fortunately, I’ve been ignoring that little voice.  And it’s been paying off more and more lately.  Here’s our recent success story:

During the last five years, my nine-year-old has struggled with spelling.  She loves to write poetry, stories, and plays.  But God love her, she seems to have an aversion to vowels.  At first, I tried to play the role of the task master.  Every time she misspelled a word, I would show her the correct spelling.  Then, after she was done writing her creative project, I would then insist that she write each misspelled word three times.  Well, this terrific idea wasn’t so terrific.  It frustrated my daughter to the point where she didn’t want to write at all.  So — I took a different tactic.  I let her write and write and write – terrible spelling and all.

And I patiently waited until she fell in love with writing so much that she began to care not just about her ideas, but the words themselves.  Eventually, she began to take an interest in the proper spelling of the words.

Thank goodness my patience has paid off.  Since last week, she has become obsessed with spelling lists.  She spends at least an hour each day, writing out her spelling words.  And, for the first time in her life, she wants to enter a Spelling Bee!

I suppose the lesson for me as a parent is this:

If you create a positive learning environment (and exercise a great deal of patience) the child will embrace knowledge on her own terms — and develop a life-long passion for learning.

Return to Fables…

Do you remember Aesop’s Fables?  You know, the Tortoise and the Hare.  The Grasshopper and the Ant.  The Fox and the Crow.  The Lion and the Mouse.  There are hundreds more.  I learned about them as a child.  I read the more shocking ones as a teen.  As an adult, I decided to write a comical play about them called “Aesop’s Hop.”  Needless to say, I think Aesop, the legendary slave/storyteller from Ancient Greece,was a very wise man.

But I am saddened and surprised at how many young people are not aware of these fables.  As I’ve said before, I teach college students.  And guess what — most of them cannot name a single Aesop Fable.  Sometimes they know the one about the “rabbit and the turtle.”  But for the most part, they are not aware of the wit and wisdom to be discovered in Aesop’s collection.

If you feel that the lessons within these fables are valuable, a highly suggest that you check out the online collection of Aesop’s fables.

Aside from reading and discussing ancient fables, it’s a great idea to have you and your kids write fables of your own.  To help my kids come up with ideas for fables, I usually give them a few items to help their story along:

  • An animal
  • An object
  • A location

From there, I let the kids work together or separately.  In about twenty minutes or so, they create a fun and meaningful story, complete with a moral at the end.

Here’s an example of what my students came up with:

The animal: A sparrow.

The object: A statue.

The location: a garden maze.

One day an old man who considered himself very wise journeyed into an enormous garden maze.  He wandered around for over an hour and although he was lost he told himself that he was too wise to lose his way.  Overhead, a sparrow called to him, “If you are lost my friend, I can help you find the way,” said the bird.  The old man was too proud to accept the bird’s help.  Instead, he kept searching until he came upon a large, powerful looking statue.  The statue pointed down a new path — which the man immediately followed, but it was a trick and he simply became more lost.  The sparrow called again, “Kind sir, if you like, I can show you the way, for as a bird I can see the maze from above.”

But the old man thought, “That bird is too small and puny, not grand and powerful like myself and the statue.  I will not listen.”  And the old man kept going down his path, and he remained lost in the maze forever.

Moral: Listen to those with a different point of view.

Rather cool, don’t you think.  If you and your kids come up with a fable of your own, click on “COMMENTS” and share it with the rest of us!