Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A Fun Learning Tool: Brain Quest

And yet another great gift for Christmas, this time from 2008. We received a little package for each of our girls from Brain Quest. They have been around for a while and their slogan is "It's OK to be smart". Can't argue with that (except for the assumption that they aren't already getting that message). They are basically trivia cards for kids. They have many levels--one per grade--and general, math-based, or reading-based sets. For instance, you can purchase a grade 3 set of cards that only asks math questions. You can purchase a 2nd grade set of cards specifically for reading. The company must be doing all right selling these things; they now even have workbooks, items for preschoolers, toddlers, and history.

We got Brain Quest Grade 4 and Brain Quest Grade 1 last year (a little off for Flurpee since she is very young for her grade). The format is actually fun. Not some boring book in need of turning pages and checking for answers in the back of the book. You don't even have to turn anything upside down. The answers are on the next page--just a slide away. The pages/card are fastened with a sturdy rivet to allow the cards to fan out. Ready for the next page, just slide the current card out of the way. The questions an answers are shown below.

I like the format. It's easy to use and easy to hold. Each unit comes with two of the decks shown at the top of this post. The little pictures indicate the type of question. The question categories are science, English, math, U.S. history, geography, and 'grab bag' (music, literature, cultural, sports, games). I have mentioned before that, as a homeschooler, I have issues knowing what my kids are expected to be able to accomplish at certain ages. I also worry that we are missing tidbits of information (or perhaps even whole swaths) that they will be expected to know later and that will leave them struggling to understand larger abstractions. Here are 1,500 questions across disciplines that are fun for the kids to answer and answer some things for me as well.

If there is generic science or history information most 4th graders are expected to know, then anything they haven't already been taught might be discovered through these sets. I would not call this education. It is definitely a learning tool along with being entertaining. Like other games or ways kids pick up information from fun activities. In my mind, only when it is part of an overall, orchestrated plan does it count for education. This is not it for me, but it is a tool I will happily use. I liked them so much that I bought new sets for our current grade levels.

If you click through the links and actually buy something, I might get a little money at no additional cost or hassle.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Today: Just Another Day

  • 4 thrown pencils
  • 3 stomping aways
  • 9 pencil tips broken by grinding it into the paper
  • 65 the number of minutes she spent in her room after storming away from the work
  • 1000 dB level of the screams (they actually hurt my ears)
  • 23 the number of screams
  • 4 the number of times the table was pushed violently
  • 5 the number of times the paper was folded or rolled in anger
  • 8 the number of times she screamed "I don't know what you mean"
  • 8 the number of times she cut off my explanations with screams
  • 2 the number of times the paper was torn
  • 2 the number of times she tried to hit me
  • 6 the number of wrong answers given after refusing to listen to examples because she already knew how to do it
  • 4 the number of math pieces lost to throwing
4 the number of carry-over math problems done
3 the number of reading comprehension questions answered

This is how Flurpee, 8, and I did school today. This is pretty typical. Except she actually did some work.

After finishing the math and reading comprehension, she played a game of Crazy 8s with her dad and was pleasant as could be.

I think I'll try a game to start the day, more coffee, only 1 math unit, then another activity, then a little more math, and another activity, and the last bit of math, and see if breaking it into smaller pieces with someting fun and no-pressure in between can defuse her 'tantrum mode'. I also think I might try physically compelling her to sit at the table even if she wants to storm away. Usually I let her go because I think she needs time to calm down, but I suspect she goes off and has realized that she can avoid a lot of work by not responding to me or coming back downstairs.

Though I am still very uncomfortable with physical compulsion in that way. I am also playing with the idea of putting off lunch until the work is done which puts the choice back in her court without physical coersion. Or perhaps I need to do both. Flurpee, oddly, actually has a better positive reaction to physical limits than other kinds. She seems to settle and calm more quickly when I prevent her from hitting by grabbing her arm or prevent her from ripping her paper by removing it from her. This has always intrigued me psychologically.

The end of the day was much better.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Another Round Up

LB is hosting!

A Deperate State of Affairs: Housekeeping

Oh, I loathe it. I loathe picking up, putting away, wiping, dusting, sweeping, vacuuming, scrubbing...all of it.

I have never been particularly neat but when I was living alone ( ah, those short-lived, halcyon days of having my own apartment), I managed to be almost anal about keeping things tidy. I had a routine of straightening up before bed, keeping the kitchen clean while cooking, and I even left the bathroom cleaner than when I moved in. Of course that was only me and a measley 650 square feet.

And then comes hubby, fixer-upper house three-times the size, baby, new baby, quitting work to homeschool, and another baby. It makes housekeeping much more challenging. Anything that even looks like it could make housekeeping easier is something I will seriously consider trying.

My favorite tool from Christmas 2008 is one where the promise has lived up to my expectations. Being naturally skeptical of "guarenteed to make your life easier!!!", I was slow to get on the bandwagon. My mom had one a full year before me.


A cordless sweeper. The link goes to the model I have which I like very much. With an entire first floor of tile, there was no way I was using a broom for everything. Not to mention the amazing amount of crumbs that end up on the floor after meals with three or more kids. The sweeper keeps it's charge for a long time. Long enough for me to cover the 1000 square feet. With no cord to worry about, I do not have to interrupt the flow to untangle or move a plug. I know it is not the most amazing revelation, one of you might buy one if you had not considered it before and find it useful.

I have another favorite from this Christmas.


After I use the sweeper, I can finish my floors with the steam mop. So easy! And it truly does a credible job getting up the dirt. I find it actually loosens up sticky messes better than a regular mop. And no bucket and super wet, slippery floors. The floors are wet but the microfiber pad absorbs most of the water so they dry quickly. The microfiber pads are easy to wash and I have extra so if they end up delayed in the laundry (like everything else), I can still do some cleaning. The only draw back of my model is that I have to refill the water reservoir frequently. Not nearly as inconvenient as walking around with a bucket and squeezing filthy water out of a mop.

I still do not enjoy cleaning, but those are two tools that I have found that make it easier. And quicker.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Enjoying Twitter

I've been enjoying Twitter quite a bit. In case you didn't notice, if you don't actually follow me on Twitter, you can see the most recent tweets (status updates less than 140 characters) on the right-hand side of the blog. With my fairly new iPhone aquisition, I tweet quite frequently. Not necessarily great stuff, but stuff I think others might find amusing or interesting. If you would like to follow me, here's my profile.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Around the Dinner Table: Family Activities

I am not sure what the big fuss is about eating around the dinner table. Many studies have come out correlating eating dinner with the family to positive outcomes in kids but they do not have much to say about why. We eat dinner around the dinner table anytime there is not a schedule conflict. Some nights may be dominated by tae kwon do practice or the dreaded double-header of tae kwon do and soccer back-to-back. Even in the case of tae kwon do, we still eat at the table, we just have to do it without Daddy. No study is determining why we eat around the table, we do it because I want a chance to enjoy my kids.

We do enjoy our dinners! Not just the food--and thankfully kids tend to like their mom's cooking because they do not know any better--but the things we do. We have a standing topic we discuss which has been talked about here and elsewhere. Once we each finish our "three good things", we have more fun!

My husband's sister sent us a fabulous family present for Christmas this year. She sent us something called "Table Topics Family Edition". It's a great-looking, acrylic cube filled with sturdy cards. Each card has an interesting question on it that everyone at the table can think about and answer. I love these cards for myself especially. Occasionally it will give me a chance to share a story from my own youth that I would not usually talk about.

The kids enjoy these cards so much. They take turns reading the questions and we go around the table and give everyone a chance to give their opinion. Sometimes we continue discussing the topic wondering why someone choose the answer they gave. Other times we move right into another card. They have read the cards with friends even. I actually need to put a stop to the questions so we can clean the table.

Sometimes the kids will surprise me with their opinions. You would think after being a mother three or four times over that I would realize that half of parenting is seeing how your kids develop on their own. I am glad we found this opportunity to get to know each other more than we usually would.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Generalizations: A Glimpse of Toddler Development

I was catching up on reading some e-mail in bed this morning (because you can do such things with an iPhone), when I feel fingers grope over my face and latch onto my nose. Omega, 2 years old in December, likes to play 'got your nose'. He'll reach his chubby toddler fingers for a good grip and then 'steal' my nose for his own face. Imagine my surprise to find it was not just my nose he decided to claim for himself but also my mouth, chin, and eyes.

I love watching him connect the dots and move his understanding from a particular facial feature to any facial feature. And it is always fun to see him make a totally sensical jump that surprises me because I was tied into the standard formula. Then I decided I did not really want to play any more. While it was fun to have a glimpse into his little brain, it is a lot less fun to have those deceptively strong little fingers pulling on your lips or grasping at your eyes. And switching eyeballs is too creepy for me!