Thursday, December 31, 2009


The new artist we put up in the calendar this week was
Pablo Picasso. I remembered a wonderful Picasso art
lesson at Art Projects for Kids that was aimed at first
graders.  There's a similar lesson at Deep Space Sparkle.
LD did well with it; he said it was hard, but he was
proud of his picture when he was done. DD colored in
one that I outlined and did an impressive job too.

Most weeks I try to place a new artist in the weekly
calendar that hangs behind the dining room table. Here
is another post about our art appreciation calendar.

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Things Continue to be low-key on the homeschool front

We've been having lots of play-dates and time at the pool
with friends who are on school holidays. We've been
pretty low-key here at home. LD has worked a bit on his
hand-writing.  We've played a few math games, done mazes,
dot-to-dots and things like that, but we're still on break
from the big units (and I continue to plan and prep behind
the scenes).  Here are a few snapshots lately:

1) The kids both put on puppet shows.

2) we've done some geography review. Here we're all
singing the continent song (to the tune of Frere Jacque)
Europe, Asia, Africa
North America, South America
Then there is Antarctica
Don't forget Australia
Seven Continents, Seven Continents

LD was racing to put the pins in as we sang the song.
DD did the same thing but had to pull the pins out (and
we sang slowly!)

3) LD arranged the continents in roughly the right places

4) Painting is always a hit here in the homeschool den.

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Monday, December 28, 2009

Homemade Mini Golf

LD told us the other day , "my favorite sports are soccer
and mini golf." Then he went on to ask, "can we make our
own mini golf course?" Today we pulled out lots of stuff
and set up the back yard to be our own mini golf course.
Luckily we have more than a few boxes from Christmas.
LD's mini golf course had 8 holes. We all had a great
time. Even ED played along!

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LD was very frustrated because he couldn't get his ball
to go under the chair. DD won the hole and LD was not
happy. Luckily he did well on the next several holes so
the game ended on an upbeat note!

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Homemade Bagels

You can buy frozen bagels where we live, but they are
very thick/chewy and pretty horrible (in my opinion).
This evening I decided to try making bagels based on
this recipe. It was faster than making bread since you
don't have to let it rise very much. I was able to make
them while preparing the rest of dinner. They were done by
the time dinner was on the table. (A total of 50 minutes,
I think). All five of us loved them! The only thing I
changed about the recipe was that I only used 3 3/4 cup
all-purpose flour and added 1/4 cup of wholemeal flour
(wheat flour).

YUM!! I will DEFINITELY make these again (and
maybe they'll look prettier next time round)!
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Sunday, December 27, 2009

Geography -- Australian Pin Map

DD has been putting together the Australian
states and territories foam map most every day
(top picture). She's very confident with that so
I thought she was about ready for a pin map of

I find pin maps pretty easy to make these days.
I've explained how I make them before, but if
you missed the world map post, I'll briefly explain
how again.

1) First I laminated a map (that I chose from google

2) I cut out a thick piece of cardboard for the bottom
layer (so the pins don't go through).

3) I cut out four pieces of foam and layered them.

4) I covered the cardboard and the first 3 pieces of
foam with contact paper.

5) Then I added the last piece of foam and the
laminated map to the stack. I covered the entire
stack with contact paper leaving an inch of contact
paper on the map itself (you can see that in the

It's not professional looking, but it's pretty hearty
and water resistant (important since they live on
our dining room table for the most part!)

6) I laminated the labels and leave a bit of the plastic
around the edges. Then I take a straight pin and
put it through the label. Finally I put a piece of clear
packing tape over the pin/label (since I have a toddler
and want to make sure the pins don't come out).

I made this map last week. Today I had another very
productive day (as dear hubby played board games and
entertained the kids the whole day, scrubbed the kitchen,
picked up the living room, made dinner and all that). It
was a very fun, very relaxing and very productive day. I
got a lot of homeschool prep done and can't wait to share that.
I'll save that for another day though. It's time to play with
the kids and then wind down for the night (getting ready
for bed, reading books and all).
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Friday, December 25, 2009

Handwriting Resources

During this break I've been looking into handwriting skills.  I have a few minutes and thought I'd quickly share what I've come across lately.

I found an extremely useful 32-page article about handwriting.  It's a handwriting resource for (pre-K and kindergarten) teachers in a Maryland school district.  You can find it here:

It has some suggestions for building handwriting skills from a young age (preschool) such as activities that encourage children to cross the midline of the body (by waving their hands above their heads and crossing their arms like scissors), learning to tie one's shoes, skills such as zippering, and buttoning. 

Other activities they suggest:

*create a crawling obstacle course (crawling is a great midline-crossing activity)
*lie on the floor on their stomach to paint, do finger plays, etc.
*play limbo
*play tennis (or something equivalent)
*crawl like a turtle

Foster the ability to use to hands and build small muscle strength by

*tearing paper,
*cutting with scissors
*tracing letters
*making letters out of yarn, shoestrings etc.
*gluing, stapling, punching holes
*wring out sponges
*sewing and lacing
*stringing beads
*clapping games
*using blocks, Legos, Knex etc.
*use spray bottles
*tweezers, tongs
*use a meat baster or eye dropper
*finger paint (with paint, jello, salt, sand etc.)
*playing with small toys
*screwing lids, nuts and bolts
*playing piano
*basic art -- coloring, drawing, sketching, folding paper etc.
*molding with clay, sand, play-dough, paper mache, etc.

The article goes on to talk about modeling correct letter formation, addressing common handwriting issues.  It's worth a read if you have the time.

Meanwhile, I've also looked into introducing LD to cursive.  From the early 1800s until after WWII, children learned to write in cursive when they first started school.  The McGruffy readers have both print and cursive in their readers from the earliest primer.  There are some good reasons for introducing cursive first (or early on).  For one thing it is harder for them to make letter reversals (such as b and d).  Some say that the cursive style is easier and faster.  I asked LD and he's interested in learning cursive this semester so we're going to give it a go.

Here are a couple of resources I've used for introducing LD to cursive writing:

for tracing upper and lower case letters:

making your own tracer page:

Using the tracer page I made pages such as "My name is X. I live at X. My phone number is X." And, to appeal to LD I made up a silly story about a pet alien for him to trace as well using that program above.  We'll also check out Handwriting Without Tears.  I let you know what we think.


On another note, the Sunrise Learning Lab mentioned a kindergarten homework calendar she came across at The calendar is a little difficult for DD and is a bit easy for LD however it has some great suggestions for building kindergarten skills (such as working on memorizing your phone number, counting skills and things like that) which would take no more than a few minutes. I found it to be a useful resource to keep in the back of my mind. I'm looking forward to checking out the rest of Kelly's website such as her Games to Make page which has board games for sight words, math words, etc.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Happy Holidays!

Our family went out to view the Christmas lights around
town last night. The winning families spent days setting
up their display. The family pictured below spent 12 full
days and 15 half-days putting up their display. Another
family started putting up lights in September.

In the second photo below you'll see Santa on his sleigh with
"Six  White Boomers" (or kangaroos). This is in reference to a
song by Rolf Harris.  Since  Santa's reindeer can't cope with
the heat, he has six large white kangaroos (boomers) to pull
his sleigh across Australia.

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Christmas Candy

I made a batch of Christmas candy that was a big hit with
the kids. I used the candy corn recipe, and added green
and red food coloring. It took long enough that I had to
place the candy mixture in the microwave for 10 seconds
several times, but I thought it turned out well. What do
you think?

I also made a small batch of fudge today from the Better
Homes and Gardens Cookbook

*Cook in a saucepan until 236degrees F (stir the entire
1 cup sugar1/4+1/8 cup light cream (or half-and-half)
1 oz (1 square) unsweetened chocolate cut up
1/2 tsp corn syrup

*Add but do not mix
1 Tbsp butter
1/2 tsp vanilla

*Cool to 110F (50 minutes or so)

*Beat w/spoon until mixture loses its gloss (6-8 mins)

*Place in pan on buttered aluminium foil, cut in squares.

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Planning for the new Semester

Here in Australia, most kids will be starting a new school
year at the beginning of February.  We follow the American
school year, so LD will still be in first grade and DD is still
in preschool.

Since we take days off as we need to, I generally continue
at half speed after the holidays (getting together for play dates
or going to the pool at the drop of a hat).  Still, I've been
spending time getting ready for the new semester. I made up a
new workbox planner (using my comb binder). I've been
laminating various things for DD's preschool workbox
(such as a new pin map of Australia, a cute activity on the
origins of cookie ingredients, etc.). We'll be doing a unit on
science experiments again this January and I've hunted down
lots of experiments that LD (and DD) can do.  Since they're
so young, I don't have a particular theme, I choose
experiments based on whether I think they can do it relatively
independently (and if it will engage them). We'll also be doing
a unit on biomes/animal habitats.

This next semester, I hope to really step up our German
studies. The kids did really well at the beginning of the year,
but I wound up putting a  bit more emphasis and consistency
on LD's  piano.  Now that piano is fairly established (he can
practice independently some of the time now), I think I'll be
able to add German with  more regularity (daily for 10 minutes
or so). If you have any good resources (with simple German
words/sentences), I would love, love to hear from you!  My
kids are too young for a software program.  Mostly I'm just
playful with them (and use German while we chat about and
play with things).

Anyway, I'll post more about our school studies once the
holiday fuss has died down!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Christmas Math Tracks Game

Because of our road trip and swim lessons, we haven't been doing
much in the way of academic school work lately, but I thought
I'd share a math-game I put together this weekend.
This is a place value game I made using two sets of dominoes pictures from

Both LD (6) and DD (age 4) enjoyed playing the game, though
I only had LD tell me the number value of the dice
(ie. saying 4,501 -- four thousand, five hundred and one)

Here are a few pictures of the game board, dice and stuff.

I'll explain how to play below.

By the way, I laminated the four Santas, Snowmen
and Rudolphs (the game pieces each player needs)
and also the dice-board (shown in the picture above).

I made our dice using colored craft cubes.  I used
the numbers 0 through 5 on each of the four dice.

I also made another "face off" die of a different color
using the numbers 0-3, 8 and 10 (to make it more

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A Place Value Game

Each player gets one figure (Santa, Rudolph
or the snowman in each of the four colors)

On the player's turn he/she rolls all four dice and places
the proper color on the dice board. (See 2nd picture)

The player moves each of his/her Rudolphs (or
Santas or Snowmen) the number of spaces indicated
by that color dice.

I have my older child say one thousand, two thousand, etc.
or ten, twenty, thirty, etc. as he moves those numbers of

If the player has a large number and is going to pass
another player on the board he/she can either continue
moving that number of spaces OR can stop and have a
"Face-off" with the other player using the other dice.

Using the orange die (which has numbers 0, 1, 2, 3, 8 and 10)
the two players roll. Whoever has the higher number
wins the face-off and gets to go that number of spaces.

This game is similar to Dino Math Tracks Place Value Game by Learning Resources.
We have this game and I highly recommend it!
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Saturday, December 19, 2009

Fudge Cookies

I love this recipe and it's really easy to make, especially
if you need something quick and easy for holiday
celebrations. They are VERY rich.

1 cup semi-sweet choc. chips
2 oz (2 squares) unsweetened choc, chopped
2 Tbsp. butter

ADD and MIX:
2/3 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. b. powder
1 cup chopped pecans or other nut

8-10 mins
at 170/350 in the oven

By the way, you can store this dough in the fridge
for one week or in the freezer for a few months
(just thaw it in the fridge).

This is from the Better Homes and Gardens cook
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Friday, December 18, 2009

More Trip Pictures Have Been Posted Below

Just to let you know we posted more of our South
Australia trip pictures, but you'll have to scroll down
below the Coober Pedy pictures.

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Christmas Ornament Activity

Here's a little activity I put together for the
season. I got some cheap little ornaments
to hang on this little Christmas tree. I made
the tree out of pipe cleaners and placed some
self-hardening clay in a little plastic cup so
the tree would stand up. I wound up needing
a bit more support for the tree, so used the
bottom of a paper cup to make it a little more

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