Archive for the ‘Fun Learning Stuff’ Category

Couch Fun

January 13, 2015 @ 9:32 pm | Filed under: Fun Learning Stuff

rillaloves Six short years ago

A homeschooling friend who’s expecting a baby asked for ideas for fun learning activities to do from the couch. Others chimed in with suggestions; here was my contribution:

I second Erica’s Signing Time recommendation!

Jim Weiss CDs (holler if you want to borrow some of ours)

The Horrible Histories video for English monarchs—we watched it every day for a few weeks until we had them all by heart.

Look for Koosje Koene drawing videos on Youtube. (If the computer is accessible.) Short simple how-to videos that we have found quite inspiring.

Clapping games like Say Say oh Playmate, my kids love when I dredge these up from memory.

This silly parts-of-speech game we used to play in the car. :)

Plus other wordplay games like the one where you pretend you’re packing for a trip and the first person packs an A thing (apple), second person adds a B thing (brush) + says the A word, and so on—see how far through the alphabet you can get. (I am blanking on the name.)

If you have cable you might have a karaoke channel, surprisingly entertaining.

Good time to work on a foreign language

Impromptu spelling bee

Round robin storytelling—one person starts and you take turns going around the room. I can see your girls having a great time with this!

For times table practice sometimes I make them run up and down the hall while I call out problems. For beginners you can give the problem and they give you the answer when they get back, it gives them time to think.

Count all the squares/rectangles/triangles etc in the room. This can get tricky! Doors and windows can have many subdivided rectangles, etc. (I remember once looking at a large window at our church in Virginia. Jane asked how many rectangles I could see. I counted something like 16. She then pointed out to me a total of 37 different rectangles!)

Book scavenger hunt: assign a subject, like a lion. Everyone goes off to look for a book with a lion in it.

Oh how this makes me miss our baby days! Huck turned SIX today, how can that be possible???

Fun Gift Idea: Dress Up Bunch Club

December 16, 2014 @ 10:02 am | Filed under: Fun Learning Stuff

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Saw this on Twitter and had to share! I love Wendi Gratz’s work—her book is one of Beanie’s go-to resources—and this doll + clothes pattern club such a fun idea I wanted to pass it on.

You’re Invited to the Dress Up Bunch Club! – Shiny Happy World.

Join the club and on the 13th of every month you’ll get a brand new, never-seen before pattern!

The pattern in January will be for a new Dress Up Bunch doll (a human girl).

Every month after that for the rest of the year, the pattern will be for an outfit and some accessory (or accessories) to go with the doll. I don’t know what they’ll be yet (though I have some ideas) but at least some of them will tie in to seasons or holidays.

You’ll receive the pattern by email. You can start sewing that very day!

This isn’t an affiliate link or sponsored post, just a gift idea I thought some of you might enjoy. :)

Art Resource: Koosje Koene’s Draw Tip Tuesday

November 16, 2014 @ 9:10 am | Filed under: Art, Fun Learning Stuff

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(Added the shadow color before the cookie was dry, and the yellow bled. Whoops!)

Saturday night, as I’ve mentioned, is one of the best parts of my week. My boys go to bed early these days—7:30, ever since the time change. (Ahhh…) Rose and Beanie watched S.H.I.E.L.D. with Scott. And Rilla and I cozy up on my bed to listening to our current audiobook—right now we’re midway through Matilda, having had such a delightful time with The BFG—and our sketchbooks.

Sometimes we start off with a few short art videos on YouTube for warmups. Lately we’ve had some of our most fun bouts of clip-watching yet, because we have discovered Koosje Koene’s Draw Tip Tuesday. Koosje is a Dutch artist who teaches online art classes at Sketchbook Skool and via her own site. Her clips are clear, fun, and super helpful. Rilla and I are having the best time making our way through all of them. I’m learning a lot!

I’ll share only a few here. It was hard to choose which ones! You can click through to see the whole series. We have subscribed to Koosje’s Youtube channel so we won’t miss anything.

We had fun with this tangerine:

(direct link)

And this cookie quartet:

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Of course we couldn’t resist the one about popsicles:

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This tip for how to draw both edges of a banner at once was new to me and is very cool:


(direct link)

Enjoy!

Spinning around again

October 7, 2014 @ 8:41 am | Filed under: Books, Family, Fun Learning Stuff, Handcrafts

Rilla, as you know, is eight years old, which means it’s her turn for the family tradition called Daddy Reads Mommy’s Martha Books to You. Which for all four of my daughters now has meant, as sure as the sun will rise, a sudden burning need to learn how to spin. I understand; the passion gripped me, too, when I was writing those books. I never did score myself a spinning wheel (it’s on the Someday list) but I had to have a drop spindle so I could know what it felt like to fumble along like beginner Martha. She got good at it way faster than I did, though. In my defense, she had Auld Mary for a teacher, whereas I? Didn’t even have YouTube yet. It was 1997, which means the internet helpfully told me what books to read.

Now this ladyher I could have learned from.

How to Spin Yarn Using a Drop Spindle.

Monday Monday

September 8, 2014 @ 8:04 pm | Filed under: Connections, Fun Learning Stuff

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Today I forgot to blog first; it’s nearly bedtime. :)

Melanie has begun a link-up for sharing daily learning notes, always an engaging topic (if you’re anything like me). I used to have an entire side-blog for my daily notes, and then a different one, and then a different one. These days I’m tracking things on paper, but I do like to compile some of our best resources and rabbit trails here pretty often, as you know.

Selvi asked in the comments the other day why we were working on memorizing the English monarchs, because I’ve mentioned that several times. The main reason, as I replied to her, is because they make very handy pegs for hanging other historical events on. So often in our history, literature, and science reading we come across some incident involving Great Britain and we used to always say, “Who was king then? Or was it queen?” So we set about learning the list (and American presidents as well, but that was easier because these kids grew up on the Singin’ Smart CD with its infectious tune for the presidents) and it turned into a really fun family accomplishment. Oh the triumph now when we can all get through the Horrible Histories song without a hitch! ;)

Our various readings continue to interconnect in satisfying ways. We spent a couple of weeks on Wordsworth (you don’t leave this house until you know a good bit about the Romantics, that’s just the way it is) and are reading Coleridge this week, and that has created excellent crossover with our readings about the French Revolution. Except a MOST UNFORTUNATE THING happened and that is: while (continuing on in the juggernaut of world history) reading aloud about Napoleon, my tongue got twisted and his name came out BonaFART. Never, never, never shall I be allowed to live this down. Never, never, never shall I be permitted to read another word about him without a ripple of giggles across the room. Waterloo can’t come fast enough, believe me. I might have to move to Elba myself.

ANYWAY, back to Coleridge. We began a discussion of “Frost at Midnight” today, which is one of my most beloved poems. It’s a good many years since I’ve lived where there’s frost, but I still look at a winter sky and inhale the cold air and think of silent icicles quietly shining to the quiet moon. We found so much to discuss in the first stanza that that’s as far as we got for now—and the best is yet to come.

Today during our after-lunch block (that’s when I focus my attention on Huck and Rilla), we did cornmeal letters. Uppercase printing for Huck and lowercase cursive for Rilla. This was a new activity for Huck and he enjoyed it tremendously. (And ate a whole lot of dry cornmeal, gah.) He’s not yet shown much interest in writing or drawing—loves to paint big swirls and stripes of color, but crayons interest him not at all—but we have a Montessori Letter Shapes app that mimics this kind of tactile finger-tracing, and he used to play that quite a lot. When I put the plate of cornmeal in front of him today and showed him what we were going to do, he asked, politely puzzled, “But how do we reset it?” No reset button, you see. Oh my digital-era child.

He got the hang of the analog method pretty quick. ;)

G for Grin

G is for grin

Stuff that’s working

September 4, 2014 @ 7:19 pm | Filed under: Fun Learning Stuff

Okay, then. Blogging first, blogging freehand.

romewasntdrawninadayMy visual aids are world-class.

 Some things we’re having fun with these days:

Famous Men of Rome. Rilla’s first time. Rose and Beanie are listening in—they know these stories well and enjoy them, and it’s amusing to them to watch Rilla encounter them for the first time. She’s doing a lot of narration afterward, mostly at dinner in the guise of “tell Daddy all about Romulus and Remus.” Sometimes during or after a chapter, I use the whiteboard to help her remember names.

Whiteboards in general. You guys, I use them for EVERYTHING. A million years ago I made the brilliant move of buying a whole bunch of scratch-and-dent markerboards for a song. The larger size are perfect as painting boards, underneath our paper—they wipe up easily and can be moved elsewhere while the masterpieces dry. We also use the big ones for things we’re trying to learn by heart. Presidents and their terms, British monarch family trees, and so forth. The smaller ones fit handily beside my chair and are great for our Latin lessons. I’ll write out a sentence and let them parse it. Meanwhile, Huck is keeping himself busy nearby with another markerboard and my best dry-erase pens.

Horrible Histories Kings and Queens of England sing-along. Penny!!! I can’t thank you enough for mentioning this a while back when I wrote about using Memrise to learn British monarchs. This video—all the HH videos—delightful. Hilarious. We’ve been watching this one every morning for two weeks and today we got through the entire song without a hitch. I wish you could hear Huck imitate baby Henry VI. (Wah!) Spot on.


Charles II is my favorite.

Creativebug. The other day I happened upon this rather amazing site. It offers video tutorials in a zillion artsy and crafty pursuits, everything from embroidery to cake decorating. I signed up for a free two-week trial subscription, and if you’re my friend on Facebook you know I’ve been having a whale of a time. Rilla and I have already devoured illustrator Lisa Congdon’s Basic Line Drawing course, and we’re three-quarters of the way through Dawn Devries Sokol’s Art Journaling class. We have Art on our schedule twice a week after lunch, but that’s not been nearly enough to accommodate the creative outpourings inspired by our Creativebug explorations. I’m finding the Lisa Congdon class has been particularly inspirational and instructive, spurring me to do a bit of sketching when I hit a snag in writing. Sometimes my other jobs—raising kids, educating them, managing a household, editing—plant me pretty solidly in my left brain and I need a right-brain pursuit like drawing (even though I’m no visual artist, as the whiteboard above attests*) to exercise my creative muscles. I’m enjoying, too, painting backgrounds in the art journal and returning to them later to practice line drawing. Rose plans to watch all the cake decorating videos. Beanie’s interested in the embroidery. Right now Creativebug is offering a whole MONTH of free trial (use promo code “CRAFT,” good through Sept. 14, and thanks Kortney for the heads up on that!), so if your interest is piqued, now’s the time to give it a try. After the trial, a subscription is $9.95/month for unlimited courses, or $9.95 to buy individual courses that you can access forever.

tulipbook*In my defense, I did draw a lot of it upside down.

20 Ways to Draw a Tulip. Lisa Congdon mentioned this book of hers during her line drawing tutorial. I’m in love with it. It’s tulips and 44 other flowers. Twenty ways to draw each of them, from simple-and-sweet to highly detailed to stylized and folk-arty. Wonderful, wonderful, out of all hooping.

And guess what’s back. ModPo!!! The best Coursera class I’ve taken, and I’ve taken some darn good ones. Modern and Contemporary Poetry with Al Filreis and his MFA students at University of Pennsylvania. Last year I watched about 75% of the videos. This year I’m hoping to tune into the entire course, but listen, even if you only manage a single video all semester, you’ve gained something. The discussions are engaging, thoughtful, and lively. My highest recommendation.

Best of all: Wisteria and Sunshine, Lesley Austin’s lovely membership site, has reopened its doors. There’s nothing else like it on the web. Lesley’s posts and pictures are nourishment for the soul, and I always come away with something to ponder, something to act on, something to cherish—just like in the Charlotte Mason motto about how a child should always have Something to Love, Something to Think About, and Something to Do.

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“A quick one,” she said. Ha!

August 26, 2014 @ 7:28 pm | Filed under: Fun Learning Stuff, Home and Hearth, Household, Paper & Desk

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Last night’s talk on habits seemed to go over very well. I was astonished that we had forty moms in attendance! We set up chairs and blankets in my backyard. Several of you have asked for a write-up of the talk, so I’ll work on that during the week. Thanks so much for your interest!

Playing catchup tonight, so this will be another quick one. I’ve been making my way through Mystie Winckler’s Simplified Organization eCourse (affiliate link, and I think the “backtoschool” discount code still works), and I really enjoyed her video on Google Calendar. Same thing happened with gCal as happened with Evernote when I read Mystie’s Paperless Home Organization book: in both cases I thought I was already using the platform in question in a fairly savvy manner, but Mystie taught me some tricks I didn’t know. In the case of Google Calendar (my lifeline for years now), I already had multiple calendars set up that I toggled on and off for various views: Appointments, Kid Activities (including, this summer, Jane’s work schedule; also includes family birthdays), and a Deadlines calendar I share with Scott. But now I’ve added:

• a Household calendar for tracking my daily chores, the ones assigned to specific days of the week a la Flylady;

• a Readalouds calendar (a brainstorm that came to me after Mystie’s video; I’ve tried many ways of logging our numerous picture book readalouds through the week and I always wind up dropping the ball; we’ll see if this one works );

• and a very simple Zones calendar that displays the Flylady zone of the week. I’ve been using Flylady’s schedule, modified, on and off for some fifteen years now! When I follow it, the housework flows so much more smoothly. Until now I never thought of having a gCal dedicated solely to announcing the week’s zone.

The Household calendar has already proven its merits. I created it over the weekend and made recurring entries (not pegged to a specific time, so they appear in bands of color) for the rotating daily chores. Then, for extra tasks such as the ones associated with hosting a houseful of moms, I assigned times (somewhat arbitrary, but I did find it kept me progressing through the tasks through the day) so that those would show up without the orange background.

zones

I’ve never tried anything like this before—listing the individual chores necessary for a non-routine event—and it worked amazingly well for me. I was able to work through the list in a pretty calm manner, not the frazzled frenzy that is my usual state when preparing for company. :)

I didn’t put our regular morning/afternoon/evening chores on this calendar because those are routine now, for the kids and me. This is only for my jobs that come around weekly or less often.

***

I got carried away there and wrote more than I meant to. :) I’m thinking about adding yet another gCal for our High Tide studies. I have it marked out in colorful chalk and propped on the mantel where I can see it from my favorite chair, but I think I might enjoy seeing it laid out this way too.

This morning we returned to our (still new) schedule. We’re having a good time with Latin, brushing up on what we learned last go-round. For some reason Latin brings out the merry in all of us. Rose and Bean and I are back to our Romantic poets, so you know I’m in heaven. We’re reading Lear aloud—Rilla is doing a bang-up job as Cordelia—and today (at long last) Rose and I started Paradise Lost. Beanie and I, meanwhile, are spending a few weeks in the company of my beloved Mr. Twain. She’s knee-deep in Connecticut Yankee at the moment. I need to catch up to her.

Obviously we’re going heavy on Lit at the moment. There are other things afoot, of course. Including a whole lot of D&D character-building among the girls. For Rose’s birthday last week, I gave her a new adventure module with a promise to DM for them. In a momentous gesture, Rilla has been invited by her big sisters to join the game. This necessitated a lot of poring over manuals to find the perfect combination of character race and class. I believe she settled upon half-elf paladin. Backstory in progress. I think Rose may enjoy creating characters and fleshing them out even more than playing the game. A girl after my own heart.

Related post:
It’s funny that I am simultaneously a paper girl and a fan of Paperless Home Organization

Big Picture Classes “Phone Photography Project 2″ Class

August 8, 2014 @ 7:40 pm | Filed under: Apps, Fun Learning Stuff, Photos

balboa walkwayOne of the many long galleries at Balboa Park. Assignment: In a Row.

At Comic-Con two years ago (or was it three? they begin to blur), I dropped my camera in the street, and it has never been the same since. Even before that, I was finding myself more likely to reach for my smartphone than the camera when I wanted to snap a pic. I gather I’m not alone in this. As phone cameras have improved and apps like Instagram make uploading and sharing easier, more and more of us are relying on our phones to capture the memories we want to save.

At times, though, I’ve been frustrated by the frankly mediocre quality of my phone photos compared to the kind of pictures I used to get with my camera. When I saw that Big Picture Classes was offering an online course in phone photography—and furthermore, that my fellow former ClubMom blogger Tracey Clark was one of the instructors—I decided to take the plunge.

Oh you guys, I am SO happy I’m taking this class. The “Before and After” videos, in which various instructors walk you through the editing process on a single photo, using their favorite apps, made an immediate difference in my pictures. And I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the biweekly lessons with accompanying photo challenges, all based around themes like “In a Row,” “Lines,” or “Fill the Frame.” I’m much happier with the quality of the photos I’m getting out of my iPhone. Almost every image I have posted here in the past two weeks was influenced by the course.

The class runs through August 16 and you can sign up right until the end. You move through the lessons at your own pace. There’s a pretty active message board with lots of input from the instructors, and several bonus videos in which guest photographers spend some time talking about their phone-photography process.

Here’s a selection of my class assignments. There’s a gallery where students may upload photos, but the best place to see others’ work is on Instagram, where we’re tagging our work #bpcphonephotographyproject and adding tags for the individual assignments, such as #ppp2inarow or #ppp2shapes.

seaport village houseTaken at Seaport Village in San Diego. Assignment: Rule of Thirds.

orchidsI always swoon over the orchids in Balboa Park’s Botanical Building. Assignment: Fill the Frame.

blueguitarsSnapped in a corner of the music studio where my kids take piano. Assignment: Lines.

leaflinesAnother take on the Lines assignment.

succulentI’m always admiring these beautiful succulents in my neighbor’s yard. Assignment: Fill the Frame.

rocktowersThere’s a man who stacks these rock towers at Seaport Village every day. Assignment: Shapes.

guitarsbwAnother take on the guitars…Assignment: Black and White. (I think this may be my favorite of the bunch.)

morninglightRose found this feather and we decided it was meant for my blue jar. Assignment: Light.

geocacheseaportvillageAnother Seaport Village shot, but I’m not saying where exactly. ;) Assignment: Fill the Frame.

coronadobeachgirlandshipI posted this one here last week, but I tried a slightly different edit when I shared it on Instagram. I think I like this faded version best. (I prefer the taller crop on the original, though.) Assignments: Vantage Point and Rule of Thirds.

beanieflieskiteI happened to read the Vantage Point lesson right before our trip to Seaport Village, and it’s what nudged me to get down on the ground underneath Beanie as she took a stab at flying this kite. I like how the kite is about to sail right out of the frame.

carshadowsOne of the things I’m appreciating most about this class is the way it makes me notice things in my surroundings that I might otherwise have glanced right past. I passed these cars in a parking lot behind the San Diego Convention Center during Comic-Con and was struck by the reflection of the slats on their windshields. Submitted it for the Black and White bonus challenge.

seaweedgirlThanks to the class I learned how to straighten the horizon in this formerly very tilted shot! I didn’t tag it for any of the assignments, but the way the wind was whipping that seaweed around, it could almost qualify for the Action challenge.

Tomorrow brings a new lesson—I can’t wait!

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Online Foreign Language Resources #2: italki

June 24, 2014 @ 8:44 pm | Filed under: Foreign Languages, Fun Learning Stuff

See #1 in this series: Memrise.

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Last night I had a trial lesson at italki.com with a German teacher who currently lives and works in Taiwan. At the appointed hour he rang me on Skype and we had a delightful half-hour chat. We started with video but the connection was wonky so we switched to audio only, and that worked fine. Something I especially appreciated was that whenever I struggled with a word or phrase, Stephan corrected me and typed the correction in the chat window so I could see it as well as hear it. Afterward, the chat log provided a nice transcript of the things I’d learned.

language optionsSince this was a first lesson, it was largely conversational. Stephan spoke to me in German from the beginning (when I set up the lesson I’d had to fill out a form describing my current level), asking lots of questions and encouraging me to plunge in and answer as best I could. I loved it. He also sent links to a couple of resources—a German children’s book, the first half of which I read and translated with his help, and, when I mentioned that I often confuse which prepositions go with which verbs, a pdf with some preposition exercises.

Italki lets you choose between “professional instruction,” where the tutor will probably have you work through a textbook with homework, and “informal tutoring,” which is more the conversational kind of session I had with Stephan, practicing and improving my skills through dialogue. The latter is the less expensive option, but both kinds of lessons are pretty reasonable—downright cheap in some cases, depending on the language you’re studying and the exchange rates involved. Payment is all handled through italki; you purchase italki credits (ITC) at the rate of 1 dollar per 10 ITC, plus a small processing fee based on your payment method. When you book a session, italki holds your credits, and after you mark the session completed, they pay the instructor. If the session doesn’t happen for some reason, you get your credits back. Most lessons seem to be in the neighborhood of $10-15 per session.

The selection of language is fairly staggering. Basically, anywhere there’s Skype, there are italki tutors eager to take you on as a student. Most instructors have made short videos to introduce themselves. I love this one from Modabo in Spain. :) Many instructors indicate on their profiles whether they have experience teaching children, if you’re looking for a tutor for younger kids. For teens, pretty much any instructor is a possibility.

Many instructors offer trial sessions like the one I had at a special rate. Italki allows new users to sign up for three of these trials, so you have a chance to try out the interface (and the teacher) without spending very much.

The website also encourages connections among users; you can find language partners to practice with or do swaps—say, you help me with German and I’ll help you with English. After all, actually speaking a language—jumping in, trying to form sentences, making lots of mistakes and having someone correct you—is the best way to move toward fluency. Users are also encouraged to write notebook entries in their target languages, inviting native speakers to offer corrections and advice. There’s a handy markup system to use in editing others’ entries. All very friendly and low-pressure.

So far, in my limited experience (two weeks browsing the site and last night’s wonderful lesson), I give italki high marks. Rose is drooling over the language list. We’re thinking some italki Spanish lessons might be a very good option for her. Like me, she’s been using Memrise to build vocabulary in her target language(s), and she studies Spanish grammar in a print textbook. But there’s nothing, nothing, like speaking with a native speaker. I’ve been stuck at a sort of low-intermediate level in German for a very long time. As in: decades. It was exhilarating last night to discover how much I really can say and comprehend. I understood almost everything Stephan said, and when I didn’t, he repeated the phrase, typed it out for me, and told me the English. It’s a very organic way to learn. I would love to take more lessons with him, the informal tutoring kind. I see Sign Language is offered as well, which is a very exciting possibility.