Hour of Code

Anybody Can Learn to Code

I seem to be  having a lot of conversations lately about how to teach young kids computer science. Our family are big fans of digital learning, so computer science goes hand-in-hand with our approach to learning. Our sweet spot is Code.org, where our boys ages 7 and 5 are learning about computer science.

The site is completely free (we love free, right?) and each child can login with their own credentials to keep track of their progress.

You start by trying Hour of Code. Rated for ages 6 to 106, it’s good basic fun! Options include Classic Fun with Angry Birds, Frozen with Anna and Elsa, Minecraft, Star Wars and Disney Infinity. Can you tell these guys know how to get our kids’ attention? Lol.

Hour of Code Screenshot

Each option begins with an introductory video followed by easy-to-follow-along directions or even plug n play for littles. Younger children will want a parent nearby to assist, while those who can read will likely be able to self-pace through the levels. Each introductory level is about 20 different “games” where the kids drag and drop blocks to form the code.

Hour of Code Screenshot Classic Game

Above is the “blockly code” I just created on Level 17 of the Classic Fun option. What’s great is that once you finish coding a level, you can also take a peek at the actual code you “wrote” using blockly:

Hour of Code Screenshot 2


Once your child has completed the first hour of coding, they can jump over to Code Studio and progress through a 20-hour basic computer science program that starts at Kindergarten. Seriously! My five year old plays this. It’s a lot like the blockly programs in the Hour of Code, but gets a bit more complex and creative.

Hour of Code Screenshot 3

Another option for littles, is Lightbot App for iOS, Android or web browsers. We keep Lightbot on the boys’ iPads for fun code practice when we are road-trippin’!

Hour of Code Lightbot Screenshot

Kids 12+ can start programming using Python – a programming language for people with no prior experience. Ages 8+ may enjoy creating stories and interactive games using MIT’s Scratch. There’s also Hopscotch for the iPadTickle Labs to help kids 6+ program robots and drones or even an upper level Harvard CS50 class. All completely FREE! Hello?

So step back and start exploring coding! Computer science has never been simpler to get your kid in front of and if your child is like mine, more screen time is always appreciated. When my kids are working on Code.org, I’m one happy mama.

Happy homeschooling!



Online vs. Offline: How to find the right balance

Computer time is quite popular in our home, but it does have its limits.

My husband bought me my first iPhone when Jack was two. I was pregnant with Eli and I have to admit that toddler apps downloaded onto my phone were an awfully easy way to entertain my two-year old at my OB appointments that invariably always ran long because someone was delivering a baby. Lol.

Jack’s pudgy hands deftly worked the touch screen buttons and I was fascinated at how quickly he figured out the various learning games. My husband bestowed an iPad on me next – intended to help me quickly answer office emails whilst trying to work at home with two kids under the age of three. Jack confiscated the iPad and given his passion for Legos, by age four he was playing Minecraft in creative mode.

Around this time I came across a Facebook meme one Christmas where moms were berating themselves for letting another year go by without making applehead dolls, for buying the kids gifts rather than whittling them from wood, and for failing to hike a portion of the AT.

I am not making fun. I am serious. Mom’s were sweating it out because they bought their kids a Barbie instead of an applehead doll. I happen to think applehead dolls are creepy, but I do understand what these moms were concerned about.

I hear the same concerns when  it comes to electronics. Our kids should be outdoors playing in the mud, not gaming online with their friends, right?

I think they should be doing both.

I’m fairly certain that Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates spent a considerable amount of time in dark rooms tinkering with computers. I’m okay with that. Although Steve  Jobs famously stated that kids shouldn’t engage with computers until age 10, that was his parenting choice, which is just fine for him, but I disagree. Computers are our future as well as our present. I’m not going to pretend that we live on Little House on the Prarie because we don’t.

At the same time, I don’t hand my kids a PS3 controller with their morning Wheaties. My kids are outside a ton and we spend most of our day creating stuff out of nothing. Right now, the boys are building some fantastical world in the living room using Duplos, Jenga, wood blocks, and Scott’s tool box. No idea, but they’re into it.

So if it’s helpful at all, here is how our family  has learned to navigate the electronic jungle. I would love to know how your family handles electronics, so please leave a comment below!


RULE #1: Challenging apps, not games of luck

You won’t find Angry Birds or Plants vs Zombies on our iPads. We tried that for awhile, but it only brought meltdowns and frustration. Instead, our kids iPads are loaded with educational apps that are challenging and fun. Our top favorites:


RULE #2: Challenging PC games, not games of luck

Same story, different device. My kids spend most of their time exploring in Minecraft, Spore, Filament Games or PBS Go. We also love Brainzy, Teach Your Monster to Read, and Jack and Daddy play a few strategy survival games that are about skill and not dark or scary at all. Both the boys are learning to code on One Hour of Code.

At one point, Eli was playing a Lego Star Wars game that was all about luck and shooting. He would go absolutely INSANE every time he played. That one has gone to the wayside along with Angry Birds (which is designed to make you angry, right?)

RULE #3: No PS3

My sister’s teen age boys play a lot of PS3 and she graciously gave my boys one a few birthdays ago. I’ll have to admit that when everyone was able to keep emotions in check, Lego Indiana Jones was a pretty fun game. The downside is that it’s very hard to keep emotions in check and the PS3 games seem to get everyone in our family entirely frustrated and angry. Our PS3 broke last year and we didn’t bother replacing it. Maybe someday in the future, but for now this is one electronic device that doesn’t hold very strong value in our home.

RULE #4: It’s all fun and games until somebody explodes

Jack has the demeanor to play on his computer all day long. It rarely frustrates him and when he is in one of his creative modes, I just let him play as much as he wants. Eli, however, can’t handle that much electronic stimulation. He starts to get edgy, then frustrated, and finally he’s crying for no reason at all. Every child is different and this is probably the hardest area for us to balance. If Jack is playing on his computer, Eli wants to play, too. Yet, Eli can’t handle that much e-time.

How we balance this is by asking the boys to play in the afternoon, with Jack getting some morning time to work on a project or Minecraft homeschool assignment if he’s got that going on. Between 2-4 every afternoon the boys can play as much or as little as they want.

In the beginning all we heard  was “When will it be 2 o’clock?” as if that time would magically bring happiness and pink frosted donuts. However, as time worn on two o’clock comes and goes and the boys don’t always notice. Or they will play for an hour and then go read on the couch. I think the reason for this is simple: they aren’t told they can’t. We always work to meet their needs and our family works best when we all get our needs met. If we didn’t allow the kids to game at all, they would want to game even more. We simply ask the boys to do their gaming in the afternoon when “it makes more sense to sit still.” Morning times are active times so that’s when we do active stuff.


Realization #5: Gaming is social

Both our boys play Minecraft Realms online with their friends. We connect them up to Skype so they can chat while they play. Our boys also play on a family-friendly server called The Sandlot and take classes with GamEdAcademy. All of these are opportunities for socialization, cooperative play, co-creation and compromise. Best of all, they get to play with  kids from all over the world.

I never really thought of this as a benefit until Jack started socializing with other homeschool kids across the pond and I saw how gracious and sweet he was about sharing his tools, resources, and other goodies with new kids who had just entered the game.


Do we have the perfect mix of electronics and non-electronic play? Probably not. I am sure there is a study out there somewhere that states the 2 hours of gaming my kids get each day is burning up precious brain cells. I’m open to that and I’m open to change. Yet for now, this works really well for our boys and I’m excited that they are excited about learning through gaming.

Sometimes the boys complain and want more computer time. That’s cool. We always tell them they can have as much time as they want as long as they can self-regulate and find balance with other activities. I’ve often found that if I help my children meet their needs, even if it makes me a bit squeamish to watch them play for hours on end, they are much happier when their needs are met because they know I value their needs. Plus, they usually burn out pretty quickly as soon as they’ve satiated whatever curiosity they had and return to a life of outdoor play, non-electronic creativity and some digital time sprinkled in the mix.

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!


Filament Games Online Learning

Filament Science &  Math Games are Challenging Fun

At the urging of my oldest son, Jack, I created the Homeschool Helpdesk to be a central repository for all the homeschool resources recommended to me that my children were not quite yet old enough for. I would hear about a class or curriculum or computer program that sounded amazing, yet our family wasn’t quite ready to utilize that particular resource.

So it was with great pleasure this past weekend that I surfed the Homeschool Helpdesk to find exactly one of those resources.

I remembered coming across a science-based learning game about plants during the Homeschool Helpdesk website build. I quickly navigated to Curriculum – Science and found what was buried in the dusty corners of my mind – Filament Games!

Introducing PLEx Life Science, an innovative solution pairing engaging learning games for students with dynamic curriculum for educators, Filament Games includes some fascinating units including:
  • Reach for the Sun: Plant Structure and Processes $5.99
  • Crazy Plant Shop: Heredity $5.99
  • Cell Command: Cell Structure and Processes $5.99
  • Fossil Forensics: Unity and Diversity $2.99
  • You Make Me Sick: Bacteria and Viruses $5.99
  • Dr. Guts: Body Systems $2.99
Jack was watching over my shoulder as I browsed the Filament Games website and promptly chose the “Bongo Balance: Chemical Equations” game and “Planet Mechanic: Sun, Earth, Moon, System” game.


Bongo Balance is a chemical equations learning game aligned to Common Core and Next Generation Science standards. Kids help a pair of hungry animal friends get their fair share of fruit by managing “equations” of fruit clusters for a bongo and tapir, making sure they have the same amount of fruit. Add and subtract clusters in order to bring the amount of fruit into balance, similar to the way atoms in a chemical equation must balance. As players advance, the balancing gets more complex, advancing from fruit to actual chemical equations. The music and graphics are fun and our little scientist spent an entire morning hammering this game into submission.

Not a bad way to be introduced to chemistry, eh?

Planet Mechanic proved to be a bit more difficult. Planet Mechanic is a learning game about planets. Kids take control of a planet and help meet the demands of fickle aliens who can’t seem to make up their minds about what conditions they want on their homeworld. Experiment with a planet’s core attributes, manipulating its atmosphere, tilt, rotation, and lunar cycles to learn how these factors change temperature, time, and seasons.

Pretty epic music and graphics, huh?

Jack has been experimenting with Planet Mechanic a bit more slowly. It’s pretty neat how he can adjust controls and self-evaluate what changes effect planet temperature.


Five-year old Eli is all about math at the moment, so he is working on The Counting Kingdom, which we purchased exclusively for him.

Homeschool Helpdesk The Counting Kingdom


To play Filament games, it’s good to know how the set up works. You can get a teacher account, which allows you to track the progress of your “students.” However, take note that you’ll have to buy a subscription to each game for both yourself and for each child.

Bongo Balance costs $2.99 and we bought three subscriptions. One for Scott as the teacher and two for each of the kids.

If you don’t care about tracking your child’s progress, you could purchase a subscription only for yourself or only for them and then let the kids free-play. Just note that where one child leaves off, the next child will begin so you might at least want one subscription for each child.

Homeschool Helpdesk Filament Games Dashboard


I’m all about  hands-on learning, yet sometimes it IS nice to have a fantastic digital game that sparks the kids imagination and allows a homeschool parent a few moments to work one-on-one with a child while the other child is engaged online.

Can  you relate? What online games do your kids enjoy that gives you some hands-free or one-to-one homeschool time? Please leave a comment below!

Happy homeschooling,


Minecraft for Minis

Using Minecraft for Creative Online Play & Learning to Follow Directions

When my oldest son reached the age of four he began reaching for my iPad. He had been playing simple games on my iPhone for awhile. Which I found super helpful during long waits in the doctor’s office when I was pregnant with son #2.

A few short months after he mastered the iPad, I came across Minecraft and saw it described as “a Lego-style online building game.” Jack loved Legos, so I downloaded Minecraft PE to see if he might fancy it.

Geez, if I’d only known then! LOL.

Jack not only “fancied” Minecraft, but he soon tired of the limited play of the PE version so we bought him a full-blown PC version and watched in shock as his chubby little fingers adapted quickly to both the computer mouse and keyboard. Wow.

Jack built roller coasters and farms, cities and castles, houses on grass, houses on hills, houses in forests, and houses in caves. He tamed dogs, hunted pigs, planted flowers and mined for ores. He was enchanted and it was fun to see him soaking up so much learning with such vigor and passion.

Now it’s important to note that Minecraft can be a First Person Shooter game. Wha????????????? I know,  hold on a minute. Don’t freak.

At the age of four, we navigated around this by simply leaving the game in Creative Mode. Jack had no idea there could be mobs to kill. Problem solved.

Jack only saw miles and miles of wide open possibilities. He was especially fascinated with mining for ores. So much so that one of the first words the kid ever read was “amethyst.” I kid you not.

I was expecting “pen, hen, den” or “pig, wig, jig.”

Instead, Jack read “amethyst.”

There ya go.

Once Jack had built for awhile, we looked for other ways to incorporate learning into the game. Jack LOVED trucks back then, so we found a Minecraft You-Tuber named Keralis who shows you how to build trucks. Jack would sit at my desk watching Keralis on his iPad and then imitate what Keralis built in his own Minecraft game.


This was instrumental for me, since this was really Jack’s first taste of following directions. As unschoolers, we don’t have textbooks so this was a cool way for Jack to learn within structure.

He loved it. So did I.

Now Jack could honestly play with computers all day long and be perfectly content. And sometimes I didn’t mind. If we had a day at home, Jack would start building around 10AM, after our morning walk, and keep building well into the afternoon. As long as the kids are learning and creating, I’m down with that.

His younger brother, Eli, on the other hand isn’t built the same way. Eli needs a more defined time to be online, otherwise his high metabolism and athletic frame explodes in every which way it can. It ain’t pretty.

Today, both the boys usually play Minecraft in the afternoons from about 2-4. It gives Eli plenty of time to get some crazy out in the morning and makes for a relaxing and creative outlet every afternoon.

If you’ve got a little who is taken with gaming, you might try Minecraft. Just keep it on creative mode and let em go to town.

Happy homeschooling!


Learning to Write with Muffalo Potato

Learn To Draw In Minutes Using Only Letters and Numbers

I’ve mentioned before that my oldest doesn’t care to write. Actually, he doesn’t care to hold a pen. Or crayon. Or marker.


We have used various tools to help Jack write, but he just doesn’t really care for it. Our best tool has been a white board. I think he likes the big, chunky dry erase markers and how easy it is to correct mistakes.

If you read my post Mindset, The New Psychology for Success, you’ll remember that Jack has a fixed mindset. He believes that he has to do things at a certain level or he is a failure. Although Jack is wildly curious, he has to be really, really passionate about something to apply himself.

With this in mind, I was quite surprised to find Jack sitting on the floor at his friend’s house with pencil and paper in hand. Jack’s friend had suggested they draw Star Wars characters using the techniques from Muffalo Potato. Star Wars had Jack intrigued. I was shocked, however, to see him willing to give this a try.

Can I just stop and say, MUFFALO POTATO IS AWESOME!

Not only did Jack draw alongside his friend, but he made a pretty cool piece of art using…wait…numbers and letters!!! I had no idea Jack knew how to write numbers or letters. Seriously!

Part of the secret sauce, I think, is the laid-back “let’s just have fun” attitude of Muffalo host and creator, John Massé. Never once, did Jack feel any pressure. He just  had fun and did exactly what he was instructed to do.

Huh, who knew?

Here’s a peek at what Jack drew:

Since that first drawing, Jack has now gone on to create four more pieces of art, using only a pen and numbers and letters. He even asked to buy a large drawing pad at Target last weekend. I am grateful and stupified, lol. Jack seems comfortable that his art doesn’t look exactly like what he sees on the video and instead of being frustrated, he is proud.

I love that!

I’m not sure if this resonates with your homeschooler, yet whether you have a stubborn writer or simply a child who enjoys art, we can’t recommend Muffalo Potato enough!

Happy homeschooling,


PS: Thanks Wyatt J. for turning Jack onto Muffalo Potato!

Contre Jour HD App

Stunningly Beautiful Game Tests Digital Imagination

Awhile back, I wrote about a super-cool physics-based game called World of Goo. It’s magical and our family loves playing this game. Playing World of Goo led us to hunt for other “outside-the-box” learning apps and Contre Jour is what we found.

We own the original version of the iPad. Yep. That means our iPads are ancient and sport old-school iOS 5.0. Contre Jour is not the latest, greatest app. It debuted four years ago, so I’m glad to revive it’s existence. Here’s why:

It’s confounding!

I love confounded learning. When kids are faced with a learning situation that doesn’t make sense at face value, their minds really kick into gear! I want my kids to have their minds blown, not just memorize a bunch of stuff.

Contre Jour does just that.

Unlike other educational games that are fairly intuitive, Contre Jour is far from. In order to move through the game, you don’t manipulate the player (Prince Petit). Instead, you manipulate his world.

Gotta admit, that took me awhile to figure out.

Raise a platform and Petit goes tumbling to the next mound. Bump and push the environment, not Petit, to get him where you want to go.

Oh, and he also has tentacles. Yep. Those you’ll have to craftily attach to various platforms to swing Petit in an arc accurate enough to grab one of the glowing orbs.

Which is the point of the game. Grab as many glowing orbs as you can while you progress through sixty levels of beautiful graphics, challenging movements and poignant, haunting music.

I love apps where art, music and technology collide! Take a peek:

As we scurry around putting together our learning curriculum for another year,  why not throw some “confounded learning” into the mix? I’m pretty sure your kids (and you!) will love the Contre Jour app.

To download the app click here: Contre Jour

Happy homeschooling!


Five Homeschool History Resources

Homeschool History Gems

In the past week, I’ve been introduced to two, new homeschool history resources, plus I’ve got two of my own that I have been wanting to write about, so this week’s blog is all about homeschool history.

Hope you find one of these to be a good “ah-ha” history resources for your homeschool family as well!

America: The Story of US. (Tweens & Teens)

America The Story of Us DVD SeriesI ran into homeschool mama, Allison S. at the recent SBAC Tuesday night meeting. She raved about a DVD series she just finished watching with her 8 and 10 year old kiddos called America: The Story of US.

Described as an “epic, 12-part series”, this three disc collection includes 12 chapters and a total running time of more than nine hours. Wow.

Starting 100 years after Columbus and finishing in the present day, the series covers major wars, western expansion, mass migration to major cities, the discovery of oil, the spread of industry, engineering and infrastructure, and the development of the automobile just to name a few. Darker topics such as slavery, racial strife and the treatment of Native Americans and the Japanese are also dealt with.

Allison cautions that the series is violent, and while the violence is not overly done, families should use good judgement as to the appropriateness for your child.

DISC 1 (Episodes 1-4): Rebels / Revolution / Westward / Division

DISC 2 (Episodes 5-8): Civil War / Heartland / Cities / Boom

DISC 3 (Episodes 9-12): Bust / WWII / Boomers / Millennium


Disc 1: George Washington, American Revolution, Declaration of Independence

Disc 2: Civil War, Transcontinental Railroad, Statue of Liberty, Henry Ford and the Model T


PBS Liberty! The American Revolution (Teens & Tweens)

Liberty! The American Revolution DVD SeriesI picked this little history nugget up from homeschool mama Summer S. who posted it on Facebook. This series is pretty cool because in typical PBS-style there is a free companion website complete with a Teachers Guide and interactives.

Here is the description straight from PBS: “Liberty! The American Revolution” is a dramatic documentary about the birth of the American Republic and the struggle of a loosely connected group of states to become a nation. The George Foster Peabody award-winning three-disc series brings the people, events and ideas of the revolution to life through military reenactments and dramatic recreations performed by a distinguished cast.”

My young crew isn’t ready for this series, so I cannot attest to the violence factor, but again, use caution and good judgement before flicking on the tube.


Timeline Historical Events Card Game (Big Kids thru Teens)

Timeline Historical Card GameI found Timeline Historical Events Card Game over at Gamesville Tabletop one afternoon as the boys played during the regularly-scheduled gaming time for homeschoolers. My eldest is wild about history and while we don’t play this game by the rules (is there any game that we play by the rules, lol?) it has spurred us to look up facts, discover historical events we never even HEARD OF and have a lot of fun with learning.

The gist is to try to guess which historical event happened first and get this box of 110 historical event cards in order. How we play is this:

Jack pulls three cards from the deck and shouts out the name of the historical event. This is INCREDIBLE for practicing advanced reading. Jack has just turned seven and pronouncing the names of Grecian wars, Roman empires and the like take some skill. Love it.

Daddy or I try to guess which historical event happened first, second and third. Did you know that dogs were domesticated 12,000 years ago? Have you ever heard of the Battle of Alesia in 52 B.C.? In what year did Caesar say “Alea jacta est?”

Holy cow! Jack giggles as we agonize over these events and he is often motivated by the beauiful artwork on each card to go look up the event on his computer and learn more about that particular event.

We love the Timeline Card Games so much that we now own Timeline Discoveries Card Game, too!


Usborne History of the World (Big Kids thru Teens)

Usborne History of the WorldDon’t even get me started on the magic of Usborne books. I’ll probably write an entire blog about Usborne Homeschool soon.

I picked up the Usborne History of the World used on Amazon and gave it to Jack for his birthday. Every night we read at least two pages. If you’ve ever picked up an Usborne book, you know that two pages is a huge amount of reading.

We tried several other popular history books, but this one has stuck with us and I know a couple of other homeschool mamas (Candice J. and Summer S. to name two!) love Usborne as well.

This is the kind of learning I like to have lying around as part of our Leave Learning Out unschooling approach.


Mr. Peabody and Sherman (Little Kids & All Ages)

Mr Peabody and Sherman DVDI can’t write about homeschool history resources without including this little gem. First of all, our French Bulldog is named after this movie (Mr. Peabody, but we call him Peabo).

Second, how can you NOT enjoy history when Patrick Warburton plays Agamemnon in the Trojan Horse? Ridiculously funny.

Both my boys love Mr. Peabody and Sherman and I love that it makes history fun for my younger son who isn’t a big fan of reading historical timelines and facts. Eli likes to play make believe and after watching this movie he invites us all into his wayback machine to visit ancient Egypt or Galileo. What a super-cool way to unschool!



So what do you think? What history resources do you weave into your homeschooling? Please share in the comments below!

Happy homeschooling,

PS: Some of the links above are affiliate links which means at no additional cost to you I earn a small commission on those links where you click and purchase. Thank you for your support in this small way!

Online Math Games

Keeping math practice fun year ’round

I recently saw a Facebook post asking about fun math games kids can play during the summer to keep math top of mind. I like that! Math can be arduous and slogging through math workbooks, especially during hot summer months, is a real chore.

Let’s make math fun!

Brainzy Math & Reading CharactersBrainzy (Pre K – 1st Grade)

If you haven’t see my post on Brainzy, here it is: Crazy for Brainzy. My littles have yet to get tired of this online reading and math website.

What I like: Only costs a few bucks per month, but my kids really use it. Encouraging, yet challenging. Self-paced. Funny and fun. Click  here: Education.com/Brainzy


Medival MathMedieval Math Battle (First – 4th Grade)

If your child is into epic battles and needs to practice some math facts, this game might be a win-win. For $2.99 you get access to addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. The faster your child answers the math facts, the more power they get to defeat the dragon or troll or spider they are “fighting.” As they build points, kids can earn better armor and weapons.

What I like: Low cost, works on my iOS 5.0 iPad, not bloody or gory, kids love it. Click here: Medieval Math Battle


Pizza fractionsPizza Fractions (First-4th Grade

Another iPad app which my kids play over and over again. Introduces the kiddos to an easy way for understanding fractions – pizza, of course! You can get harder versions as your child progresses. I believe this one is FREE! Nuff said, check it out.

What I like: Low cost, kids love it, works on my iOS 5.0 iPad. Click here: Pizza Fractions


Bugs N Numbers iPad AppBugs N Numbers (Pre K through 1st grade)

All time family favorite! This app is challenging and sometimes my kids get too obsessed with completing the levels and get frustrated. Yet, I like this one because the boys will choose to play it and usually ask for my help when it gets tough. They work on arithmetic, measurement, estimating, fractions – all in a highly visual and appealing format. Cost: $2.99

What I like: Low cost, challenging, yet doable, works on my iOS 5.0 iPad. Click here: Bugs N Numbers


PBS Learning Media***PBS Learning Media (Pre K through High School)***

This AWESOME website includes lessons complete with free media spanning multiple subjects for preschool through 12th grade. You, or your child, simply selects the subject (math) and their grade level and viola! –  you’ve got a host of videos, challenges and other cool brain twizzlers to work through. For example, Grades 5 and 6 can watch and listen to a recitation of the order of operations set to hip-hop music. Grades 9-12 can watch That Money Show  and learn how to stock brokers evaluate and know how to sell a stock. That’s good stuff to know.

What I like: Unlimited ideas, math concepts I’ve not considered, way beyond basic arithmetic, very engaging. Click here: PBS Learning Media


Khan Academy Logo WidgetKhan Academy (First grade through High School)

With a mission to provide world-class education to everyone, everywhere, Khan Academy is a pretty cool site. My kids are a bit young for it as they still require more color and interaction to keep their attention. Khan uses an online-version of multiple choice quizzes with helpful videos. Older kids will enjoy the independent learning component and variety of subject matter. My oldest is working through a computer programming course right now.

What I like: Excellent educational resource, albeit a bit dry in delivery. Free! Will grow with my kids. Click here: Khan Academy

There are soooo many awesome math resources online. I hope I introduced a few new ones to you and if you’ve got a cool math resource, please leave a comment below and share it with us!

Happy homeschooling,


NOTE: This page contains affiliate links. This means at no additional cost to you I earn a small commission on those links where you click and purchase. Thank you for your support in this small way!


DIY Geography Ideas

Try These Map Activities for Some Geography With A Twist

The Shwedagon Pagoda is located in Myanmar. I know this because my four year old told me so. He also knows where all 54 countries are in Africa and can put them in perfect order.

Huh. Well, there ya go.

Last year began a passion for maps in our homeschool household. Geography is a non-stop topic at breakfast, lunch and dinner.

I’m not complaining.

To facilitate the boys’ fascination, we’ve come up with some fun ideas that I hope you’ll enjoy:

LETTERBOXINGEli Letterboxing

Learning to read maps has been a joy due to letterboxing. Letterboxing is a simple form of Geocaching. All you do is look up Letterbox locations for any park you are visiting and follow the directions to locate a hidden letterbox. Inside the letterbox is a small journal, stamp and stamp pad.

You carry along your own unique stamp, journal and stamp pad and when you find the letterbox, you stamp the letterbox journal with your stamp and write the date along with your name or initials. Then you stamp your own journal with the unique stamp contained inside the letterbox.

The kids LOVE letterboxing. However, to find the letterbox they had to learn to read a compass, follow directions and understand cardinal directions. Not a bad way to learn these essentials, huh?

Ready to try it? I use Atlas Quest to find letterboxes at Gainesville parks. I’ve also used Atlas Quest to find letterboxes out-of-state during vacations.


Salt Dough Map of FloridaMaps are representations of areas that are actually three dimensional. To help kids get a sense of what a map really represents, creating a simple topographic map is a lot of fun. Just mix together a little salt, flour and water!


  • 1 cup salt
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 cup warm water


1. In a large bowl mix salt and flour.

2. Gradually stir in water. Mix well until it a dough forms.

3. With your hands form a ball and kneed it for at least 5 minutes. The longer you kneed your dough the smoother it will be.

Store your salt dough in an air tight container for several days.

Our boys each chose a geographic region and we researched the culture and natural landscape. I traced the countries onto foam core and the boys set to work pushing the salt dough into form.

We let them dry for a day or two and then painted rivers and mountains using acrylic paint. We also printed landmarks and glued them to our board to add some cultural facts.

It was a great project that lasted over a week – a true accomplishment in a household of young boys!


Homeschool mom Ariel G. turned us on to an iPad app called, Stack the Countries (this is an affiliate link). I didn’t think much of it and downloaded the free version. Within 24 hours my boys were begging for the full app and at a $1.99, who could argue?

Stack the Countries challenges the player with questions about country borders, capitals, landmarks and flags. It also has a special Map It game where the player is given an empty continent and asked to fill it with shapes of various countries. Here is where my four year old can completely navigate Africa like it’s his native land. I’m amazed.

The app isn’t very repetitive either. I’ve played it dozens of times and only rarely find a repeat question.









What geography ideas does your family enjoy?  I’d love to hear from you in the comments section below!

Have a great week,


PS: Some of the links above are affiliate links which means at no additional cost to you I earn a small commission on those links where you click and purchase. Thank you for your support in this small way!


Crazy for Brainzy

Bravo! for Brainzy Math and Reading Program

This blog post is my review of an online math and reading program called Brainzy. This post contains affiliate links, which means if you want to try this program and you click on a link provided in this post, I receive a small compensation. Thank you! However, I am writing this post because my kids love this program and your kids might, too. I am not getting paid to write this post.

This is my honest opinion and our story…


A few months back, homeschool mom Carol S. turned us on to a computer app called Brainzy. I resisted at first. It cost money and my kids already play a lot of digital learning games. I certainly didn’t need to pay for another one.

Carol nudged me again and said her daughter LOVED it. So I signed up for the Brainzy Free 7-day trial.

I bought the program on Day 2. It costs $3.99/month and yeah, it’s gooooood. Here is my affiliate link if you want to try Brainzy: Education.com/Brainzy.

However, besides the Brainzy program you get so much more. In fact, I haven’t had a chance to explore all the rest, but here is what you get:

Web clip of Brainzy Math & Reading Resources

So now let me nudge you. If you have an early learner at home (ages 3-7) this is an outstanding program.

Here is what I like about it:



Oh, how I cannot stand games that treat children like trained monkeys by offering constant praise!!

In fact, child development researcher, Alfie Kohn, has excellent research on the errant mis-use of the words “good job”. Read his books! Any of them! He’s funny. He’s brilliant. He will totally change your perspective on positive parenting. My favorite Alfie Kohn story is when he is playing with his kids at the playground and a mom who is pushing her infant in a babyswing coos, “You’re doing such a good job swinging, honey!” Alfie Kohn surpresses an eye-roll. It’s gravity. Your infant isn’t doing a thing. LOL. Click here to see his books: bookstore.

Okay, back on topic…

As your child progresses with Brainzy and masters a section, instead of  hearing “Good Job!” Brainzy tells them “Correct!” When your child misses an answer in a section, Brainzy announces “You can do better next time.” Occasionally, Brainzy will announce “You are a master!” and this big, fat cat named “Roly” does a ninja “high-ya!”. It’s funny. My kids love it.

The point here is that my kids play Brainzy because Brainzy makes learning challenging, yet fun, while also tapping into childrens’ intrinsic motivation to explore and learn. We share this same philosophy in our homeschooling approach and its refreshing to find a program that gets it.



Divided into Pre-K through 1st Grade Math and Reading, the program is comprehensive and not focused on one particular skill. My kids play other games that are soley dedicated to phonics or entirely focused on addition and subtraction. Brainzy is comprehensive and works on all aspects of reading and math skills at each level.

There are 12 reading lessons and 12 math lessons in each grade level and within each lesson there are six parts. Each lesson begins with a story, song or example that introduces the concept.

Brainzy First Grade Reading Levels

I find Brainzy to push my kids a bit into areas they haven’t been ready to learn with me. For example, the Kindergarten reading level introduces long vowels and short vowels and silent “E”. This is new to my kids and they have to really focus to get the answers correct.

The First Grade level has a few bits of repetition with Kindergarten to help reintroduce those Short and Long vowel concepts, yet delves deeper into the concept making First Grade naturally more challenging.



There is a completion dashboard that tells the kids (and you) how far the child has progressed in each grade level as well as within the reading or math areas. My kids are striving to get 100% completion and in order to do so, they have to complete all the skills in each level with proficiency.

What I like about this is the lack of pressure to achieve a certain score or grade. Instead, the kids simply work until they get tired and come back another day to try and finish. The 100% score isn’t indicative of a grade, it is indicative of their completion level. My oldest son becomes panicked with scorecards, but with Brainzy he doesn’t see the Dashboard as an indicator of his success or failure. He reads the Brainzy Dashboard as a progress meter and that’s all. We need that.

Brainzy Math & Reading Dashboard

However, if you are curious where your child is excelling or struggling you can open the Brainzy Dashboard to see how your child is doing in each section of each level.

Brainzy Math & Reading Dashboard Expanded

As unschoolers, our family’s focus is on (1) effort, (2) learning with passion, and (3) process. We aren’t concerned with grades, nor the end result. Brainzy seems to get this and I find that refreshing once again.



So many games try to capture kids attention with themes of good versus evil and fighting, fighting, fighting…sigh. Brainzy is pure fun. The kids laugh out loud at the silly songs – their favorite is Down by the Bay, which I have to admit my husband and I laugh at, too! There are beautiful stories, silly songs and slapstick antics, all very well-produced.

In fact, my eldest son will actually TURN OFF his Minecraft videos to walk over and play Brainzy with this little brother. It’s THAT ENTERTAINING. Seriously. I’m not kidding. Can you get a better endorsement than that? LOL.

Brainzy Down by the Bay Screenshot



My kids like to play certain sections of Brainzy over and over again until they have satiated their curiosity. Brainzy allows them to do that. Many digital games automatically move the player to the next section and you cannot go backwards or linger on a specific part of the game. Brainzy gives the kids control to play one area over and over again, which is critical in getting the kids to stick with it.

My 4-year old played the song Down by the Bay at least twenty times until he was exhausted from laughing so much. I’m glad he is getting so much entertainment from his learning experience!

He also likes to replay sections that he hasn’t mastered. After each section, Brainzy will show one, two or three puzzle pieces to help the kids visualize how much of that section they have mastered. If Eli doesn’t get all three puzzle pieces, he will re-work the section or stop and ask me for help.

Brainzy Preschool Math Scorecard

Programs that automatically push on and don’t allow the kids this control can get frustrating. I like that Brainzy put kids into the drivers seat of their own learning. Bravo, Brainzy!



I’m glad we got that nudge to introduce Brainzy into our homeschooling. It’s become a fabulous resource for our boys and three months later, we are still playing strong. I hope other homeschool families will find Brainzy to be a good fit for their family as well.

Here is my affiliate link if you want to try Brainzy: Education.com/Brainzy.


PS: Have you left a review yet in our Share a Review Contest? We are half-way to our goal of getting 50 reviews this month. Please help and earn a chance to win $50! Learn more