Why Play Games?

My favorite curriculum…

Games 001

Why play games in your homeschool? Of course there are the obvious benefits of educational games: they're fun, a break from routine, "outside of school" learning, and family time - but that's not all!

If you have read my "Right Brain vs Left Brain" article, you may have an idea of why we should play games. You know that we need to use both sides of our brain to learn and retain information. You know that "right brain learners" tend to prefer tasks that are creative and emotional. Come to find out, everyone can benefit from exercising the right sides of their brains. Here's why:

It seems that strong emotions are usually paired with a pretty decent memory. For example, I remember where I was, who I was with and what I was doing when I heard about the Challenger accident. Likewise with 9/11. On a happier note, I can remember what I was wearing, where I was, and what I said the day my husband proposed marriage. I also remember word for word our conversation about my first positive pregnancy test. My 70 year old mother remembers what she was doing when she heard that JFK was shot. You probably have had a similar experience.

Stress isn't an emotion, but it has an effect on learning and memory. Usually, it is a negative effect. You know about people who have gone through unimaginably challenging and stressful situations (war, terror attacks, kidnapping, torture) only to forget it all when they return to a normal existence. Those are extreme circumstances but transfer to less extreme cases. For example, think about that exam you crammed all night for in high school, you knew it that night, then you got to the test the next morning and your mind went blank. I'm not saying that you can't learn or remember things when you are stressed, it's just harder.

Here is some very simplified information about brain waves that explains why this happens.

There are 4 types of brain waves. Beta, Alpha, Theta and Delta.

1. Beta waves are present when you are really alert and focused. You looked up the auto shop phone number in the directory, remember it long enough to dial, then poof!, it's gone.

2. Alpha waves show you are alert but relaxed. Much of our "mental processing" goes on during this time. This is when information is most easily transferred to our long term memory. Here's an example: If you grew up in the 80's, you may remember a song about "Jenny" whose phone number was 867 - ______ . Can you fill in the blank? (If you aren't of that era, it's 5309.) If you were like me, you probably only had to hear that song one or two times before you knew the number. Sure you probably heard it 1000 times since then, but the initial memorization took place after only a few repetitions. Why is it you can't remember the auto shop's number from 5 minutes ago, but you can remember Jenny's from 30+ years ago?

3. Theta waves are the brain waves you have early in your sleep cycle when you are dreaming. A lot of processing goes on during this time as well.

4. Delta waves happen when you are in deep sleep.

The lesson here is that when you are relaxed, there is an increased potential for learning.

So in a nutshell, that answers the question "Why play games?" Your mind relaxes just enough to allow the alpha waves to get to work. If the games you choose are educational, there is a very good chance your student will learn a thing or two without even trying, and it's more fun than a worksheet!

Right Brain vs Left Brain

The right brain vs left brain functions are important to understand as a homeschool parent not because one is better than the other, but because understanding the function of the left vs the right hemisphere of the brain can help you figure out which homeschool curriculum fits your child's learning style.

You probably learned in school that the right side of your brain controls the left side of your body and vice versa. The right and left side of the brain are both needed to function in life, but they "interpret" the world and the information they get in different ways, then they "talk to each other." That oversimplified explanation of how our brain works is the premise for using different teaching techniques to fit the learning style of the student. People actually learn better when they do activities that engage the side of the brain they prefer.

The functions of the right brain vs left brain have been discovered through research of people who have suffered strokes on one side of the brain or the other. They are summarized below.


detail oriented
words and language
aware of time
order/pattern perception
knows object name
reality based
forms strategies
convergent thinking


"big picture" oriented
symbols and images
present and future
spatial perception
knows object function
presents possibilities
risk taking
divergent thinking


To put this another way…

Left brain learners generally think in words, like structure, can memorize facts easily, see details, and can follow a lecture while taking notes. They tend to do well in arithmetic, but struggle with higher math concepts in geometry and physics. Many of them are categorized as having an auditory learning style. They generally do well in a traditional school setting.

Right brained learners are implusive, creative, intuitive, and empathetic. They tend to think in pictures like a movie running through their head. They prefer visuals like pictures, graphs, charts, and maps over lectures. They see the "whole picture" first and then fill in the details. They struggle with arithmetic and showing their work, but do well in subjects like geometry and calculus. It's no surprise that they are often classified as having a visual or kinesthetic learning style.

Our learning and personality are a result of how these two hemispheres communicate. Each of us draws on the left brain vs the right brain for a variety of daily tasks, but most people tend to prefer tasks and methods of learning that engage one side over the other.

Most schools are geared to teach to learners who prefer to learn the "left brained" way and children who prefer the "right brained" way are often left behind.  It's hard for left "brainers" to understand how a right "brainer" can function in a "mess'.  It's frustrating for right "brainers" to have fit in to the structured "box" of a left "brainer".  Learn what you are.  Learn what your child is.  Read as much as you can about the differences.

Answer the right brain vs left brain question about yourself by taking this free learning styles quiz.

History Ideas

I think that people who enjoy history either enjoy memorizing OR are taught that it is a great adventure story. Needless to say, our family approaches the subject as a story. Right brain learners often say that when they read or hear a story it’s like a “movie in their head.” If they can “see” it – even in their heads, it’s easier to remember.

I have learned and retained more historical information as a homeschool mom than I did in high school and college combined. The light bulb in my head goes off every day “so that’s why Ghengis Khan was important” or “I didn’t know Daniel lived around the same time as Buddha.”

It doesn’t matter if your child is young or in high school, it is easy to build a history curriculum (without buying a text) with a little research, “living” library books, DVDs, the History Channel, websites, local homeschool field trips and educational travel to historic sites and museums, historical dramas, and re-enactments. We’ve had fun making feasts featuring foods from different countries and time periods. Making history “come to life” has been a real education for the whole family.

A private chat with Martha Washington in Williamsburg.

What better way to learn about the “stocks” than by hanging out in them for awhile…

We took a lot of field trips, mostly for history and science.  As teenagers, they love history.  I think our choice to homeschool is the reason.  Make history memorable.  Don’t make it boring dates and lists.  You might even find YOU like it too!

ADHD Brain


Graphic: ADHD Brain by Amen Clinics/CC2.0

The ADHD brain is different. That’s what scientists tell us based on brain scan images and testing. If you are parenting a child with ADHD symptoms, you know it without all the scientific testing. As parent, you are looking for the “how” (to teach, help with homework, live day to day with ADHD symptoms) more than the “why”.

Here are a few things I’ve learned about my ADHD child that you may have noticed in yours.

* She learns better when she is challenged. Sometimes I have to “skip” an easier skill and teach one that is more advanced, then she goes back and fills in the details of the easier skill later.

* “Because I said so” doesn’t fly as a reason for doing something with her. “Why? Why? Why?” is always the reply.

* Everything is personal. This creates a lot of misunderstandings. I have to be very careful with communication.

* If I teach a skill in “baby steps” she often doesn’t understand. When she learned to tie her shoe, I had to show her on my shoe over and over and over because when I broke it down into small steps, she just couldn’t get it. Swimming, same thing. She just watched me swim laps while she played in the shallow end. Never wanted a lesson, but does well on the swim team and can now accept instruction on the “details.”

* She is excellent at reading body language and voice tone. No hiding what you really feel from her!

* Her everyday handwriting is a mess, but she does beautiful calligraphy.

* She has a hard time keeping her emotions in check and can throw a mean temper tantrum, but gets over it quickly and doesn’t “hold a grudge.”

The ADHD brain is creative and gifted in many ways. Teaching children with ADHD requires different strategies both at home and at school.  If you have a young child with ADHD, you are in for quite a ride!  If you have an older child with ADHD, you are in for quite a ride!  So basically, parenting a child with ADHD is quite a ride, and I’m sure it doesn’t end when they leave the nest!  Stay tuned…

Busy Mom


Busy Mom by Jeff Borden/CC2.0

Homeschoolers are home most of the day, but we are BUSY.

Sure, we are home most of the day, but most homeschoolers have a schedule or plan for their day. Non-homeschoolers tend to think that being home means you are hanging around looking for something to do. For example:

It is hard, but sometimes necessary, to say “NO” when the women’s ministry leader from church calls to see if you can bake 3 dozen cookies for the meeting that night. She suggests it would be a good home economics lesson for the day. While that may be true, your children can make cookies from a recipe they’ve made so many times they’ve memorized it and they really need to spend time learning to find the area of a triangle. You are just as much of a teacher with a job to do as the local middle school teacher and last minute cookie making may be too much to ask.

I am not saying that homeschoolers should never volunteer or help with other activities they participate in, but quite the opposite. Homeschooling is a perfect opportunity for children to learn to pitch in to make everyone’s job easier. They should bake cookies for the ladies meeting at church, and should volunteer way ahead of time so it can be worked into the schedule.

Reminding well meaning friends that you can’t just sit and chat on the phone in the morning after they drop their children off at school can get redundant. Usually, I try to avoid this awkward moment by not answering the phone while we are working. Caller ID and voice mail are a homeschooler’s friend.

Homeschoolers are home most of the day, but we are BUSY.  Non-homeschoolers tend to think that being home means you are hanging around looking for something to do.

It is hard, but sometimes necessary, to say “NO” when the women’s ministry leader from church calls to see if you can bake 3 dozen cookies for the meeting that night. She suggests it would be a good home economics lesson for the day. While that may be true, your children can make cookies from a recipe they’ve made so many times they’ve memorized it, plus they are in high school and their geometry lesson is giving them (and you) fits.  You are just as much of a teacher/facilitator with a job to do as the local middle school teacher and last minute cookie making may be too much to ask.

I am not saying that homeschoolers should never volunteer or help with activities. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Homeschooling is a perfect opportunity for children to learn to pitch in to make everyone’s job easier. We should bake cookies for the ladies meeting at church, and should volunteer way ahead of time so it can be worked into the schedule.

If you have younger children who still require alot of “hands on” time, reminding well meaning friends that you can’t just sit and chat on the phone in the morning after they drop their children off at school can get old. Try to avoid this awkward moment by not answering the phone while you are working. Caller ID and voice mail are a homeschooler’s friend.

While it’s easy to get busy, don’t forget to take a deep breath, slow down and enjoy the little moments that make great memories.

Should I Study for the ACT/SAT?

Bird just took the ACT for the second time and it reminded me of this article written by veteran homeschool mom Deb Erbach Burger.  It’s testing season and a good time for this reminder!


Scantron Optical Scan Exam and Pencil by Natalie Freitas/CC2.0

Copyright by Deb Erbach Burger.
Used with permission.

It has been proven that SAT and ACT prep significantly raises scores.

While most of us, as homeschoolers, have rejected the practice of “teaching to the test”, this is one situation in which we need to do it. The fact is that students with equal grades in the same classes, and equal intelligence will achieve a higher score with preparation than without. There are several different types of SAT and ACT prep, and all of them are effective, some more so for a particular student than others.

The simplest form of preparation is to take the test once “cold,” without having the score reported to any college. That test session itself becomes the “practice” or preparation, and statistically, the same student, with no extra preparation, will achieve a measurably higher score the second time around. The difference in score tends to be measurable, but small. However, real “practice” testing does play an important role in a good preparation program.

Another ACT and SAT test prep strategy is to participate in a course or seminar designed for this purpose. These courses vary in length from a single Saturday morning or afternoon, to an entire semester of classes.

The one-day seminars tend to assume that the student has basic knowledge in each of the test’s academic areas. They focus their limited time on testing strategy. They teach students specific skills for analyzing test questions and for effectively choosing answers, managing time, and managing the answer sheet. Every academic test in every area always tests “test-taking skills” along with testing the actual area. These single-session seminars tend to help students with that part of the process, and it tends to work. Scores are higher for students with a single day or intense preparation. (the timing should range from 1 to 6 weeks prior to the actual test date.)

The longest ACT and SAT prep classes last a whole semester, meeting between every day and once or twice a week. These courses review the actual subject material as well as testing strategies.

How should a parent or student choose the best preparation plan? It’s not as simple as “a little is good, so a lot must be better.”

Students who have successfully completed Algebra 1 and Geometry, for example, have learned all the math needed for either of the College Board tests. However, some students retain what they’ve learned better than others.

If your student has retained the basics in all three tested areas (Math, Verbal Skills, Writing) and has continued beyond the basic levels in classes, then a whole review course may be “overkill” and get in the way of real education for the year. This is especially true for students who are also confident about tests, and have little or no “test anxiety.” For these students, a shorter course would be the best strategy.

If your student has struggled in one or more of the academic areas, or experiences a lot of “test anxiety” over the annual achievement tests, then a longer course will provide both a boost to confidence and a needed review of the information to be tested.

By the way, the statistics show that one SAT or ACT prep course is valuable, but there is no added benefit to taking a preparation course before each “try” at the test. Skills gained through the preparation course tend to stay with the student. So, use your student’s academic skill level and anxiety level as gauges to determine the amount of preparation best suited to his or her needs.

All of the courses include actual practice testing, but an early actual test is often the best practice session in which to use the skills gained through the prep course.

The College board also offers a practice level of college admission testing, the PSAT, which is open to students from 7th grade upward. It is only administered on two dates each year, in October, and costs a fraction of the cost of the regular tests. This test not only provides real practice with the testing situation and material, but is also used (in 11th grade) as the criteria for many scholarships.

I recommend that every student take the PSAT at least in 11th grade, and also an earlier one, if possible.

If you would like to contact Deb, please use the contact form link and indicate your question/comment is for her.  Thanks!



Homeschoolers generally perform above average academically, but that doesn’t make every homeschooler a genius in academics.  Homeschooling allows kids and their parents to explore what type of genius the child has and develop it.

When my youngest was in first grade, a dinner guest started quizzing her on multiplication facts and when she didn’t know them, raised his eyebrows and started trying to teach her to multiply. Not that I compare my children to government school students, but I don’t know many 6 year olds who are confident with multiplication tables.

When my children were younger, they had an extensive knowledge of history, but were not good spellers. I got very irritated when people judged how “smart” my kids were by how well they could spell a few words thrown out for an informal oral spelling test. Now that my kids are older, they still aren’t great spellers, but can get by especially since the majority of their work and communication is done by typing with some sort of spell checker available.  AND what they are very good at (better than most teens) is COMPOSING their writing.  They have great ideas and can communicate them clearly and succinctly.

I have one child whose “genius” lies somewhere in the theatre.  That’s a mama’s opinion of course, but others in the industry have expressed to me the talents and abilities she demonstrates at her age bode well for her future in technical theatre.   (I will be posting more about her endeavors later!) If you asked her what 6 x 9 is, I’m SURE she would have to think…even at 17 years old.  She’d know it, but it would take quite a lengthy delay by “regular high school” standards.

My oldest is more academic and her “genius” lies in writing fiction and “just getting” math.  I’m not sure she realizes it yet…she’s got time.  Science on the other hand, is a  struggle.  Learning scientific names and doing experiments is something she really struggles to do.

As homeschool parents, we have to be willing to encourage and accelerate the genius while accommodating the weaknesses.  If college is in your child’s future, they WILL have to have science;  but, do they have to have a AP Physics class if their passion is Russian History?  Probably not.  Our job is to help them be successful with their life’s calling, not burn them out.  You never hear about Albert Einstein’s work in the theatre, or about George Gershwin’s physics discovery…so don’t forget you could be raising the next Einstein or Gershwin…encourage success!

Mastering Mathematics


This is an old post reviewing Mastering Mathematics.  My kids are in pre-calculus now and this program gave them a good foundation, so it’s worth repeating.

We used this math program through all of elementary school. It’s easy to use, no frills, small steps,  effective for teaching skills and mastering math facts.   Reinforcement game ideas and templates are included. It is a K/1 through 7/8th grade progam, but can easily be completed by the end of 6th grade  if you have a motivated child.

I had the opportunity to meet with the  author’s daughter for a one on one explanation of the program. I was convinced that the “baby steps
mastery” approach made it better for the teacher and the student. I wish everyone had the opportunity
to hear what I did that day.

Mastering Mathematics is a mastery program, so you won’t see any addition problems once you’ve moved to multiplication.   (But you do have to add when you multiply 63 X 24, so in effect, that’s a review of easier math facts.)

My daughter had just left a public school second grade class, and I gave her the skills inventory  and found she needed to start with page one. I knew she was having trouble with some of her math facts, but  what a letdown! We started at page one like  it suggested and worked hard for the rest of the year. I could see that her confidence was building and  she didn’t have the math mental block she had when she left school.

There is a scope and sequence at the beginning of the teacher’s manual that tells you which pages
to cover if you are concerned about math skills covered on standardized tests (specifically the CAT test.) I
did notice she left out of this table pages 44-55 in the Perfecting the Point book, so make sure you fit
those in somewhere if you feel that skill is essential.

Two years went by and I had heard stories about all the tears that are shed over learning long  division, so I was nervous as we approached that section, but to my surprise, we got there and through  it with no tears!

Don’t expect colorful pages or flashy graphics in Mastering Mathematics. There aren’t any.   Just plain black and white worksheets. This is a dream come true for parents of children who are  easily distracted.

The teacher’s manual is fairly thin (really thin if you consider it covers 6 years) and the majority of it is an answer key. (I have found a few errors and have e-mailed the publisher…she  is working on them.) Most of the “teaching” is actually done through text on the student workbook pages.  Older children with good reading skills can teach themselves for the most part.

The downside…

The way Mastering Mathematics teaches subtraction is confusing for an old timer like me.  It teaches it as the reverse of addition which makes sense, but the old explanation of “If you have  3 apples and I take 2 away, how many are left?” doesn’t fit this approach. Many kids already have  experience with this “oldtimer” type of question in real life, so it’s hard to ignore. My oldest child (who had been in public school nearly melted down when I tried to teach her this way. She understood the concept, but she already had the other way engrained too deeply. Not a big deal  though, we just touched on the one or two pages that “taught” the reverse, but didn’t pursue them further.

When learning to reduce fractions, some key knowledge is assumed. For example, the directions say when reducing fractions, whatever you do to the numerator, must be done to the  denominator. Well, if a child is working on their own, they may assume you can subract to reduce.
They have already learned that 4/8 and 1/2 are the same, but the explanation for that came when they were using rulers (so it was entirely a visual cue.) After this, it discusses factors and prime numbers,  then begins with reducing problems, but never really explains the process or the desired result clearly.  I found I had to add in alot of my own explanation at the beginning of that unit about prime numbers,  factors, and how to reduce.

Also, watch for mistakes in the answer key. There aren’t an overabundance, but they are  there. (I give my kids a reward if they find a mistake and can prove they are correct.) The publisher  is working on correcting them, but I don’t know when the new version will be printed.

Overall, Mastering Mathematics is an excellent value for a homeschool math curriculum.   There aren’t many homeschool programs out there that will  cover 1st to 6th grade for the price. Even though my children have graduated from this curriculum,  I always welcome the
opportunity to talk about it.

Preparing for an Empty Nest


The girls are getting older.  To be honest,  I’m getting a little stir crazy staying home.  They just don’t need me like they used to.  Once all the  children are driving, have jobs and cars, the mom taxi retires and you find yourself at home alone.  A lot. I have a “gotta stay busy” personality and have tried to fill the time with volunteering, fitness and clubs, but it’s just cutting it.  Like every homeschool mom whose nest is getting emptier, I wondered what the next chapter of my life was going to look like.  If you are a mom with high schoolers, you probably know how I feel.  Your life has revolved around your children for years.  When they leave, it’s sure going to be quiet around the house.  If you are a mom with young kids,  you can’t even begin to imagine what it might be like to have 2 minutes to yourself.  It happens.  In a blink.

A few months months ago, I decided to get my real estate license.   Long story on why, but I’m really excited that I’ve finally found something that I love that I can start to focus on as my kids start building their own adult lives.  Last week, I started interviewing different firms looking for just the right “fit”.  It’s a little nerve wracking starting a career after so much time away from working outside the home, and even more so being the career is completely new to me.

Most prospective firms I have talked to are actually impressed that I homeschooled my children and especially stuck with it through high school.  It implies you are patient, organized, and can see a project to completion without having to even say very much.  If the interviewer is a parent with school age children, the next comment or question will probably be along the lines of “I don’t know how/How do you…do that?”  That opens the door for a great conversation.

Last week I was given a preliminary interview with a local company.  At the end, the broker asked if I would come back and talk to another person involved in the hiring process.  He gave me an application to fill out.  Hmmm….”How have you improved things at your current place of employment?”  “Attach a copy of your current resume.”  O.K.  I was feeling a little intimidated by those requests.  I haven’t been in the “workplace” for 17 years!   I figured answering “I’m not currently employed” wouldn’t be the best option.  I decided to draw on my decision to stay at home with my children and my experiences teaching them.  For a few of the questions, I was able to draw on experiences from my “former life” as a public school teacher, but for the most part, I drew on experiences from the last few years which included homeschooling and other experiences working within the local community as a volunteer.

At the second interview,  I surprised myself at how much I drew on my experiences as a homeschool parent to paint a picture of how I could fit into their company’s dynamics – probably equal with my other volunteer experiences. Learning to listen, involving others in decision making, flexibility, patience, teamwork…and we all know that’s sometimes even harder to do with our own family than with friends or co-workers.  The interviewer (a mom with grown children) continued to nod her head in agreement.  It’s all in how you can translate your skills into workplace language.  You may have experience with this translating your relaxed homeschool methods into transcript language when your children apply for college.

If your children are older, and you are considering re-entering the workforce, don’t shy away from using your experiences as a homeschool parent to showcase your skills and abilities!  If you homeschooled your children through high school, you can do anything you really want to do!

Pen Pals


When I was in elementary school (about 4-6 grade) we got a pen pal every year.  Usually it was a student from another country who was learning English.  We had assignments every few weeks to write our pen pal and the letters were delivered in "bundles" to and from our class.  At the end of the year, if we wanted, we could exchange personal addresses with our pen pal and continue writing over the summer.  The last pen pal I had was Christophe from France.  We wrote off and on through my high school years.  I ended up taking French as a second language...how convenient!  I learned a lot about the language and culture through writing. 

Because of that experience, I wanted to find something similar for my kids when we started homeschooling, but never had any success.  Letter writing is almost a lost art, but can teach so many valuable lessons.  It gives kids a reason to construct complete sentences, thoughtful paragraphs, use good grammar and penmanship because someone besides you will see it.

The Homeschool Association for Military Families has a literacy-based, traditional letter writing pen pal program, available to military and civilian homeschooled children ages 5-17 worldwide. The program is free.

From their website:

Cildren love it:
•It helps them foster new (and possibly life-long) friendships
•It allows them to practice the traditional form of letter writing and correspondence
•They love getting letters in the mail from their pen pal!

Parents love it:
•One of the few remaining choices for finding a safe and trusted traditional letter-writing pen pal program for their child or children
•Many parents remember having a pen pal when they were children and want to give their child the same positive, fun learning experience
•Parents love helping their child find new friends their own age and gender
•Reinforces communication and literacy skills
•Opens their child’s eyes to a larger world, and other cultures and traditions outside their own
•Teaches interpersonal skills, self-confidence, empathy and understanding for someone outside of themselves… and much more!

For more information, visit:  HSAMA Pen Pal Program