Category Archives: Math

Music-Themed Ideas for Core Subjects

In my last post, I mentioned a few ideas of how to work music into your homeschool day. However, all of those examples were only good for non-core homeschool hours. What should you do if you really need more core hours, but you want to work music in somehow? Here are a couple of  ideas.

Rhythm worksheets: You can replace number values with notes and rests and create math worksheets for all levels. Addition and subtraction are the simplest, but there’s no reason why you can’t do multiplication, fractions, and even algebra! (Tie notes together for larger values). Be really creative, and try to make the worksheet fun. These exercises will help your child learn to instantly recognize note and rest values.

Research paper (history, social studies, or language arts): Teach your child how to conduct research, take notes, and write a paper. They could choose a composer, a musical genre, the invention of an instrument, etc. If you look up music appreciation topics, you’ll see many good ideas to choose from.

If you need help teaching your middle- or high-schooler how to get from square one to finished paper, I teach classes for that in my hometown, and would be willing to teach it via email. If you would like more information, just email me, and I will get back with you. (My email address is included on the syllabus below.)

Write an Outstanding Paper Syllabus

Writing: Write the first half of a story using notes instead of letters as often as possible. Have your child finish the story on his own. Provide him with staff paper that you can print for free online. Try to create a good mix of treble and bass clef notes.

Spelling: Have your student choose the correct spelling of a word (from among 2 or more misspelled ones). Use notes instead of letters anywhere you can.

I am sure there are tons of activities like this floating around. Can you think of any more? Mattox Mattox

A Creative Curriculum for 5th Grade

We are doing so many things this year in our homeschool! Many of the topics don’t take long to complete, usually less than a half-hour. This is good for Ian because he gets bored pretty easily. About the only thing taking us any longer than that is all of the reading we are doing together. And, since we’re doing that together, Ian actually enjoys it! Here are a few of the things we are doing:

Reading living history books. My favorite so far has been one about the life of Squanto – why isn’t there a good movie out there somewhere about his life? The dude has a phenomenal story.

Law & Government. We just started this one as a family. It basically consists of a textbook, two CDs and a DVD. The textbook has a two- or three- page introduction and an outline for each lesson, along with questions and suggestions for further reading. This is going to be an interesting course. Unfortunately, we can only do it on Wednesdays when Jesse is home with us.

Reading. This subject has been the biggest surprise this year. Ian has been a good reader for a long time, albeit a slow and reluctant one. This year alone, he has tripled his reading speed (thanks to watching movies in Spanish with English subtitles), and has gone from dreading the subject to loving it. I honestly didn’t think it was ever going to happen for him, but we finally found a book series that he enjoys, and now, he reads anywhere from one to two-and-a-half hours every single day. He only has two books left in the series (Diary of a Wimpy Kid), and I am starting to search for more books he may enjoy.

Math. Ian’s math skills have developed in leaps and bounds this year. We have been using the Memrise app for multiplication and Spanish. I no longer have to drill him anymore, yet I almost always remember to casually quiz him throughout the day on one or two math facts. I was amazed at how well this works! His math book is almost fun for us now that he is better at facts.

ControllerArt. Ian has been drawing lots of MineCraft-related pictures on graph paper. It’s perfect for someone who isn’t confident in their skills as an artist because you only have to draw one block at a time. Last night, he began working on a Mario-based art project. He drew a whole level, complete with secrets and switches and pipes – the whole nine yards! And the level was fresh from his own imagination. I was blown away because he created an engaging, challenging world that I would enjoy playing. I have been sending him to his room at 9:30, at which time he does something quiet, so he has been drawing. Then at 10:30, he can either read for an hour or go to bed. He’s been reading, and that makes me happy. 🙂

Python. We have been learning the Python programming language together using a book that I found at a computer store. The program allows you to make small changes to the MineCraft code and alter the game in fun ways. We are having a blast! I have been wanting to teach Python to Ian for a couple of years now, but the first time we tried it, it was above his head. (It was okay until we got into integers.) But now is the perfect time for teaching him, especially since we can use MineCraft as a starting point!

Well, those are a few of the things we are doing. We don’t do them all everyday. Our everyday subjects are reading, Bible, guitar, drums, dictation, typing, and Memrise (Spanish and multiplication). If you would like to read some ideas for language arts or science, you can find those in previous posts.

I hope you find some of these subjects and ideas helpful as you explore your own adventure in homeschooling!

Life Lately

Well, I have pretty much settled into a routine of work, homeschool, Spanish. When I am not working or schooling Ian, I am studying! Throw in some church, homeschool choir, and family time, and that’s my life right now.

I am really enjoying this school year with Ian – more than any year previously. I’m not sure what the difference is except for the fact that I can tell he is really absorbing everything he is learning; that is so satisfying for me to observe and be a part of. We have been trying to study a few things from lots of different angles. For instance, he has some textbooks that cover chemistry, and we are reading a book about the development of the periodic table. He is also watching a lot of YouTube videos to support what he is learning, and I would like to do some experiments as well. I am thinking about ordering all of the lab equipment and ingredients he would need to do all of the  experiments in his curriculum, but it’s going to cost quite a bit, so I need to save up. One of the nicest things about homeschooling: we can do all of our studying upfront, and end the year with a bang! – or, the experimental aspect, rather.

The greatest overall improvement in Ian’s schooling this year is in mathematics. We are still going through the entire multiplication deck once every week or so, and working on any trouble spots throughout the days in between. His understanding of the math has always been fantastic, so now that he has a better grasp on his facts, things are just swimming along in that department.

Also, thanks to a writing project (the Minecraft book, as I mentioned in an earlier post) and the curriculum from Institute for Excellence in Writing (also covered in an earlier post), I really feel like I am doing a better job as Ian’s teacher in making sure he is prepared for writing in college or in life.

Reading. We are reading a ton this year. I have always avoided Sonlight’s curriculum because I figured it wasn’t right for us, but after this semester, I am beginning to wonder if I am not tailoring Ian’s homeschool in exactly the same manner. It’s a miracle to me that we are enjoying it so much, but I like the way it’s turning out. He has been reading a lot more on his own as well, although almost never for pleasure still – mostly for required reading. But I do try to choose books that will be entertaining for him. (And I allow him to choose some as well.)

Work is cool – I’m really liking it still. Not much to say, although working with large volumes of people really does try one’s patience. I have to keep reminding myself that anyone could be having a bad day at any time.

MexicanSpanish is a lot of fun, although it’s hard to gauge how much progress I’m making. I’m working and reading from several different books, just trying to grasp the language as a whole. Depending on the topic and the verb tense, my understanding can be as high as 90% or as low as 50%. I am still enjoying it though, so I will keep plugging along.

Homeschool on a Budget, by Joy Kita

Homeschool on a Budget

Excellence Without the Extra Cost

By Joy Kita

When you choose to homeschool your children, you are embarking on an adventure that will challenge your patience, enrich your relationships, and change the tone and rhythm of your days. There may be the occasional moments when you question the reliability of your sanity, but on the whole it is one decision that yields large pay-offs and little regret. It is also a decision that has the potential to become a monumental monetary investment. After all, a quality education is costly, right?

To get the best you must pay for the best—at least that is what some people/companies/curriculum providers might have you believe. Resist the urge to buy into the mentality that spending a lot of money is the first line of attack in educating your children, and take a moment to look at alternatives. You have choices—good choices that will elevate your child’s education to a higher level of learning and sophistication within a reasonable, frugal budget.

There are people in the world who believe that education should be free. These beliefs have led influential change-makers to create learning platforms that produce quality material for little to no cost. This is good news for the savvy homeschool family who wishes to teach and learn without the expensive price tags that adorn textbooks and classroom courses. Homeschooling on a budget for one child or ten is well within your reach.

Careful deliberation at the beginning of the year is essential to protect your wallet and time. Making a list of the subjects you wish to teach is a critical step. There may be a curriculum out there for everything, but that does not mean you need to purchase it.

Traditional schools have a rounded approach to learning: they teach a little bit of a lot of subjects to fill the gaps of time in a long day. You need not mimic the learning structure of public schools if another way suits you better.

If you identified the “core” of a child’s education, you would find yourself with three subjects to teach: math, reading, and writing. Other subjects are secondary to these, providing enrichment material that supplements and rounds out the learning journey. Curriculum publishers may offer an entire grade’s worth of supplies in a box, but that does not mean your child needs everything it supplies.

Math is an important subject, and many resources are available at different price levels. Workbooks are reasonably priced; the teacher’s manuals are not. Ask yourself if you need the teacher’s guide book. In the early years you may find that you do not. It is fine to go with the workbook only. As your child grows and the math becomes more challenging, you might consider purchasing an answer book rather than the teacher’s manual. Not everyone will need both.

Partner with another homeschooling family, buy together, and share. The Internet offers many websites that provide free printable worksheets to supplement textbook lessons. There are safe educational sites with math games to correspond with the material as well. Visual games can go a long way in providing clarity and understanding of many math concepts. Quick tip: Have your student write out his multiplication tables on index cards.

Reading is another critical component of your child’s education. There are families who rely solely on good literature to teach grammar, comprehension, spelling, and vocabulary with great success. Become friends with your local librarians, and take out stacks of books for free. Project Gutenberg is an online resource that offers thousands of great works of literature for free. Print what you need, or read straight from the computer. Visit garage sales, flea markets, and thrift stores in search of great bargains on books. Quick tip: Organize a simple book co-op with other families, sharing your resources for free.

Writing is an expansive, stand-alone subject that confuses a lot of people. What is its scope? How many books and workbooks do you need to teach all aspects of this subject adequately? Actually, writing is not a complicated subject, and you can teach it well with few outside resources.

Take the subject of spelling, for example. Word lists that correspond with grade-level readiness are available online. (Do not be fooled into thinking you must stay within the confines of the lists for specific grade levels.) Hunt for words that are suitable for your student/school to learn. Use a list of words that your student misspells to create a unique, personal list of words to master. Identify spelling words within the quality literature your students are reading. Haul out the dictionary for definitions and alphabetizing practice.

Copy Scripture verses for penmanship practice and memorization purposes. Read poetry and create your own.

Don’t forget about creative writing. Make writing jars from tea canisters, and then put the names of characters into one, a variety of potential settings into another, and types of conflicts in a third jar. Students can then draw out a single entry from each jar and write a story based on those prompts. Quick tip: Use portable chalk boards or white boards for writing practice or dictation for younger students.

The three R’s, reading, writing, and arithmetic, represent the bulk of your child’s education; the rest of the subjects provide enrichment. Fill your days with science and geography, history and art if you desire. These are great subjects to use for child-directed learning.

Ask your children what they want to learn about. Find out what they are curious about. Don’t just follow them into the rabbit hole; dig it for them.

10 Best Websites That Offer Quality Material . . . Free!

1. Quirks and Quarks—Award-winning radio science program that delves into topical science inquiries.

2. Ted Talks—Site that hosts video presentations of ideas worth spreading, from innovative change-makers around the world.

3. Enchanted Learning—Treasure trove of printable material ranging from simple coloring pages to labelled diagrams.

4. Spelling Time—Award-winning interactive spelling program.

5. Old-Fashioned Education—Directory of free homeschool curricula.

6. National Geographic—More than just a magazine! 7. Seterra—Geography quiz game. 8. NASA—Top science material.

9. Khan Academy—Free world-class education with a focus on science and math.

10. Kids Know It—Educational fun for the young and young at heart.

Joy Kita is a mother of four and is the blessed wife of Stan. She has been homeschoolingfor seven years and is currently the director of a thriving co-op with more than eighty children. She is an author specializing in adventures for boys. Her newest book, Fable Nation, will be released by Brighter Books in 2013. She stays motivated by her all-consuming love for the Father. You can read her blog, Fluorescent Fingerprints, at, and check out her innovative publisher:

Copyright 2012, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the August 2012 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine. Read the magazine free at or read it on the go and download the free apps at to read the magazine on your mobile devices.

Multiplication Breakthrough, 3 years later

Someone used the search terms “multiplication breakthrough” and landed on my site the other day. I don’t even remember writing anything like that, so I went back and reread the post I composed almost three years ago. Funny, I guess we didn’t stick with it because I don’t even remember doing that. However, we have had a new breakthrough just this school year. I had tried using flashcards in the past, but they didn’t really work. I don’t know whether it had more to do with his developmental level, his lack of focus, or what. But lately, they do work. Maybe it’s because I have changed my approach. For a while, we would do two or three cards until he knew them, then we would add one at a time, mixing them up sometimes to make sure he wasn’t just memorizing the order they were in. It worked! He now knows almost the entire deck, front to back. He’s very mathematically minded, so we have made it through five years of school without ever memorizing all the facts. He could always figure them out because he came up with a system. I had him explain it to me, and this is how he did it:

Two times a number is that number plus itself.

Four times a number is two times a number plus two times a number.

Three times a number is that number plus itself twice.

Six times a number is three times a number plus three times a number.

Five times a number is half of ten times that number.

Seven times a number is three times the number subtracted from ten times the number.

Eight times a number is two times the number subtracted from ten times the number.

Nine times a number is the number subtracted from ten times the number.

MathIt seems crazy and burdensome, but he got rather fast at it, and now he has a very good sense of how numbers interact with each other. Word problems are easy for him because he knows how math works. Distributive property is easy for him for the same reason. Now, finally, he has his facts memorized, but I believe that he is better off for having to figure them out for the last five years.

Math and Writing Curriculum Review, grade 5

I can NOT sleep. So I think I am going to write… Anyway, I wish it were because my mind was full of all kinds of helpful things, but alas, I just can’t sleep. So I am going to ramble a bit, and see what turns out. It seemed to work last time.

Our homeschool year has been turning out pretty well. We are sticking with Desk AppleSingapore math, only this year, I am beginning to think that I should have ordered the textbooks too. I have only ever ordered the workbooks and have always just explained things to Ian myself. This year, however, they seemed to have made a funny, almost random jump into algebra. Algebra with two variables, no less. For instance, here is one of his problems yesterday.

Lily and Sara each had an equal amount of money at first. After Lily spent $18 and Sara spent $25, Lily had twice as much as Sara. How much money did each have at first?

Now, I can only think of one way to solve this problem (well, two, by changing the definition of “y”): x – 18=2 (x – 25), where y equals x-25. Am I missing something? That is the way to solve it, right? Anyway, that’s all very well and good. I can explain it to my ten-year-old, and he can understand it. Well, he can follow it, and he thinks it’s ridiculously cool. “Ridiculous” being his word for it, lol. The only problem is, I don’t know if he is advanced enough to be able to think this way on his own. And we had to completely stop and talk about distributive property for a while. By that time, even though he was actually liking it, his brain was worn out, so we stopped. Today I am going to teach him how to keep equations balanced.

The biggest problem is, the Singapore math books made the jump from several pages of 8 * 6 + 14 and 7 * (13 – 6) – 19 (teaching the order of operations) to story problems like the one above. Makes me wonder what I’m missing when I don’t order the textbooks. Anyway, we’re going to keep plugging along at it, and I’m going to download some extra algebra homework to help it sink in. Because after yesterday and the day before, book 5A totally moves on to other topics, leaving algebra in the dust: long division, fractions, geometry, and ratios. I am still happy with my choice of math curriculum, but a little confused about the funny jump.

On a brighter note, his multiplication skills are improving in leaps and bounds this year. Whether that’s due to my spontaneous purchase of flashcards over the summer or whether his brain has just finally calmed down enough to let them sink in, I don’t know. We have always reviewed them aurally before now, so it might be that he is just more of a visual learner. But either way, this is definitely his year. 🙂

While we have been sticking with Singapore math since Kindergarten, we are trying something new for writing this year. I guess we never really had a curriculum just for writing before. It was always done in combination with his language arts. And he has always hated it in the past. And well, he still hates it, but he is doing so very well with this new curriculum, and I am hoping that it will begin to seem easy enough that he will hate it less and less. It is called Institute for Excellence in Writing, and it is expensive. However, I am beginning to think that it is the only writing curriculum he will ever need all the way through college. If that turns out to be the case, it will be relatively inexpensive. I bought the Student Writing Intensive Level A, and I really think that anyone could use it to teach writing to their kids, even if they aren’t strong writers themselves. Yes, it is that easy and methodical. That’s the thing. They’ve thought of a way to lay it out in a progressive, structured manner that is easy to follow and easy to grade. And I absolutely love it. In fact, after borrowing the teaching DVDs from a friend, and watching only the first one, I began to imagine ways that this curriculum could help me improve my own writing skills.

Let me give you an exercise that’s mentioned in the teaching video I watched. Take an excerpt from a piece of literature – prose or poetry, you choose – and make an outline that only includes the three most important words from each sentence. Now, put the original literature away and write your own composition based only on the words you copied. (Personally, I would wait a few days because of my photographic memory – It was always really hard for me not to plagiarize on accident.) Feel free to change the words if you wish, as long as the gist is the same. The idea is to actually try to improve upon the original. Not that the average person could improve Dickens, but if you did the same exercise for pages and pages, you might eventually word something better than he did, lol.

So in the first unit of the curriculum, students practice making key work outlines from short stories or paragraphs about animals. The next day, they write a paragraph based on the outlines they made. Simple way to begin, right? Then after that, they incrementally teach you ways to dress up your paragraph. I am really loving it, and Ian can do it easily enough. I also ordered a grammar book from them that I am liking.

Ok, for not having a clear direction when I began typing, I sure did talk alot! Well, hopefully this post will be helpful to some of you homeschoolers out there. And I would recommend the Institute for Excellence in Writing to absolutely anyone of any age who ever has to write, homeschooled or not.


Post from the Past: Help with Math and Reading

This post was from last year; it’s incredible to read again and see how far he’s come in just one school year!

The best way I have found to help Ian get everything done is to make him do his least favorite subject first, and early in the morning at that. It used to be reading, and then math for a while, but I have no idea yet what this year will bring. It will probably be writing. Doing his least favorite subject first helped both him and me. Until we started getting up earlier I found that I would procrastinate beginning the school day at all when I knew we had to look forward to the dreaded subject, and all of the whining that accompanied it. So I just got Ian up early, and started the day with it. Sometimes we would even do it before breakfast. That leaves the rest of the day to look forward to.

I also have trouble getting Ian motivated to complete his work in a timely fashion. So I’ll tell him he has 2 hours to get done with math and play his video game. His next subject starts promptly when those 2 hours are up. If he spends 1 hour and 45 minutes on his math, he’ll only have 15 minutes to play. I think this is helping motivate him, but it’s a slow process. (If he could stay focused, his math would probably only take him about 20 minutes, but he gets distracted so easily. I keep thinking that he would probably be diagnosed with ADHD if I sent him to a public school.)

One of the ways I have failed Ian is by procrastinating in teaching him his math facts. I think he could finish his math in about 10 minutes (distractions aside) if he didn’t have to figure every single problem out from scratch. So we’re taking the month of September to work on flashcards. I’m going to let him answer as many addition facts as possible in 60 seconds. Then we’re going to see if we can add a couple of cards to the pile while completing them in the same amount of time. We gave it a try the other day, and it was definitely more fun than reciting facts. We’re also going to do subtraction and beginning multiplication and division, but separately for a while.

I don’t have any idea if you all are struggling with reading, but here is what I have done: I have prioritized reading way over science, history, etc. I figured the faster he could learn to read well, the better. I merely read Ian’s science and history out loud to him last year; we spent most of his study time learning to read better. I don’t know if this has anything to do with it, but Ian’s reading skills just took off when we bought him the Kid’s Day by Day Bible and had him read to himself from it every night. Until your child is really excelling in the basic areas: reading, writing, arithmetic – I wouldn’t worry too much about the other subjects, except Bible, of course, which you can count for history. You could also get some nature readers and knock out science while working on reading skills.

Post from the Past: Math in Action

I’m going somewhere with this; just hear me out.

Ian has been playing Little Big Planet for months now. After completing each level, the video game tells you what percent of the prizes you have collected from that particular level. He learned pretty quickly that we always aimed for 100%. If we didn’t get 100%, that means we missed something, and we would usually go back and try the level again to see if we could find what we missed. Sometimes there were twenty or thirty things in a level, but never 100 things. Ian figured out that 100% meant “all.” Yesterday, he was playing again. He found a level that he wanted to play and said, “Wow! I don’t even have half of the stuff for this level!” It kind of surprised me that he said that because we’ve never gone into percentages in detail (he’s only six). So, just to find out how much he knew, I said, “So what percent would it be if you had half of the stuff?” “50%,” he says. Hmmm. So I said, “If there were 8 things to get in a level, and you had 50% of them, how many would you have?” He thought for ten or fifteen seconds and said, “4.” Hmmmmmm! I was so impressed, I had to send an email to Jesse at work. Impressed, because I never taught him. He figured out how percentages work on his own, the same way babies learn to use language – by seeing it in action. When Jesse came home from work last night, we were all sitting in the same room, and I thought I’d dig a little deeper into Ian’s well of knowledge. So I said, “Ian do you know how many 25’s there are in 100?” He didn’t. “Remember talking about money? How many quarters are in a dollar?” “Oh, yeah,” he says, “4!” “Okay, so if there were 4 things to get, and you had 25%, how many would you have?” Brief pause. “1!” Explosion of amazement and pride from me and Jesse. “What if there were 8 things to get? How many would you have if you had 25%?” Slightly longer pause. “2!” Yay! I’m so proud of him! Can you tell? So, thanks to Little Big Planet, and a little scaffolding from me (by using Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development), Ian understands percentages. We have another video game called Boom Blox that has made him an expert when it comes to negative numbers. It doesn’t set out to teach you the concept; that’s not the purpose of the game. However, if you lose enough points, your score drops below zero, and since it took Ian a while to get good at the game, he has LOTS of experience with negative numbers 🙂

I said all of that to say this: when teaching math, take time to make sure your child understands each concept. Start with the why, see if they can understand it and figure a few easy problems based on what they know, and then teach them how to work the problem. You’ll be amazed at what they can do.

Second Grade Math Routine

This year, we faced our biggest math challenge yet: multiplication. My first question was, is there any way to teach multiplication tables without droning them? After receiving plenty of good advice, and doing a little research, I finally landed on a method.

Step one: cuddle up in Daddy’s big chair.

Step two: count by threes on our fingers.

Step three: recite 3×1=3, etc. in order, using our fingers.

Step four: mix up the facts, and use our fingers when we need to.

Step five: drill several times a day, mixing up the facts, and allowing him to use his fingers if he needs to. I drill him during math class, in the car, while doing dishes, while he is drawing a picture, etc. Basically, he is living, eating, and breathing the threes family right now.

It’s been a few weeks, but he has them all memorized! No fingers needed!

So, our math class currently goes something like this:

-Drill multiplication tables, 2s and 3s.

-Do about 3 pages from his Singapore math book. (He’s only got about 10 pages left in book 2A! – After which, we are taking a break from math books until January. We’re going to spend the next few weeks working on getting addition up to speed.)

-Work on addition facts for 4s, 5s, 6s, and 7s at this website: (Ian loves this game!)

-Drill 7+9, 8+8, 8+9, and 9+9 (because he won’t cover these on the math website – it only goes up to a sum of 15).

I’m really starting to feel good about this whole math thing, and Ian doesn’t complain anymore, which is an added benefit!

New multiplication breakthrough

After weeks of trying everything from flashcards to speedsheets, Mathblaster to recitation, I think that Ian and I finally hit on something that works! Yesterday he came over to sit on my lap, after playing an online math game (and having plenty of trouble). I held up my hand, and ticked off one finger at a time as we counted by threes. “Three, six, nine, twelve, fifteen!” We did that several times, then I changed my approach. I held up one finger and said, “One times three is:” I had to make him wait until I finished speaking before giving me the answer. (He was stuck on counting by threes and didn’t want to wait.) After we went through the first five factors that way a few times, I began to mix them up (at his suggestion). Lo and behold, it worked! He knew them! The whole process took less than five minutes. Today we will learn up to 3×10 if all goes well, and add on 11 and 12 tomorrow for good measure. Prayerfully, we can learn a family a week using this method, and finally get back into his second grade math books. (We’ve been on hiatus while we focused on multiplication tables.) Hooray for something that works for us!!


What works for your kids? How did you tackle learning multiplication tables in a homeschool setting?