Learn Your Letter Sounds: Game


Louisa loves games, and makes up her own

Here is an interesting, easy game to help your young ones begin identifying the phonic sounds. All of my children have started their adventure of learning to read with this little game, beginning as early as they are eager to learn their letter sounds (usually 4 years old). They beg for this game over and over.

Gather pictures of each family member, Jesus,  friends and pets. These can be pasted onto a 3×5 card (or scrap of cardstock—often free from the printers). Now write the first letter of each picture’s name in big print on a card. Start with just 4-5 letters, and several pictures for each letter.  Your little one’s name and picture must definitely be included!

To play the game,  lay the letter cards in a line in front of your child. Then let him take turns (with you or another child) picking a picture card out of a box. My little ones think it is more exciting if I have them shut their eyes and reach up high into the box.

As they look at the picture they have chosen, have them say aloud the name and try to match it to the sound made by one of their letter cards. For example, our game has a card with the letter “J”. My child can match the picture of Jesus, and the picture of his dog Joey and his sister Julianna. The letter card “M” collects the picture of Mom and brother Mark.

Since family members names are common to the child and they usually can recognize the beginning letter of each name, this makes it a natural place to start in learning the letter sounds. If you are using Explode the Code primers to help your child learn to read, start with the first letters in that workbook, and continue introducing the letters in the same order for greater reinforcement. Be certain that when you child voices the letter, they  are naming the phonic sound, not the letter name! “J” says the breathed sound “j-j-j” not the alphabet name “jay” and “M” says “mmm” not “em”. As the child progresses you can add more letter sounds and pictures. This is a fun way to familiarize your child with the capital letters (and the fact that names begin with capital letters!)


Funny Putty

  • 2 cups white glue (regular, not school glue)
  • 2 teaspoons Borax
  • Water

Mix the borax with 1/3 cup water, dissolving well. In another bowl, mix the glue and 3/4 cup water. You can also add a few drops of food coloring. Stir well and add in the borax/water mixture. Amazingly, the putty will clot. Knead together, leaving any excess water that forms in the bowl.

This weird stuff will pick up the print off cartoons from the newspaper. It has a strange oozy effect when placed in small molds and containers. Plastic forks are fun to use to make impressions, because the impressions will disappear.

Store in a ziplock bag, releasing the air. It will last 2-3 weeks.



My son Ammon helps with the cooking


“Father, where shall I work today?”
And my love flowed warm and free.
Then He pointed out a tiny spot
And said, “Tend that for me.”

I answered quickly, “Oh no, not that!
Why, no one would ever see,
No matter how well my work was done.
Not that little place for me.”

And the word He spoke, it was not stern;
He answered me tenderly;
“Ah, little one, search that heart of thine;
Art thou working for them or for me?

Nazareth was a little place, and so was Galilee.”


—Meade McGuire

Science Fun—Plasma Gloop!

There are 3 states of matter, right? Solid, liquid and gas. Well, there is theoretically another state, a 4th State of Matter known as a “plasma”.

Our plasma concoction is solid enough to break, but it flows like a liquid. Treat your kids to this fun science experiment! It is so simple, but it will have them oohing and aahing! Assemble it outside on the picnic table and save yourself some cleanup.

Plasma Gloop

  • 1 cup cornstarch
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup water
  • food coloring

1-Place the cornstarch in a large bowl. Add a few drops of food coloring.

2-Add the water a little at a time, mixing with your hand.

3-Stop adding water when the cornstarch holds together.

4-Gather a blob in your hand and open your fingers. Wait a minute and it will ooze and drip just like a liquid.

5-Punch it and it will form into a solid surface.

6-Grab a ball and pull it apart, and it will break apart on a clean line just like a solid.

7-Save your Plasma Gloop by putting it in an empty cottage cheese or yogurt container with the lid off. It will dry out. Add water when you want to play with it again!


Opposite Math


Hot . . . Cold

Wet . . . Dry

New . . . Old

Open . . . Shut

Children can grasp the idea of opposites at a young age. If you take advantage of this concept when teaching math, it cuts your work in half!

Instead of teaching subtraction, teach “opposite addition”. If you know that 3 + 5 = 8, then you can do the opposite. When you see this problem: 8 – 5 =___, just make it into a backwards addition problem. Start at the opposite end (the back) and add this way: what number plus 5 equals 8 ?

This works for multiplication too. Once you know your times tables*, then division is a snap! If you know that 4 x 6 = 24, then “opposite multiplication” will solve 24 divided by 6 = ___ . Start at the opposite end (back) of the problem to read it: what number times 6 equals 24?

The most fun application of opposite math is in dividing fractions. This may look like a formidable problem to kids:

(I know that it stumps me briefly when I cook and have to divide a recipe.) But if you teach them that division is just “opposite multiplication”, then you can turn the second fraction upside down (into its reciprocal), and make this into an easy multiplication problem:

Now it’s easy to divide fractions. Just let opposites do the work!

Have a good math day!


*If you want some excellent help teaching math facts, take a look at Math It, my very favorite “math facts” product. It gives children a reason and memory clues, rather than just requiring rote memorization of the addition and multiplication facts. Great stuff!

Doing the Little Things He Asks You To

We are so busy as moms! It isn’t possible to do all that our children ask us to do. I heard this heart-stirring poem when I had 3 little rambunctious boys that kept me busy morning ’til night. It made me want to slow down and listen to their little requests to “look at me, Mom!” It made me want to read the stories and play with them more. Now that my sons are grown, I have discovered how true this poem is! Take a moment right now, if you can, and “do the little things he asks you to”. You won’t regret it!


My sons: Daniel (5), Mark (1) and Nathan (3)

To My Grown-Up Son

My hands were busy through the day,

I didn’t have much time to play


The little games you asked me to.

I didn’t have much time for you.


I’d wash your clothes, I’d sew and cook,

But when you’d bring your picture book


And ask me, please, to share your fun,

I’d say, “A little later, Son.”


I’d tuck you in all safe at night,

And hear your prayers, turn out the light,


Then tiptoe softly to the door.

I wish I’d stayed a minute more.


For life is short, and years rush past,

A little boy grows up so fast.


No longer is he at your side.

His precious secrets to confide.


The picture books are put away,

There are no children’s games to play,


No good-night kiss, no prayers to hear.

That all belongs to yesteryear.


My hands once busy, now lie still

The days are long and hard to fill.


I wish I might go back and do

The little things you asked me to.

—Alice E. Chase


My grown-up sons now: Ammon, Daniel, Nathan, and Mark

Bean Teepee

Mid-summer: growing, growing!


I thought you might enjoy seeing how our bean tepee turned out! I think I got overly excited on this project, because every few days I would go out to check if the seedlings had come up yet, and not seeing much, I would plant many more seeds. I did that several times, and then everything sprouted up and overwhelmed us! How fun!

One of the ways (shall I say the “happy way”) I get my kids to weed the garden is I take them swimming first. I know that sounds backwards, as it would be more reasonable to get the work done and then enjoy the reward. But it is pretty hot here in Utah, and by the time we get out to the garden in the morning, it is tough to work in the heat. But, after a nice long swim, everyone is wet, cool, and in a good mood, so it is easy to slip out into the garden in our swimsuits and weed and harvest in time to prepare it all for a fresh and healthy lunch.

I intended to plant just green pole beans, but as I said, I got overly excited and ended up putting in some yellow squash seeds, morning glory flowers, and Armenian cucumbers (that grow very adventurously long and luscious!) and whatever else I could find along with the pole beans. So, our tepee is sprawling everywhere, including up, and Louisa goes inside the tepee in the shade, and sits and harvest a big pile of green beans just reaching around her to the tepee vines.

Isn’t summer fun?!



Ammon being a Sunday Indian!

Wet Louisa: “Yum!”
(Those wonderful Armenian cucumbers in her hand.)

It’s a jungle out here! Whoa! Who planted all these things?

Feed Creativity!

Summer time—the academic pressure is off! Whew! Now some really important learning can happen: creativity! From a monetary standpoint, the value of a creative mind is priceless. Every businessman and inventor yearns for more of this precious element! It is not something that can really be taught in school, either—but you can foster creativity in your home.

Here are some ideas to feed your family’s creativity:

My son Ammon, 15

1) Be creative cooks

This is hard for me to do (because I tend to be thrifty and efficient) but it has been amazing when I “let go” and let the kids combine ingredients and spice things up the way they prefer. My only rule is you have to clean up, and eat what you make.

My son Nathan invented and named a family favorite dish, “Yummy Turkey Bolitos” when he was about 10 years old. He even made a chant/song about it, and printed and illustrated his recipe. I would have never been creative enough to try all the combinations he did! Basically, he baked potatoes and banana squash. Then he scooped out the cooked potato and squash and whipped it with a mixer, adding a little milk and lots of savory spices (salt, pepper, garlic, onion powder, parsley, marjoram, oregano, etc.). Then he scooped the golden mixture back into the potatoes and topped them with cheese. They don’t contain any turkey, but they are definitely yummy.

Louisa makes the most gourmet, exotic scrambled eggs. I am afraid to ask what is in them, but they are always highly seasoned and delicious. I have the inkling that she just opens up the spice cupboard and grabs whatever she sees!

As I’ve loosed up on letting my kids experiment in the kitchen, I have seen their creativity expand and their confidence grow!

2) Dress up

We all express ourselves creatively every day just by choosing what we will wear. Moms can allow a lot of freedom in this department and let children experiment with many ways to dress, combining outfits from their own wardrobes. (I do reserve the right to give final approval before going to church or out in public if their outfits are too unconventional—we want to serve as modest, good examples and not be distracting or attention-getting with the way we dress!)

Besides getting dressed each day, there is dress-up play—another chance to be creative! Keep your eyes open for fancy or unique clothes, shoes, accessories and wigs from yard sales or a thrift shop. They are well worth the price in creative dress-up! We have a pair of full length metallic silver gloves in our dress-up box, and they have served to create robot-looking arms, a glamorous accessory for an evening gown, surgeon’s gloves, and much more over the years. Seems every child can think of a new use for those silver gloves!

When Ammon was just a little guy, he wore a tiger suit—complete with headpiece and tail—every single day for months on end. I learned that tigers can do their math and their chores just as well as people!

3) Paint together

You don’t have to be talented in the least to enjoy painting. It is so creative!

I buy watercolor paints (the cheap ones are okay, nice ones are even more exciting) and collect scratch paper (usually computer paper that has been printed on one side and is no longer needed) for our painting times. Set a leaves, shells, or fruit on the table to create a still life. Put on some classical music, and get your brush wet. Look out the window and paint what you see. Look at your sister and paint her eye close-up. Imagine your favorite place and paint it from memory. Do it realistically or with dashes of colors and vague forms, or with dots of paint. Use a fine brush to add details. You aren’t trying to paint a masterpiece—you are just painting for the sheer fun of it, rather like dancing. When you are all “painted out”, you may have 5 or 6 paintings each. Dry these flat, and then use masking tape or sticky tack to arrange your paintings all on your dining room wall for a temporary art gallery. It is fun to look at everyone’s paintings while you eat.

“Imagination is more important than knowledge.”—Albert Einstein

Have fun being creative!

It's Gotta be Fun!


This is our second year of homeschooling. Our first year we homeschooled our kindergarten son and were very actively involved and had learning experiences outside of the house. This year, we enrolled him in an online academy. We have not yet finished our first week of lessons and I already hate it! The lessons are long and tedious. Much too academic for our style from last year. Also, we have no more time for our beloved outings to the park or the zoo. I feel like a slave to this program because of the load of work and no real learning going on. My son is starting to hate anything to do with the word “school” or “lesson”! Any advice on this would be really appreciated!


In my opinion, school has to be fun! It has to be enjoyable and pleasant; something to look forward to each day. If your learning experiences don’t fit that description, I would say you took a wrong turn, and you better turn around fast. This is not to say that we won’t do challenging work, and stretch our brains, and think deeply, but that the overall sensation is satisfying and happy. Tedium doesn’t belong in the world of a 6 year old boy. He won’t learn anything but to “shut off” whatever interests he had in learning new things if he is continually pressed and wearied by too much academia at his age.

I have often found it amusing and interesting when looking at homeschooling statistics to find that 80% of first year homeschooled children are boys, usually between the age of 7 and 10 years. I think there is a real message in that for us. Little boys are wiggly creatures that need to climb trees, build things with their big muscles, dig holes, wrestle and tumble, ask questions, and discover the world of nature. It is somewhat cruel to put their bodies in front of a computer or book for long hours. There is a lot to be learned without ever opening a book. And when little boys are tired, they will gladly lay on the floor and listen to Mom read aloud some classic literature that vividly engages their mind. And there is time in their day for a few hours of schoolwork, if it is interesting, involves lots of interaction, discussion, hands-on projects, pictures and stories and learning tastes delicious to them!

Please go to the park and the zoo and the museums! Get lots of books from the library with bright pictures, books about space and animals and trains and everything else you can think of to give him a feel for the joy of learning. Teach him how fun math is. Play number games and math games after he has 1/2 of his math page done, as a break and a reward. Read aloud to him. Let him do all the messy science and art experiments you can think of!

Most of all, enjoy! Learning is so very satisfying!  You can feel very confident that he will grow, progress and learn if you give him a happy, interesting learning environment.

Keep on Schedule or Let 'em Fly?


I just started homeschooling my 5 year old boy who loves math. I bought the Calvert Kindergarten curriculum because I had no idea what I was doing and thought I needed a lot of structure (which is what I got). It seems to be too slow for him and sometimes boring. He already knows how to do simple addition, subtraction, and multiplication in his head because he is always asking us math questions (especially related to money). He carries around a calculator all day and comes to tell me what 572 plus 12 is. He wants to know about millions and billions and beyond. We have never done addition or beyond on paper but it seems he is ready for that. Should I continue on with these lesson plans as they are outlined or let him go on ahead as he wants to do?


What a wonderful situation you are in! You have a 5 year old who wants to fly—so let him!

Your question brings back memories of my own son, Mark (who graduated from a university in Political Science), when he was just a little boy attending kindergarten public school (back in the days before I homeschooled!) A few weeks after school began, I got a phone call from the teacher. Mark was in trouble! It turned out that he was guilty of “sneaking ahead” in his math book. I had to stifle a chuckle as the teacher explained his crime! He was so interested in math that he couldn’t stay with the slow-moving class, going laboriously over things that he already had figured out. He wanted to fly! I solved the problem my taking him out of school and bringing him and his math book home, where I told him to do all the pages he wanted! It only took him a week to finish the book and beg for more. I bought math manipulatives, math games, math toys and he soared! He loved math and loved the freedom to satiate his curiosity!

I can think of no quicker way to kill a natural love of learning that to enforce a slow-moving schedule on an interested learner. Think about how it feels to us adults to sit in a class where the teacher answers your eager, pertinent questions with: “we’ll get to that later in the course.” It doesn’t take long before apathy sets in, simply out of frustration.

There are so many wonderful math resources to satisfy your son’s anxious desire to learn. If you choose to use a different textbook, I highly recommend Singapore Math. It moves quickly and caters to children with its bright pictures and visual representations of the math formulas. You can give him a free placement test (online) to see where he needs to start.

A good place to learn about big, big numbers is this website: http://www.mathcats.com/explore/reallybignumbers.html . In fact, the whole website, www.mathcats.com, is excellent for young ones yearning to learn more and more about math. Here are my favorite math resources too—you can find them in my store:

Quarter Mile Math Sum Swamp Clock-o-Dial

Multiplication Songs Addition & Subtraction Game Pack

Family Math

What could be more fun than a child who is eager, eager to learn?!  Have fun together!