Grammar Excitement

Now, I know “excitement” may not be how you describe the subject of grammar, but your kids will think this instant, silly game is plenty of fun, and they’ll get good at knowing their parts of speech too!



First, teach or review that a “noun” is a person, place or thing. Have your children look around the room and find nouns. If you can touch it, it is a noun. If you count it, it is a noun. If you can go there, it is a noun.

Next, teach or review the concept that a “verb” is an action word. Anything you can do is a verb. That would mean hopping, running, swimming, dancing, playing, typing, etc. There are also words for just existing or being and they are verbs too! Is, am, are, be, were, being, was, are all verbs.

Now, for the game!

Have the children stand up and raise their hand. A hand is a thing. The word hand is a noun. So whenever you say a word that is a noun, the children are supposed to raise their hand up.

Now have the children hop. Verbs are action words: hopping, swimming, dancing, running, etc. Tell the children to hop on one foot whenever you say a word that is a verb.

Start easy by just saying random words:

apple (noun—children should raise a hand up)
dancing    (verb—children should hop)
balloon    (noun—children should raise a hand up)
cookie     (noun) . . . continue
whistled (verb)
pet     (noun)
Disneyland (noun)
book     (noun)
slid     (verb)
slither    (verb)
hamburger (noun)
Japan     (noun)
slime     (noun)
sneezed    (verb)
jiggled    (verb)
. . .etc.

Be careful when saying verbs to state them in their -ing form (dancing rather than dance) or in a past tense form (danced instead of dance). The reason is that many verbs are also nouns. A dance could be a noun. Dancing and danced are verbs.

You can pick the silliest words you can think of and go faster and faster so that the children are racing to make their signals. This is lots of action, fun and laughs. When the children get good at this, slip in a few state of being verbs such as is, was, are, be, am. When they are no longer stumped by the “being verbs”, you can start telling them a story slowly, and let them figure out the nouns and verbs. For example, you could say this sentence and expect these signals:

“The pig gobbled his dinner.”
pig (noun—children should put their hand up)
gobbled (verb—children should be hopping)
dinner (noun—hand up).

“Charley was a large pig and he lived in a muddy pigpen.”
Charley (noun—hand up)
was (verb—hopping)
pig (noun—hand up)
he  (noun—hand up)
lived (verb—hopping)
pigpen (noun—hand up).

“Charley loved to eat apples.”
Charley (noun—hand up)
loved     (verb—hopping)
eat    (verb—childen should hop)
apples (noun—children should put their hand up).

You can add to the game by teaching a signal for proper nouns. Proper nouns are nouns that are capitalized and mean a certain, specific thing, such as Charley, Mr. Jones, or Disneyland rather than pig, man and amusement park, which are common nouns. Whenever a noun is proper, have your child bow in a proper way. So when you say the word, Charley, your child will not only have his hand up to signal a noun, but he will take a bow to signal a proper noun.

If you aren’t quick in thinking up sentences for your children to do the actions to, then read a simple children’s book aloud, sentence by sentence.

Your children can join right in to make up more signals as you learn more parts of speech. There are 8 parts of speech (nouns, verbs, pronouns, adjectives, adverbs, coordinating conjunctions, preposition, articles) so this doesn’t get too complicated to have fun with.

Who can resist grammar when it is just fun and games?!


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.

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!

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?

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: . In fact, the whole website,, 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!

Messed up in Math


Our granddaughter goes to public school and she is struggling so hard with math. The school has really messed her up and is teaching her things backwards. When we try to help her it confuses her. They are teaching her to do math problems from left to right, to do all of her borrowing before she even starts to subtract right to left. She hates math because of it and it is so hard to get to work on her math homework. We tell her how important math is and how she will use it the rest of her life. Do you have any suggestions that would help us?


It depends on how much time you can commit to this, but if you are able, the ideal would be to take her out of school during math period. Usually math comes first in the school day, so working with her first thing in the morning, and then taking her to school might be a good option.

Math is a basic skill that must be mastered in order to move on with her education. If they are “messing her up” in math, it is pretty important to get her out of that situation, if you cannot work with the teacher to make a change. If not, tell the school you will be taking her out for private instruction in math, and get the textbook they are using and the schedule they are on, so that you keep her up to date. If the math book is faulty, then you’ll want to use Singapore or Saxon instead. Test her—both companies have free placement tests online—and find out just where she needs to start. If you can work with the math book, and it is just the teacher that is doing things confusingly, then using the math book will help her transition back into her school class eventually. Focus 10 min. daily on doing math facts, if your granddaughter is not proficient in the basic facts. If you work with her daily on math, you will be very surprised how much more you can accomplish with one-on-one tutoring in the same amount of time the school takes!

If she is feeling resistant, do things to make it fun and help renew her attitude. Math is truly fun, and she needs to feel that enjoyment again.

Here are a few ideas to motivate her:

*Make a chart with bubbles (dime size) that represent a goal (15 min. steady work, 10 problems completed, math facts done for the day, or whatever goal is appropriate) and stick a dime on each bubble when it is earned.

*Let her choose to do evens or odds (problems) for the day, if it feels like she has too many math problems to do.

*Use hands-on items to illustrated the problems, such as Legos, beans, coins, etc. (I taught my daughter to subtract using shampoo bottles while I was taking a shower!)

*Work on the chalkboard. It is easier to do math when it is big-sized and involves the fun of writing with chalk, too. You can hastily illustrate story problems to make it even more fun!

*Give her “points” for right answers, with a goal in mind. For example, if she wants a certain item or privilege, she could earn it by diligent effort.

*Use real life math to help her see how useful math skills are. Use receipts to practice rounding off numbers and adding a column, keeping the total hidden to self-check.

*Let her correct her own work using the answer key herself (with you nearby observing). Often this grown-up thing to do will make a child more careful with their work.

*Time her math facts practice with a stopwatch. Saxon has this built into their program and it is truly motivational to keep a graph recording the times, seeing progress more visibly.

*Use math facts games to make it more fun. I recommend Sum Swamp, Math Wrap-Ups, Multiplication Songs, Quarter Mile Math and others.

*Work math problems on a big sized scribble pad with colorful markers.

Best success!

Teaching an Older Child to Write


I have a 9th grade daughter that really struggles in writing. She does not like writing so it has always been a battle and I have not pushed it nearly enough. Now I find she is really behind in writing and I am feeling panicked because writing is so important to every other subject. Do you have any suggestions of how to help an older student learn to be a better writer? I really feel like I have failed her.

I do have your Journal and Language Arts program and will be using that with my 4th grade son soon. Should I use that to get my daughter started too?


Yes, I would start your daughter on the Journal program too.  It is a great way to learn to write!  You can use a notebook with wide ruled paper (or have her type it on the computer, teaching her how to use the spell check feature).  Every day, have her write a journal entry of at least 3 paragraphs.  At first, do not comment on grammar, spelling, neatness, correctness. Just get her writing. She can write about anything she wants—no restrictions on topic or use of slang, etc.  You are just trying to get her writing.

So, for the first week, have her write her 3 daily paragraphs.  If this is too overwhelming, start with sentences—such as 5 sentences, and then move up your requirement every few days or week, until she is writing 3 paragraphs per day.  If she is totally stumped, get Kids Talk and have her choose a card to write about each day.  Note: this is not her private journal, which she will keep on her own. This is her “School Journal”.  She can choose any subject, but you have to be able to read it.

Once she is writing daily and it is going smoothly, then it is time to ease her into self-correcting. Start by teaching her the spell check feature on your computer—misspelled words are visible as the underlined words.  Teach her how to check the word using the spell check feature.  Have her copy and paste the corrected word onto a spelling list document. This spelling list should be studied daily, along with the new words being added to it daily from her writing.  On Friday, give her a spelling quiz.  Any misspelled words from the quiz go onto next week’s spelling document.  Have her print the corrected version, hole punch it, and store it in a binder.

If she is doing her writing by hand in a journal,  have her write in either pencil or erasable pen so it can be corrected, and when you check her work, put a little erasable tick mark in pencil at the beginning of the sentence that has a misspelled word, and let her try to figure which word it is.  Often she will say, “Oh, I thought that was misspelled” and identify the word.  Have her correct the word and add it to the spelling list as described above, and study for the Friday quiz.  A book I really recommend is How to Spell it, because no matter how the word is spelled, she will be able to find it in this handy book, and correct the spelling.

Keep working on having her identify and correct her spelling for a few weeks.  If she is misspelling a large number of words, then just choose the most common words to correct.  Work at it gradually until she learns those words and can spell them correctly in her writing, and then move on to correcting more words.  Don’t overwhelm her. Nobody wants to write if they have to go back and correct every third word! Ten spelling words per week is plenty.

As soon as she adjusts to having her spelling corrected and to working on looking things up (before she misspells them), you can move on to the next step, which is getting her punctuation correct, and making sure she capitalizes words properly.  You can find the rules for punctuation in my Journal and Language Arts program.  I also recommend Writing in Style as a good overview.

Keep going with this, working through the mechanics of good writing, all via her daily writing (on her choice of topics).  Don’t worry about topic. My son spend an entire year writing about knights and medieval times and how to build catapults, and his writing still improved dramatically!  The topic doesn’t matter, and allowing them total freedom to choose a topic keeps their interest high.

When she is accustomed to daily writing, and is able to correct any errors you note when you check her daily writing, she is ready for a good writing program.   I like the Wordsmith series, starting with Wordsmith Apprentice.

Just ease into it, step by step, and you’ll soon see her writing improve dramatically, and maybe she’ll really enjoy it and want to write stories, poems and more.

You’re on your way!


Mastering “Greater Than” and “Less Than”

Here is an easy way to teach your children how to remember the “greater than” and “less than” symbols in their Math lesson!


First, draw one of the symbols,  like this:

mastering greater than


Now, make that symbol into a big fish’s mouth like this:
mastering greater than


The fish has a BIG mouth that loves to eat the most he can get:  the largest numbers.  So the big, open part of the mouth always faces the largest number.
mastering greater than


If a child can remember to have the fish’s mouth face the direction of the larger number, so he can gobble it up, he’ll never get confused again with “greater than” and “less than” problems again.