Core Knowledge Releases U.S. History Texts

Core Knowledge has released a two-volume U.S. history aimed at students grades 7 and 8. Although I have not yet had a chance to review the materials, I’m optimistic that the set will fit in nicely with my homeschool materials. Like many other Core Knowledge books, this set is available for free pdf download. See also my post on Core Knowledge books for grades 1 through 8.

Steve Spangler’s Science Effect

I love Steve Spangler‘s science shows. More importantly, my five-year-old loves them. Recently I had a chance to talk with Spangler about his work, his views on science education, and his professional response to the pandemic. (My child joined for a few minutes!)

See also Spangler’s DIY Sci show (broadcast or streaming) as well as the Spangler Effect, and Sick Science on YouTube.

For more details, see the podcast show page for the episode.

The Heinemann Science Series

I really love the Heinemann “InfoSearch” science series; unfortunately, the books are no longer in print. You might be able to pick up some of them used, though, as through Amazon or eBay.

Each book is 32 pages and filled with solid information, simple experiments, and historical context. The pages are laid out nicely in full color.

If I find another in-print series I like as well I’ll write about it; for now I feel fortunate that I was able to collect ten books from this series. My five-year-old loves them.

The Boyhood Adventure of Stone Fox

Ten-year-old Willie has a heap of problems. His grandfather and caregiver, distraught over the likelihood of losing his Wyoming potato farm, is bedridden. Willie’s doctor friend urges Willie to leave his grandfather to the care of others and abandon the farm. The local banker sees selling the farm as Willie’s only way out.

But Willie is not ready to give up hope. Can he work the farm himself? And can he raise the funds necessary to save the farm? That is the adventure that John Reynolds Gardiner takes us on in his 1980 short novel Stone Fox (paid link).

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Fun Halloween Stories

It’s nearly Halloween! My five-year-old loves hearing spooky stories—just not too spooky. I thought I’d share some of our favorites.

For the youngest readers, Here Comes Halloween (paid link) is not scary at all; it’s about dressing up in costumes.

Two of my five-year-old’s favorites are Five Little Pumpkins and Five Black Cats (paid links). The stories are fun to chant in rhyme. “The second one said, ‘There are witches in the air!'”

Goodnight Goon (paid link) is a funny spoof of Goodnight Moon. “Goodnight claws and goodnight jaws. . .”

Although it’s only superficially about Halloween, Room on the Broom (paid link) is a standout. Julia Donaldson is a gifted author of children’s books, and Axel Scheffler adds colorful and fun illustrations. The story begins, “The witch had a cat and a hat that was black, and long ginger hair in a braid down her back.” The story is about making friends and coming to your friends’ aid. The short film at Amazon based on the story also is excellent.

When I was a child I loved listening to the Disney recording of Haunted Mansion (paid link). Featuring the voice of Ron Howard, the story follows a couple who enter a spooky mansion during a rain storm only to find themselves on a ghostly tour. It’s a little scary, but the ghosts expressly don’t hurt people. You can listen to the recording through Amazon prime or purchase the mp3 or CD (if you get the disk check around for the best price). Listening to the story with my child brought back many of my own childhood holiday memories.

How to Nurture Young Readers

Reading books opens a world of knowledge, inspiration, and moral guideposts. But learning to read is hard, and reading seldom offers the immediate and continual dopamine rewards that various sorts of screen time promise. What can parents do to help their children develop the cognitive skills to read as well as a love of reading?

Lindsay Journo and Cornelia Lockitch offer an excellent introduction to the topic in their newly released talk (actually recorded last year), “Nurturing the Reader in Every Child.”

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Magformers Promote Spacial Reasoning

My kid loves Magformers, plastic shapes with magnets embedded. He plays with them as toys; I appreciate them because they promote spacial reasoning. You can build squares into cubes, triangles into pyramids, and combined shapes into many complex 3D figures.

They are a bit expensive. I got lucky and bought multiple sets from a family off of CraigsList. One of the sets we got has specialized shapes for building dinosaurs. My son enjoys building the dinosaurs but I don’t consider those packs essential. (Magformers offers many other sorts of packs that can get quite expensive.) If I were going to buy sets new, I’d go with a basic starter pack plus perhaps a gear pack (paid links).

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Perler Beads Offer an Inexpensive Way to Visualize Large Numbers

As adults, digit placement is second nature: ones, tens, hundreds, thousands, etc. It’s easy to forget that the way we now use numbers was an important cultural invention. And it’s easy to forget how hard it was to learn digits as a child. One of my biggest surprises as a homeschooling dad of a kindergarten-age child has been seeing what a conceptual leap it is to grasp digit placement. It helps enormously for kids to see visually what we’re talking about.

Of course it’s easy to make groupings of ten coins or whatever. I’ve used wooden cube blocks to illustrate two-digit numbers. But doing ten stacks of ten, and then ten stacks of a hundred, can be a challenge. That’s where Perler beads and pegboards (paid links) come in. You can get a large set for around thirty bucks and then iron together sets of ten and a hundred. (Or you can save some effort and spend over a hundred bucks on Montessori “golden beads” (paid link) if you prefer. There’s also a lower-cost foam option (paid link).) You can also do art projects with the Perler beads if you’re so inclined.

Update, June 28, 2021: Although I do like the Perler beads for visualizing big numbers, practically speaking, I turned to the foam blocks for routine instruction. To my mind these are a must-have item for beginning math students. The beads are a little too small for counting; the blocks are just right. It occurred to me that you could also just buy a jumbo pack of wood blocks and glue them together into rows of ten and squares of a hundred. But the foam blocks come cheap and ready-made.

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Brain Quest Workbooks Make Great Supplements

If you’re looking for ridiculously cheap supplementary materials for your home preK–6 curriculum, check out the Brain Quest workbooks. Honestly I don’t know how they sell these lengthy (some over 300 pages), full-color (and printed in the U.S.) workbooks so cheaply—obviously mass printings help. And my five-year-old enjoys working in them. If you use these at all, for the money, you can’t possibly go wrong.

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Fun with Magnets and Electricity

Magnetism and electricity are strange and amazing forces. How can one object act on another object at a distance without any apparent intermediary contact? If I blow a piece of paper, I act on the paper via the breeze I create. But magnets do surprising and nonintuitive things. Although young children are not ready for the full theoretical basis of electromagnetism (I’m not even ready for the full basis), with some basic supplies they can explore how magnets and electricity operate in the world.

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