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.

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.

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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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A Spontaneous Lesson on Dimensions

I was working with my five-year-old in Dimensions math, and we came across an exercise that asks the students to circle all of the circles shown. Some of the shapes represent cylinders; one represents a football. Obviously the top and bottom of a cylinder are circles. But what about a football? This led to an interesting discussion about dimensions.

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Parasitism in Nature

If you’re looking for a creepy science lesson, check out parasitism in nature.

There’s a type of fungus that takes over an ant and causes the ant to crawl up a branch and latch on, where the fungus grows and spreads. Different types of fungus can attack different animals.

Wikipedia has an entry. The Atlantic and National Geographic also have articles.

National Geographic has a short video about this.

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Tactile Triangle Fun

My five-year-old had fun playing with foam sheet triangles I cut out—and we even introduced Pythagoras’s theorem for right triangles.

I was inspired by some sample materials offered by Math Expressions (start on page 14 of this pdf). One thing this source recommends is to discuss the difference between “turning” a triangle piece and “flipping” the piece.

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One-Off Science Videos

Elsewhere I’ve discussed some science video programs that my child and I really like. Here I want to list some fun one-off science videos we’ve found. (I’ll update this page over time.)

Bats and White Nose Syndrome
This article and Ted Ed video discusses a fungus that attacks bats in North America. The video is more general.

How a Piston Works
The piston in a gasoline engine is a wonderful example of the conversion of chemical energy to motion. Good videos on this include those from Toyota of Orlando, Automotive Basics, and Yasha Verma.

The History of Steel
Jason Crawford gives an hour talk on the subject.

How to Make Charcoal
This is a really fun video by Primitive Technology, via Jason Crawford.

Parasitism in Nature
I collected a variety of videos on this.