Category Archives: Fun Educational Stuff

Immediately, Immediately, Immediate-ly

As my husband is wont to say, God bless Youtube. One of the girls
was confused about whether or not to drop the silent e in
"unfortunately." I know how I resolved that question at her age, and I
went a-googling to see if I could find a certain video clip.

And sure enough, faster than a rolling O, there it was.

course you know we spent the next hour watching more Electric Company
clips, with the girls cracking up at my terrier-like 70s-child
excitement. The lolly song! And that other lollipop song, the creepy one. Hey, you guys! Silent E! The uberfunky TION
song, which I now realize may have been the genesis of my
environmentalist streak. (Rewatching it, I'm rather shocked by the
garmentlessness of the crowd at the end of the song. I guess the Age of
Aquarius touched kiddie TV too.)

Look, there's Morgan Freeman with a broken leg singing "There's a Hole at the Bottom of the Sea." Frankly, I always thought the gang was a little hard on the gorilla.

Rose and Bean liked Letterman best, and who can blame them?

Unsolicited Signing Time Commercial

What Rilla’s saying at the end there is “With Alex, Leah, and Hopkins.” Totally unprompted, I swear.

When I watched our Christmas 2005 video
the other day, the bit that gave me the biggest pang of nostalgia was
watching Wonderboy signing away. He hardly signs at all anymore, now
that he talks so much. I’m thrilled with his verbal speech, but I
really miss the signing. It’s funny to think back on how much ASL dominated our lives
(in a rich and satisfying way) for a couple of years there, and now our
use and pursuit of sign language has slipped to the back burner,
becoming something of a hobby rather than a daily necessity. Jane still
wants to certify as an ASL interpreter someday, and every few months we
pull out our materials and learn another chunk of vocabulary and
grammar. There are community college courses we might take next year.
It’s a beautiful and important language, and I don’t want to let it go,
even if our boy doesn’t need rely on it for communication the way he
once did.

And of course the Signing Time
DVDs remain in great demand with my little people, as the video above
attests. With Rilla, we’re seeing all the benefits of sign language we
saw with the first three girls—because rudimentary ASL was a part of
our baby & toddler life from the get-go, long before we had a
Wonderboy or knew he had hearing loss.

Here are some old posts singing the praises of our favorite kiddie DVDs:

It Must Be a Sign

Something Else to Buy Instead of Curriculum: Signing Time

Journey North Mystery Class

In yesterday’s links I mentioned with some jubilation that the Journey North Mystery Class is starting this week. Tami asked,

do you know if it’s too late to join the Journey North class? In a
nutshell, can you explain it, and how much time it takes? Thanks!

With the caveat that I am incapable of writing the ‘nutshell’ version of anything (hee!), I’d love to take a stab at answering this. We (Jane and I—the younger kids have not yet been interested) have participated in the Mystery Class the past two years, and it has been delightful.

It is definitely not too late to join. Things are just getting rolling. Here’s how it works: Journey North has selected ten classes of schoolchildren in cities all around the world. Their locations are kept secret until the big reveal in May. These are the ten "mystery classes," and the game is to figure out where in the world they are.

You begin by figuring out their latitudes. Each week you compare your own local photoperiod (the amount of time between sunrise and sunset) to the photoperiods of the ten mystery classes. You graph this data on a chart. In just a few weeks’ time you’ll begin to see patterns and get a feel for where some of the mystery classes might be.

(It’s very exciting.)

Sometime in March, Journey North will release "longitude clues." By performing some calculations, you’ll be able to determine the longitude of the Mystery Classes. Now you’re really starting to have an idea where these classes might be!

Next come the cultural clues. Each week, as you continue to chart the photoperiod data, you’ll be given a set of clues about the culture and terrain of the ten mystery locations. This is when the fun kicks into high gear. You’ll be able to zero in on the specific towns in which the mystery classes are hiding.

In late April, you submit your guesses to Journey North. The following week, the answers are posted on the website and you can see how close you came. You may participate alone or as part of a group. All you have to do is register at the Journey North website (no cost, no strings). All the instructions and clues are there, along with a download of the chart.

The past two years, I led a group of online friends in the activity. We divided up the Mystery Classes so that each family was only responsible for calculating the data for one or two locations. (This is totally permissible and is in fact encouraged. Most participants are classes of schoolchildren who are usually divided into partner groups, each with its assigned mystery class.)

This year, I’m hosting a group of local friends. The kids in Jane’s peer group have been coming over every other week to read Shakespeare together (such a blast), and we’re going to set the Bard aside for a while to do the Mystery Class project together. We’ll be meeting weekly, more or less, to keep up with the data-sharing.

If your family was working solo and found the eleven sets of calculations to be too much to keep up with (ten mystery classes plus your hometown), you could easily drop some of the mystery classes and just work on a few. The registration with Journey North is largely a formality; there is no real interaction on the website except for submitting your answers at the end (which you don’t have to do if you don’t want). Of course, the JN folks love feedback, and they post lots of letters and ideas from participants.

It is amazing how much learning is packed into this activity: we have learned so much about geography, latitude, longitude, other cultures, math, etc etc etc. I cannot say enough good things about the project. I’ve been positively giddy about getting started this year. Jane too. Last year she worked side by side with the one local friend who was part of our online group, and those two eleven-year-olds had a wonderful time, let me tell you. So did their mothers. Right, Erica?

The project is just beginning this week, so it is by no means too late to get started. You calculate your local photoperiod every Monday—that is, you use each Monday’s sunrise and sunset times for the calculation. Here’s a website where you can look up the sunrise and sunset times for any date. Journey North releases the week’s new clues on Fridays, but the info is always up on the website for whenever you are ready to work with it. We’ll be doing all our work on Wednesdays, for example.

Working with online friends was great fun, these past two years. With hometowns spread all over the world, simply comparing our local photoperiods was fascinating. And I have to say, charting the increase in daylight time week after week really helped combat the late winter blues. (The first year, I mean, when we still lived in Virginia. Here in San Diego, last winter was a marvel of sunny days. This year has been quite a bit chillier.)

Tami asked about the time commitment. As you get started, it doesn’t take very long: a math problem on Monday to get your local photoperiod; and then however long it takes you to figure out and chart the photoperiods for the ten mystery classes—or however many you are responsible for. A half hour, perhaps? If you’re doing all ten? Maybe an hour for a younger child? I would say an hour a week is probably realistic, for the first six or seven weeks. The longitude day will take longer, but it’s fun, exciting work.

Later you’ll spend lots of time on Google and elsewhere, reading up on the tidbits revealed in the cultural clues. That’s fun time, detective time, and it flies by.

I told you it wouldn’t fit into a nutshell! Not even a Brazil nut.

Earlier posts on Journey North Mystery Class:
this one has a picture of our graph
this one was from last year

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Games & Fun Stuff Master List

Too many posts! Too many links! If you go through my Fun Learning Stuff archives, you find oodles and boodles of links to online games and things. But that’s a lot to wade through. Allow me to spare you the wading.

Free online word games:

Babble (a combination of Boggle and Scrabble)

Neopets Word Poker

Eight Letters in Search of a Word (both this one and Word Poker are "see how many words you can make out of these eight letters" games)

Scrabulous (online Scrabble, and yes, it is fabulous)


iSketch (like Pictionary) (beware the public rooms—create your own private room and invite friends)

New! Karen just reminded me of, a charity-linked vocabulary game that devoured a thousand grains of my time last week

Puzzle/logic games:



History, math & science:

BBC History Games (a whole bunch of fun stuff here)

Ancient Greece game at Snaith Primary

Absurd Math (Jane’s favorite)


Test your reaction time with the sheep game

Geography games & links at Studeo

Tetris with the United States

Music & art:

Note reading drill

Art lesson plans from the Getty Museum

Mark Kistler drawing lessons on YouTube

and on his website

Not games, but cool:

Earth Album (a Flickr/Google Maps mashup)

Journey North (especially the Mystery Class project that begins in January—we’ve had such fun with it the past two years)

It’s Julie Bogart’s Fault I Had Nothing for Poetry Friday

Because it was Julie who introduced me to Scrabulous.

Online Scrabble. Free. You don’t even have to register. Need I say more?

Ah, but I will. Yesterday we had games going back and forth on our two computers: Rose vs. Mom, Jane vs. Mom, Dad vs. Mom. Everyone is out to get me!

There was also a Rose vs. Jane game on the living-room floor, the old-fashioned kind, not the virtual.

Rilla tried to make off with oxen, but we caught her.

Of Fowls and Fun

Yesterday my three oldest kids went to a workshop at the San Diego Museum of Art. A docent gave a short talk about elements of art—line, shape, color, etc—and then they split into small groups and went to look at four paintings up close. Afterward, they did an art project focusing on copying details from the paintings they’d viewed. I missed most of the workshop, because I was outside with the little ones. The girls had a splendid time, and Beanie was especially impressed by the dead chicken.

"Huh?" I asked her, ever so articulately, upon receiving this report.

"A dead chicken! In a painting! I saw it, and I drew it!"

I do remember seeing a painting with a dead fowl in it when we first visited the museum. I think it was a duck, not a chicken: Merganser by William Michael Harnett. (I don’t know if that link will work—the URL says "index." I don’t think the SDMA site has direct URLs to the paintings. But if you’re really interested in seeing the deceased bird, you can click around to get there. Beanie thinks it is worth the effort. Me, I prefer a nice landscape with haystacks.)

During the workshop, a couple of the other mothers and I walked down to the Science Center with our little ones. There’s a kiddie room upstairs where a mama can park herself on a bench and watch her younguns play with all the interesting toys. Wonderboy loved the air chute made for putting balls in: whoosh! Up goes the ball and pops out the top of the tube. Rilla enjoyed filling the toy shopping cart with plastic fruits and vegetables. It was so easy and pleasant to sit there chatting with my friends while our toddlers and preschoolers bustled around. I remember when I thought tending two little ones in a children’s museum was a tiring day’s work. Now it’s a mini-vacation.

One thing I’m really enjoying about our proximity to Balboa Park is that we can drop by for short, frequent visits without feeling like we have to do and see everything all at once. We’ve barely begun to explore all the park has to offer. After I picked up the girls, we were strolling back to our car and we passed the little Timkin Museum, a small, free-to-the-public art gallery next to the big SDMA. Erica had mentioned that it’s an incredible collection. Jane and I noticed a huge sign advertising a special French Neoclassical exhibit, which is exactly the movement we’ve just been reading about in Young People’s Story of Fine Art, so that was a pretty exciting discovery. We’ll have to squeeze in a visit sometime soon.

Jane is also keen to see the Journey to the Copper Age exhibit at the Museum of Man—she wondered aloud whether her daddy could take a day off and take her. And I’d like to get to the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at the Natural History Museum while it’s still there…but tops on the girls’ wish list is to go climb a certain enormous, low-branching tree they spotted on the way into the park. And when I was watching how happy my wee ones were yesterday in the kiddie playroom, I made a little mental note to remember that as important and wonderful as all this cultural stuff is, it’s even more important to allow ample time for Climbing Very Big Trees and Dipping Fingers into Fountains. Sometimes the dead chicken really is the best part of the art museum. Even when it’s a duck.

In the Book Basket

Jane is reading some of the books on the House of Education’s Year 7 list this fall. House of Education, in case you don’t know, is the upper-grades companion to Ambleside Online. I’ve been drawing heavily from Ambleside’s booklists since Jane was five years old. Beanie, six and a half, is making the acquaintance of some of Jane’s old friends this year: The Blue Fairy Book (my childhood copy, actually, fearfully dogeared and dearly loved), Just So Stories, Nesbit’s Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare for Children. Writing these titles makes me almost giddy: I love this literature; I love living these books with my girls.

One of the HOE books Jane is reading—and I too, for it was new to me, and I’m doing my best to pace her these days—is H. E. Marshall’s English Literature for Boys and Girls. The stodgy title belies the fun inside this book. Marshall is the author of Our Island Story, a fat and lively rendering of the history of England, through which my girls and I have been slowly making our way in fits and starts, for oh, at least two years now. I enjoy Marshall’s narrative style: the colorful character sketches, the dramatic flair, the occasional intrusions of a twinkle-in-the-eye authorial voice. I’m encountering that same amiable voice in the English lit book, which makes my ‘homework’ a most enjoyable pastime.

Of course, by opening the book with several chapters about Irish and Scottish legends, Marshall had me at hello. Jane writes out most of her narrations these days, but I asked her to tell me the story of the Cattle Raid of Cooley (chapter two of Marshall’s book) for the fun of seeing how well she could spin a yarn. She did a bang-up job, with all the little embellishments that rope a listener in. I don’t know which one of us enjoyed it more: there’s a great satisfaction in telling a tale well, and an immense delight in being treated to a tale well told. We’ll have to do this more often. I needn’t be the only storyteller around here.

Both the Marshall books I mentioned (and a good many others) are available for free downloading (chapter by chapter) at The Baldwin Project, a site about which I have raved before. Some of them can be ordered in inexpensive hard-copy editions as well.

Links During Breakfast

Thought I’d share a quick link we made use of yesterday…Rose wanted to learn to make friendship bracelets, and we couldn’t find our copy of the Klutz book. This site has instructions for beginners, including a how-to from the very same Klutz book!

Meanwhile, did you see this on BoingBoing? A version of Tetris that uses the United States. We are soooo going to be late for the next thing we have to do. I must dash. I had no business turning on the computer this morning. The girls are eating breakfast but the boy is still in bed and did I mention we’re going to be late?

Karen understands so very well

What Does Your Google Search List Say About You?

A smattering of the topics we have Googled this week:

Rattlin’ Roarin’ Willie midi. I have a thing for Scottish folk songs and I use online midi resources to learn the melodies.

YouTube Midsummer Night’s Dream Kevin Kline.
I was hoping to find a clip of the Pyramus and Thisbe play-within-a-play from the movie made a few years back. Jane and I had just finished reading that scene, and I remember the movie version, starring Kevin Kline as Nick Bottom/Pyramus, being hilarious. The clip doesn’t appear to be on YouTube, but we found the Beatles version and watched that instead.

YouTube Modern Major General.
I wanted to show it to the girls, and this clip, from a production of Pirates of Penzance starring—guess whom?—Kevin Kline as the Pirate King, with Linda Ronstadt and Rex Smith in the ingenue roles, surpassed my hopes. Priceless.

Chicken enchilada recipes.
Thursday night’s dinner.

Office season 3 finale. Also: YouTube Jim Pam. What. I’m a total sap, what can I say? We’re watching Season 2 again, on DVD this time, and after the painful Booze Cruise episode I just really really wanted to watch the end of season 3. Instead, I watched about five Jim-and-Pam montages set to weepy music. Because I am not the only sap out there, not by a long shot.

Seals sea lions difference. Rose wanted to know. Turns out: ear flaps! Sea lions have ’em, seals don’t.

USPS postcard postage.
26 cents for the little ones (what I think of as postcard size), 41 cents for big ones, in case you didn’t know either.

Boy do I love homeschoogling!

Something Else to Buy Instead of Curriculum: Signing Time

It’s been a while since I wrote about Signing Time, but it occurred to me that I ought to mention it for new readers.

The Signing Time DVDs are a wonderful series of half-hour shows designed to teach American Sign Language (ASL) to children. Adults who happen to be in the room will find they can’t help but learn as well. The shows are delightful, with catchy songs, cute kids, and practical ASL vocabulary.

Here’s an excerpt of what I wrote about Signing Time two years ago:

It’s hard for me to imagine our lives without Signing Time. Rachel
Coleman, the creator, and her daughter Leah, who is deaf, and Leah’s
cousin Alex, who is hearing, are practically part of our family.
"Rachel says" and "Leah says" are regular utterances around here. When
Wonderboy watches the videos, he looks back and forth from me to
Rachel, or from his sisters to the children, in awed delight. His hands
soar through the air, mimicking his beloved Rachel. He understands the
spoken words "Signing Time" even without his hearing aids in. (This is significant. He probably hears something like "eye-ee-eye," but he sure knows what it means.)

Rachel’s songs have become my personal highway belt-it-out favorites
(along with Marie Bellet and Bruce Springsteen), because she *gets it*
so completely. Leah was a year old when her parents learned she was
deaf. Rachel’s family’s love and occupation is music, and my hat is off
to Rachel Coleman for finding a way to so beautifully combine her old
life with her new one. Next to the joy she has brought my children, my
favorite thing about Rachel Coleman is her honesty in lyrics. Her song,
"The Good," expresses my understanding of motherhood better than
anything I’ve ever written: "Maybe we won’t find easy, but baby we’ve found the good."

Lately, Wonderboy has been re-immersed in these DVDs, asking for them daily. They are the ONLY television show he has ever shown any interest in watching, ever. When his sisters watch other shows, even cartoons, Wonderboy pays no attention. But for Signing Time, he is always all eyes and ears.

He has learned a ton of vocabulary from them, including (just lately) words like "remember," "learn," and "smart." I wrote a post for Bonny Glen last night about what a big deal it is that he is now beginning to grasp abstract concepts (such as remember, learn, and smart!). I really think ST has a great deal to do with that.

Rilla (she is 15 months now) is also enchanted by ST and enchants the rest of us with her perfectly scrumptious signing…when she signs "More," her daddy is putty in her plump little hands.

I also think the DVDs spurred Beanie along the path to reading when she was four and five years old. The English words for each sign appear on the screen before the signs are demonstrated, and those were some of the first words she learned how to read.

The shows are now being aired on PBS, so you can check your listings to see if it’s playing in your area. But the DVDs are a worthy investment (and they make great gifts). (And no, I don’t get a commission on these materials! I just love them.)

The first three volumes are simpler, younger, than later editions. Volumes 4-6 are my family’s favorites, except for Wonderboy, who prefers, ironically, the "Welcome to School" disk.

I see on the website there are two new "Practice Time" DVDs—I haven’t seen those yet.

We seem to have lost Volume 11, "My Neighborhood," somewhere along the trail during our cross-country trip. I’m thinking about re-ordering it, because I know Wonderboy would be very into the whole police- officer-firefighter theme right now.

There is also a Signing Time blog and forum.